The Cyberflâneur #22: Fabrizio Barca

Our latest guest curator is Fabrizio Barca, a highly respected Italian economist and political figure. He is also the author of many books and reports – including the famous Barca report – and now coordinates the think tank Forum on Inequalities and Diversity. Fabrizio has recently called for a “vaccine against inequality” and his think produced this excellent graphic:

Inevitably but not exclusively, Fabrizio’s fine selections from our stacks touch upon the COVID-19 crisis. His generous remarks on the pieces stand in sharp relief to much of what passes for “commentary” on COVID-19 today. You’ll read about about Cuba’s early medical assistance when Italy faced international indifference, the potentially poisonous questions of blame, an Italian anthropologist’s hope for radical change, and how the crisis should stoke anger that homelessness can be rife when so many houses stand empty.

Fabrizio has also picked an excellent book on AI and capitalism as well as a paper of the digitalisation and commodification of domestic labour.

For Fabrizio’s bio and Twitter.

~ Evgeny Morozov

A recent talk by Fabrizio. Links to more of his work further below.

Fabrizio’s Selections

I.

The World Rediscovers Cuban Medical Internationalism

For a few weeks into the Covid-19 crisis, Italy felt internationally isolated. While contagion and deaths were growing, we perceived a patronising attitude by both governments and public opinion abroad, as if we were either over-reacting or uncapable to deal with to the virus. Then came the Chinese and the Cubans. The arrival at Milan airport on March 22nd of a 53-strong Cuban medical brigade was perceived by everybody as a breath of oxygen, a sign of understanding of our troubles. Helen Yaffe digs into the origin of this arrival, into Cuban “medical diplomacy” or “medical internationalism”, so different from “the notions of responsibility, charity and altruism common in aid frameworks”. Sixty days before, a wide delegation of Cuban mayors and administrators within a UNDP Programme had visited the rural areas of Italy, to get into the nitty gritty of Italy’s Inner Areas Strategy. It was part of Cuba’s current effort to change its development policy in the light of the reformed Constitution. No formal links between the two episodes. But a hint at a more entrepreneurial foreign policy.


II.

Stop Blaming Ordinary People for the UK’s Pandemic Failures

Seeing the personal ratings of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump go up after their embarrassing response to the Coronavirus outbreak has been one of the most sobering moments of the last month. As a response, one can lose faith in people or realise that they are no longer given the information needed to develop critical thinking. Not only has the media completely failed to hold power accountable, it has done so by diverting blame towards common people, endangering the solidarity we need to come out of this crisis. We must be wary of this: after the 2008 financial crisis the media avoided analysing structural issues by focusing on a small number of “bad apples”. If we want to learn from our mistakes we cannot let that happen again.


III.

Coronavirus: »Agribusiness Would Risk Millions Of Deaths.«

A fundamental analysis of the responsibilities of agribusiness in the present outbreak. Once this is all over, the idea that it could happen all over again needs to be used to drive a systemic change in agribusiness models.


IV.

The Politics of Covid-19: Time to Requisition Empty Homes

I live in a country where 1 in every 4 homes is unoccupied, just as thousands are forced to live on the streets. Homelessness, just as all other forms of inequality, is the result of political choices. In the wide-ranging list of structural issues that this virus has highlighted, this is one of the most disheartening. A society that cannot put a roof over the head of the most vulnerable while empty flats are left to rot in order for speculative bubbles to bring revenue to a few pockets is simply unacceptable.


V.

Inhuman Power: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Capitalism

For all those stuck between downplaying the importance of AI and automation for our future and enthusiastically waiting for that moment, this book offers a third, more dystopian vision of capitalism’s future in an AI world.


VI.

The Hassle of Housework: Digitalisation and the Commodification of Domestic Labour

Digitalisation is presenting us with an endless series of bifurcations, between further increasing injustice and opening up opportunities for emancipation. This is the case for its impact on the gender division of labour in social reproduction. No easy solution is at hand through technological solutions. A bottom-up design of technologies that serve the needs of households and communities, rather than those of big business, is needed. How do we pursue this task within a more general strategy to redirect technological change?


VII.

Workers and Covid-19

A great work by Faiza Shaheen’s Centre for Labour and Social Studies. It shows that initial predictions of the effects of the corona crisis on labour vastly underestimates just how many workers will suffer from the recession and a decrease in demand. We need analyses like these not only to immediately enact measures that prevent people from falling into poverty, but also to understand that the model of capitalism built by neoliberal thinking is unsustainable and to be changed: external shocks cannot automatically hit labour as they do today due to the spread of temporary contracts and the paraphernalia of more than thirty years of labour reforms.


VIII.

A Democratic Experimentalist Theory of Institutions

Hidden by the still dominant neoliberal project and a rapidly spreading authoritarian project, democratic experimentalism is implemented in several contexts around the world. More attention should be payed to it, as a way to enhance substantial freedom by rebalancing power and creating a room for a heated, informed, open and reasonable public debate.


IX.

The World after Corona

Branko Milanovic always goes straight to the point. Here he argues that the world after corona might well move in three directions. Yet a further decline of global inequality, with Asian countries further closing the gap and within-countries inequalities rising in the West. Persistent impediments to the free movement of people and goods. Increasing opportunities for authoritarian thinking and regimes. One could add a further strengthening of capitalism through an increased disintermediating power of the Seven Big Digital Corporations, which are cashing in from the “enforced digital life”. People believing in social and environmental justice should take this scenario as a challenge to radicalise their views and action and present people with clear-cut alternatives. Which are at hand.


X.

“Dopo saremo più solidali. Il mondo nuovo ci piacerà”

Anthropologists are possibly better equipped than economists to help designing a way out of the Covid-19 crisis without giving way to authoritarianism and inequalities. An alternative collective use of digital platforms, rediscovering what really matters, regaining awareness over the use of our time. But will these opportunities be crushed under the neoliberal mythology of “going back to normality”?


More by Fabrizio Barca – from our Stacks

Our archive of high-quality content across text, video and audio – our “Living Syllabus” as we call it – has already reached over 10,000 items and grows larger every week.

Here are some recent pieces by or featuring Fabrizio from those archives:


Previous Editions

  • #14 Katrina Forrester – Political Theorist and Intellectual Historian at Harvard University
  • #15 Kaiser Kuo – Writer, Musician, Podcaster
  • #16 Atossa Araxia Abrahamian – Senior Editor at the Nation, Author of The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen
  • #17 Li Andersson – Finland’s Minister of Education and the Chairperson of the Left Alliance party
  • #18 István Rév – Professor of History and Political Science at CEU, Director of the Open Society Archives
  • #19 Benjamin Bratton – Professor of Visual Arts and Director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics at the University of California
  • #20 Ivan Krastev – Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna
  • #21 Daniela Gabor – Professor of Economics and Macro-Finance at UWE Bristol, Founder of Critical Macro Finance

More About our Cyberflâneur Series

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