Project Leader, Arne Næss Program on Global Justice and Environment, University of Oslo
Here’s a look from the outside.
This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are the responsibility of the writer.
There are probably few Aftenposten readers who have heard of Julia Cagé, but she is a rising intellectual star in the international market for ideas. Not because she is the wife of Thomas Piketty, but because she is a visionary thinker. It combines clever economic analysis with bold suggestions on how to overcome the midlife crisis of democracy.
What This year’s Professor Arne Næss at the University of Oslo will give a lecture on September 23 on how we should combat a growing social inequality in the world. Included in Norway by Jonas Gahr Støre.
The short answer is: neutralizing the two powerful political drugs: great power and great money. They are the main cause of democratic deficits, environmental damage and social injustice.
It allows many fixes and tricks.
We will shed light on the Norwegian romance between power and money. Let’s look first at Cagé’s own France.
On the surface, things look lighthearted: Political television advertising is banned. Individual donations to political parties and groups are limited to 7,500 euros. So far, everything seems to be fine.
The problem is that the system allows many fixes and tricks.
In Marche, the political movement founded by President Emmanuel Macron (who by the way worked for the Rothschild Bank in his previous life), received around 16 million euros in donations.
Macron also took out 8 million euros in personal loans from a French bank, without revealing the name. It was a completely legal operation.
The same loophole allowed Marie le Pen’s National Front party to borrow millions of euros from a private bank in Putin’s Russia in 2014 and 2016. And it encouraged former President Nicolas Sarkozy to receive “gifts” from Muhammar al-Gaddafi.
French politicians and intellectuals have always had a soft spot for muscular dictators.
Links with powerful tycoons
In his latest bestseller The price of democracy Cagé quotes the iconic series House of cards. There, Predator president Frank Underwood represents the moral decadence and brutalization of modern politics: no conscience, no social responsibility. Just naked cynicism and a thirst for unlimited power and money.
“Modern democracies suffer from lung cancer,” says Julia Cagé. “Take the tobacco giant Morris in Germany or the Koch brothers in the United States. They are not just weathering democratic processes. They actively contribute to growing political and economic inequality and destroy the climate. We need a serious debate on the connection between the great money and politics and the way wealth translates into political power and creates social and environmental injustice. ”
Even today’s civil society (think tanks and foundations) and the media have ties to powerful industrial moguls or political demagogues. Idealistic philanthropists, like Elon Musk, who specializes in saving the planet by producing electric cars, dream of becoming the first kings of Mars. The sky is the limit, literally.
Millions in gift
What then is the price of democracy in Norway? On the surface, Norway is a perfect contrast to the “zombie democracy” of billionaires in the United States or the rule of the super-rich in France.
But wait. In Norway, there are no restrictions on the size of donations from individuals or companies, other than that they must be published.
We know that in the recent parliamentary elections, Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party received approx. 12.6 million in gifts from various players: Canica, Stein Erik Hagen’s company, contributed NOK 3.5 million, while Christen Sveaas and his Kistefos spat out NOK 2 million, to name two powerful donors.
We also know that the LO supervisory board gave NOK 23 million to the Labor Party, the Center Party and the Socialist People’s Party to secure a new government led by Jonas Gahr Støre.
In addition, many billionaires, especially real estate investors such as Jan Petter Sissener or Christian Ringnes, threw hundreds of thousands into the lap of the heroic duo Jan Bøhler and Trygve Slagsvold Vedum.
Yes, here in Norway there is talk of growing inequality. But it is with a dose of optimism that our super-democracy, bolstered by the recent shift to the left in Scandinavia, will lead to the necessary corrections. But it will?
How do we slow down the interaction between big money and big politics, so that the poor stop paying for the rich?
According to Julia Cagé, we can hardly expect money moguls to undergo a moral conversion, or that the often unrealistic left will suddenly become visionary and effective. The responsibility for the differences falls simply on the citizens themselves, insists Cagé.
We have a collective capacity to change things at the legal and institutional level, to design a system that increases political participation and trust. Such a system would imply the prohibition of private financing and the strengthening of democratic participation through the creation of democratic equality vouchers.
Gender equality certificates give every citizen the right to spend, say, 50 crowns on a preferred political candidate. They ensure that an unemployed single mother and Mr. Ringnes are equally placed in the financing of political life.
But the equality test is not enough. Apart from public financing of the electoral process, a sustainable democracy needs two more innovations.
The first is to rebuild the existing parliamentary system by requiring that a third of the elected representatives come from the working class or the so-called precarious. This will allow “invisible” or disadvantaged groups in a society to be represented in the political theater.
The second innovation involves the creation of a non-commercial media foundation, whose board is made up not only of shareholders, but also of journalists and readers.
Power to launch a counterattack
Is Julia Cagé’s vision just a new soft and radical fantasy? Maybe she’s into something.
Forty years ago, the Czech dissident Václav Havel wrote a pioneering essay, “The Power of the Powerless.” There he argued that the communist tyranny in the former Soviet Union was caused in part by slow, indifferent or “fortunately oppressed” citizens.
Cagé offers a similar argument. Stop whining, she says. Citizens have the power to launch a counterattack against a radically unjust democratic model in which the poor support the rich and in which social inequality is treated as inevitable or “normal”.
The first step in eliminating inequality and increasing environmental and social justice is to counter the crucial role of money in the renewal of the world’s democracies, including the Nordic welfare democracies, which reign as some of the best in the world.
The chronicle is based on a conversation between Julia Cagé and Nina Witoszek.