The CSS Blog Network

The Push for Pensions

Marching for work and retirement, photo: marcovdz/flickr

Europeans are talking about retirement. Yet, in France at least, it’s the youth who are most angry. Today the biggest protest movement since President Sarkozy took office continued for a tenth day. Airports have been disrupted, health risks have reached ‘pre-epidemic levels’ with refuse collectors on strike, even the Louvre was closed as staff blockaded the museum entrance.

The cynical readers among you will view this tête-à-tête as more déjà vu than coup d’état. Nonetheless, there remains a fundamental question in the developed world over how to balance the right to a ‘long and happy retirement’ against the gerontological and economic realities of modern times.

In financial terms it’s hard to argue with the figures. According to Allianz, a leading German financial services company, public pension expenditure for the European Union as a whole will increase to 12.8 percent by 2050. Compare this with France, Greece, or even Italy – where expenditure will increase to 25 percent of GDP by 2050 – and it seems inevitable that the budgetary axe should fall at this time of fiscal ‘belt-tightening’ across the continent. In Britain, for instance, the new measures are projected to save £5 billion a year. Furthermore the financial crisis has hit one rather traditional quirk of European retirement rights, namely that of a gender-based pension entitlement, with both the UK and Greece removing a woman’s prerogative to beat her husband to the pension pot.

However, this is one problem we can’t blame on the bankers. Aging populations are a direct result of our successful economic development – as the social, technological and cultural effects of modernization and urbanization mean lives are lengthened and people have fewer children to keep their populations youthful. As the New York Times put it in response to the protests, “it is hard to conjure a situation in which people move back to the countryside and again have larger families.” In fact, the Oxford Institute of Ageing – which published the seminal 2008 Global Ageing Survey – predicts that the West’s future search for a younger workforce will be instrumental at improving lives in the developing world, where in Africa only five percent are projected to be 65 or older in 2050 – compared to 29 percent in Europe.

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Rape of a Nation

Raped, ostracized, and looking straight at us. Photo: André Thiel/flickr

Last Sunday, 17 October 2010, over 1,700 women marched through the city of Bukavu in the strife-torn eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to protest against the prevalent sexual violence against their gender.

Margot Wallstrom, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, calls the DRC the “rape capital of the world” and estimates that 35,000 women have been raped there since January of this year alone. With neither the Congolese army, nor the UN troops seemingly willing or able to guarantee public safety, the organizers of the march decided to take their demands to the public arena, hoping to draw international attention to the plight of Congolese women.

Since fighting broke out in 1998, a horrendous number of girls and women have been raped in the DRC, and it is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 surviving rape victims living in the country today. Unfortunately, the scale of rapes and sexual violence has not diminished in the last years. On the contrary: the illegal, yet highly lucrative exploitation of natural resources in the DRC has attracted increasing numbers of militias into the region, all of which are using rape as a weapon of war. » More

The End of History, the End of Ideology?

Is Ideology your next meal? courtesy of Alyson Hewett

When Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history” at the end of the Cold War, he wasn’t completely wrong. The history of ideas stopped.

I know that philosophy is no longer trendy, but we have to face it: Ideologies have played a vitally important role in human history. Whether the Enlightenment, capitalism, communism, fascism, socialism, anarchism and all the other “isms”, ideologies have, sometimes alone and sometimes in competition with each other defined political history. Competition between ideologies forced them to improve their practical implementation, and thus each theory became better and better by being in contact with other ideologies.

When Fukuyama declared that history had ended, he meant that ideological history had ceased to exist when capitalism won the fight against communism. Since then, no serious ideologies have been able to seriously question or challenge the neoliberal system.

As a result, we have become bad and inept at thinking outside the box. We no longer seriously question the system (that most of us live in), not even after one of its most serious crises. Few people seem interested in seeking out and spreading new form of thinking that promote something better than capitalism. This is a serious deficiency for our increasingly ideology-deficient societies.

We do no longer think about reforming or improving the society, we just think about fixing it. Think about our government’s response to the financial crisis. What did we do? Did we try to create a financial system in which crises are no longer possible? No, we just saved the system from itself and are now simply waiting for the next crisis to happen.

What we need, is out of the box-thinking that the re-think and re-examines the basis of our current system. A few philosophers have started on this journey and one of them is Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian philosopher. » More

The Death of “Multikulti”?

Is it really ‘us’ versus ‘them’? photo: Alejandro Angel Velásquez/flickr

When the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, spoke on Saturday about the “utter failure” of German attempts to foster a multicultural society, the move was widely seen as an attempt to bolster her position in a coalition increasingly focused on the issue of immigration.

In the aftermath of Thilo Sarrazin’s controversial book that accused Muslim migrants in particular of sapping the country of its intellectual vigor, her comments to young Christian Democratic Union (CDU) members seem particularly opportunistic.

Meanwhile, prominent members of Merkel’s coalition, chief among them the premier of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, have called for a halt to migration from other cultural spheres. Claiming to reflect the popular will, Seehofer has chosen to frame a thorny, complex and multifaceted issue in starkly populist terms.

While clearly immigration is a problematic issue in many European countries that struggle with economic uncertainty and immigrant populations of varying degrees of integration (and facing a variety of challenges from entrenched unemployment, language barriers and discrimination), the increasing acceptability of xenophobic rhetoric is a deeply worrying phenomenon that is taking root beyond the geographical margins of Europe. In addition to the well-documented cases in Holland, Switzerland and most recently Sweden, German politics seem to be lurching in a similar direction.

Instead of debating the issue constructively, and engaging positively with those immigrants (whether Muslim or not) that seek to integrate- the public debate across Europe seems to be moving towards the blanket-stigmatization of immigrants. A sense of xenophobic dread and a wish to turn back the time on increasingly diverse and ethnically, socially and religiously diverse societies seems to underlie this trend. » More

ISN Insights: Look Back, Week Ahead

The week ahead, photo: rashida coleman-hale/flickr

Last week ISN Insights explored the following issues:

In the week ahead we’re going to be looking at: US immigration reform, Fiji’s military dictatorship, Turkey’s constitutional referendum and German defense reform, among others.

Stay tuned and keep checking the ISN site each day for the newest ISN Insights piece.

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