Rafael Correa speaks on ‘Citizen Revolution’

While European governments continue to impose policies aimed at making
working people pay for a crisis they did not cause, the Ecuadorian
government of Rafael Correa has taken a different course.

“Those who are earning too much will be giving more to the poorest of
this country,” a November 1 Reuters dispatch quoted Correa as saying. He
was announcing a new measure to raise taxes on banks to help fund social
security payments.

Ecuador’s banking sector has registered US$349 million in after-tax
profits, a November 8 El Telegrafo article said.

“The time has arrived to redistribute those profits,” said Correa.

Reuters reported that by lifting the tax rate on bank holdings abroad
and applying a new tax on financial services, the government hopes to
raise between $200 million and $300 million a year.

The proceeds will fund a rise in the “human development bonus payment”
from $35 to $50 a month. About 1.2 million Ecuadorians receive the
payment, mainly single mothers and the elderly.

Such a move ? in the opposite direction to the most of the rest of the
world ? is largely explained by the fact the Correa government is a
result of the kind of protests movements now developing in Europe.

Citizen’s revolution

In “an interview published in the September/October issue of New Left
Review, Correa said the backdrop to his rise to power was “a citizens’
revolution, a revolt of indignant citizens” against bankers and
politicians destroying the country.

“In that sense we anticipated the recent indignado movement in Europe by
five or six years,” Correa said.

In 1999, a crisis engulfed Ecuador’s banking sector and the government
of the day tried to make the people carry the cost. Then-president Jamil
Mahuad was toppled by a popular uprising in 2000. The country’s
indigenous movements, spearheading opposition to neoliberalism, played a
leading role.

Ecuador’s economic crisis was soon coupled with a political crisis as
peoples’ illusions in the traditional parties of government collapsed.
“¡Que se vayan todos!” (Out with all of them!) became the rallying cry
of Ecuador’s next popular insurrection, which in 2005 toppled president
Lucio Gutierrez.

It was in this context that a relatively unknown leftist economist,
Correa, was asked to serve as the finance minister for Gutierrez’s
replacement, Alfredo Palacio.

Correa recalled: “In my short time at the Finance Ministry ? around a
hundred days ? we showed that one didn’t have to do the same as always:
submission to the IMF and World Bank, paying off the external debt
irrespective of the social debts still pending.

“This created a high level of expectations on the part of the public.”

Correa’s resignation due to differences with Palacio was greeted by
protests. Perhaps for the first time in history, the protests were not
against a finance minister, but in support.

With a group of close collaborators, Correa decided: “We couldn’t let
the expectations that had been raised, the feeling that things could be
done differently, end in disappointment.

“We travelled across the country and formed a political movement to
secure the presidency. For we saw very clearly that in order to change
Ecuador, we had to win political power.”

In 2006, Correa ran for president on a campaign that, he said, was
“proposing a revolution, understood as a radical and rapid change in the
existing structures of Ecuadorean society, in order to change the
bourgeois state into a truly popular one”.

Correa won in a second round run-off.

Make the bankers pay

One of the first big challenges his government faced was the global
economic crisis that hit in 2008.

The crisis was felt in Ecuador through the loss of foreign markets,
falling oil prices (the country’s chief export), and a sharp drop in
remittances from emigrants, which many Ecuadoreans depended.

Despite this, Ecuador’s economy suffered far less than many others.
Correa said this was due to “a combination of technical know-how and a
vision of the common good ? acting on behalf of our citizens, not
finance capital”.

“For example,” he said, “we used to have an autonomous central bank,
which is one of the great traps of neoliberalism, so that whichever
government is in power, things carry on as before”.

“Thanks to the 2008 Constitution, it is no longer autonomous.”

This meant the government could take back its national reserves that
were held in overseas banks. Together with new loans from China and
obliging private banks to return savings to Ecuador, the government was
able to ramp up public investment.

This helped lift Ecuador out of the crisis quicker than any other Latin
American country.

The government also enacted other measures to ensure peoples’ needs came
before profits. For example, new laws prohibit banks from penalising
low-income, first-time home buyers who default on their loans.

The most ambitious move however, which demonstrate how much had begun to
change in Ecuador, was the government’s decision to renegotiate its
foreign debt.

Correa told NLR: “The cost of the external debt was one of the greatest
obstacles to Ecuador’s development. At one time, servicing the debt
consumed 40 per cent of the budget, three times what was spent on the
social sphere ? education, health and so on.

“The allocation of resources demonstrated who was in charge of the
economy: bankers, creditors, international financial institutions.”

To turn this around, the government initiated the Committee for an
Integral Audit of the Public Debt (CAIC).

“The Commission proved beyond any doubt what we already knew: the
external debt was immoral, a robbery.

“For example, the 2012 and 2030 Global Bonds were sold on the secondary
market at 30 per cent of their value, but we had to pay them at the full
100 per cent. When it looked at the contracts, the Commission also found
a lot of corruption and conflicts of interest.

“So in December 2008 the CAIC ruled that this debt was immoral, and we
declared a unilateral moratorium on those bonds.

This was at a moment when we were in a strong economic position ? oil
prices were high, exports were growing ? which was deliberate. This
meant that the value of the debt dropped, and we forced our creditors to
negotiate and sell back their bonds in a Dutch auction.

“We managed to buy back our debt at 32–33 per cent of its value, which
meant billions of dollars of savings for the Ecuadorean people, both in
capital and in interest payments.

“This freed up a lot of resources which we could dedicate to the social
sphere; now, the situation is reversed from what it was before ? we
spend three times as much on education, health, housing as on debt
service.”

Human needs over greed

Correa said: “Now we are reducing inequality, and poverty with it,
through a combination of four things.

Firstly, making the rich pay more taxes. We have instituted a much more
progressive taxation system, and people now actually pay their taxes ?
collection has doubled.

“These resources, together with oil revenues and the money saved by
reducing the debt burden, can be devoted to education, health and so on.”

The second focus is giving people opportunities by providing free
education and healthcare.

“Thirdly, governing the market and improving the labour system.”

Correa said: “The market is a reality that we cannot avoid; but
believing the market should allocate everything is a different matter.
The market needs to be governed by collective action.

“We are putting an end to forms of exploitation such as subcontracting.
We are improving real wages …

“Around 60–65 per cent of families could afford the basic basket at the
start of our mandate, now we’ve reached 93 per cent, the highest in the
country’s history.

“We’ve disproved orthodox economic theory, the idea that to generate
employment one needs to lower real wages: here the real wage has risen
substantially, and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the
region?just under 5 per cent.

“We’ve also paid attention to the quality of employment, making sure
businesses comply with labour laws. While raising wages for labour,
we’ve reduced the remuneration for capital.”

The fourth measure, Correa explained, is “distributing adequately our
social patrimony”.

Correa said: “We used to give away our oil: before the Palacio
government, transnational companies would take the equivalent of 85 out
of every 100 barrels and leave us with 15; now we have renegotiated the
contracts, the proportions have been reversed.

“Another example: after the economic crisis of 1999–2000, many
enterprises which were used as collateral for loans should have ended up
in state hands; it was we who finally seized them. In the case of the
Isaias Group, owned by the family of the same name, in 2008 we recovered
around 200 enterprises.”

The result of these measures has been a marked lowering of poverty and
inequality.

This helps explain why, six years after first being elected, Correa
looks set to comfortably win presidential elections next March. Recent
polls show Correa winning with between 55-60% of the vote.

In distant second is a banker, Guillermo Lasso, with about 15% support.

Are we Deserving of a Democracy?

It is often said that we get the government we deserve. So given the fact that the Obama administration has by now clearly demonstrated that they do not do the bidding of the people, but the elites, and given the fact that even with this fact he still has an undeserved large number of supporters, it now becomes compulsory to ask ourselves, not just whether we got the government we deserve, but whether we even deserve democracy today. When people put themselves in compliance to a party, a personality, or a persona, be it Democratic, Republican, or any party or party leader, especially in a party and leadership that has long since demonstrated its hostility to its people (i.e. Democratic and Republican; Bush and Obama), and in the face of that knowledge either ignore or deny it and continue to support the person or party even as “the lesser evil,” then to that extent we deserve what that party or person does to us while they are in power and against which we do not protest simply because of our emotional allegiances; for example, warrantless spying, drones, assassinations, cuts to education and social fabric programs, tax cuts for the wealthy, favoring corporate leaders over the people (e.g. restructuring the auto industry in favor of its executives concerns), etc.

Arguably, there are at least two mental conditions underlying this phenomenon, and they are interrelated. The first is putting emotion over reason in one’s individual motivations; the second is putting a one-sided commitment to party over commitment to the (universally-motivated) common good (I will call the one-sidedness an emotive/ideological commitment to demonstrate its partiality, and will presume that reason plays a subservient role in its motivation). Both of these issues have a common cognitive aspect. It is important to note that the second issue has two facets, both of which are equally threatening to democracy: emotive commitment to party on the basis of self-interest; or emotive commitment to party as a melding of self-interest into group interest—i.e. entering into a group ideology, the implicit intention (or at least direction) of which is to defeat “outsider” ideologies that are not a part of that group’s beliefs. Both cognitive aspects involve a denial of attempting to be rationality objective, in favor of ideologies that are self-serving for that group, and thereby threatening to both a wholesome individual and to a healthy democracy. We will take each of these aspects in turn.

Before doing that, a quick definition is in order. By “rationality,” I mean a consciousness of the unity, structure, and consistency of propositions as well as their relations to each other in the process of justification (normative-guided inferences on the basis of available evidence), and the primary role of these dynamics as necessary conditions for human thought and communication. Along with this comes a focus on both discrimination of discrete concepts and also a universal quantification that comes with certain judgments, such as in ethics. Thus, rationality is the acknowledgement, by use or by conscious recognition, of a set of objective norms for thinking. The emphasis on the normative dimension of rationality here I take to be relatively uncontroversial. The controversy begins with my assertion of both the objectivity of norms (i.e. innate and universal in orientation), and most specifically the primacy of this understanding of human rationality in discourse, ethics, and politics. However, to blunt this potential controversy a bit, I would simply assert that without something resembling this conception of the structure and primacy of human reason, arguments about the best or most proper kind of politics, and the values such assertions are built on, would all be groundless: one metaphor would be just as good as another, and the only difference between them would be subjective taste. Contrary to that, I have met no one who was politically involved who would hold their perspective to be so groundless; reason surely plays an important role in justifying one’s position. Short of that, the only politics available to us is a power contest between ideologies. But this is precisely where my criticism of both desire-based individualism and party politics comes in, so we are now in a position to continue.

First, to self-dismantle the priority of one’s own innate propensity for thinking rationally by opting instead for emotive inspiration for one’s beliefs, and rejecting the rationally required justification for one’s social beliefs and proclamations, is to allow oneself to be led by individual desire and the cognitive and ethical relativism they respectively stand for. Far worse on this score, to have that relativism advocated by academicians and educational institutions (the “no foundational rules” or “no knowledge” approach to either the learning process itself and/or constituting the template for studying a given subject matter) is to automatically make those who embrace it susceptible to the rhetoric and propaganda of the leaders they are only emotionally supporting. Without a strong emphasis on and priority given to rational structures of thought and justification, one has no basis for either for their own views, or for criticism or critique of persons or parties: one has instead only an empty appeal to others having simply “a different metaphor.”

Second, to deliberately limit one’s considerations, knowledge, thinking, and values to the interests of one party pitted against another, or to what one personally feels good about—i.e. to deny the possibility of cognitive equilibrium by refusing to acknowledge, say, the critical importance of the immense gap between the rhetoric of party leaders and their actions, and/or between the interests of the leaders and that of their members, makes one blindly party-allegiant. This in turn entices the followers of a party to surrender to the interests of those rulers and the mechanisms of state the rulers use to pursue their own self-interests under the rhetorical banner of “national interests” or “the safety of the nation.” The reason for this sorry state of affairs is that, in deliberately opting for desire over reason, for relativism over truth, for the power of one party over another, for self-interest over the common good, and even for party over principle, one has surrendered both a rational (i.e. objective; universally-intended) and ethical (i.e. equal justice) ground on which to stand and a grasp of a set of long-term social goods for which to strive, in favor of individual self-aggrandizement, which is inevitably transient, elusive, and short-term.

votePeople who object to this analysis on the basis of a certain form of pragmatism—i.e. who say that the (two) party system is “the only game in town” and/or that “one must work within the party for change”—are not immune from this critique. There are many parties one might work for that more closely aligns with one’s rational sense of universal justice. Thus, the commitment from a pragmatic viewpoint to a single party or institution which has de facto rejected concerns of equality, justice, and universal inclusion, is no objection. Party pragmatists are bourgeois liberals: liberals who have “made it;” that is, they have made their gains within the confines of the institution(s) as it (they) currently exist, and/or have accepted the dogma that the current arrangement is the only foreseeable or workable arrangement to be had. In either case, in refusing to take on the cognitive disequilibrium that would attend it were they to consider otherwise, they are less interested in working for the universal application of the principles of equality, freedom, and justice if it sets their party-based goals back or if it costs them in their personal comfort. With one of those assumptions, they are able to support what the party or party leader does and says without the claims of conscience intruding excessively on their worldview. The perspective of a pragmatist then, is from the viewpoint of an instrumental rationality, a rationality that is geared toward party-based or party-limited ends instead of an objectively-motivated commitment to justice that would break one out of party limitations and into a vision for a new future for American politics.

No one who is drunk on this potion of party-interest, and its one-sided (i.e. party-supporting) information, individual self-interested desire-satisfaction, irrationalism and its emotionally titillating politics—any combination of these intoxicants—will be able to sort out truth from falsehood, rhetoric from reality, or ethical good from pandering to puffed-up feelings encouraged in their leaders’ speeches and corporate commercials. Only those who have made a conscious choice to value reason, logic, and ethical principles, necessarily attuned as they are to the good of the whole as opposed to their own selfish feelings of good and gain, can raise their heads up enough to see that the fox is in the henhouse; that the lies and the liars are in one’s own head as a result of both the self-destructive irrationalism of self-interest supported by the verbal manipulations of elite party leaders, combined with their secret and not-so-secret nefarious deeds.

The primary emphasis on either self or party results in a deflationary view of rationality and with it the recognition of the need for public, rational justification of positions taken and actions engaged—a discursive process that seeks the best, most rational and ethical perspective. On the other hand, blithely supporting a single party results in an inflationary view of one’s emotionally-supported leaders or party. Concretely, that means that one perceives and over-emphasizes only the minor goods done while ignoring far more nefarious deeds and misdeeds done, while at the same time being elated at “great speeches,” rhetorical flourishes, and engaging metaphors that happen to match one’s own feelings. This is the ideology that comes with an over-attachment to party combined with an unspoken because unacknowledged irrational mode of belief subject to the propagandistic manipulation of leadership—both of which reduce human cognition to a function of metaphorical exchange and judging differences between values as simply differences in metaphor. This give no grounding and no telos to human pursuit or exchange, and reduces discourse to exchange of catchy phrases and its resultant score-card of who (i.e. which party or politician) had the more polished turn of phrase instead of who had the position most in accord with both the evidence available and in conjunction with a moral set of principles that one would maintain is more acceptable for human intercourse. Thus, the overall patterns of leadership action and citizen support become the same, when reason and ethics are surrendered to interests of any other sort but the equal and universal concerns expressed by the principle “justice for all.”

The result of such irrationalities that themselves result in party-allegiance over principle: fascism and totalitarianism, in which individual rationality and objective justification is surrendered precisely for what is irrational. Contrary to the claim of relativists, fascism and totalitarianism did not originate in a quest for universal reason and a focus on rationality. Rather, that quest was overcome and put to use by a much deeper—i.e. unconscious—mechanism of the human psyche; one that caused Freud to be so pessimistic about human nature and the future of humanity. That mechanism is the love of control and power over others—be they another political party or another race or another culture—and the masochistic love of inflicting pain on them that is the inevitable concomitant of the pursuit of power. This is the psychological dynamic that put reason to work to achieve its ends in Hitler’s Germany. It still does today in Obama’s corporate America. (Note: I am not analogizing Hitler and Obama. I am simply arguing that the spirit of fascism did not die with Hitler or the Third Reich, and is very much alive in America today, and for the same reasons it was alive in Germany back then.)

By rejecting reason wholesale, and by putting relativism, the groupthink of a “party first” ideology, self-centered desires, and/or the irrational drives of the human psyche as the fundamental guide of human thoughts and action, the culture of the mid-to-late 20th century West guaranteed the decline of democracy and the ongoing dominance of the fascistic spirit we see so prominently today. It inverted the internal, self-ordered rational individual (and how could psyche have an order/cosmos without reason as guide?) with the desiring individual and thus social chaos (the opposite of cosmos) as atomistic, irrational individuals sought their own means of self-aggrandizement without care or concern for the impact they had on local or distant others and the future state of humanity.

The solution advocated here to this problem is what I would call “post party politics.” It is the recognition that the full-throated commitment to the party system has proved to be an utter failure, as has the commitment to individualism and relativism. Thus, the best solution is to find a political place between the Scylla of the party system (i.e. “the party for the party’s sake,” or “the party over and against all other parties”) and the Charybdis of settling for the solipsism of individualism and/or the intellectual complacency of relativism. That will demand two things: first, to put reason and ethical principles back to our deliberation as primary modes of cognition; second, to engage in public discourse on that basis; and third, to give only provisional support, which flexes and changes, to those persons and groups who put these values as primary in their governing methods, even if they are not able to maintain them at all times and all levels. This entails that one is committed to never allying with groups for groups’ sake, or with one’s self-interest alone as the basis of either voting or political involvement.