It’s Not About Chicken

Don’t get me wrong, I like chickens. As a child I loved visiting the farm and feeding the little chicks in their pen. I just don’t think when deliberating what’s at stake for the U.K in signing a post Brexit trade deal with the United States that poultry should be the focal point of debate. 

From Jeremy Corbyn to the BBC it seems everyone has bought into the idea that  chlorinated chickens entering the U.K food chain is the number one objection to a trade deal with Donald Trump. It’s bewildering to see political debate on respected current affairs progammes ask “Does Britain really want chlorinated chicken?” As if the primary impact of a trade deal with with the U.S is the quality of KFC.

To clarify, in the E.U chicken producers must adhere to strict hygiene and welfare regulations throughout the process of rearing, slaughtering and producing poultry. But in the U.S, regulation and hygiene standards are incredibly lax and substituted with a legal requirement to wash chicken carcasses in chlorinated baths to kill off bacteria, remove feces and make chicken safe to eat. What misery and disgusting conditions are inflicted upon chickens before they are slaughtered is for the market to decide.  

This is one example of how safety and welfare standards differ dramatically in the United States compared to the European Union. And it’s significant because when trade deals are signed, states usually agree to give equal access to producers from both countries to each other’s market.

If U.S producers are allowed to flood U.K supermarkets with cheap chlorinated chicken the question is, will giant American food conglomerates have to sign up to stricter hygiene measures to match the U.K’s regulations? Or will the U.K ‘harmonise’ its laws with the U.S and lower standards for everyone?

One might argue that this is a false dichotomy. Just because we allow U.S produce into Britain doesn’t mean we have to lower our standards for British farmers here. Britain can still enforce higher welfare and safety standards.

That is true but let me present the following scenario. A 2014 Populus survey found that price is the most important factor in purchasing meat for 61% of U.K consumers. If  supermarkets were to be flooded with cheaper American produce, and U.K poultry farmers started going out of business because consumers were switching to the cheaper alternatives, do you think the government would let British poultry farming collapse or would they slash regulations to cut the costs of production and make U.K farmers more competitive?

This is the context in which U.S chlorinated chickens should be discussed. It should be a gateway to a wider conversation about how a trade deal with the U.S will likely be a pretext for deregulation, threaten British industry and provide massive companies like Tyson foods with extensive legal rights in the UK.

But that’s not what happens, the public debate starts and ends at a costs/benefit analysis of eating chlorinated chicken. The economic right love this, as it presents objections to a trade deal as minor and rather trivial. In reality a trade deal would be a massive corporate power grab for U.S multinationals to ransack the welfare state and hamstring future regulation by gaining legal standing to sue the British government for potential infringements of investor rights guaranteed under a trade agreement.

This power transition is what Brexit has always been about for the American and British right. “Throwing off the shackles” of the European Union, of democratic accountability  and state controls in order to turn Britain into market run hellhole where government has no role in healthcare or food safety.

We must begin to take back control of the conversation and counter the narrative that objections to the deal are trivial in matter. Next time someone tries to drag the debate towards the pros and cons of chlorinated chickens – let’s politely tell them no. That we’d rather start from the point of corporate power and the potential weakening of democratic state controls. That we’d rather start the discussion with what a trade deal would mean for the NHS, for the BBC and for other treasured public institutions. We’d like to start with who is lobbying for a deal, how much money they have spent and how much they personally have to gain. After that, we can go for wings.

 

 

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There is No Anti-Elite

“If you believe you are a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere”

 

Theresa May condescendingly cackled as a rapturous applause erupted in the hall of the 2017 Conservative Party conference.

No longer was the Prime Minister going to tolerate the smug, cosmopolitan elite who spend their summers in San Francisco and winters in the Andorran alpine sneering down with disgust upon those who embrace national pride and British identity.

For too long the “citizens of the world” have had it all their own way at the expense of “ordinary, decent people”. And while the last three decades of  liberalization in the global economy have brought financial and cultural enrichment to the London elite it has come at the cost of devastating traditional industries and working class communities whose livelihoods depended upon the mining and steel industries.

Instead of trying to better understand this pain and work toward making globalization an inclusive project that works for everyone, elites have lazily opted to label those who are suffering as closed minded, nationalistic bigots.

The establishment has morally and politically failed to articulate a compelling vision of the future which includes a better life for working class people. Instead Parties have abandoned the poor in the dark corridors of Amazon warehouses to scrape by on the scraps of the gig economy.

Yet recent political events suggest this political ignorance is unsustainable. The rise of authoritarianism, increasing hostility aimed at immigrants and the collapse of political centrism reveal a rapid decline of faith in the liberal system. By downplaying the flaws of globalization, liberal elites have paved the way for self acclaimed “anti-elites” to claim the conversation and sprout the narrative that immigrants, experts and independent media are at the core of the problem.

Turkish writer Elif Shafak -a self described citizen of the world – best explained why anti-elites are not the answer to society’s ills:

“We have to make one thing very clear not everyone who voted for Brexit is a xenophobe, how could anyone think that? Not everyone who voted for Trump is an Islamaphobe and not everyone who votes in a certain way is a racist, of course they’re not it’s ridiculous!

But here is where I differ, the populist demagogues are also telling us that they are the spokespeople for the “real people” and I want us all to be very careful about that dichotomy. Who are the real people and who are the unreal people? What does that mean? We are currently seeing a shift in elites – one elite is losing ground [liberal elites] but let us understand that Marine La Pen is no less elite than the people she is criticizing. She is also part of the establishment. So many of the figures from Victor Orban to Vučić – one after another in every country, they’re also part of the elite except it’s a different elite with a different world view.”

The once maligned authoritarians of Europe are feasting on the crisis of European liberalism. Aided by the polarizing effects of social media they have exploited the anger and fear experienced by many in the precarious, instability of the twenty-first century. Part of that exploitation is trying to seduce us to believe the false dichotomies of an “elite” and “anti-elite”of  “patriots” and “traitors”.

In challenging the elite of cold-hearted globalization beware the elite of hot-blooded nationalism.

Is Donald Trump unintentionally promoting a liberal agenda In Europe?

 

Author: Fillip Steffensen

When Donald Trump won the 2016 US election, pundits predicted a populist backlash against past decades of fiscally and culturally liberal policies. Porous borders, terrorist threats and the decline of the manufacturing industry were blamed for the emergence of populism. However, 6 months after the inauguration of Donald Trump, the world -especially Europe – has experienced what I would call a liberal backlash rather than a populist backlash.

In the following article, I will endeavour to explain why Donald Trump is unintentionally promoting a liberal and cosmopolitan agenda rather than his own populist agenda.

The idea first struck me in December when political latecomer, Alexander Van Der Bellen, defeated populist Norbert Hofer in the second ballot of the Austrian election. The first election was held in May with only an insignificant margin separating the two candidates. In the re-election, however, Van Der Bellen triumphed with a margin of approximately 8 percentage points.

In other parts of Europe, pundits dreaded the prospects of candidates like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders being successful in their respective elections. Although both candidates did perform very well in polls months before the elections, their support declined severely as election day approached. In Netherlands, the support for Geert Wilders’ party amounted to about 22% in polls. However, his support decreased dramatically – hitting only 13,1% at election day:

Graph 1

 

Additionally, in the subsequent French elections Marine Le Pen was expected to gain ground in polls. However, as election day approached, her support declined:

 

graph2

 

The same trend applies in the 2017 UK election in which UKIP support collapsed, falling numerous percentages. After reaching its peak popularity in polls, the German populist party, AfD also seems to have lost favour from the electorate – nonetheless, we still anticipate the elections in September with great excitement.

It is not only in elections that Trump seems to have ignited a counter-reaction. Another way to examine this tendency is by looking at polls measuring the development in opinions from year to year. I find it striking that favourability ratings for free trade and NATO – which Trump is not particularly fond of – have increased. For instance, Trump spent lengths expressing his discomfort with trade deals and NATO – therefore, It is intriguing that perceptions of free trade and NATO have shifted towards a more liberal view among the respondents:

graph 3

 

What’s more interesting is that favourability ratings have increased following a period of long time pessimism. In other words, the zero-zum perceptions have been substituted with a liberal and positive-sum perception of the economy. During his campaign, Trump also questioned the necessity of NATO. In a resentful manner, he threatened that USA might not comply with the musketeer oath. But, as the figure below suggests, the favourability ratings of NATO increased after a long period of decline – even in semi-authoritarian and populist countries like Poland:

 

graph 4

 

Conclusion

The evidence presented above suggests that the election of Trump has ignited a counter-reaction. The statistics above are only a fraction of polls and election results supporting this thesis.

Nevertheless, in the above, I have presented compelling evidence suggesting that Trump has mobilised a backlash. In other words, Trump seems to have promoted liberal values and policies.

The German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote about a theory of pendulum. In short, according to Hegel, contradiction is at the core of human progress. The idea is that contradicting positions are being resolved into a new position. This way, the “pendulum” swings between thesis and antithesis, and eventually develops into a third position.

Hegelian philosophy seems far away from Trump. However, as mentioned in the introduction, the Western world has been dominated primarily by fiscally and culturally liberal reforms since the fall of the Soviet Union. Albeit this policy had great support in the first decades following the fall of Soviet Union public sentiment shifted within the 21st century. For years, political pessimism thrived in certain regions, which eventually led to the emergence of political movements agitating for nationalist and semi-authoritarian policies.

This created fertile political ground for the emergence of the populist movement which eventually culminated with the election of Trump. As this radical and populist movement formed, the evidence suggests that the pendulum has swung in both directions and is now stabilising in the middle. In other words, the pendulum has stabilised in a position between two contradictions (liberalism/populism) and has now settled in a position in the middle.

 

Fillip Steffensen is a Danish blogger and contributing writer at The Conversation Room.

How Do The Left Beat Populism?

Author, commentator and journalist Owen Jones discusses his views on the major failings of left wing politics globally and how they can overcome the populist right which has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Are we closer to a Utopia than we think?

Owen Jones interviews Dutch writer Rudger Bregman on his new book “Utopia for realists”.

This is a riveting discussion on the idea of utopia. Is it a dangerous concept?   Or can it be used to reboot the welfare model of capitalism and shape a better global future?

Okay You Don’t Like Capitalism But What Do You Really Want?

 

 

In this thought provoking video philosopher Slavoj Žižek says its time to stop protesting against capitalism, take a step back and actually think what you really want as an alternative. What can you do to dismantle the market structure without regressing into a 20th Century communist system of servitude and domination?

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. He is a professor at the European Graduate School, International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London, and a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His books include Living in the End Times, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, In Defense of Lost Causes, four volumes of the Essential Žižek, and many more.

A Transcript of the video can be found here http://bigthink.com/videos/dont-act-just-think