Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Protest of the day

Posted: 23 April 2014 in Uncategorized
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Dozens of Sherpa guides packed up and abandoned Mount Everest’s base camp Wednesday in honor of 16 of their colleagues killed in the deadliest avalanche recorded on the mountain, an incident that has exposed a great deal of resentment over their working conditions, pay, and treatment.

Tusli Gurung, a guide who was at the base camp on Wednesday, estimated that nearly half the Sherpas had already left.

The walkout is certain to disrupt a climbing season that was already marked by grief following Friday’s disaster. Sherpa guides were hauling climbing gear between camps when a chunk of ice tore loose and triggered an avalanche. Thirteen bodies were recovered and three Sherpas still missing are presumed dead.

“It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing while there are three of our friends buried in the snow,” said Dorje Sherpa, an experienced Everest guide from the tiny Himalayan community that has become famous for its high-altitude skills and endurance.

“I can’t imagine stepping over them,” he said of the three Sherpa guides who remain buried in ice and snow. . .

The avalanche was triggered when a massive piece of glacier sheared away from the mountain along a section of constantly shifting ice and crevasses known as the Khumbu Icefall — a treacherous area where overhanging immensities of ice as large as 10-story buildings hang over the main route up the mountain.

Special teams of Sherpas, known as Icefall Doctors, fix ropes through what they hope to be the safest paths, and use aluminum ladders to bridge crevasses. But the Khumbu shifts so much that they need to go out every morning — as they were doing when disaster struck Friday — to repair sections that have broken overnight and move the climbing route if needed. . .

While most climbers have to make multiple passes through the Icefall, moving up and down the mountain as they acclimatize and prepare for their summit attempt, Sherpas make the dangerous journey two dozen times or more, carrying supplies and helping clients negotiate the hazardous maze of ice.

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Back in 2009, in the midst of the Great Crash (and therefore at the start of the Second Great Depression), a colleague and friend asked me whether I expected the teaching of economics to change. His view was that, since mainstream economics had so miserably failed in both predicting the crash and providing a guide as to what to do once the crash occurred, it was obvious the economics being taught to students had to fundamentally change. My answer was that, while the need for a change was obvious, I didn’t see it happening—and it probably wouldn’t happen (thinking back to the emergence of the Union of Radical Political Economics in the late-1960s) unless and until students of economics demanded a different approach.

Well, in various places (starting almost a decade before the current crises, with the eruption of the Post-Autistic Economics movement in June 2000), students have been demanding a fundamental change in the way economics is being taught. The latest effort to move that project along is a report from the University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society. Here are some of their key findings, which refer to how economics is taught at Manchester but clearly have much wider relevance, in and beyond the United Kingdom:

  • Economics education at Manchester has elevated one economic paradigm, often called neoclassical economics, to the sole object of study. Other schools of thought such as institutional, evolutionary, Austrian, post-Keynesian, Marxist, feminist and ecological economics are almost completely absent.
  • The consequence of the above is to preclude the development of meaningful critical thinking and evaluation. In the absence of fundamental disagreement over methodology, assumptions, objectives and definitions, the practice of being critical is reduced to technical and predictive disagreements. A discipline with a broader knowledge of alternative perspectives will be more internally self-critical and aware of the limits of its knowledge. Universities cannot justify this monopoly of one economic paradigm.
  • The ethics of being an economist and the ethical consequences of economic policies are almost completely absent from the syllabus.
  • History of economic thought is an optional third year module which students are put off taking due to it requiring essay writing skills that have not been extensively developed elsewhere in the degree. Very little economic history is taught. Students finish an economics degree without any knowledge of momentous economic events from the Great Depression to the break-up of the Bretton Woods Monetary System.
  • When taken together, these points mean that economics students are taught the economic theory of one perspective as if it represented universally established truth or law.

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Map of the day

Posted: 22 April 2014 in Uncategorized
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This is a map indicating the number (by the size of the circles) and percentage (by the color of the circles) of Americans living at or below the official poverty line.

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The New York Times certainly doesn’t feature Karl Marx. And, for the most part, it wouldn’t know Marx if he showed up at the editorial office without his sunglasses.

But today is a bit different, with not one but two discussions of Marx.

First, there’s Steven Erlanger’s discussion of Thomas Piketty’s new book, in which he claims that the French economist is returning to a tradition of analysis shared by both Adam Smith and Marx (forgetting, of course, that Marx’s critique of political economy represented a fundamental break from mainstream political economy, authored by Smith and many others). It seems we have sunk so low intellectually that to focus attention on capital and inequality and to worry that grotesque levels of inequality might imperil democracy necessarily puts someone somewhere in the Marxian tradition.

Then, we have the spectacle of Ross Douhat worrying that “Karl Marx is back from the dead” and, because “Marxist ideas are having an intellectual moment, . . .attention must be paid” (to which, like Erlanger, he subsumes the self-identified non-Marxist Piketty). In end, Douhat demonstrates the sorry state of contemporary conservative thinking, failing to note the traditional conservative critique of bourgeois society’s economization of social life and then expressing his admiration for such movements as the Tea Party, Britain’s UKIP, and France’s National Front, which in his view incorporate “some Piketty-esque arguments”—although his conveniently overlooks their racism (or simply hides it under the rubric of “cultural anxieties”).

In the end, then, there may be a lot of Marx on the minds of contributors to the New York Times but they certainly don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian writer and political activist, in Mexico City in 1976.

During all those years I spent working in and on Latin America, reading the works of Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez (along with those of a few others, such as Mário de Andrade, José María Arguedas, and Carlos Fuentes) helped me understand what was going on—from the real effects of colonialism and the wielding of power by corrupt dictators to the magic contained in everyday life.

Now that we are beginning to understand that the United States is an oligarchy, not a democracy, where is our own García Márquez?

 

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Off to give a talk (on capitalism and climate change) and a guest lecture (on Marxian class analysis). So, no posts until I return. . .