"Governments could have done their homework better"

Saskia Sassen already spoke five languages.

Born in Holland (The Hague, 1949), she grew up in several countries and lived in cities such as Buenos Aires and Rome. Although for a time he gave war to his family because he wanted to go to study in Russia, at age 19 he went to the United States “with 50 dollars in his pocket, to adventure,” he says. And he stayed. She is a sociology professor at Columbia University and lives between New York and London, where she taught at the London School of Economics.

He has been studying society for more than 20 years, from the use of new technologies to terrorism, but above all, the political, social and economic dimensions of globalization. She says that she does not have the facility of her husband, the sociologist Richard Sennett, to translate her research into books. Each one spends years. His best known work was collected in The Global City (1991, reissued in 2001).

Her books have been translated into twenty languages, and she is required in many parts of the world to rethink the current world. He says that when he spends more than a day in a city, he falls in love with the place, and that he could live, to talk about two places, both in Kampala (where, in fact, he lived) and in Barcelona, ​​where he was this fall to participate in a World Bank congress. At the same time, what she shows how she is, she did not want to give up a talk organized by a small women’s organization, Col·lectiu Punt 6.

This must be an interesting time to do sociology, right? Does the world of the last century or a century and a half change?

This must be an interesting time to do sociology, right? Does the world of the last century or a century and a half change?

 

Indeed. A variable for me is the notion that some concepts that had acquired stable meanings, such as the economy, the government, the middle class …, in 20 years, but especially in recent years, their change has been sharpened, they have been destabilized . It is no longer clear what the national government is, for example in Spain, where they have so much interference from the European institutions. The same happens with the social. What is social today? Who has the capacity to build it? Because I think it’s done, it’s not an attribute that comes from groups, families, from the street. As we became a middle class society, this is the one that has benefited most from the welfare state, from the state that has a social project, not only military or infrastructure construction. We have become consumers of the social. But today, in this world that is destabilized compared to the meanings that appeared in the postwar period, what sectors build the social?

Which, according to you?

Which, according to you?

 

On the one hand, the elites, who are not the same as simply the rich; the elites have a social project. And the other agent is the poor. Not the poor stored in ghettos or slums , passive, but those of what I call working slums , be they from India or Brazilian favelas, those who have made their homes with their hands, have built a sub-economy, teach their children because they do not they go through the formal education system … They build the social bit by bit. When immigrants arrive in a country, some are reduced to doing nothing, but there are communities that do build a social fabric, a neighborhood economy …

Do you think that in the future it will be said that this time marked a change of era?

Do you think that in the future it will be said that this time marked a change of era?

 

Now it is becoming visible a process that in my studies I saw in the 80s: that we were going to a growing inequality. I saw that in a time that was gentrification (gentrification), where there was an old building was built a renovated and beautiful, great architects. So, many did not understand my work; today they say to me: “Now I understand what you were saying”. A visual order indicated the increasingly rich middle classes, new infrastructures and technologies, modernization. There was 20% of the population of the cities that became richer than they would have ever expected. I explained it as needing an intermediate sector of extremely specialized people, with a lot of knowledge (active intelligence), and it was a highly paid sector of the middle class, but at the same time there was already an impoverishment of the traditional middle classes. What happened was that the State still fulfilled all social functions, the unions were still in a position to organize and protect, and governments still believed that the middle class was the large sector to which they had to respond. That vision of prosperity was concentrated in the center of the cities, far from the ghettos. And it began to generate a lot of anxiety to the people who saw those young people with clothes and incredible cars while they became poorer and said to themselves: if everyone is doing well …! But the middle class was beginning to lose, little by little, like an old house that is beginning to fall apart.

In the 90s, there was enough in South America that the traditional middle classes, teachers, housewives …, were selling everything, their house impoverished inside, and came to go out to the street to protest that they did not have to eat. That’s where everything started. He asks me if we are entering a new era, and I say yes, all that has now become very visible. But I want to emphasize that this is a process that does not fall from the sky, because the euro does not work, because of the deficit of the states … No; one could already glimpse it years ago, when it seemed that everyone was doing well. Only that there comes a time of intersection with the financial crisis, with the practices of the states that had become indebted because they spend money, but also because the financial sector pushed them to do so, because it gave them what seemed like loans, but they were not. , were derivatives, financial products whose value is related to what happens to know where …

What until now has not been known.

There are municipalities in Italy, for example, that are bankrupt by loans whose value was derived by conditions far removed from that municipality. It crumbles a system that was not the invention of people or corrupt governments, that is very simplistic as an explanation, it requires a deeper and structural. A brief way of saying it is that it tended to financialize everything. It goes with capitalism to transform everything into something that can be sold; but financializing, transforming everything into a derivative … Your pension is no longer simply money saved; It is securitized and financialized. The first crisis of this type was in the USA. in the 90s in Orange County (California), where it suddenly became known that the pensions of the entire public sector were financialized and went bankrupt. There was a very big lesson to learn …

And was not learned?

And was not learned?

 

No. The same happened to Greece. It is an abuse, and the criminal – and I say criminal, I do not confuse terms – has a name: there are two: on the one hand, the rich, which includes people from the government, who took their money out of the country and did not pay taxes, and, On the other hand, the financial sector, which supposedly came with solutions. Goldman Sachs designed a financial product so that Greece could enter the euro, but at the same time, it developed another derivative to sell to other investors that would win if the government went bankrupt.

For 20 years, brilliant people create a complicated narrative that investors and politicians are buying, and they decide that it is such a complex matter that they leave it in the hands of the experts. Country after country, the executives – who have gained power vis-à-vis the legislature and a more ambiguous judiciary – create specialized commissions to manage finances, cede them the regulatory function. And who are the experts in finance ?, because the same financial sector. The same happened with telecommunications. Governments could have done their homework a little better.

 

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