Recently, a number of French intellectuals endorsed an appeal urging Europeans to address seriously the negative consequences on social life of neoliberal economic trends. The following is an abridged version of their “Call,” translated and edited for a U.S. audience. Signers included Alain Caillé, André Gorz, and Alain Lipietz, among others; the effort was organized by La Revue du MAUSS and Transversales in Paris.
Everyone sees it: all over Europe, even where the economy is not faring badly, society is falling apart. The social contract of the last fifty years, based on full employment and the welfare state, no longer holds our societies together. The continuing growth of wealth, because it is distributed more and more unequally, is accompanied by social divisions that are becoming intolerable. A first conclusion is inescapable: the policies of the past twenty years, which pinned their hopes on a return to a level of growth sufficient to eliminate unemployment, have failed.
Many factors must obviously be considered in understanding the causes of the mass unemployment plaguing Europe. How much is due to the spread of information technologies, whose productivity gains “free” workers from one sector while preventing them from shifting into another? How much is due to globalization? Or to financial speculation? Finally, how much comes from the timidity of our economic policies and the debt and inflation limits imposed by the Maastricht Treaty? Among the signers of this appeal there are divergent opinions on all these points. But we are united in the conviction that no traditional economic policy can resolve the crisis of work and the exhaustion of the wage society. Neither the “free-market” approach nor the panoply of Keynesian stimulus measures will overcome unemployment or heal the social fractures that are widening everywhere if we do not recognize that Europe has entered a different era from the one that assured its prosperity up to now.
The signers of this appeal—economists, sociologists, journalists, philosophers, and activists—believe that it is urgent to subordinate their differences in order to encourage a debate about how to stimulate innovative economic and social policies. This means reflecting on how to achieve plural forms of economy and democracy, as well as sustainable development. We believe that a novel policy must strengthen democracy, rather than sacrificing it in the name of a technocratic or economic efficiency that usually proves wholly imaginary. And we all agree, albeit with varying emphases, that any democratic economic and social policy seeking to mend the social fabric must explore three interdependent matters:
(1) Reduce work-time, share employment
The average work-week must be shortened. It is also necessary to redistribute work—and the privileges of citizenship that go along with it—across the active population. An arsenal of measure...
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