Conflict and democracy in the COVID era

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2021, Issue 29
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

This is the second of a four-part series of newsletter articles on the impact of the pandemic on major issues affecting progress toward a more cooperative society. The May article focused on economic concentration and wealth inequality. Upcoming articles will look at effects on population change, quality of life, and the climate crisis.

An overview of conflict and democracy

During the course of the 20th century, we made significant progress in reducing conflict and increasing democracy. There has been a dramatic reduction in deaths from war-related violence since the end of World War II and a rapid increase in the number of democratic governments beginning about the same time. Historical data also indicate that the rate of homicides has been decreasing for centuries.

But in the past 15-20 years, these positive trends have faltered. This has been especially true in the erosion of democracy in some countries; an increasing incidence of wars, within-country violence, and terrorist activities; and a wide divergence in homicide rates from country to country. These patterns are chronicled in our book, The Cooperative Society (2nd edition, 2018), and “The Cooperative Society 2020 Report.”

How has violence been affected by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021?

The simple answer is that there has been a mixed pattern of violence in the past year and a half.

ACLED, an international organization that monitors global violence, reports a small decrease in fatalities caused by violent events between 2019 and 2020, and then an upsurge in the first half of 2021 that returned the death rate to the 2019 level. These data suggest a temporary reduction in conflict deaths caused by the virus, but a return to “business as usual” in 2021.

An example of peaceful protests accelerated in the early months of the pandemic, resulting from George Floyd’s murder by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. Under the banner of “Black Lives Matter,” Floyd’s death sparked protests across the United States and in many other countries. According to the Washington Post, over 96% of protest marches in the U.S. were peaceful. The reaction to Floyd’s death and the conviction of Chauvin for murder appear to have initiated a broad movement to decrease violence by police against Blacks and other minorities.

Homicides and domestic violence appear to have increased during the pandemic.Some analysts have concluded that economic disruptions and restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus increased these kinds of violence. More data on these kinds of violence will be forthcoming in the next year or so.

Has democracy eroded at a faster pace during the pandemic?

Two well-known, annual reports on the state of democracy in the world conclude that there was a significant decline in democracy in 2020.

The Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2020 reports that:

Democracy was dealt a major blow in 2020. Almost 70% of countries covered by the Index … recorded a decline in their overall score, as country after country locked down to protect lives from a novel coronavirus. The global average score fell to its lowest level since the index began in 2006.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 sounded a similar theme.

As a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world in 2020, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny. Incumbent leaders increasingly used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the name of public health, while beleaguered activists—lacking effective international support—faced heavy jail sentences, torture, or murder in many settings.

These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.

The chart shown above is a screenshot from the Freedom House website: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2021/democracy-under-siege

As both of the excerpts from these reports indicate, part of the increase in anti-democratic tendencies during the pandemic may be temporary. That is, government efforts to enforce mask wearing, social distancing, and other actions to reduce the coronavirus infection rate limit freedom of action in the short term but may not signal a long-term increase in repression. Thus, in the latter half of 2021 and beyond, freedom of action may very well show a rebound.

Not all of democracy’s troubles in 2020 and the first half of 2021 can be attributed to the pandemic. For one thing, both of the above reports indicate a long-term trend in the weakening of democracy going back to 2006. The pandemic may have exacerbated anti-democratic tendencies, but the gradual erosion of democracy around the world has been occurring for well over a decade.

Democracy is under threat in the United States, not primarily because of COVID-19, but because of the anti-democratic words and actions of Donald Trump and his followers. In particular, he, many Republican elected officials at state and federal levels, and some rank-and-file GOP members have refused to acknowledge the reality of his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s continued promotion of “the big lie” led to the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., in which over 500 rioters have been arrested so far.

As part of this Trump and Republican-led effort to undermine democracy in the U.S., more than 20 state laws have been passed as of May of this year that make it harder for Americans to vote. President Biden and others have excoriated these and other proposed voting restrictions as the biggest threat to American democracy since the Civil War.

What changes should we expect?

What changes should we expect in conflict and democracy in the next couple of years?

It is difficult to predict future changes in conflict levels. The number of deaths from violent events around the world will depend on reforms in international and national policies and actions related to these events. At this time, there are no apparent trends, either positive or negative, that are likely to cause a significant change from the status quo.

Future trends in homicide are also unclear. On the one hand, there appears to be pent-up anger and frustration caused by the pandemic that have raised the worldwide level of homicides and assaults. On the other hand, as we gain more control over the pandemic, these sources of violence may subside. One hopeful note may be that in the United States and possibly in other countries, police violence against minorities may be reduced as a result of strong public protests against such violence. However, continued easy access to guns in the United States and gang activity in Central and South America are likely to increase homicides in the near future.

As stated above, some of the reduction in democratic freedom during the pandemic may disappear as restrictive measures intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus are eliminated. But this change is a separate issue from the erosion of democracy during the past 15 years or so. Future trends in this long-term pattern are not readily predictable.

Then there is the anti-democratic cult of Trump and his sycophants in the Republican party. What will happen in the U.S. between now and the 2022 elections? Will we restore democratic norms or move increasingly toward authoritarianism?

Stay tuned. Or, better yet, play an active role in exposing “the big lie” and championing free and fair elections.

The impact of Covid-19: The pandemic’s effects on progress toward a more cooperative world society in 2020 and 2021

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2021, Issue 28
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

We have been writing about whether or not humans have been moving toward or away from a more cooperative society since 2016. The pandemic, which began in December 2019, has had a profound effect not only on our health and mortality, but on the world’s economy, political landscape, social well-being, and the environment. That impact is continuing in 2021, and very probably will have significant consequences in subsequent years.

We will talk about the effects of Covid-19 on our lives in three installments of The Cooperative Society Newsletter, beginning with this May issue and continuing in July and September.

First, a little background on The Cooperative Society Project.

There are three core premises to the Project:

  • We have reached a point in human history at which there are adequate resources for all human beings to experience a decent quality of life. Similarly, humans are now able to establish and maintain a sustainable relationship with nature. The problem is: We are not yet achieving these goals.
  • It is important to measure the extent to which we humans are moving toward a sustainable quality of life for all and a sustainable environment, and, when we are falling short, to take corrective action.
  • Achieving these goals does not depend on forces outside of our control. We have the power to shape the conditions of our lives and those of future generations. We are the agents of history, not its powerless subjects.

The 2018 edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History and “The Cooperative Society 2020 Report” both review progress (or the lack of it) related to seven measures: economic power, the distribution of wealth, conflict, democracy, population, quality of life, and the environment.

Following is an update on the first two of these variables – economic power and wealth distribution. The other five measures will be addressed in the next two newsletters.

Economic Power

Key questions
To what extent has the pandemic affected the concentration of corporate and country-related domination of the world’s economy in 2020 and so far in 2021? Are checks and balances, along with alternative forms of business, being applied and planned to reduce the nega­tive consequences of this concentration?

Importance of this measure
As long as economic decision-making is dominated by the few, the rest of us are dependent on the choices that they make. This concentrated economic power is the primary cause of periodic, large-scale disruptions to the economy (for example the Great Recession of 2008-2010). It also has a significant impact on how we deal with crises such as those precipitated by the pandemic and global warming.

Major trends in economic concentration in 2020 and 2021:

  • The largest, publicly traded corporations in the world increased their combined market value by 47% between mid-April 2000 and mid-April 2021 – from $54 trillion to $80 trillion.
  • The United States and China are headquarters for the world’s corporations with the largest combined market values. As of April 2021, the U.S. accounted for 35% and China 7% of the market value of the top 100 corporations in the world.
  • Due to the pandemic, the world gross product (WGP) – the combined value of the goods and services produced by all countries – declined by a little over 4% in 2020. The only other time in the last 50 years there has been a decline in WGP was in 2009 during the Great Recession, and the drop that year was only .1%.
123RF.com: Fabian Plock

Analysis

These data indicate that the world’s most powerful corporations and the countries in which they are located became even more powerful during the pandemic. This was at a time when the rest of the world economy made a significant downturn.

Corrective action

The biggest factors that would reduce the power of these corporations are changes in the policies of International bodies such as the United Nations and the world’s most developed countries toward them. Tighter international anti-trust policies and enforcement of these policies, concerted efforts to thwart tax evasion by large companies, and progressive corporate taxa­tion systems could reduce their inordinate influence on the world economy. Taking actions to strengthen small- and medium-size businesses, and including cooperatives and social enterprises, would also make a huge difference. These approaches to creating a fairer world economy in the post-pandemic era are increasingly being discussed by world leaders, including President Biden, but so far, there has been little action.

Wealth distribution

Key question
Is the distribution of wealth becoming more or less unequal around the globe?

Importance of this measure
The concentra­tion of wealth has consequences for everyone’s economic and social well-being. Large differ­ences in wealth and income mean that many of us earn less, receive fewer social benefits, and have less influence over the political decision-making that affects our day-to-day lives than we would have in a more equi­table society. Inequality also leads to social unrest and conflict.

Major trends in wealth inequality during the pandemic:

  • According to Oxfam:
    • We could face the greatest rise in inequality since records began, with the pandemic increasing economic inequality in almost every country at once. 

    • It could take more than a decade for billions of the world’s poorest people to recover from the economic hit of the pandemic while the 1,000 richest people recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months.

    • Just 10 people – the world’s richest billionaires, all men – have seen their combined wealth skyrocket by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began. That’s more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to prevent the pandemic from pushing anyone into poverty.
  • The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in extreme poverty – defined as $1.90 per day or less – increased by between $119 and $124 million in 2020 because of the pandemic. This is the first increase in extreme poverty in 20 years.

  • The World Food Programme estimates that the total number of acutely food-insecure people increased to 272 million in 2020, compared to 149 million people in 2019.

  • According to the United Nations, the pandemic could force almost a billion people into destitution by 2030 “unless nations introduce energy, food and climate reforms.”
123RF.com: takkuu

Analysis

The above data clearly indicate that the pandemic has “made the rich richer and the poor poorer.” Although there has been a long-term pattern of increasing concentration of wealth around the world, the level of extreme poverty had been dropping dramatically during the two decades prior to 2020. But the pandemic reversed the long-term trend in the decrease of extreme poverty.

Corrective action

This projection of widening inequality in the decade ahead is not a foregone conclusion. It can be addressed in two primary ways: by increasing taxes on the wealthy, and by implementing reforms to drive down the poverty rate.

Along with an increase in corporate taxes, President Biden is proposing more progressive taxes on individuals and families that would particularly focus on the very wealthy. Other developed countries have instituted such tax reforms, or are considering doing so.

International economic reforms could get the world back on track in reducing extreme poverty between now and 2030. According to the United Nations Development Programme,

“These measures include investments aimed at changing patterns of food, energy, and water consumption and increasing internet access as well as supporting low-carbon economies.    

Rich nations also face calls to look beyond their own economic woes and support developing countries by increasing foreign aid, cancelling debt, and financing affordable vaccines.”

123RF.com: Herman Lumanog 

Conclusion

Both the trends of increasing economic power of large corporations and increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of us accelerated as a result of the pandemic in 2020 and the first half of 2021. In addition, the progress that had been made in reducing extreme poverty during the past 20 years suffered a significant reversal.

But, progressive policies during the next decade can reduce the power of large corporations and decrease the wealth gap between the rich and the poor.

Trump’s true believers. How many will see the light of reason by 2022?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2021, Issue 26
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

Hoffer could easily have been talking about Donald Trump, except that he wrote these words 70 years ago.

The purpose of this article is to understand why so many Americans became true believers in Trump’s skewed view of the world during the past five years, and how some of them may get back in touch with reality prior to the 2022 elections.

Why?

The “why” issue is a tricky one. There are many paths to becoming a true believer, defined as, “One who sticks to one’s dogma … irrespective of the facts.”

Some people are more susceptible than others to putting their preconceptions of the world ahead of reality. This predisposition itself requires a rationale, one for which I have an incomplete explanation.

Some people who feel angry, alienated, oppressed, and/or beaten down by the world around them turn to faith in something or someone that gives them hope, purpose, and a sense of belonging. This transformation is often accompanied by finding like-minded groups of people who share and reinforce the same fervor of distrust, hatred, and/or shared belief in a cause.

Who?

Regardless of an incomplete understanding of the “why,” these true believers need a “who” to pin their hopes and aspirations on. Along came presidential candidate Donald Trump to fill this role of validator of their discontent.

Trump’s true believers don’t need to share the same detailed set of beliefs to swear their fealty to him. Some see him warding off the waves of migrating brown people from Latin America. Some identify with his antipathy to Muslims and/or Blacks. Some are reinforced by his promise to drain the swamp of deep-state politicians and bureaucrats in Washington. Some identify with his disdain for the scientists involved in battling COVID-19 or climate change. In any case, they coalesce around his promise to vanquish these “others” whom they distrust, fear, and hate.

In the unfettered world of social media, Trump and his followers find “enablers” who reinforce their beliefs regardless of the lack of facts supporting them. Lies repeated often enough become the truth, particularly for those who seek information only from sources with which they agree. Trump, his disciples, and their enablers in social media use the term “fake news” to characterize mainstream (“lame stream”) media in an Orwellian disparagement of factual information.

Another crucial set of enablers has been Republican leaders, particularly in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, who, for the most part, have kowtowed to Trump, despite his false and often bizarre pronouncements and actions. (Remember his musings on injecting bleach to cure COVID-19?)

The Washington Post’s mind-numbing chronicling of Trump’s 30,000-plus lies during his four years in office have affected his true believers like water off a duck’s back.

So, back to one of the original questions of this article: Can Trump’s true believers see the light of reason by 2022?

Recovering Trumpaholics

More than 70 million Americans voted for Trump on November 3, 2020. Most of these voters continue to believe that Trump won the election. They hold this belief in the face of overwhelming evidence that he lost by a significant margin.

Trump’s false claims about election fraud began in April 2020, more than six months before the election. He publicly repeated these claims more than 150 times before November 3. The expectation of a stolen election that he instilled in his followers culminated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But this time, his egging on of violent protesters received condemnation by most people across the country and resulted in his unprecedented second impeachment. As a result, he ended his presidency with his highest disapproval rating since taking office.

Even many of the Proud Boys and QAnon fanatics have disavowed him.

Will this erosion of support continue? There are several indications that it will. Trump has lost much of his access to social media. He is now shunned by many of his previous business donors.

There is a split in the Republican Party between those who retain loyalty to him and those who are trying to distance themselves from him. He is facing numerous civil and criminal charges and huge financial debts that must be repaid in the next couple of years. The reality of Biden’s victory is gradually sinking into the minds of some “forever” Trumpers.

Trump’s true believers seeing the light of reason won’t happen all at once. And it won’t happen to all of them. Perhaps 40 million or so of Trump’s true believers will see the light of reason in time to put America’s democracy back on a solid track in the next two years. Many will not suddenly become moderates or liberals, but they have the potential to improve their ability to differentiate truth from lies, and to keep their political beliefs and actions within the bounds of a democratic society.

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Announcing a new book from The Cooperative Society Project

I’m pleased to announce that Strengthening the Cooperative Community will be available starting Monday, March 1, as a free PDF on this website and as a print book through Amazon and local booksellers. Many of the case studies and recommendations in the book are based on my 50 years of international cooperative research and development experience.

Some comments on the advance review copy include these perspectives:

“Anyone interested in concrete ideas for reducing inequality domestically or internationally should read this book, . . . —Dave Grace, Managing Partner, Dave Grace and Associates

“Thank you for this lively, agile, and accessible introduction to the cooperative world, . . . ”— Gianluca Salvatori, CEO, Euricse

“E.G. has made a major contribution to the history and future impact of cooperative enterprise . . . I hope the 16 recommendations in this narrative will be given serious consideration by cooperative leadership at the global, regional, national and local levels across all sectors.”—Dr. Martin Lowery, Executive Vice President Emeritus, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, International Cooperative Alliance board member and Chair, ICA Cooperative Identity Committee

See our press release here.