Universalism … really?

How the World Bank turns meanings to its advantage.

With all the paradigmatic changes the World Bank has been promoting in the field of social policies, one element never changed in the past thirty years. Social policies were meant for the poor, governments had to find the best ways to target those who really needed their help.

The reasoning is simple: poor people, as was spelled out in its first World Development Report on Poverty of 1990[1], were those left behind by growth and by governments. The wrong policies were applied so that poor people did not get access to labour markets and, moreover, these labour markets were made more difficult to enter because of minimum wages and other ‘protective’ rules the poor did not really care about. If one really wanted to help the poor, one had to abolish all these well-meant but adverse policies. Open, deregulated markets, at the local and the global level, were the best programmes for the poor. In its ‘Doing Business’ Report of 2013[2], the World Bank still considered fixed term contracts and 50-hour workweeks as positive achievements, whereas premiums for night-work and paid annual leave were on the negative side[3].

As for the not-so-poor or middle classes, these people are said to have enough resources to buy the insurances they want on the market. Insurances are an economic sector and there is no reason why States or governments should get involved in it[4]. Solidarity is one of the words that has always been shunned by the international financial organisations. Continue…

Basic Income and the Video-Game Myth

Basic Income — a regular payment of money for every resident citizen, regardless of their circumstances, sufficient to pay for essentials.

It sounds like a wonderful idea, but not everyone’s convinced. And one of the main objections people raise is the claim that if you pay everyone a Basic Income, millions upon millions of people will decide to give up work entirely and play video games all day instead. They envisage so many people doing this that the economy will be seriously depressed and might even collapse altogether.

But I suggest this claim is not just overblown — it stands in complete contradiction to what we know about human nature, based on a huge amount of available evidence.

(Robert Jameson in Medium Daily Digest)

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More on social protection and system change

(with a reference to our Global Charter on Social Protection Rights)

The world is full of contradictions. In one part of the world people are leaving their homes and their country, travelling towards a very uncertain future, risking their lives, saying ‘if we cannot find freedom, we prefer to die’. And very often they do lose their life in the Mediterranean or some inhuman detention center, ship or train. In other parts of the world, people are free and elect a president that is homophobic, sexist and racist, that wants to kill democracy in a fury of privatisations, weapons and antisocial policies. They consciously abandon their freedom. Continue…

Global Social Protection Charter – Social Justice and Systemic Change

At the Twelfth Edition of the Asia Europe People’s Forum in Ghent, on 1 October 2018, our Global Charter for Social Protection Rights was adopted. You can find it (ad support it) at: www.globalsocialprotectioncharter.eu

Below, the opening tekst at the social justice cluster of Francine Mestrum:


“What are the objectives of social justice cluster:

We want to develop a concept that is positive, creating hope, that is politically attractive and we also want to make it very concrete, by showing

  • That social justice is central to the political, environmental and economic changes we desperately need and want – ‘erst das Fressen und dann die Moral’ (Bertold Brecht) – we want to point to the importance of economic security. We also do not want to forget the origins of socialism, in this city of Ghent, in which soup kitchens played an enormous role!


  • One of the major elements of social justice is social protection, this should and can be broadened – this social protection is based on economic and social rights and on solidarity


Barcelona Declaration

Asia Europe People’s Forum – Social Justice Cluster

Our common social future: Commoning and sharing for society, the environment and the economy. A programme for a democratic, participatory and transformative social protection

Social justice is at the center of all our concerns and of all our efforts to work for a better world. These are shared concerns in Europe and Asia. Levels of development differ widely between these global regions, but also within them. The superrich in Asia have now overtaken their counterparts in Europe.  However, at the level of social justice and more particularly social protection, labour law and social services, developments in Europe and Asia are similar and are dictated by the same neoliberal philosophy, strengthened by conservative forces.

Today, social protection is high on the international development agenda, for example through the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the ILO’s Social Protection Floors and the European Union’s Pillar of Social Rights. While these initiatives are interesting and important, daily political practice continues to widen inequalities, to make employment more precarious, and to roll out the privatisation of public services such as water and health care. Continue…

Beg for more?

Beyond SDG’s and SPF’s: social commons as a strategy tool for social justice and systemic change

When The Economist puts universal health care on its cover we should welcome this ‘social turn’ but we should also reflect very seriously on what is happening and why.

For almost thirty years now, right-wing and neoliberal forces have been dominating and shaping the discourse – and consequently the practice – on social policies. They do not talk about social justice, obviously, since justice is far away from their objectives, but they have been dominating and shaping the new thinking on poverty, social protection, health care and education.

The tragedy in all this is that the left has grossly abandoned its social ambition. For the radical left, social protection is counter-revolutionary and something for dummies and sissies. After the revolution, social justice will fall out of the sky. The moderate left is happy with the existing international initiatives. It means that this once high priority topic for all progressive forces is being neglected. We are now paying the price for this. Social protection has been taken out of our hands.

What I want to explain in this presentation is, one, why we have to reclaim our economic and social rights and go beyond the currently existing international initiatives, such as the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and SPFs (Social Protection Floors), and, secondly, how social commons can be a strategic tool for striving towards social justice. Continue…

Social Justice and System Change (3)

Strategies for social justice and beyond

If social protection is now back on the international agenda and more or less actively promoted by most international organisations, it is not necessarily also on the agenda of social movements. There is, or has been, more particularly within the radical left, quite some resistance to the promotion of this ‘reformist’ policy. Initiatives like those of Global Social Justice and the Asia Europe People’s Forum to broaden the agenda in order to include public services and labour right and to directly link it to a social justice agenda geared towards systemic change, might hopefully change this state of affairs.

However, it is not enough to demonstrate the need to broaden the agenda and to show how very connected different policy areas are. It is most useful if there can also be some indications on how to make this social justice into reality, even if we know it necessarily will be a long term agenda.

In this article, I want to emphasize two possible ways of shaping a strategy: a commons approach and what I would call an obstinate coherence approach. There is no need to choose between one or the other. Moreover, these strategies concern the improvements of social policies within the system and within the existing institutional frame as well as those that are ‘out of the box’ and look into the future in order to build a better world. Continue…

Social Justice and Systemic Change (2)

Social protection and its allies

Social protection is high on the international agenda today. Even the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) have admitted it should be promoted. Global initiatives such as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and most of all the Social Protection Floors from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have to be welcomed and supported. Their achievement would mean a tremendous progress for people all over the world.

However, a more ambitious and long term horizon is also necessary, as the ILO itself is indicating. Not only because social protection can and should be more than a correction mechanism to the current austerity policies that continue to follow the neoliberal philosophy of structural adjustment, but also because protective policies imply so much more than cash transfers and basic social policies (see previous article).

In this article, I want to point to some of the necessary connections to make if we want social protection to be a major element of social justice and to contribute to systemic change and the shaping of a better world for all. Continue…

Social Justice and Systemic Change (1)

Social Protection Floors: The Case for going Beyond

End of April 2018 The Economist published a special report on universal health care and put the topic on its cover. We should welcome this ‘social turn’ but we should also reflect very seriously on what is happening and why.

Also in spring 2018, José Antonio Ocampo and Joseph Stiglitz, two famous economists, published a book on ‘Re-visiting the Welfare State’ with a purely economic perspective on social policies.

What this means and confirms is that for almost forty years now, right-wing and neoliberal forces have been dominating and shaping the discourse – and consequently the practice – on social policies. They do not talk about social justice, obviously, since justice is far away from their objectives, but they have been dominating and shaping the new thinking on poverty, social protection, health and education. Continue…