Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Farewell to Atkinson College

A great experiment in part-time, adult education is coming to an end tomorrow. Atkinson College at York University, now called the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, opened its doors in 1962. While the name Atkinson---after Joseph E. Atkinson, the founder of the Toronto Star---will survive in the form of the Atkinson Centre for Mature and Part-time students (an advocacy body on behalf of mature students), the College that was dedicated to the education of those who work during the day and go to school at night will be no more. Tomorrow the new Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies will come into existence. It will include both the former Atkinson and the former Faculty of Arts.

Tens of thousands of men and women, whose families come from all parts of the world, have graduated from Atkinson. Atkinson College was founded on a clear premise. Part-time students, typically working people who had to attend classes in the evening and young students who could not afford to go to school full-time, should have a college and a faculty devoted to their needs.

At Atkinson, students were taught by professors who devoted their careers to part-timers. The faculty learned, through experience, that there was no level playing field for their students, who ranged in age from those in their late teens to septuagenarians who were taking a degree during their retirement years. Over the decades, Atkinson became Canada’s greatest repository of know-how in the teaching of part-time university students.

Atkinson was established at a time when university education was becoming accessible to a much wider range of people in Canada. Up until the end of the 1950s, universities were primarily available to members of a narrow social elite. The idea that working people could and should have access to a university education was novel, even revolutionary. That changed dramatically in the 1960s, when new universities and colleges were established and the doors were thrown open to enormous numbers of students who never would have contemplated a university education previously. That change forever transformed the culture of universities.

Atkinson was on the cutting edge of the drive to democratize what had been a rather hide bound system in the past. Greater accessibility was the watchword of the time. Atkinson took that concept even further when it set up a faculty whose goal was to educate students who worked during the day and needed to attend classes in the evenings and in the summer. These students would earn degrees over many years and would thereby upgrade their professional standing. In the early years, primary school teachers who had not yet obtained university degrees were one of the largest of Atkinson’s constituencies.

From the very start Atkinson was about much more than upgrading professionals who needed a university degree. Without being fully conscious of what this implied at the outset, Atkinson was learning through experience how to educate people who combined work and study in their lives. Included in this wide cohort could be twenty year olds who had to earn an income while attending university. Included as well were older people who needed, or simply wanted, a university degree.

As it reached out to these new constituencies, Atkinson classes became unique settings from the first days. Course directors, who were used to teaching the traditional cohort of full-time students, discovered that they were operating in a new and unfamiliar environment. Classes in the arts and social sciences became more than academic exercises. They became passionate discussions about the relevance of the subjects under scrutiny. How the economy was performing was more than a matter for essays or exam questions, it was about what would happen to the people sitting in the classroom. Students raised questions about whether it mattered to learn about the past. As the composition of the classes changed over the years to include much larger numbers of immigrants and people of colour, students questioned whether subjects were being taught through a lens that was culturally much too narrow. One of the remarkable effects of Atkinson classes has been the way they transformed learning, not only for students who worked during the day and went to school in the evening, but for traditional day students as well. Younger students found the interaction with their older and culturally more diverse classmates highly stimulating. Long before it became the policy of Atkinson to coordinate its course offerings with those of the Faculty of Arts, Atkinson classes were sought out by Arts students who often found them more satisfying than the courses in their own Faculty.

It has been said that one of the differences between Atkinson classes and those in the Faculty of Arts was the sound of voices. Even at the first class, before class, Atkinson students talked to each other. They had something to say and were excited about saying it. This excitement, if nurtured, continued throughout the course. Atkinson students brough their life experiences to the class. Their experiences could, and have often became, the basis for the scholarly ventures of faculty members. Students who brought the “real” world into the classroom changed academia. They could even change the world.

The Atkinson faculty was recruited to teach in a novel environment, but faculty members received no special training to prepare them for this. They learned on the job. What they were discovering, in practice if not in theory, was a new pedagogy. They were learning about a diverse student population, made up of people from widely different backgrounds, socio-economic circumstances and different generations. They were adapting to a setting in which the notion of a “level playing field” simply didn’t work. Some students had access to libraries only at rare times, others were raising small children, still others had serious health problems and many had obligations to families located on the other side of the world. Decades later, faculty would have to adapt to the problems that arose when they taught Internet courses to students who sometimes were literally on the other side of the world.

However little formal preparation they may have had to face these challenges, faculty found Atkinson an exhilarating place to work. For most faculty members the adjustment to teaching in the evenings and in the summer was far from insurmountable. While other faculty in the university shuddered at the thought of such a schedule, the advantages that went with teaching such interesting and lively people more than made up for the inconvenience. Atkinson faculty made their mark as scholars and it has been a considerable one. For the most part, it was of little concern to them that members of other faculties sometimes dismissed Atkinson as a “lunch bucket” institution. That went with the territory for a college geared to educating working people.

Collegiality, a word often lightly used in descriptions of academe, has been a genuine characteristic of Atkinson’s faculty. While not free from disputes, Atkinson’s broad purpose has reinforced a cooperative spirit among faculty members. When faculty were asked to comment on what made the institution distinctive, they regularly noted that egalitarian values and a commitment to social justice made Atkinson a collegial place to work, one in which faculty members demonstrate respect and care for one another. This attitude, many believe, has been a welcome antidote to some of the more negative aspects of academic careerism.

Over the years, Atkinson has nurtured an administrative staff that is remarkably well adapted to addressing the special needs of the college’s student body. Because classes met in the evenings---on the main campus from 7.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m.---it was crucial for Atkinson offices to remain open after the usual closing time for university offices. Many Atkinson students were not able to visit offices or their course directors before 5.30 or 6.00.

Why were Atkinson faculty members prepared to put up with a schedule that other faculty often regarded as onerous? The answer is that they were teaching in the evening or summer as part of a collective project dedicated to providing access to students with a wide range of needs. In such a setting, senior as well as junior faculty members, regarded this as normal, and not as something to be endured only in the early phase of their careers.

As the years passed, the Atkinson student constituency changed dramatically and in response to the changes, the Atkinson culture continued to evolve. By the mid 1970s, the primary school teachers who needed degrees, had come and gone. Later, nurses provided a large cohort. They came and went. The changes reflected the demographic transformation of the Greater Toronto Area. Not only did Atkinson attempt to reach out to the ethnically and racially diverse population that was the hallmark of the GTA, it sought to contribute to the intellectual needs of a society whose diversity was unique in the world. Atkinson faculty had always emphasized the study of the society around it, specializing in the analysis of Canada and of Canadian political economy. Responding to the dramatic evolution of the metropolis of which it was a part, Atkinson made a commitment to social justice an integral aspect of the work of the faculty. Innovative and critical studies in gender, race, ethnicity and indigeneity were developed.

Not only was social justice to be an essential emphasis of Atkinson courses and of the scholarly projects of faculty members, it was to be built into the process of renewing the faculty. For the first several decades of its existence, Atkinson’s faculty was largely male and white. In the forefront of York University’s drive to hire a faculty that reflected the character of the GTA, Atkinson established an affirmative action programme whose goal was to bring women, people of colour, aboriginals and persons with physical disabilities into the faculty. As a consequence of this commitment, today’s Atkinson faculty much more genuinely reflects the gender, ethnic and racial composition of the GTA than was the case in the past.

The evolution of a culture within a faculty is an exceptionally important phenomenon. It takes place over years, even decades. Dynamic faculties are not able to rest on their laurels, but are required to adapt to changing circumstances and needs. The culture of a faculty is passed down from those who came before to those who take up the challenge. Values, priorities and ways of doing things are essential features of a faculty culture. In universities around the world, the importance of the traditions and cultures of particular colleges and faculties have long been recognized. It is not the external formalities of a culture that ought to be cherished, but rather the vital stream within, the spirit of scholarship, teaching and innovation that is the true life of a faculty. When formalities get in the way, adaptation and originality are placed at risk. Atkinson can claim to have evolved a living tradition that has not been too much burdened by formalities. A set of core values and a record of experience have been handed down from the past to the present.

The administrators at York, who have pushed through the changes that will eliminate Atkinson, are well-motivated and sincere. Those who advocated the demise of Atkinson argued that much more of the entire student population at York was now made up of part-timers, and that therefore, the needs of such students should be met in a huge new faculty that will include those in the present Faculty of Arts and Atkinson. The merger will retain the best of Atkinson, they say.

It was an odd argument. To meet the needs of part-time students, the university should disband the faculty that was best at teaching them.

In practice, what is happening at York is less a merger and more a takeover, of Atkinson by the much larger Faculty of Arts. Professors in the Faculty of Arts have tended to look askance at Atkinson as an institution that does not quite come up to their scholarly standards. It is no secret today that professors in the Faculty of Arts are anxious to avoid having to teach students in the evenings and summers. Although the planners of the merger will rush to tell the public that nothing could be further from the truth, it is virtually certain that in the future part-time students will be taught by those with the least clout in their faculties. It will be a teaching assignment for one’s early years, before tenure has been attained. Gone will be the esprit de corps of a college that was devoted to working people and part-timers.

The merger-takeover is a product of our times. The assumption is that bigger is better and more efficient. If anyone believes that such mergers save money, they almost never do, and are not likely to in this case. In fact, the efficiencies to be achieved have mostly been realized over the past decade or two by opening Atkinson and Faculty of Arts courses to the students of both bodies. Atkinson, it needs to be noted, has never been a financial drag on the rest of the university.

My fear is that in the new faculty, many of the kinds of students I have taught will fall through the cracks, and will not receive the support, encouragement, and expertise they could expect at Atkinson.

A couple of decades ago, a managerial culture grew up in the corporate world, the health care system, government, in academia as well as in other institutions which placed a great deal of emphasis on streamlining, mergers and reorganization to achieve stronger performance and enhanced productivity. Especially in its early days, one of the key ideas of this approach was that great gains could be realized through harmonization and standardization. The history of many large institutions was littered with mergers and reorganizations that not only failed to increase overall productivity but that had the negative effect of choking off valuable experience and ways of doing things in existing institutions and units. In many cases---notoriously, municipal governments---mergers added to overall costs and reduced productivity. Hard and bitter experiences have led to a rethinking of the merger approach. Standardization and harmonization have been rejected in many institutions in favour of mutual recognition, an approach that allows units within an institution to work closely together, while the strengths of existing units are retained. Mutual recognition---it is now widely recognized---allows units to exist side by side, each bringing its strengths to bear on the overall institutional goal. Mutual recognition treats institutions as organic entities with lives of their own.

The foregoing aside, I hope the administrators are right that what is coming will be progress and that the future will be better than the past. The new Department of Equity Studies, which comes into being tomorrow, for instance, holds enormous promise, as do other initiatives.

Having taught at Atkinson for the past thirty-eight years, however, I must be allowed my lament. If it is too late to save what has been, those of us who have spent our working lives in a very special institution cannot be expected to let it pass away as in a dream. We must be permitted to bid farewell to Atkinson.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This Hawk (Michael Ignatieff) Stays Tethered

Michael Ignatieff has real trouble distinguishing between rhetoric and reality. At his press outing yesterday, where he explained the deal he had reached with Stephen Harper, he was asked how the unemployed would benefit from the decision of the Liberals and Conservatives to set up a Blue Ribbon panel to study qualifications for Employment Insurance. The panel will report in late September. On Monday, the Liberal leader had insisted that something had to be done about EI this summer. Yesterday, he tried to claim that the unemployed were the beneficiaries of the arrangement he has made with the Harper government.

Ignatieff may actually believe that an unemployed Canadian who doesn't qualify for EI---most of them don't---will enjoy a better life while the members of the Blue Ribbon Panel meet over muffins and latte. The enjoyment will have to be ethereal rather than material, of course, the sort of enjoyment one might derive from sitting through a seminar led by the verbose Liberal leader.

At the end of September, the panel will report, and the Liberals and Conservatives will check the polls and decide whether to provoke an election or come to another deal among themselves.

In January, when Michael Ignatieff trashed his party's coalition with the NDP and announced that the Liberals would vote for Jim Flaherty's budget, he promised Canadians that he would watch the Harper government “like a hawk.” Since then, the Hawk has flapped his wings a few times, but he has remained firmly perched on the Prime Minister's shoulder.

Ignatieff dismisses the NDP and the Bloc as oppositional parties that should not be taken seriously. In truth, without the votes of these two parties, the Liberal leader would not be in a position to threaten Harper's hold on office.

And he's less than candid when he claims that the only way to come to the aid of the unemployed was through a deal with Stephen Harper. There was another way, and he knows it. The Liberals could have negotiated a deal on EI qualifications with the NDP and the Bloc to be presented to parliament this week. These three parties---holding the majority of seats in the House—-could have told Harper to take the EI deal or face defeat in a confidence vote.

There would then have been a real showdown in Ottawa, not the staged farce we’ve sat through. The odds are that Harper would have caved. There would have been no summer election. The difference is that thousands of unemployed Canadians would have received EI, starting now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Future of Democracy

(This is an excerpt from my new book Democracy, published earlier this spring by Groundwood Books.)

The appetite for democracy arises not from political theory, but from the tangible needs of millions of people. Above all, democracy is advanced by the success of political movements whose goal is to improve the lives of the majority of the population in a myriad of ways. Democracy establishes the rights of people and the rules under which they behave toward one another in society. Included among these rights are free speech and freedom of assembly, rights which are fundamental for the advocacy of the political programs people wish to advance.

Shorn of rhetoric and boiled down to essentials, political programs proceed on two related, but distinct, levels. At the most general level, and with a long time horizon, there is the advocacy of how the state should be designed and whose interests it should serve. The state, it needs to be remembered, is not an abstraction. It is an enormous complex of institutions that have been established over a very long period of time to achieve a wide range of goals.

States---all states for thousands of years---have claimed for themselves a monopoly of the means of violence (an ideal never achieved, but much more closely approximated in some cases than in others.) States act to protect the existing property arrangements in society, enforcing them through the deployment of police and other security forces, courts, and penal institutions. In most states for most of human history, states have resorted to the widespread use of capital punishment. If security of property, the physical security of the population, and the security of the regime in power were the first priorities of all states, these objectives have been followed by others over the past two centuries.

In the latter half of the 19th century, in much of North America and Europe, governments became responsible for providing tuition-free schooling for all children at the primary level, and later at the secondary level. This benefited both those receiving the education and employers who needed an educated work force.

In Europe and North America, following the Second World War, governments became responsible for the pursuit of a much wider range of goals. As never before, they became charged with ensuring full employment, providing an economic environment in which all those who wanted to work could find a job. The role of governments in ensuring decent working conditions and in limiting the hours of work an employer could demand from employees expanded greatly. Governments took on the task in many jurisdictions of establishing a minimum wage through legislation. State expenditures skyrocketed for the provision of unemployment insurance, health care, welfare payments for those unable to work, pensions for senior citizens and payment for all of, or much of, the cost of higher education.

Alongside these expenditures, modern states invest enormous sums in infrastructure that is invaluable to the private sector, and critical to the effort to increase competitiveness against producers in other countries. States also invest heavily in supporting business through tax cuts, direct subsidies and the provision of services that help businesses to export or to acquire skilled labour.

Political struggles in democratic countries are largely about which functions of the state should be enhanced and which should be reduced or curtailed.

On the political right, especially in the era of neo-conservatism, political parties advocate tax cuts, especially for high income earners who are also investors. They favour cutting the social expenditures of the state. They oppose increases in the minimum wage and more stringent maximum hours legislation, for instance, the French right was strongly opposed to the Socialist government’s implementation of a thirty-five hour work week in 2000. Parties on the right tend to oppose tougher environmental measures, which increase the costs of business. Right-wing parties advocate reducing legislated job security standards, making the case that this allows for a more “flexible” economy. They support, for example, reducing the length of time companies must make severance payments to terminated employees.

Left-wing parties take opposing positions on all or on most of these issues. They favour increased state expenditures on social programs and education, advocate higher minimum wages, and maximum hours legislation that reduces the work week. Left-wing parties support stronger environmental legislation and usually oppose tax cuts for business and high income earners.

The right and the left can sometimes find common ground on state expenditures for infrastructure programs.

As can be seen, these debates between the right and the left are debates about the nature of the state and which activities of the state should be enlarged or contracted. It boils down to whose interests the state should serve. More often than not, the fault line along which these debates run is that of social class. Parties of the right promote the interests of the private sector and investors, while left-wing parties champion the interests of wage and salary earners.

Naturally, voters often don’t perceive the issues in these terms and vote for parties whose programs seem to contradict their class interests. Moreover, political leaders clothe their programs and long-term view of the state in language that embodies the traditions of their country and the rhetoric of past political conflicts.

While philosophers and political theorists debate the nature of democracy, political parties struggle on behalf of those whose interests they represent. This is the essential battleground of democracy. At the heart of the democratic project, there is an essential premise that is always subject to doubt---that all persons, in a fundamental sense, are of equal value. Should the notion of equality perish, so too would the idea of democracy. And since the human condition in our time is one in which there are enormous differences of wealth, income and circumstance, the ideal of equality is always endangered.

History and contemporary realities teach that the wealthy and privileged in any society have little basic attachment to the idea of equality. Once those who are the members of an upper class have secured their place in the world, they have shown themselves to be all too ready to pull up the ladder to prevent those below them from climbing to their level. For the most part, they would be content to hold onto a world in which their advantages are retained for themselves and passed on to their descendants.

It is therefore, reasonable to posit that the flame of equality and consequently of democracy must be kept burning by the vast majority of the population that does not belong to the upper classes. The drive for equality and democracy mostly comes from below, not from above, in the social order.

What are the prospects, in light of this, for equality and democracy in a globalized world, reliant on advanced technology, in which a few states have vastly more power (military, economic, political, and cultural) than all the others combined?

It is certainly true that democracy emerged in a particular historical and cultural setting as a consequence of specific social, political and economic struggles. There is no compelling evidence that there is a universal yearning for democracy in all cultures and social settings. We can dispense with the dubious proposition that democracy is an outgrowth of human nature.

The future of democracy will depend on social struggles as much in the future as its rise did in the past. Democracy is never standing still, a monument to past glories and ringing declarations. It is either advancing or retreating and the advocates of democracy can never cease to press their case or their cause.

Paradoxically, the barriers in the way of democracy and the opportunities for its advance arise out of contradictory aspects of the same issues. Some of those issues, the great questions in our age that will determine the strength of democracy, are: the wealth and income gaps, not only within particular countries, but between the advanced countries and the rest of the world; the availability of quality education for the whole population; universal health care; employment opportunities and job security; the struggle against the marginalization of people on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion; the containment of war and the prevention of the spread of ever more lethal weaponry; the opening of frontiers to allow people to migrate to the places where economic development compels them to go; and the safeguarding of the environment, including a halt to the wanton destruction of other species.

Each and all of these issues challenge the capacity of democrats, not only to draw on the best in their own national traditions, but to find ways to establish democratic cultures than can transcend frontiers. By the same token, these issues place immense barriers in the path of democracy for the simple reason that these questions can and will call forth agendas to preserve the advantages of privileged people, nations and cultures through the exclusion and marginalization of large parts of the population, and on some of the questions, the majority of the human race.

History shows that exceptionally powerful authoritarian political movements are capable of mobilizing millions of people to action to grapple with basic issues through programs that are the very antithesis of democracy. In the 1930s, the fascists and the Nazis demonstrated that when democrats dither and fail to come to grips with urgent problems, such as mass unemployment and poverty, others will not dither. And the solutions of the authoritarians can involve, not merely the elimination of democratic rights, but the imprisonment of thousands, and in the most extreme cases the murder of millions.

The vigour of democracy will depend on how democratic political parties and movements rise to the challenge not only of the socio-economic and environmental problems that plague our world but also to the campaigns of the intolerant who will use these problems to promote false solutions based on hate and scapegoating. Everywhere democrats look today, they observe the walls of hate going up in the form of anti-immigrant sentiment and religious fundamentalism.

For the past quarter century, democratic parties of all shades in Europe and North America have utterly failed to cope with the widening gap in income and wealth between a small segment of the population that has been enormously enriched and the vast majority of the population of the advanced countries, and much more so, the population of humanity as a whole. From centre-right parties such as the German Christian Democrats, to the American Democrats and the French Socialists, solutions have not been found to halt the trajectory of a market driven global economy toward ever more pronounced inequality.

The issue of inequality and much more came to a head in September and October 2008, with the onset of the most serious global financial crisis since the Great Depression, which began in 1929. Financial institutions imploded, stock markets crashed, credit markets ceased to function, and governments were forced to bail out banks and other financial institutions at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. In some cases, notably that of the United Kingdom, the government nationalized banks. The market system, as the world as known it for the past three decades, collapsed in chaos. Governments stepped in hoping that their vast and concerted interventions would re-launch the economy. Resentment and fear stalked the nations of the world, as tens of millions of people concluded that they had been betrayed by their economic and political leaders.

The boiling anger of those who are shut off from the possibility of advance can open the door to an advance for democracy, but it can also feed into the agenda of those who fabricate lies that the world is run by some ethnic or religious group that can be isolated and attacked. For the Nazis, the theory was that the world was run by Jewish financiers, who had stabbed Germany in the back during the First World War.

Today, the world is alive with new theories that are used to marginalize people: in Europe, there is fear of Muslim immigrants and their descendants; in America, fear of Hispanic immigrants; and in many parts of the world there is propaganda from religious fundamentalists who seek to blame our ills on people of other faiths. These forms of hatred can be used to tell people that immigrants are taking jobs away from the French, that newcomers are robbing the American middle class of its standard of living, or that God has a divine plan for people of particular faiths that must not be thwarted by the designs of others.

While democracy faces stubborn barriers, and is actually in decline in many parts of the world, movements have taken shape in recent years that are advancing the cause of democracy. The threats to democracy should not be underestimated, but neither should the forces that defend and extend it be discounted.

From a wide range of sources---progressives, social democrats, socialists, humanists, environmentalists, non-fundamentalist religious believers, feminists, trade unionists, urban activists, anti-poverty organizations, students and writers---a new politics of the planet has been taking shape. It is, of necessity, diverse, pluralist, and democratic. Its philosophical origins are ancient as well as contemporary. This politics of the planet takes unique forms in each country, arising out of particular cultures and conditions.

The broad challenge to democrats is to reinvigorate democracy at the local and national levels, while advancing programs that for the first time in history are in keeping with the interests of people everywhere. The perspective has to be planetary. But unlike the corporate agenda that has stripped away effective power from the level of the nation state, the democratic agenda needs to return effective power to nations so they can design their social systems, govern their own economies and act as stewards for their share of the planet.

If this sort of agenda sounds as though it is alive with paradox and contradiction, it is. It is the reverse of much that has driven the global agenda of the past three decades, during the so-called age of globalization. Globalization has, in truth, drawn all people and all nations into a closer set of relationships with one another. But the relationships have been based on amplifying the power of the few at the expense of the many on a wide range of fronts, so much so that we can conclude that globalization has effectively paralyzed democracy to an alarming extent.

While it has been claimed by its proponents that globalization has opened borders and reduced the power of the state, in fact, globalization has opened borders to the flow of capital and has reduced the power of most of the states of the world leaving the socio-economic future to be shaped by a handful of states (the United States most important among them), while borders have been closed to most of humanity.

A case in point is the plight of desperate people who take to flimsy vessels to sail from Africa to Europe, all too often dying during the voyage, in the hope that they will be able to make a living in Europe for themselves and their families. Similarly, tens of thousands of Mexicans take their lives in their hands each year to attempt to make it past the growing army of border guards into the United States where they can work for low pay and with no job protection to make a living in a country where the political rhetoric has increasingly reduced these migrants to the status of pariahs. The American economy would be hard pressed to function without these illegal immigrants, but on the political right the measure of political correctness is for politicians to advocate the denial of all social and educational benefits to these workers and their children. Across the developed world, the barriers are going up to stop desperate economic refugees from reaching the promised land.

At the same time, as the wretched and poor are deprived of access to countries where they can make a living, the wealthy have turned the whole world, or at least those parts of it that are not too dangerous to visit, into their playground. They leave their ultra expensive dwellings in the heart of London, for instance, in the care of the Polish or Czech au pairs and servants in their employ, and take their children during half term breaks from their private (called independent or public) schools and fly off to South Africa, India, Bali or Bahrain for their holidays in luxurious surroundings. They can travel, while the wretched over whose countries they fly, are shut out of the wider world.

The democratic agenda needs to regard this staggering inequality as the most important matter to be addressed. Unless it is effectively addressed, little else that is achieved will matter very much.

Putting the world on the road toward equality will call forth as much creative energy as the great democratic upheavals of the 18th century. Power needs to be returned to nation states so that their citizens can address inequality within their countries at the same time as an agenda to address the inequality between nations is established. Such a power shift can only be achieved through the mobilization of the democratic energies of a wide spectrum of the population.

It’s not hard to locate the issue on which this majority can be mobilized. The issue is the economic treadmill on which the majority in the developed world finds itself. Wage and salary earners are on an economic treadmill. On average their living standards have not risen for the past several decades and they are increasingly plunging into debt to finance the purchase of homes and to send their children to post secondary educational institutions whose tuition has been skyrocketing in many countries. The huge economic gains of this period have gone only to a few. For instance, twenty years ago the remuneration of a top American corporate manager was forty times that of a typical employee. Now typically the top manager makes one hundred and ten times as much.

Wage and salary earners are increasingly conscious of the emergence of levels of inequality that have not been seen since the aristocratic age that preceded the American and French Revolutions. Those at the helm of the advanced economies tout the idea of “flexibility”, the notion that the investment of capital and the location of enterprises should be directed by the marketplace to wherever in the world they can be most effective. For instance, one respected voice representing this point of view is the Economist weekly magazine in London. On January 20, 2007, the Economist proclaimed that “these are the glory days of global capitalism…This newspaper has long argued that a mobile society is better than an equal one.”

The argument being made in these pages, with which many with the point of view of the Economist will stoutly disagree, is that inequality has gone too far to be compatible with a vigorous democracy.

Returning a good deal of effective economic sovereignty to nation states does not mean erecting economic walls around countries. That is neither desirable nor possible in our age. In fact, what it means, above all, is a shift in the control of capital from the ever larger financial holdings that now exist to local, regional or national holdings.

What has this to do with the future of democracy one may ask? It has as much to do with the future of democracy as did the dividing up of the huge estates and the redistribution of land to the peasants in France in 1789 to do with establishing a future for democracy at that time.

Over the longer term, a vibrant democracy is not compatible with the existence of ever larger pools of capital controlled privately. In such a world, the votes of people count for less and the votes of dollars and Euros count for more.

Placing pools of capital in local, regional and national holdings and democratizing both the control of capital and of the workplace needs to be the next great chapter in the history of democracy. There is, to be sure, no easy fit between this step and the one that needs to accompany it---the establishment of a much more equitable relationship between the wealthy and the poor countries of the world.

Will advantageously placed nations use their privileged positions to assure more for themselves than for those with whom they conduct commerce in poorer countries?

The short answer is yes, certainly. But in a world with capital pools divided up into local, regional and national holdings, the balance of power could effectively shift toward a new, democratic, political coalition, involving rich and poor countries. A politics of local, national and global development, dedicated toward more egalitarian outcomes and sustainable environmental policies, could emerge.

It is a hope, but a hope rooted in the realities of our world.

Democracy has always been rooted in hope.