Yesterday the ball started rolling again. The Fall school term started on Monday for the Bernese, and with it the community’s political life wakes up from the torpor of a not so hot summer. Yesterday we had a meeting in Bern where one of the city’s social enterprises was presented to the two of us that followed up on the invitation. The reason being that in the heat of budgetary battle, our party has in the past made a motion to cut off the funding of this institution. The two of us that were at the meeting are both in the commission handling social, educational and cultural affairs, so it was time to look at the dossier with a higher degree of engagement. Clearly the two gentlemen public servants who briefed us were very good at selling their case.
I struggle with finding something that needs to be done in this city, most of the infrastructure works, there is a little bit of corruption but the mechanisms to keep it in check also work. So where are the battles worth fighting?
The Swiss heaven is not uncoupled from the global economy. This coupling of our city to the global economy gives the all too prevalent myth and folklore of Swiss society quite a run for its money. Literally. While at the national level the very popular SVP is busy with an anti-migration campaign, the common folk has other problems.
For instance the institution that we visited yesterday serves a group of about 2’000 folks who are all unemployed or receiving social welfare aid. They fall into three categories: (a) qualifying for immediate workforce integration; ((b) needing special assistance for workforce integration; and (c) needing assistance for social reintegration. The city-run social enterprise offers a variety of services that include job placement in social, private, or state enterprises; coaching and remedial training. However you can not just walk-in, you need to be referred to the office by either the unemployment office or the social welfare office. Their reintegration success quota does not seem to ever go above 40% and that is just for those people who are able to compete out there on the hustle of the job market. A large fraction of the folks referred in very precarious social and economic conditions.
Wether we like it or not, what we see happening is a fragmentation of society where the weakest just fall through the cracks and end up in economic, social and culture conditions that have us all think a bit harder about and where do human rights standards play a role in an ever not only more competitive, but much more aggressive economy. That is, the weakest member of societies, that either due to sheer bad luck, poor choices, or unfortunate circumstances find themselves unable to provide for their own subsistence. Now, the SVP can complain all they want about the state providing for these people, but it does not change the fact that it is the state’s responsibility to do so.
Low and behold, this is a global phenomena, society is becoming more and more fragmented. More and more people are not finding access to a means of living in dignity. The statistics and revolts and riots are the evidence. But do not take my word for it. Recently Friedman had a few bits to offer on observing London burn, Arabs revolt, and Israelis taking to the streets and notes that the common denominator for these uprisings “can be found in one of the slogans of Israel’s middle-class uprising: “We are fighting for an accessible future.” Across the world, a lot of middle- and lower-middle-class people now feel that the “future” is out of their grasp, and they are letting their leaders know it. “
Although our briefing yesterday was rather down to earth, and down to the provincial troubles of tiny Bern, the observations shared with us echo this very same sentiment that more and more people are falling out of the so-called ‘productive’ workforce.
I am deeply concerned. Some five years ago I noted in this blog that “[t]he way that I see it, the paradigm shift already happened. We are here and the revolution is taking place. The shift is from capitalism to social humanism. I am not quite sure what to call it, but let’s play around with the term social humanism along the lines that business is art and that it is all about sustainability somehow. How?“
I am deeply concerned because a purely capitalistic and production maximization approach does not serve a global economy towards sustainability. There is nothing sustainable about squeezing more and more out of the workers, factory workers, and middle management. Society is breaking like mayonnaise. Putting all the ingredients for mayonnaise in a blender does not produce mayonnaise. Process is important, and sometimes process is not fast. The blender would be faster, and economists like blender arguments, however blenders produce a fragmented slime instead of the smooth mayonnaise.
Perhaps it is time that I develop that idea of social humanism a bit further. Corporate social responsibility comes to mind, and human rights were already there. I return to the idea of what it is to be a citizen and what the relationship is between the citizen and the government.
How could social humanism open access to the future for all?