Archive for February, 2010

Off to Peru

Posted: 17 February 2010 in Uncategorized
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Nuestra gente [Our people]

Faber

I’ll be back in 10 days. . .

Public art of the day

Posted: 16 February 2010 in Uncategorized
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Peter Fuss

In a recent article in Economic & Political Weekly [ht: is-i], Farshad Araghi (pdf) argues that “the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks is indicative of the depth of the crisis of ‘long Keynesianism’ that has exhausted its positive and negative ways of dealing with the ‘unsustainability’ of global capitalism.”

Araghi’s first point is that neoliberalism is not the opposite of Keynesianism, nor is global Keynesianism a possible alternative to global neoliberalism. Instead, he views neoliberalism as a moment within Keynesianism: “negative Keynesianism” (a reaction to wage inflation and stagflation at home and unruly developmentalism abroad, based on wage deflation, negative regulation, and financialisation of demand management) versus “positive Keynesianism” (based on wage-labour contracts and effective demand management leading to “wage inflation,” amidst competitive pressures and expansion of democratic rights). “Long Keynesianism” is therefore “a contradictory unity of liberalism and neoliberalism.”

Araghi views the current period as a crisis of long Keynesianism, and concludes that a return to positive Keynesianism simply won’t work.

The fantastic desire for a pendulum shift, in the form of a return to positive Keynesianism, fails to see that post-war Keynesianism was (1) an externalising regime fundamentally standing on the shoulder of the “cheap oil regime” of 1953-73, and (2) that the mass consumption component of high wage Keynesianism in the North was always standing on the shoulder of “forced underconsumption” in the South. . .Precisely for these reasons, green and global Keynesianism is a contradiction in terms.

Araghi’s eco-socialist perspective is valuable, as a way of prying progressives away from a narrow (and one might say naive) focus on stimulus spending and financial regulation. What is missing from his approach is a concern with class—both the role class exploitation has played in creating the conditions for the current crises (in both the South and the North) and the role eliminating class exploitation can play (again, in both regions) in moving us beyond capitalism.

The new book, Rethinking Planning, Development, and Globalization: Essays in Marxian Class Analysis, is finally done and off to the publisher.

The cover illustration, by Mercamutanterio, is above. Here’s the table of contents:

Foreword by Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff

Introduction

1 Rethinking Planning, Development, and Globalization  from a Marxian Perspective [here is the pre-publication version: pdf]

Planning

2 Essentialism and Socialist Economic Planning: A Methodological Critique of Optimal Planning Theory

3 Planning and Class in Transitional Societies

4 The State and Planning in Nicaragua

5 Nicaragua: The State, Class, and Transition

Development

6 Radical Theories of Development: Frank, the Modes of Production School, and Amin

7 The Costs of Austerity in Nicaragua: The Worker-Peasant Alliance, 1979-1987

8 When Failure Becomes Success: Class and the Debate over Stabilization and Adjustment

9 Power and Class: The Contribution of Radical Approaches to Debt and Development

10 Capitalism and Industrialization in the Third World: Recognizing the Costs and Imagining Alternatives

11 “After” Development: Reimagining Economy and Class

12 Reading Harold: Class Analysis, Capital Accumulation, and the Role of the Intellectual

Globalization

13 Fordism on a World Scale: International Dimensions of Regulation

14 Class Beyond the Nation-State

15 Global Fragments: Subjectivity and Class Politics in Discourses of Globalization

16 Globalization and Imperialism

David DeGraw has assembled a report (part 1 of 2) on how the “Economic Elite Have Engineered an Extraordinary Coup, Threatening the Very Existence of the Middle Class.”

It’s what I’ve been arguing for quite a while now: that, apart from (but also in part as a result of) the current crises, there has been a steady immiseration of the U.S. working-class.

The devastating numbers across-the-board on the economic front are staggering. I’ll go through some of them here, many we have already become all too familiar with. We hear some of these numbers all the time, so much so that it appears as if we have already begun “to normalize the unthinkable.” You may be sick of hearing them, but behind each number is an enormous amount of individual suffering, American lives and families who are struggling worse than they ever have.

DeGraw goes through the numbers, with links to the original sources. The upshot is, for the past 30 years or so, the balance has slowly but steadily shifted in favor of capital and against working people. The current crises are both a result of that shift (since the financial bubbles are at least in part a consequence of a worsening the distribution of income and wealth) and one more cause of that shift (since the current crises, and the policies enacted to “save” the system, are enhancing profitability but lowering living standards for the vast majority).

The fact is, neither the mainstream media, which fails to connect the dots, nor mainstream academic economists, who are obsessed with defending their models and pinning the blame on one or another financial enterprise, are helping us make sense of these changes. They are merely serving to normalize the unthinkable. It’s people like DeGraw and Elizabeth Warren who are putting the pieces together and sounding the alarm. The question is, who is listening? And when will we do something about it?

Altug Yalcintas, Research Fellow in the Department of Economics at Ankara University, has just sent me a copy of his insightful review of Economic Representations.

The full review appeared in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Economic Issues (43/4, 1089-90). Here are some excerpts:

Re-evaluating economics as a social science, in the broad sense of the term, David Ruccio, of the University of Notre Dame, provides the reader with a glimpse of the theoretical richness that feeds economic imagination from all fields of intellectual life, including popular music and visual arts, as well as humor and irony. . .

One prominent painter once claimed that painting is not about a self-represented reality; it is about colors and lines that painters use to represent colors and lines in nature. Economics, too, is not about a self-represented reality; it is about metaphors, stories, and models that economists use to represent the economy. Reading Ruccio’s Economic Representations, one tends to conclude philosophically that there is nothing “out there” but representations.

Radioactive commons

Posted: 12 February 2010 in Uncategorized
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The zone of groundwater contaminated by the radioactive tritium leak at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is now estimated to be about the size of a football field and 30 feet deep. And it’s headed toward the Connecticut River.

Local newspapers have had daily reports about the leaky plant (here’s a compendium). And now the national media, from CounterPunch to the Wall Street Journal, are watching. That’s because there’s a resurgence of interest in “clean” nuclear power—but Vermont Yankee (owned by the Entergy consortium) is demonstrating that capitalist nuclear power is simply not safe for the groundwater or the rest of the commons.

The Journal has one set of concerns:

The closure could ripple beyond the Green Mountain State to New England’s wholesale power market, the broader nuclear-power industry and Entergy itself. Several reactors were shut across the U.S. in the 1990s, but more recently the trend has been to prolong the life of plants because they produce low-cost, power with practically no greenhouse-gas emissions.

Vermont itself has another set of concerns: one one hand, jobs (about 670) and electricity (1/3 of what the state uses); on the other hand, contamination of the groundwater and a renegade company, one that has deliberately lied to state regulators.

Fortunately, the future looks less radioactive: First, the plant, whose license expires in 2012, needs the approval of the state legislature to renew its contract. Second, all 5 of the current Democratic candidates for governor are opposed to renewing the contract—in contrast to the current governor, who has stood behind Vermont Yankee. Finally, the state could replace Vermont Yankee by purchasing electricity from Hydro-Quebec. The province-owned company already provides about a third of Vermont’s power now, and Hydro-Quebec’s growing low-emissions power from hydro-electric dams and wind farms is certainly appealing.

Those are good omens for safeguarding the commons of the Green Mountain State.

In unity there is strength

Posted: 12 February 2010 in Uncategorized
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Mark Schuller has an update [ht: lm] on the situation in Haiti (his previous analysis is here).

While aid was being blocked, Haitian people – survivors, not victims – took very good care of themselves. Already a proud, generous, and resourceful people, Haitians got over their very intense divisions in order to survive. I was in Haiti for the 2004 coup and can attest to the very real divisions over Aristide, but the biggest divisions and most dire concerns for Haiti’s poor majority have been economic. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas – with 4 out of 5 people making 2 dollars per day or less – but it is also home to the most millionaires per capita. It is not a coincidence. For the moment at least, in my neighborhood at least, both political and economic divisions have become the ancien rĂ©gime. In the new Haiti, middle class and pĂšp la (Haiti’s poor majority) are all sleeping on the ground, looking out for one another and sharing what resources they have. By themselves, people in my neighborhood set up a medical clinic and an information gathering apparatus. I have more hope than ever that Haitian people will survive this crisis because I have seen what Haitian people are accomplishing on their own, together.

But the survivors’ resources are indeed limited. Particularly urgent are food and water. This is where foreign aid in whatever form is urgently needed at the moment, in addition to medical needs. Partners in Health and French NGO Doctors without Borders are doing great work delivering this critical need. I went to my neighborhood in Haiti to and with Hospice St. Joseph as part of a grassroots medical team that was coordinating with Partners in Health. This team delivered aid to 1,000 people in a week. Many grassroots efforts to give aid to Haiti are underway, but the scale is still too great for the grassroots at the moment. The U.S. military is the most efficient and effective agency to deliver aid to Port-au-Prince at the moment, but especially since Haiti has been occupied following the coup in which the Bush government played an important role, survivors have no reason to trust them. I am told that big U.S. NGOs who used to deliver food aid to the countryside are poised to do the same in Port-au-Prince. The old plan – P.L. 480 – not only didn’t work, it actually hurt the peasant economy. So this “cutting-the-cake” plan has to learn the lessons of the past and not repeat the mistakes of hoarding, corruption, high overhead, and creating “big men.” And they have to be in direct contact with the grassroots, who are organizing. NGOs’ role should be one of support, not direction, decisions need to be made out in the open, and the NGOs’ points of contact must be fluent in Haitian Creole and have at least some understanding of Haiti. At bare minimum the Haitian survivors need the respect that they deserve, as a people who have survived despite very many obstacles, including those imposed by foreigners.

It’s the 15th anniversary of the 1995 Copenhagen World Summit on Social Development, a period during which the state of the social world has actually worsened. Now, however, things may be changing.

In his keynote address delivered at the High‐level Panel Discussion of the 48th Session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development on 3 February [ht: ms], ’JĂŹmĂ­ O. AdĂ©sĂ­nĂ  looks back over these 15 years—and what is needed for a real transformative social policy.

Adésínà begins by noting

The 1995 Copenhagen summit was held under conditions of widespread entitlement failure and growing inequality, even after a decade of neoliberal orthodox economic reforms. While the Copenhagen commitments represent the triumph of hope over adversity it, nonetheless, reflected the ideational constraints of a vision of human existence that was in retreat.

And, while Copenhagen +5 and Copenhagen +10 painted grim pictures of the state of the social world, things are only getting worse.

The current economic crisis, triggered by the sub‐prime mortgage, is generating another round of social and economic
crisis and acute vulnerability in the world’s poorest regions. The recent estimate by the World Bank [World Development Indicators 2009] suggests that an additional 46 million people will fall into severe poverty; an additional 53 million will become poor. It is also estimated that between 200 000 and 400 000 children will die annually if the crisis continues; that is anything between 1.4 million to 2.8 million new cases of child mortality between 2009 and 2015 [p. 11]. . .

For many developing countries the challenge is also at an institutional level, and we see these more acutely in Sub‐Saharan Africa. Successive cycle of neoliberal reforms have left many countries in a state of acute institutional crisis and undermined the little capacity for endogenous policy learning that many of these countries built in the period between 1960 and 1980.

He also highlights another dimension of the crisis of social development:

Equally important in assessing the social development landscape of the last fifteen years is the crises of ideas and imagination; a narrowing of vision and a lowering of gaze. The focus on “absolute poverty” and the broad appeal to accommodate social development objectives in the design of structural adjustment programmes in the Copenhagen commitments, for instance, reflected a retreat from the wider vision of social policy and development outcomes,
broadly, not just those of social development.

So, what’s the way forward? AdĂ©sĂ­nĂ  draws attention to two key factors: the commons and transformation.

It is useful to reiterate that social policy instruments are not about ‘public goods’, at least not in the Samuelson. . . sense of the “collective consumption of goods”: “each individual’s consumption of such goods leads to no subtraction from any other individual’s consumption of that good.” Rather they are Social and Economic Commons because they involve the idea of a collective, common good (not ‘goods’). Equity, rather than “nonexcludability” or “non‐rivality,” is the determinate condition for access, and access may be structured on the basis of gravity of need rather than presentation of demand. . .

Transformative social policy relates not only to the transformation of an economy or protection from destitution but to the transformation of social relations, as well.

That combination—the idea of a collective, common good and the transformation of social relations—is a necessary starting point for creating a vision of social development that is certainly wider than what we have witnessed for the past 15 years.

Public art of the day

Posted: 11 February 2010 in Uncategorized
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Interesni Kazki