Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in Europe

Complex situations often require us to take a step back for what consultants call the 10,000 feet view. The problems facing the EU these days—from Grexit to Brexit—surely seem impenetrable. A convoluted potpourri of economic, financial, and political crises leaves most observers either completely disengaged or increasingly reliant on their gut feelings. To wrap one’s head around the forces that threaten the European project, it helps to think in very simple categories: exit, voice, and loyalty.

Few theories still prompt real-life insights almost half a century after their publication. Albert O. Hirschman’s “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” surely falls into this category. Put simply, Hirschman postulated that members who are unsatisfied with an organization they are part of, can either exit it or try to change its course by voicing their qualms. The ease of exit is very different, depending on the organization; it is considerably less costly to leave a scrabble club than say one’s family or street gang. The easier the exit, the less likely is one to voice concerns, which clearly affects the workings of an organization.

Continue Reading

Iceland’s unfinished revolution? An interview with Hordur Torfason

In this Q&A, I discuss the prospects for ‘unfreezing’ the draft new constitution with Hordur Torfason, the award-winning human rights activist credited with starting Iceland’s ‘pots and pans revolution’.

Question: You’re credited as the person who started the “pots and pans revolution” in Iceland. How did the protests start?

Torfason: I’m 70 years old this year. I started becoming an activist around 20 years old. Not that I wanted to become an activist, not at all. But I’m gay and it tells you a story that I’m the first gay man in the history of Iceland who steps forward. When I was 30 years old I was very famous. Everybody knew my song. I was on television, radio, doing concerts, LPs. I was doing everything that a young man can dream of. I was close to be a star or something like that in Iceland, in this small community. Except I was never happy because people were always trying to stop me being gay. I was not allowed to talk about it. It was like living in a dark cave.

One day I just decided to step out and say, “I’m gay and that’s it.” And everything went upside down, I had to go into exile and so on. That made me more determined to start fighting using my talent. I’m educated as an actor in the national theatre. I could play, I could sing, I could dance, I could write songs, I could write stories. This was how I started to become an activist, mixing activism and art. My main thing for all these years was to create awareness. Not only with myself but also travelling around talking to people through songs and stories.

So in the crash in October 2008, I had already done things like this.

Continue Reading

Magna Carta: A Beggarly Thing, A Mess of Pottage

That in 2015, we still commemorate an agreement between the king and the barons of England reached 800 years ago, probably on the 15th June 1215, is a cause for wonder. Magna Carta, the Great Charter, as that agreement has come to be known, is held to be a milestone in the course of western constitutional thought. Its place in English jurisprudence is secure, but, while prominent, hardly matches the reverence it is shown on the other side of the Atlantic.

Continue Reading

International intervention and the politics of building peace: ‘liberal imperialism’ or somewhat irrelevant?

International intervention in war-affected regions is the subject of much academic attention. Scholars and policymakers alike have been keen to understand the impacts, positive and negative, that international actors have when striving for peace in foreign countries. More often than not, the continuation of violence in areas that have been subject to heavy intervention, from Sudan to DRC, has generated staunch critique of the potential of such programmes to achieve their stated aim of ‘peace’. Africanist scholars in particular have identified efforts geared towards the increasingly linked aims of development and security as not merely ineffective, but exacerbating dysfunctional politics, insecurity and poverty across the continent. Following the wider critique of the liberal peace, interveners from UN peacekeepers to human rights NGOs are interpreted as enacting a ‘liberal imperialism’ that reinforces ‘western’ interests in the region, whilst promoting the superiority of ‘liberal’ values and conditioning new subjects into following them.

Continue Reading

A Magna Carta for learning disabled people

800 years of Magna Carta but learning disabled people remain ‘villeins’, denied rights against arbitrary power. What would a Magna Carta for learning disabled people look like?

Although Magna Carta is widely believed to have been the first ‘Human Rights Act’, it actually excluded most of the population. It did not apply to ‘villeins’, the ordinary people, sometimes called ‘serfs’ or ‘peasants’. The Lords, Barons and ‘free men’ were granted the right to be judged by their own peers. Most people however were villeins, and outside this new law. They were peasants who were bound to their lords by ties they were not free to break – they had to work for their Lord, they could not leave his land without permission, they did not own their goods or possessions and did not have access to the Royal Courts as the Lords, Barons and Freemen did.

Are people with learning disabilities our modern day villeins? The rights and positions of people with learning disabilities are not judged by juries of their peers but by systems where power is held by ‘lords’ – commissioners, social workers, service providers, psychiatrists, judges and politicians.

Continue Reading

The saddest Greek tragedy of all

Ending what has been a tumultuous six-month long negotiation process, last week the Greek Parliament approved the first package of austerity measures required by Greece’s creditors as part of the “Greekment” reached in the early morning hours of 13 July 2015 in order to initiate talks on a Third Fiscal Adjustment Programme (or “Memorandum”) and avoid Greece’s expulsion from the Eurozone. According to early reports, this Memorandum cover the Greece’s financing needs for the next three years, but will require the harshest set of austerity measures of the three fiscal adjustment programmes to date. In this first package alone, the Greek government is obliged to implement tax increases and pension cuts totalling approximately 2% of GDP, while future austerity measures are expected to include, among others:

Privatization of €50 billion of public funds;

Increase in VAT on most goods and services to 23%;

Elimination of lower VAT rate for Aegean islands;

Defense cuts of €300 million;

Increase of retirement age to 67 years old.

As US economist Paul Krugman notes, Greece’s creditors (IMF, EU Commission, ECB) continue to insist on the effectiveness of such austerity measures in spite of the fact the implementation of the First and Second Fiscal Adjustment Programmes, equivilant to the US cutting $3 trillion from its balance sheet, has only led Greece’s Debt-to-GDP ratio rising from 148.3% (2010) to 180.2% (2015).

Continue Reading
Book Reviews logo

Law, Legitimacy and Morality of Warfare: A Conversation about ‘Legitimate Targets? Social Construction, International Law and US Bombing’

In the following conversation concerning her recent publication, Dr. Janina Dill, Departmental Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Oxford, navigates a clear-cut path through concepts of International Law (IL), legitimacy and morality in warfare. From a theoretical perspective, she explains the relationship between constructivism, IL and international relations and highlights how our understanding of this relationship may be better informed through new concepts such as ”behavioural relevance” and “normative success”. From a practical perspective, she examines the historical shift in the conduct of warfare and the use of drone warfare by the United States. In response to Brett Rosenberg’s questions, Dr. Dill contemplates whether there are in fact legitimate targets in war.

Continue Reading

‘English Votes for English Laws’ — a viable answer to the English Question?

Last week the government published its detailed proposals for introducing English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) into the House of Commons. This is a significant moment in our constitutional history primarily because these changes reflect the acceptance of the need to institutionalise a collective English interest in the legislature, and the conviction that there is a growing and legitimate sense of grievance concerning England’s position within the UK.

The primary rationale offered for introducing EVEL is to bring Westminster up to date with the implications of devolution elsewhere within the UK. In a context where further devolution is anticipated for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is becoming harder to ignore demands that English interests be given greater consideration in parliament. The independentMcKay Commission, which was appointed by the Coalition government and reported in March 2013, suggested that there was now a clear imperative for England’s voices to be heard within the post-devolution constitutional settlement. There is significant support for the principle of EVEL: the 2014 Future of England Survey found that 62% of people in England agreed that Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on England-only legislation. The criticisms that the government’s proposals have so far elicited, reprise a number of standard objections to EVEL. But, while these are far from irrefutable, there is good reason to think that EVEL is unlikely to represent a sufficient answer to the English question.

Continue Reading