Archive for July, 2009

Taliban land reform?

Posted: 28 July 2009 in Uncategorized
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Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, one of the largest landowners in Pakistan and head of the Bhutto tribe, poses in front of portraits of his forefathers at his estate in Mirpur Bhutto

Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, one of the largest landowners in Pakistan and head of the Bhutto tribe, poses in front of portraits of his forefathers at his estate in Mirpur Bhutto

What’s missing from most analyses of Pakistan is a class analysis, especially the role of feudal lords and peasants. Clearly, feudal class exploitation and the growth of rural poverty have created the conditions for the Taliban, which according to the NYT is engaging in its own project of land confiscation and redistribution.

The authors, Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah, can’t help but refer to the “wealthy landowners” as “the economic pillar of the rural society.” But their article does offer valuable snippets about the class structure of rural Pakistan, the landlords’ use of private militias to protect their holdings, and the Taliban’s project of redistributing land to the landless peasants.

Pakistan

Here’s Tariq Ali on “Obama, Pakistan, and U.S. Empire”:

P.S. Ah, the wonders of a computer archive! (It’s amazing what one finds when searching through one’s files.)  I just noticed that the same NYT reporters published almost the exact same story back on 16 April: “Taliban Exploits Class Rifts in Pakistan.” Then it was “exploits” class rifts, now it’s “foment” a class struggle—as if class struggle didn’t already exist throughout Pakistan. . .

Wizard_oz_movieposter

Today is the 40th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, based on the 1900 book by L. Frank Baum. . .

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Not surprisingly, the book and movie have been subject to many different interpretations.

For Henry M. Littlefield, the book was a parable on William Jennings Bryan and the late-19th-century Populist movement. For example:

The Wicked Witch of the East had kept the little Munchkin people “in bondage for many years, making them slave for her night and day.” Just what this slavery entailed is not immediately clear, but Baum later gives us a specific example. The Tin Woodman, whom Dorothy meets on her way to the Emerald City, had been put under a spell by the Witch of the East. Once an independent and hard working human being, the Woodman found that each time he swung his axe it chopped off a different part of his body. Knowing no other trade he “worked harder than ever,” for luckily in Oz tinsmiths can repair such things. Soon the Woodman was all tin. In this way Eastern witchcraft dehumanized a simple laborer so that the faster and better he worked the more quickly he became a kind of machine. Here is a Populist view of evil Eastern influences on honest labor which could hardly be more pointed.

For Hugh Rockoff, the book is a monetary allegory, replete with references to the monetary debates of the 1890s. For example:

Dorothy is in her home when it is carried by a cyclone (tornado) to the land of Oz. This is Baum’s fantasy counterpart to America, a land in which, especially in the East, the gold standard reigns supreme and in which an ounce (Oz) of gold has almost mystical significance. The cyclone is the free silver movement itself. It came roaring out of the West in 1896, shaking the political establishment to its foundations. A cyclone is an apt metaphor. Bryan was first elected to Congress in 1890 and made his first important speech in Congress on the silver question in 1893. Three years later he was the leader of a national movement. Dorothy’s house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. The Witch dries up completely, leaving only her silver shoes. These represent the silver component of a bimetallic standard and are given to Dorothy to wear by the Good Witch of the North, who has been summoned to the scene. The silver shoes have a magical power that the Wicked Witch of the East understood but which the Munchkins (citizens of the East) do not.

While Helen M. Kim sees the movie as a parable about mass consumer culture (including the possibility of resisting that culture):

opening in rural, hard-working, plain, and virtuous Kansas, the film grounds Dorothy’s magical adventures in the land of Oz firmly in the context of “real” life. The early scenes of her industrious aunt and uncle and their three farm hands, securing their animals and equipment against an approaching storm, are shot in “realistic” sepia tones. The small, bare, weather-worn Kansas farm and the aged, humble appearance of the adults evoke the harshness of midwestern rural life during the droughts and depression of the 1930s. Significantly, the characters’ anxiety and haste to prepare for the storm create an atmosphere in which work, responsibility, and industry are of the utmost importance to the preservation of their frail subsistence from an unpredictably destructive nature. Such iconography in the year of the film’s release, 1939, strongly enforces a sense of the harsh economic realities of “ordinary,” “everyday” American life. Nature, as represented by the land and the weather, dictates the limits circumscribing human existence. The Kansas setting represents the extreme of the natural and the unmediated, against which Dorothy’s “wild” flight into the fantastic, utopian, and ultimately mass cultural realm of Oz constitutes an entry into the possibilities of the artificial, mediated, or constructed-possibilities, in other words, which provide the necessary means to critique, contest, and demystify the category of “the natural,” which underpins the power of hegemony.

. . .

The drama of Dorothy’s movement between “real” and “utopian” spaces, then, works itself out through the ensuing plot of the film, which immediately reverses itself in the direction of Dorothy’s desire to return home. I would like to read her attempt to do so as the film working through the oppositional possibilities open to consumers: to “get out” of mass culture’s system of power once they have been enticed into it.

Thanks to Baum and Judy Garland, an important story—one that is rich in political, economic, and cultural alternatives—lives on.

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Perfect game!

Posted: 24 July 2009 in Uncategorized
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WhiteSox

Mark Buehrle pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, 23 July, at Comiskey Park U.S. Cellular Field. His first perfect game (and second career no-hitter), only the 18th in Major League Baseball history.

Here’s the line score:

Rays White Sox Baseball

And the box score.

And this one’s just for the Cubs fans out there:

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ImprovingProductivity

Wouldn’t we all be better off if we just got rid of all the economists? We certainly wouldn’t be subject to their nonsense, like productivity measures. . .

Just recently, a friend in the psychology field related their story: of how their productivity was being measured by “unique contacts.” So, their productivity went down when they met the same person for multiple sessions (in either individual or group sessions) as against meeting with different people (for one or a small number of sessions). That’s what matters, not the actual condition or the quality of the treatment.

The same is true in higher education, as you can see in this new report [pdf] from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability [ht: ja]. According to author Patrick J. Kelly, Florida, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and North Dakota are the most productive states because their cost per credential is the lowest in the nation.  The report then goes a step further, saying that the less-costly degrees also provide a greater economic value to their states. Degrees are most expensive in Alaska, Wyoming, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, which are the least-productive states. Kelly’s method compares median earnings of people at each degree level, by state, to the cost of each degree.

That’s what happens when we accept productivity as the appropriate criterion and let economists loose to measure productivity.

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coat of arms of slavetrader John Hawkins

The Brits are rediscovering the links between slavery and capitalist finance. A small team of researchers with the University College London is making a list of every British company that had historic links with the slave trade. They were interviewed on Marketplace. Some of their results—including the role of Nathan Mayer Rothschild and James William Freshfield—were recently discussed in the Financial Times. (Among the institutions that have apologized for their predecessors’ role in the slave trade is Wachovia Bank, which has “set up a programme offering $1bn in loans for black car dealerships”!)

HM_sugarbowl

And there’s a new exhibition, “London, Sugar & Slavery,” at the Museum of London in Docklands. According to Colin Prescod, Chair of the Institute of Race Relations
and advisor on the gallery,

Over some three centuries, transatlantic slavery and the associated ‘triangle trade’ generated extraordinary profit, amassed unimaginable wealth, and spawned obscenely inhumane brutalities on a massive scale. Museum in Docklands’ bold new gallery demonstrates that these events were pivotal in the history of London’s and Britain’s rise to world dominance, and that they bequeathed a discomfiting legacy in a complex heritage.

Rising exploitation

Posted: 22 July 2009 in Uncategorized
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Blog_WSJ_Executive_Pay_2002_2007

As I explained to students in a course this past spring, the existence of a constant profit-wage ratio (which is often used to argue that income inequality is not getting worse) is consistent with increasing exploitation, i.e., rising S/V.

The reason: a growing share of “wages” is actually executive compensation, i.e., distributions of surplus-value.

That’s one way of interpreting the data discovered by Kevin Drum in an article published by the WSJ:

Executives and other highly compensated employees now receive more than one-third of all pay in the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Social Security Administration data — without counting billions of dollars more in pay that remains off federal radar screens that measure wages and salaries.

The pay of employees who receive more than the Social Security wage base — now $106,800 — increased by 78%, or nearly $1 trillion, over the past decade, exceeding the 61% increase for other workers, according to the analysis. In the five years ending in 2007, earnings for American workers rose 24%, half the 48% gain for the top-paid. The result: The top-paid represent 33% of the total, up from 28% in 2002.

Selling body parts

Posted: 21 July 2009 in Uncategorized
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SaleOnAllBodyParts

They buy and sell blood, eggs, plasma, sperm, and the services of surrogate mothers. So, why not, asks Virginia Postrel, create a market for kidneys? Eliminate the gift and barter economies of kidney transplants and replace them with a market.

What would this mean? The wealthy, who already take advantage of “transplant tourism,” would get their kidneys while the rest. . .