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The 50 people who matter today: 21-30

21-30 on our diverse list of individuals, couples and families changing the world, for good and ill.

21.Jimmy Wales

The Wiki man

Wales set up the biggest encyclopaedia ever compiled and revolutionised the way content is generated on the internet. His website Wikipedia established one of the first successful examples of "user-generated content" on the web, allowing visitors to the site to submit and edit articles. Wikipedia has more than ten million articles and reported 7.5 million unique users in August this year. Last year, Wales was called to meet with China's State Council Information Office to open dialogue on censorship. Unlike the internet heavies at Google, he has refused to submit a censored version of his site to China and continues to champion the model of collaborative, uncensored web publishing.

22. Amartya Sen

Nobel economist and thinker

If intellectuals "matter" insofar as they influence politicians and policymakers, then the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen certainly does. When Nicolas Sarkozy declared recently that quality of life matters as much as GDP, he was channelling Sen. And when Brit­ish politicians argue that inequalities of "capability" matter as much as inequalities of income and wealth, they are rehashing one of Sen's most influential academic papers. His workhas also been vindicated by recent events: long before the crash of 2008 made the case for proper regulation of the financial sector irresistible, Sen was arguing that market economies are not free-standing, self-correcting mechanisms.

23. Viktor Bout

Lord of war

A former military officer, 42-year-old Viktor Bout built up a fleet of aircraft after the collapse of the Soviet Union and went on to become the world's largest arms smuggler, supplying some of the most unsavoury groups and regimes on the planet, including Colombia's Farc rebels, the former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and Libya's Colonel Gaddafi. Or so say his opponents, notably the US, which has been trying to extradite him from Thailand for over a year. Some of his assets have been frozen, Interpol has issued a warrant for his arrest, and he has been the subject of UN sanctions. But according to his website he is just a "normal businessman striving for success".

24: Ashfaq Kayani

Pakistan's fighting chance

The government has repeatedly claimed that three in every four terror plots here in the UK have links back to al-Qaeda in Pakistan - where General Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistan army, is the man responsible for the battle against the jihadists. He is also leading the fight against the Taliban along the country's border with Afghanistan, managing ongoing tensions with neighbouring India, and is in charge of securing his country's arsenal of roughly 90 nuclear warheads. To say his is a big job is an understatement of epic proportions.

In a country blighted by military dictatorships, where stability is threatened by Islamist militants, Kayani and his troops remain the dominant power. So far, however, he has stopped the army from meddling in politics. It was Kayani who ordered military officers to withdraw from their lucrative posts in civilian ministries and who kept his soldiers out of sight during the February 2008 elections. And it was Kayani who allowed the opposition to move against the then president, Pervez Musharraf, letting it be known there would be no military action to defend him.

A former chief of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Kayani has been instrumental in brokering various deals that have dominated Pakistani politics. He is close to all major players - a confidant of Musharraf, the Bhutto family and the Pentagon. A quiet man, he tends to avoid the limelight. But given how many army chiefs have become president, he may not keep a low profile for long.
Mehdi Hasan

25. Warren Buffett

The philanthrope

With an estimated net worth of $62bn (£38bn), Warren Buffett - one of the most successful investors in history - regularly takes the top slot on the Forbes rich list. The "Oracle of Omaha" warned in 2003 that credit derivatives were "financial weapons of mass destruction"; his exceptional financial insight has led to his being touted as a possible future treasury secretary by Barack Obama, whose campaign he backed. He has invested hundreds of millions in eco-initiatives, and pledged to give away 85 per cent of his fortune to philanthropic causes.

26.Pope Benedict XVI

Papa Ratzi

The former Cardinal Ratzinger has always been a stern guard of Catholic doctrine: he ran what used to be the Holy Office of the Inquisition for more than 20 years and led the campaign against "liberation theology". But, as Pope Bene­dict XVI, he has gone even further. He reintroduced the Latin Tridentine Mass and lifted the excommunication on members of a renegade sect that includes a "bishop" who denies the Holocaust - suggesting to some that the liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council were in danger of being reversed. He may lack his predecessor's charisma, but Benedict XVI still claims the allegiance of the world's more than a billion Catholics - one-sixth of the global population.

27. Jairam Ramesh

Green giant

Western diplomats credit Ramesh, India's new environment minister, with "getting" the scale of the climate change crisis, and - having been a long-time adviser to the Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi (no 31) - as key to India's crucial role in sealing a deal at December's COP15 summit. A former television anchor, he occasionally writes for the Times of India.

28. Ingvar Kamprad

Leader of the flat-pack

Why does Ingvar Kamprad matter? Well, the chances are that you're sitting on the evidence. Or lying on it, drinking from it, or storing your kitchen utensils in it. Kamprad is the 83-year-old founder of Ikea, the home furnishings giant that has come to dominate the way our homes and offices look. His "flat-pack" approach to furniture sales is integral to 21st-century capitalism: a system that promises choice and simplicity but where, in the end, the individual does all the work and the large multinational corporations pocket the cash.

29. Gordon Brown

Recession proof

He is insulted by Tories, battered by events and undermined in his own party. But on the international stage Gordon Brown has been credited with preventing recession turning to depression, and leading the economic fightback with his dramatic "fiscal stimulus" and bank bailout programmes. The Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman concluded that Brown, along with Alistair Darling, had "defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort". Although Britain's influence in the world is a fraction of what it once was, Brown's continued troop ­deployment in Afghanistan retains influence with Washington, and the UK still has the fifth-largest economy in the world.

30. Amr Khaled

Head preacher

Amr Khaled commands a larger television audience than Oprah Winfrey. His shows, broadcast on a Saudi-owned TV station throughout the Middle East, tell simple, often emotional stories about Islam. Their message is peaceful and uplifting - but also deeply conservative. Khaled is considered as responsible for large numbers of Egyptian women choosing to wear the hijab; and despite his fervent condemnation of Osama Bin Laden, not all are convinced that his influence is benign.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Getty
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Lexit: the EU is a neoliberal project, so let's do something different when we leave it

Brexit affords the British left a historic opportunity for a decisive break with EU market liberalism.

The Brexit vote to leave the European Union has many parents, but "Lexit" – the argument for exiting the EU from the left – remains an orphan. A third of Labour voters backed Leave, but they did so without any significant leadership from the Labour Party. Left-of-centre votes proved decisive in determining the outcome of a referendum that was otherwise framed, shaped, and presented almost exclusively by the right. A proper left discussion of the issues has been, if not entirely absent, then decidedly marginal – part of a more general malaise when it comes to developing left alternatives that has begun to be corrected only recently, under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Ceding Brexit to the right was very nearly the most serious strategic mistake by the British left since the ‘70s. Under successive leaders Labour became so incorporated into the ideology of Europeanism as to preclude any clear-eyed critical analysis of the actually existing EU as a regulatory and trade regime pursuing deep economic integration. The same political journey that carried Labour into its technocratic embrace of the EU also resulted in the abandonment of any form of distinctive economics separate from the orthodoxies of market liberalism.

It’s been astounding to witness so many left-wingers, in meltdown over Brexit, resort to parroting liberal economics. Thus we hear that factor mobility isn’t about labour arbitrage, that public services aren’t under pressure, that we must prioritise foreign direct investment and trade. It’s little wonder Labour became so detached from its base. Such claims do not match the lived experience of ordinary people in regions of the country devastated by deindustrialisation and disinvestment.

Nor should concerns about wage stagnation and bargaining power be met with finger-wagging accusations of racism, as if the manner in which capitalism pits workers against each other hasn’t long been understood. Instead, we should be offering real solutions – including a willingness to rethink capital mobility and trade. This places us in direct conflict with the constitutionalised neoliberalism of the EU.

Only the political savvy of the leadership has enabled Labour to recover from its disastrous positioning post-referendum. Incredibly, what seemed an unbeatable electoral bloc around Theresa May has been deftly prized apart in the course of an extraordinary General Election campaign. To consolidate the political project they have initiated, Corbyn and McDonnell must now follow through with a truly radical economic programme. The place to look for inspiration is precisely the range of instruments and policy options discouraged or outright forbidden by the EU.

A neoliberal project

The fact that right-wing arguments for Leave predominated during the referendum says far more about today’s left than it does about the European Union. There has been a great deal of myth-making concerning the latter –much of it funded, directly or indirectly, by the EU itself.

From its inception, the EU has been a top-down project driven by political and administrative elites, "a protected sphere", in the judgment of the late Peter Mair, "in which policy-making can evade the constraints imposed by representative democracy". To complain about the EU’s "democratic deficit" is to have misunderstood its purpose. The main thrust of European economic policy has been to extend and deepen the market through liberalisation, privatisation, and flexiblisation, subordinating employment and social protection to goals of low inflation, debt reduction, and increased competitiveness.

Prospects for Keynesian reflationary policies, or even for pan-European economic planning – never great – soon gave way to more Hayekian conceptions. Hayek’s original insight, in The Economic Conditions of Interstate Federalism, was that free movement of capital, goods, and labour – a "single market" – among a federation of nations would severely and necessarily restrict the economic policy space available to individual members. Pro-European socialists, whose aim had been to acquire new supranational options for the regulation of capital, found themselves surrendering the tools they already possessed at home. The national road to socialism, or even to social democracy, was closed.

The direction of travel has been singular and unrelenting. To take one example, workers’ rights – a supposed EU strength – are steadily being eroded, as can be seen in landmark judgments by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Viking and Laval cases, among others. In both instances, workers attempting to strike in protest at plans to replace workers from one EU country with lower-wage workers from another, were told their right to strike could not infringe upon the "four freedoms" – free movement of capital, labour, goods, and services – established by the treaties.

More broadly, on trade, financial regulation, state aid, government purchasing, public service delivery, and more, any attempt to create a different kind of economy from inside the EU has largely been forestalled by competition policy or single market regulation.

A new political economy

Given that the UK will soon be escaping the EU, what opportunities might this afford? Three policy directions immediately stand out: public ownership, industrial strategy, and procurement. In each case, EU regulation previously stood in the way of promising left strategies. In each case, the political and economic returns from bold departures from neoliberal orthodoxy after Brexit could be substantial.

While not banned outright by EU law, public ownership is severely discouraged and disadvantaged by it. ECJ interpretation of Article 106 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) has steadily eroded public ownership options. "The ECJ", argues law professor Danny Nicol, "appears to have constructed a one-way street in favour of private-sector provision: nationalised services are prima facie suspect and must be analysed for their necessity". Sure enough, the EU has been a significant driver of privatisation, functioning like a ratchet. It’s much easier for a member state to pursue the liberalisation of sectors than to secure their (re)nationalisation. Article 59 (TFEU) specifically allows the European Council and Parliament to liberalise services. Since the ‘80s, there have been single market programmes in energy, transport, postal services, telecommunications, education, and health.

Britain has long been an extreme outlier on privatisation, responsible for 40 per cent of the total assets privatised across the OECD between 1980 and 1996. Today, however, increasing inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and the general sense of an impoverished public sphere are leading to growing calls for renewed public ownership (albeit in new, more democratic forms). Soon to be free of EU constraints, it’s time to explore an expanded and fundamentally reimagined UK public sector.

Next, Britain’s industrial production has been virtually flat since the late 1990s, with a yawning trade deficit in industrial goods. Any serious industrial strategy to address the structural weaknesses of UK manufacturing will rely on "state aid" – the nurturing of a next generation of companies through grants, interest and tax relief, guarantees, government holdings, and the provision of goods and services on a preferential basis.

Article 107 TFEU allows for state aid only if it is compatible with the internal market and does not distort competition, laying out the specific circumstances in which it could be lawful. Whether or not state aid meets these criteria is at the sole discretion of the Commission – and courts in member states are obligated to enforce the commission’s decisions. The Commission has adopted an approach that considers, among other things, the existence of market failure, the effectiveness of other options, and the impact on the market and competition, thereby allowing state aid only in exceptional circumstances.

For many parts of the UK, the challenges of industrial decline remain starkly present – entire communities are thrown on the scrap heap, with all the associated capital and carbon costs and wasted lives. It’s high time the left returned to the possibilities inherent in a proactive industrial strategy. A true community-sustaining industrial strategy would consist of the deliberate direction of capital to sectors, localities, and regions, so as to balance out market trends and prevent communities from falling into decay, while also ensuring the investment in research and development necessary to maintain a highly productive economy. Policy, in this vision, would function to re-deploy infrastructure, production facilities, and workers left unemployed because of a shutdown or increased automation.

In some cases, this might mean assistance to workers or localities to buy up facilities and keep them running under worker or community ownership. In other cases it might involve re-training workers for new skills and re-fitting facilities. A regional approach might help launch new enterprises that would eventually be spun off as worker or local community-owned firms, supporting the development of strong and vibrant network economies, perhaps on the basis of a Green New Deal. All of this will be possible post-Brexit, under a Corbyn government.

Lastly, there is procurement. Under EU law, explicitly linking public procurement to local entities or social needs is difficult. The ECJ has ruled that, even if there is no specific legislation, procurement activity must "comply with the fundamental rules of the Treaty, in particular the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality". This means that all procurement contracts must be open to all bidders across the EU, and public authorities must advertise contracts widely in other EU countries. In 2004, the European Parliament and Council issued two directives establishing the criteria governing such contracts: "lowest price only" and "most economically advantageous tender".

Unleashed from EU constraints, there are major opportunities for targeting large-scale public procurement to rebuild and transform communities, cities, and regions. The vision behind the celebrated Preston Model of community wealth building – inspired by the work of our own organisation, The Democracy Collaborative, in Cleveland, Ohio – leverages public procurement and the stabilising power of place-based anchor institutions (governments, hospitals, universities) to support rooted, participatory, democratic local economies built around multipliers. In this way, public funds can be made to do "double duty"; anchoring jobs and building community wealth, reversing long-term economic decline. This suggests the viability of a very different economic approach and potential for a winning political coalition, building support for a new socialist economics from the ground up.

With the prospect of a Corbyn government now tantalisingly close, it’s imperative that Labour reconciles its policy objectives in the Brexit negotiations with its plans for a radical economic transformation and redistribution of power and wealth. Only by pursuing strategies capable of re-establishing broad control over the national economy can Labour hope to manage the coming period of pain and dislocation following Brexit. Based on new institutions and approaches and the centrality of ownership and control, democracy, and participation, we should be busy assembling the tools and strategies that will allow departure from the EU to open up new political-economic horizons in Britain and bring about the profound transformation the country so desperately wants and needs.

Joe Guinan is executive director of the Next System Project at The Democracy Collaborative. Thomas M. Hanna is research director at The Democracy Collaborative.

This is an extract from a longer essay which appears in the inaugural edition of the IPPR Progressive Review.

 

 

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter