14. Dezember 2012
The World in the State of Economic War

Ulrich Thielemann
Kategorie: Ökonomisierung, Ökonomismus, Kapital

Does the European Union deserve the 2012 Nobel Peace Price?


The Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende asked me for an interview in regard of the Nobel Peace Price which went to the European Union this year. Below is the initial interview which had been given in English. Is has been translated to Norwegian, and published, with slight variations, in the Bergens Tidend on 9. December 2012, with the title “The Fortsatt krig i Europa, men med penger”.

Bergens Tidende: Was it a good idea to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union?

Ulrich Thielemann: Yes, in the sense that it appears that this award now is presented as a challenge to the recipient. And it is true that the idea of armed conflict or war is beyond our imagination in Europe today. That is an important achievement.

BT: Democracy has been a victim several times through the crisis. In Greece and Italy elected governments were replaced by technocrats. Merkel and Sarkozy effectively blocked a referendum in Greece. How do you view the functionality of democracy within the European Union today?

UT: And this is the other side of the equation. There is another “war” going on, not in the traditional sense of an armed conflict, but a war between “classes”, as Warren Buffet put it, and this is a global war. It is a war in terms of the competitiveness of whole nations, even of an association of states, like the EU . It centers around making oneself attractive for the globally circulating capital. And the financial crisis is a part of this war.

BT: What is the role, or the position, of the European Union in this war?

UT: The one-eyed focus on competitiveness works against ordinary people. Look at the austerity programs, the so-called reforms that are implemented all over the continent. Workers are told that they have to accept lower wages if they are to be competitive on a global arena. There is a mantra in the European Union that “we need to regain global competitiveness”. Martin Schulz, President of  the European Parliament, has said it very clearly: “In the 21 century Europe’s reason of being is new. Peace is secured anyhow. The new task is to secure global competitiveness.”

The failure of the EU is: There is no hint of any global initiative to tame this economic world war. Even more: If the EU intentions are not just about keeping up in terms of competitiveness with other nations and world regions, but if the goal is to become the “most competitive economy in the world”, then this is some kind of declaration of war, of an economic war. This is an infringement of the spirit of the Nobel Peace Price of “fraternity between nations”.

BT: For many ordinary people, it is difficult to grasp what is going on, even though it affects them directly. It is such a complex situation.

UT: It is true, it is complex and not easy to understand. In this war, there is no clear, visible “enemy”. There is only the infamous invisible hand, which is more of a hiding hand. It conceals that we, as humans, are in the state of competitive world war, letting this war appear as some impersonal facticity.  It is important to remember that competitiveness is zero sum game. If one country increases its competitiveness, it does so at the cost of somebody else. This is why it is important to stem competition from becoming too strong, too aggressive. There is a specific responsibility for Europe to end this war and to lower the competitiveness factor to a level that is somehow tolerable and liveable.

BT: But isn’t it true that competition is one of the basic tenets of the modern, globalized economy?

UT: Well, one of the reasons we have arrived at this situation today is that we are no longer taxing the financial sector like we used to. The globally circulating capital is getting bigger and bigger, and its force is too strong to withstand. The only way to end, or at least to tame, this war is to reach a consensus on a global scale, to limit competition, some kind of ceasefire agreement, and tax capital at considerably higher rates. Isn’t it amazing that in the golden age of social market economies, after world war II until the late 1970s, capital was taxed much higher than today, even though, due to high growth rates, capital demand should have been higher?