Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
John Perkins is offering his life as the link between IMF/World Bank money lending to developing nations and American interests abroad. His confession affirms a speculative charge of imperialism and brings shape to that “invisible hand” of the market. That shape is not an unguided phenomenological emergence of fairness. Rather, the invisible force that Perkins’s is confessing to is one steeped in coercion meant to subvert the American political process and cloak America’s actions in the private sector.
Perkins seeks to persuade you that an American imperial agenda exists and is actively affecting international politics. Specifically, Perkins elucidates on the secret way private companies do the bidding of American interests by administering large loans to the developing world in order to control them. To this end, his story reveals his personal implication within the administration of such irresponsibly large loans to national governments with exaggerated and faulty economic forecasts. Perkins explains that he assumed the pivotal position of determining growth potential of developing countries' GNP. As he reveals throughout his story, the pressures that he personally encountered influenced him to make biased economic predictions with fallacious conclusions.
A greater historical perspective underpins this narrative. Perkins taps into a romantic vision of America as an adolescent republic in order to establish his own understanding of right and wrong. He locates Tom Pain, his proclaimed hero, as well as Thomas Jefferson as moral compasses navigating his own beliefs and values. Likewise, Perkins invokes the American Revolution to frame his grappling of the macro-international relations picture that lay before him. He writes, “just like colonial minutemen, Muslims were threatening to fight for their rights, and like the British of 1770s, we classified such actions as terrorism” (57). One way this idealized American imagery works is to find a point of agreement between varying degrees of contempt for contemporary American actions through solidifying past idyllic notions of America. This situates Perkins critique as patriotic, that is, engendered by a love of American mythology. It seems to me that this book works very hard-and successfully-to entice the sceptic who would otherwise reject a combination of terms such as “American imperialism,” while also cajoling the reader utterly convinced of America’s hegemonic project. Perkins stabilizes his own ethos and makes his claims more appealing through his posture toward American history.
Most interestingly, within the book is the negative implication on the free market itself. Perkins’s story burdens the contemporary conception of the free market by showing that it is not an autonomous vacuum of free-floating financial logic. Similarly, financial institutions are not always miraculously engaged in activities that are by definition, good. The market is susceptible to all forces, particularly political forces. Forces like EHM can exploit the autonomous status handed to the free market in order to hide third party intentions and actions. This book has serious implications for free marketeers and proponents of deregulation because it offers a first hand account of the corruption and abuses possible through unregulated economic means.
John Perkins would be an excellent (insert random nationality or ethnicity) mother. He knows exactly how to make you feel bad when really you shouldn’t feel bad at all, especially for him. Perkins’s constant reiteration that he deplores what he has done as an EHM to many countries and millions of their poor, only diminishes the pathos he seeks to extract from the reader.
Perkins methodically describes his experiences as an EHM through several decades, effectively and interestingly exposing the global hegemonic powers’ system for implementing modern colonialism under the guise of “good business.” The main purpose of his narrative, aside from exposing the EHM system, seems to be a self-release of guilt. Write a book about the bad things you did, and it’s like it never happened at all.
While the American public should certainly find this an interesting read I’m skeptical on whether or not the information would have an impact on their lives, aside from Tea Partiers celebrating American imperialism while condemning the conspiracy of government. At the end of the book, Perkins writes a chapter entitled “What You Can Do,” stating “We have arrived at the end of this book, and also at the beginning. You are probably wondering where to go next, what you can do to stop the corporatocracy and to end this insane and self-destructive march to global empire” [that I helped create]. The question isn’t what you can do, but rather, what you are actually willing to do. The spy mystique/conspiracy theory air about the book is compelling because it affirms suspicions, through exciting and exotic stories, but the picture of a hopeless world overrun by plutocrats and power hungry CEOs does not serve the author’s purpose; this is not enough to motivate the public to give up their comfortable lives for the sake of relieving the misfortune of those thousands of miles away.
The book reads like the historical storybook of colonialism, and Perkins uses its simplicity as a reflection of the sort-of innocent naïveté that caused him to happen upon the career. This framework certainly does its job because, in a way, the book is straightforward and child-like that it makes it almost hard to believe the autobiographicness of the story and much easier to sympathize with Perkins. He also weaves in non-historical, very personal, accounts of how his experiences as an EHM effective. He mentions his inability to sleep, his fabricated justifications of his lifestyle, but most prominent was his “vision of Christ” story. The signals of divine intervention and darkness signify Perkin’s sense of loss and supposed lack of choice. I think he also uses it (not to say it didn’t happen, I don’t know) as a way to prove to the reader that he was so confused about his work that even Jesus affirmed his worries and fears. He also says “[I] wondered what I was doing here, why the coincidences of my life had taken me along this path…” (58). He doesn’t often invoke words that would imply any sort of conscious choice or definitive decision to work as an EHM, which is also important in understanding part of the book’s purpose as a personal act of contrition.
Monday, March 29, 2010
She reminded me why it was so important to care about and address the injustices in our world, because she gave testament to exactly what we've been talking about in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. There are Maoist Guerrillas (what the Indian Govmnt would call them) in what is know as "The Red Corridor" of India, who are being driven off of their land (so it is difficult to label them Guerrillas) by wealthy multinational corporations who are benefiting a small handful of wealthy Indian families. They are painted as evil by the Indian government but she went and walked with them in the jungle for several weeks to discover the real story. I haven't yet finished our book, on page 220 or so, but it is all to clear that the new breed of EHM is rampant. No longer is it a select group of people that have to be trained to go around convincing foreign governments to buy into the global empire of the US. It seems to me that the group of EHMs is now determined by whether or not you buy the neoliberal ideology.
This brings me to a couple of questions:
Does believing in the various policies of neoliberailsm (the free market, no trade barriers, market efficiency and rationality, etc.) make you an EHM?
Fir that matter, what exactly was John Perkins doing in the early part of his career? How exactly was he enslaving the people of the world and their respective nations. This is as far as I got:
He would go in and make hugely optimistic electricity load forecasts for developing countries. This would encourage the developing countries to want to contract firms to deliver the electricity. To do so, they would have to borrow massive amounts of money from institutions like the World Bank. MAIN and other firms like it would make sure they got the contracts. Probably because the WB would only lend the money if certain firms were used. The various firms would then provide the electricity, modernizing the country and inducting it into the "global empire" of the US. What the empire consisted of was countries saddled with massive debts for projects that often undermined the fabric of their society and culture. There was a lot of talk about the fact that the poor of the country wouldn't benefit. Was this simply because the rich of the country were pocketing the money and not actually hiring the contractors? Were they going ahead with the project and then pocketing the profits?
How was Torrijos able to get MAIN to do what he wanted? He said he would contract MAIN but not take the profits for himself? How was he able to avoid the massive debts? did he?
I would love to make sure I'm understanding the structure of deceit correctly. Hope everyone had a good break.
Resonances of Eisenhower's "Farewell Address" and MLK Jr's "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" in Contemporary Political Conversation
Over the past two weeks, there have been two stories on Democracy Now! that directly engage with two speeches that we have read in our class, Eisenhower's "Farewell Address" and MLK Jr's "Beyond Vietnam," relating these speeches to our present military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought I'd share links to the stories because they are quite interesting and relevant. They testify to the power, significance, and relevance of these two canonical speeches, which are referenced in or even the centerpiece of (as we see in Smiley's story) political conversation several decades after their initial delivery.
In the first story, Nader references Eisenhower's warning about the military industrial complex (about 46 minutes into the piece, in which he is relating the cost of healthcare with the cost of war [aka that the war in Afghanistan is more than the supposed yearly cost of the health insurance bill).
Nader: "Eisenhower was so prescient when he warned the American people in 1960 about the the military industrial complex... its devouring over half of our operating federal budget.. the Pentagon budget is not even auditable.. "
In the second story, author Tavis Smiley draws a comparison between President Obama (who visited Afghanistan yesterday) and MLK Jr. regarding the issue of war and peace. In comparing the two leaders, Smiley directly looks at MLK Jr's speech "Beyond Vietnam." The full story can be seen on his PBS Special airing Wednesday night.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
I especially liked the discussion about Barbrook and Cameron's shortcomings in their analysis of the Californian Ideology. The author offers alternative explanations for libertarianism's appeal such as:
"Above all, libertarianism appeals to the children of the '60s (and their children) because it embodies one of that era's most treacherous seductions: the idea that the personal is political. Libertarianism elevates a psychological state -- an ineffable feeling of constraint, a dream of pure freedom or perhaps merely an anger at having to pay taxes -- into a politics that transcends politics. Like so many '60s credos, it aims at authenticity: the abstract, one-size-fits-all moral judgments of government feel like bad faith to those who crave immediacy. Cutting through the compromises and mediations of shared power, libertarianism promises a world without restraints, a universe in which the individual ego can expand without limit. A universe, in short, oddly like the Internet, where all too many posters, secure and increasingly maniacal in their solitary cubicles, manifest all of the social grace of a creep who stares insolently at you while picking his nose behind a rolled-up car window. As Borsook suggests, there is something adolescent about this thought process: Those who have taken their lumps in life and moved on -- i.e. adults -- are less likely to blame society, or government, or the state, or the bossa nova, for problems that are eternal."He also points to our discussion about the fantasy of the free market and ties this in with libertarianism's futurological aspects:
"Its appeal also depends on a quality that is simultaneously its greatest strength and greatest weakness: its disembodied nature. No libertarian state, after all, has ever existed in the world. (America, incessantly denounced by libertarians as a Great Satan of regulation, is, ironically but not surprisingly, much closer to being that free state than any other developed nation.) This gives libertarianism a futuristic allure that resonates with high-tech visionaries -- but it also raises suspicions that the whole thing is a pipe dream, a vaporous, almost psychotically elaborate "system" that resembles an elaborate science fiction alternate universe, or that plan labored on by Swift's Lagadan "projector" for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers."
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Eleven: The Undergraduate Journal of Sociology is now accepting sociological papers for its inaugural 2010 issue. The publication will showcase five exceptional sociological papers this year. Editors are currently reading papers on a rolling basis—meaning that we will review and accept papers as they are submitted. The final deadline for submissions is Monday, April 19 at 4 PM. For any questions or to request a submission form, please contact the Eleven Managing Editor Laura Siragusa at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you will complete a compelling essay after the April 19 deadline but before May 20, please either e-mail Laura or become a member of Eleven on facebook to receive future deadline notices.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
How They Make Bullshit Compelling
Unlike most other free-marketers, the authors of The Long Boom offer a
clear picture of the world they advertise for. They refrain from arguing
abstract concepts and instead depict a peaceful, prosperous and simply
“perfect” world of 2050 which is supposedly only possible if their agendas are
materialized. They attempt to tempt and persuade their broad audience with
the promise of an imaginary Long Boom, while persistently reminding them
that “The Long Boom is not a prediction” (9); that “the Long Book isn’t
inevitable. We have to make it happen.” (281)
Whether the authors’ “Long Boom” is realistic or even appealing is of
course open to debate. What interest me however, are the techniques that
compel the reader that the authors’ political ideologies actually do lead
to prosperity and “The Long Boom” and must be therefore followed. More
specifically this précis concerns itself with the rhetorical role that
the fictional letters play in emphasizing that the recommendations of the
authors, once followed, will lead to “The Long Boom” and its
The salesmanship techniques used by the authors to sell their ideas are
remarkable. The book is sneakily composed of three strands, two of which
are admittedly science-fictional strands which play a major role in
giving tangibility and allure to the otherwise-abstract and implausible
arguments of the third (nonfictional) strand: The documentary which is
broadcast in a supposedly-ideal world of 2050, shows how despite the
difficulties and oppositions that carrying out each of the authors’
recommendations faced, they eventually materialized and precisely in
their materialization made possible the “Long Boom” and the problem-free
year of 2050. The documentary series espoused by the letters of the
ambivalent fictional character who writes in 10 year increments
throughout “The Long Boom” convey the message that despite all
ambivalences, if everything goes as the authors have planned(!), the
bright promises of “the Long Boom” awaits the reader.
The fictional character starts his letter series in 1980 amidst the
pessimism and confusions surrounding that year and writes one letter every
10 years until the end of “The Long Boom”, 2020. In 2020 there is no sign
of the bleakness that filled his letter in 1980. In 1980 he writes of the
British people: “These people look so worn out, so beaten down…their eyes
are worried, and worried for good reason. (38) While the people of 2020
are described as optimistic, and confident. He writes of his daughter,
Amy’s generation with a completely different language: “She’s [Amy] much
better prepared than we were…We are all better off because these kids are
going to run things right.” (254) Of the pollution of London in 1980 he
writes: “The City is shrouded in heavy clouds that make noon seem like
dusk… You step outside the pub and there’s garbage piled in the street”
(38) while he describes the cleanness of Capetown in 2020 as follows: “I’m
breathing in this fresh ocean air and thinking how alive I feel” (253) The
comparison is not just limited to a few changes. He writes for example, of
the amelioration of world’s political situation in his 2020 letter: “In
1980, Iran held U.S hostages, and Israel was fighting Palestinians who had
taken over southern Lebanon. But today those warring, hate-filled
relations have been left behind.” (252)
The letters between 1980 and 2020, witness the progress of the world as
the authors describe and predict it. The character writes of the obstacles
that threaten the course of “The Long Boom”. He writes how the Asian
economy that was booming at the time of the 1990’s letter is devastated
ten years later: “The whole economy in Asia imploded. That’s the same Asia
I was talking about ten years ago. They were taking over the world, the
future was there. And now they are face down on the mat.” (144) He writes
of the pervasive anxiousness of Y2k: “I am anxious about everything. And
I’m not alone. Everyone in the world seems anxious about everything.
Everything in the world appears anxiety-provoking right now. The computers
are doing it.” (143) He writes of the worries surrounding environmental
problem and also of the fictional “Caspian Sea Crisis” (!) even in the
bright year of 2010: “Not that the world is free from all problems. The
environment in the past decade has been slowly (!) getting worse…And we’ve
got the Caspian Sea Crisis going on. Who knows what’s gonna happen there?”
However, despite all the worries in the pre-2020 letters, precisely since
the world goes on the way the authors prescribe it should, year 2020 comes
saturated with the beauties of “the Long Boom”. It is no coincident, that
the authors expand on their “ten commandments” (briefly introduced as “ten
guiding principles” on page 8), in a chapter that immediately follows the
letter of 2020 starting at page 255. What they want readers to take as
“core values that should be embraced, attitudes to be adopted.”(8) are
after all what have lead to the materialization of “The Long Boom” and
hence the great world as depicted in the 2020 letter. It is right after
the readers read about the glorious 2020 in the fictional character’s
letter, that they are presented with the details of how to fulfill the
“ten commandments”—the ten principles that are prerequisite to the
materialization of the authors’ imaginary world. It is in that critical
moment that those who are compelled by the story that the authors recount,
find out about what they need to do, for the story to actually go the way
it is told. The first line that follows the 2020 letter (which is the
begging line of the next chapter) reads: “With so much change taking place
around us, everyone faces the question: what can I do to build a better
future?”(255) a question to which the answer is “obvious” and immediately
provided: “we offer ten core principles that have worked in almost all
situations over the last couple decades of the Long Boom. We suggest that
they inform all our choices in the years ahead. They will sustain the Long
Boom and help everyone thrive.” (255)
What immediately follows the section on the ten principles is the last
letter, the one written in 2050. The sandwiching of the guidelines between
the letters of 2020 and 2050 is a significant rhetorical move. The 2050
letter reminds the reader that even though 2050, as described by the
letter, seems too unimaginable, if the reader follows the “ten
commandments”, it is indeed attainable! We read in the letter:
When I think back on my life, it’s really astonishing how much the world
has changed. It’s equally astonishing how little we understood about what
really was happening around us until just after the turn of the century.
None of us really had a clue back in the 1980s and 1990s. We Boomers
should have recognized the early signs of what was to come, but we
completely missed them. We really were trapped in our time. But now, in
the year 2050, it’s crystal clear. (278)
What comes after the letter of 2050, is the last chapter. It is not hard
to predict what it is called: “The Choice”…
Barbrook and Cameron: California Ideology
Purdy: God of the Digirati
Lanier: Cybernetic Totalism
Hayles: Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled
Haraway: Manifesto for Cyborgs
I have been known to rant and witticize in this plangent vein on occasion as well, if you're a real glutton for punishment.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
As I understand it, *The Long Boom* is a dubious species of text. On the one hand, it claims that the global community is primed for a kind of post-ideology, an agile and fluid pragmatism that that is unencumbered by inconvenient political, religious, or shadowy cultural commitments. On the other hand, it is not at all clear that the mere disavowal of ideology actually purges the text of the ideological odor that lingers about it - not only does it seem to advocate for a fairly specific set of policy measures, but it proposes a more or less comprehensive set of principles in which these policy recommendations are grounded ("Go global," "Open Up," "Let Go," etc.) In one sense it wants to argue for a global sense of inclusiveness that would erode away the necessity for national borders or strong class distinctions. At the same time, however, the authors seem fairly comfortable asserting the necessity for the United States to take the reigns as a global leader, bringing other regions into the fold because it makes good business sense, untroubled by the possibility that other nations and cultures could have different priorities moving ahead to THE YEAR 2000 (AND BEYOND).
These sorts of discrepancies recur throughout the book, undermining the author's insistent (and, in retrospect, comical) optimism at nearly every stage, although never entirely invalidating it either. I would argue that the somewhat uneasy cavalier-ness that pervades the book is in part the result of the bizarre vantage that the authors assume in producing a history of the present (and future) from the perspective of the future, and in part the result of our own historical position as an audience for whom *The Long Boom*'s futurism now reads as naive and dated (as futuristic projects such as this one become almost instantly.)
The first question I want to ask of this text is: "What's up with that stupid font?" which is really another way of asking, "1) Why does this book need to move us into the future if it really wants to be a protreptic about the present? 2) Why do it in such a corny, facile way?" These two questions are linked, and can be answered firstly with respect to the book's target audience. The authors clearly want to make their book accessible to as large an audience as possible (as evinced by the informal tone and basic vocabulary with which the entire book is written), and the thread of the fake documentary, cheap typographical flourishes and all, help to remind the casual reader that what is at stake in this book is not so much the present as the future. But more than just a populist ploy, this device of moving the discussion into the future in order to talk about the present allows the authors to condense an immensely complex set of exchanges, mutations, and transitions into a digestible historical narrative (in this case one that actually tries to account for the complexity of the present by showing how it is handled by future-us.) This is the same kind of move that almost every text we have read so far has made, viz. reconstructing history before making a case for this or that economic structure, except that this book takes this trope to new heights. If earlier texts were making ethos moves that appealed to our vanity insofar as we can relate our present to our past, this text is making the radically more narcissistic appeal of relating our future to our own conception of ourselves in the present.
In truth, there is very little sense in which this book is about the future at all - it is an artifact of its time as much as anything else. As such it is a rich example of one of the remarkable things that history shares with economic discourse: its need to be sensitive to certain textures that are in constant flux and never become entirely clear or entirely complete. We may find some of the predictions that *The Long Boom* makes to be silly, or factually inaccurate, but it is worth noting that at least in this case, our awareness of history no more exempts us from history's whims than our awareness of ideology exempts us ideology's compromises.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Someone mentioned that the word "voluntary" came up over and over again. Similarly, the word "Information" appears frequently, thought not nearly as often as "voluntary". I was struck by its presence because it is seems to function as a figure. The first time it is introduced is in the very beginning of Ch. 1. "The general cannot conceivably have the information necessary to direct every movement of the lowliest private" (1). When I try to define information it gets difficult, I suppose it means things to be known, or facts, or components of a decision. I like the last one. Decisions are made from information, information allows us to make choices.
The figure appears again when Friedman explains the three functions of prices. The first, he says is the "Transmission of Information". He goes on to explain that prices allow people to make decisions related to their businesses. This is all well and good but my problem with his use of the word surfaces when I consider that he does not address the relation of the worker to the equation. When he first introduces the figure he states that: "At every step of the chain of command, the soldier, whether and officer or a private, must have the discretion to take into account information about specific circumstances that his commanding officer could not have" (1). By analogy to the system of production, this implies a certain degree of autonomy even at the lowest level of production. This however, totally disregards the reality of life. Workers often don't get to choose what job they want. They don't get to consider the "information" to have them make their choice. If prices are supposed to be "information" that contributes to decisions, then how can we expect them to contribute to decisions at all if many people can't even consider the information.
He is however careful to qualify his claim and say that "Prices not only transmit information from the ultimate buyers to retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and owners of resources..." (8). He does not include the workers. Yet, given his introduction and context for the importance of "information", the lowest level of production, the workers are included. With this move he avoids my objection that there are inherent inequalities in life, that workers for whatever (sometimes racist, sexist or homophobic) reason often don't have the liberty to act according to "information".
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Many of the texts we’ve read in this class make a clear distinction between “good economics” and “bad economics.” On both sides of the political spectrum, they also seem to suggest that the people practicing “bad economics,” either by negligence or greedy self-interest, are a threat to the economy’s well being and a road block of progress, and therefore should be seen as a sort of enemy. Milton and Rose Friedman are no exception, but rather than appealing to an already solid partisan reader base, they keep their distinctions vague at first, employ emotionally-charged nationalistic language, and resist from excessively condemning any particular group or philosophy in order to prevent alienating any readers they have a chance of compelling.
First, they establish a narrative of America as a land of hope and opportunity for immigrants “seeking adventure, fleeing from tyranny, or simply trying to make a better life for themselves” (1); one that evokes nationalist pride rather than fear, as other free-market enthusiasts such as Hayek have employed. He then draws connections between the nation’s founding principles with those of Adam Smith, and describes a 19th century market “Golden Age.” It’s fantasy that plays on the images and histories that evoke pride for many Americans, meanwhile disavowing the ugly parts (slavery, Indian extermination, exploitation, etc.). And while they do give a nod to Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and employ some of the scare tactics of the economy being ruined by big government, the positive pathos seems to drown out the negative. This move is indicative of period when communist paranoia was not nearly as prevalent as it was during the forties when Hazlitt and Hayek published their books, and must have evolved in order to appeal to a wide audience. Rather than risk alienating those who may not be adamantly against government intervention, it instead appeals to an identity that is somewhat universally “American.”
In a similar move, they use the pride established in the introduction to set up an outside threat with the potential to destroy erode the things that make the country great. But the enemy’s construction is not an obvious, menacing figure, but those with good intentions that have detrimental consequences. The effect here seems to not only create a sense of suspicion for good-intentioned acts, but also offers room for readers who may have supported the ‘bad’ principles outlined by Friedman simply because they were well-intentioned. The lack of aggression coupled with the pleasant nationalistic imagery lulls rather than puts people on guard, and the act of persuasion feels less like someone is trying to shake you by the collar to see the point.
But the Friedmans do subtly play on the still prevalent fears of communism, using extreme examples to demonstrate the failures of good intentioned acts of government intervention. The first example they use in the first chapter is one of communist Russia, where government controls all forms of economic life, constricting options and inhibiting productivity. This immediately creates a pole between two opposite extremes: one of a completely free-market economy and one of a total command economy. Once this pole is established, it allows them to use the example of the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia as if it were a direct result of people trying to control the free market [“Recent experience in Cambodia tragically illustrates the cost of trying to do without the market entirely” (10)]. And while they do acknowledge that certain forms government intervention are necessary in society, they do very little to describe which forms. It’s a move that anticipates objection for the sake of being able to say they did so, but does little to offer any substantial middle ground between the two extremes described by Friedman, thus placing their readers in a position to choose between one or the other.
These moves are ultimately most effective for middle class readers who make a comfortable living and don’t directly rely on many public services. It’s a lot easier to have the view that the outcomes of capitalism are fair when you come out on top. But these are moves that also steer away from the perception of economics as a cold and calculative science with no sympathy for those who don’t benefit. The argument assumes that its readers are sympathetic to efforts that genuinely try to improve public life, but aims to morph that sympathy into suspicion.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
In The Affluent Society, J.K. Galbraith understands economic history as a history of ideas. For this precis, I'm most interested in how Galbraith's Chapter IV "Uncertain Reassurance", communicates with Karl Polanyi's notions of the commoditization of labor (mostly in Ch 14), especially with regard to how it might speak to their historic-economic projects more broadly.
Galbraith's senses of interaction between "conventional wisdom" and the emergence of ideas under unfortunate circumstances might also mirror Polanyi's double movement operation – it’s a bit clumsy, but I find it interesting. My reasoning for drawing these two concepts together, in hopefully not too heavy-handed a fashion, is to think about how Galbraith's choice of writing a kind of intellectual history of economics rather than, say, Polanyi's legal or material history of economics (in his not-so well received sprint through English history), works in different ways, perhaps for different ends, but with similar notions of interactions across socioeconomic or ideological boundaries.
Galbraith's explanation of wage fluctuations and bargains argues that wages will be controlled by a tolerable low number, "the cost of producing children", and criticizes this system for its supplication to Ricardian principles of wealth accumulation as "expecting [workers] to live on the edge of starvation". This sentiment seems directly borrowed from Polanyi, who puts it even more forcefully: “Hobbes’ grotesque vision of the state…was dwarfed by the Ricardian construct of the labor market: a flow of human lives the supply of which was regulated by the amount of food put at their disposal”. (Polanyi 172)
When Galbraith writes, "capital, like labor, was compensated according to its marginal product", I read connections to Polanyi's concepts of commodification of land, labor and money most prominently. Galbraith couches much similar processes in different terminology - 'marginal product' equally implicates the worker and employer; to an extent, the worker is responsible for his ability or inability to produce within a given system whereas 'commodification' suggests a much more extractive process.
Polanyi’s language of protective counter-movements seems to surface in Galbraith’s writing: “Even if the insecurity of the competitive model was not a damaging flaw, the efforts at self-protection that it induced almost certainly were." (emphasis added). Galbraith is unclear about the methods or actors in this market's efforts at "self-protection" - his discussion of poverty is largely borne out of thinking about compassion and morality. Galbraith lends less agency to low socioeconomic classes than does Polanyi, who writes “ the protection of society, in the first instance, falls to rulers”, before he recounts the successes of the Owenist and Chartist popular movements.
Polanyi's double movement, then, might be borne of the same problems that Galbraith's "uncertain reassurance" refers to, but with different actors at stake. What's interesting about this comparison is that Galbraith seems to emphasize problems with (psycho)logical justifications for extractive processes, while Polanyi criticizes them outright. Indeed, the following chapter -- "the American Mood" illustrates clearly where Galbraith sees change and effort necessary; in the confidence with which economic ideas are imagined and implemented. He criticizes the problems with articulating depression/recession/rolling readjustments, and sees depression as equally a problem of discursive over-normalization as economic insolvency.
As such, Galbraith, unlike Polanyi, focuses on the way depressions were academically understood and articulated. (I know I am ignoring Polanyi’s position as an academic himself – but I think this holds at least for the arguments they each employ) The last few pages of Chapter IV make the strongest case for this tension. Galbraith writes of the standard business cycle model promulgated by "central economic thinkers", which offers that the destructive cycles of economics are suggested to be entirely normal- that to intervene would be like "drowning the flames by drenching them with gasoline". Where Galbraith’s strongest metaphor for the destructive power of the market for individual livelihoods is a burning house, Polanyi sees it as a destruction of human existence, not merely its comforts; “the laws of the market annihilate all organic forms of existence”.
For this, one might read Galbraith’s work as undertaking a similar project as Polanyi, but with less polemic fervor. To an extent, I think this is true, but I think Galbraith’s polemics surface in the way he valorizes economic thinking rather than its material implications.
Galbraith's arguments provide psychological nuance that Polanyi's do not. His emphasis on ideas, while they do not account for the same material realities that Polanyi's arguments are based in, does challenge the bounded figures that Polanyi counter poses in his hegemonic and counter-hegemonic movements. However, Galbraith also bounds intellectual agency up with high-level economic thinkers. One could argue that in their lack of confidence, these thinkers hold the possibility for a kind of intellectual counter-movement, generated by challenges to ‘conventional wisdom’. For Galbraith, this might be enough. For Polanyi, these might be the very thinkers who ‘planned lasseiz faire’.
Alright, brats. Dale has set his well-heeled vegetarian foot down and demands precis from each of us! I am doing my first precis on Eisenhower's Farewell Address Speech because as I've mentioned in class, the audio version put me to sleep faster than 10mg of Ambien and I wonder how one of the top 100 American rhetorical speeches could be so monotonous at first glance? I am basing my reading on the text version, rather than audio, because I choose to stay awake. Here we go:
Eisenhower first off thanks the media for reporting messages to the nation. Undoubtedly, as we've seen in "The Road to Serfdom", media is crucial in the attempt to keep the masses in agreement, and Eisenhower was the first president to have televised press conferences. He wishes his successor [a Presbyterian] Godspeed, along with strong desires for a peaceful and prosperous nation. He acknowledges the cooperation of a non-partisan Congress, and then goes straight for the war-talk! As he praises the United States for our "material progress, riches, military strength…. [and] free government", he shifts from our charted goal "toward permanent peace and human development" into the emphasis on a strong military establishment to "keeping the peace". He states, "Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor ay be tempted to risk his own destruction." He famously introduces the concept of the "military industrial complex" which is defined as cooperative relationships between government, armed forces, and the industries that support them. He goes on to say that the "very structure of our society" is dependent on the development of national defense. He recognizes the potential for the abuse of power and also raises the fact that the technological revolution has made significant contributions to the Federal government. He also warns against public policy being in the mercy of a "scientific-technologcal elite".
An explicit thesis did not pop out immediately during my reading of the text, although the introduction/justification/warning of the term "U.S. military-industrial complex: was read/heard loud and clear. The audience is initially addressed to his fellow American citizens but he ends his farewell address with a prayer to the citizens of the world that "all people [of all faiths[ will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love." There is an obvious tension in his farewell speech between his intentions for a peaceful nation, and the acknowledgement of a potential monster to be kept in check when he describes the military-industrial complex as something that, "[Americans] must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." For Eisenhower to warn citizens about the military-industrial complex during his farewell speech, for me, is justified because of rapid technological advancement and his successor's American-Soviet relations surrounding the Cold War. My interpretation of the argument was to forewarn citizens of the dangers and powers of the powers of government, armed forces, and the industries that support it. This strikes a familiar chord with Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, as both texts acknowledge the destructive potential of a government with exclusive control of its citizens for the sake of maintaining a paradoxical peace during warfare. - Andrea Bella
In Chapter 9, Galbraith emphasizes the importance of production to the point of implying its prediscursivity. “…There had been a year in which production was higher and which hence was better. This measure of achievement was acceptable to all. It is a relief on occasion to find a conclusion that is above faction, indeed above debate.” (Galbraith, 99) He says later in the chapter “so all-embracing, indeed, is our sense of the importance of production as a goal that the first reaction to any question of this attitude will be, ‘what else is there?’” (Galbraith, 101) This argument remains solid throughout the chapter, even though Galbraith dedicates much of the chapter to explain the traditional and irrational attitudes concerning production, that don’t conduce to its growth. “by way of summary, then, while production has come to have a goal of pre-eminent importance in our life, it is not a goal which we pursue either comprehensively or even very thoughtfully.” (Galbraith, 112)
Attitudes and practices that hinder the growth of production are mostly absent when it comes to production for war. The instances in which war production in exempt from these attitudes are at times explicitly mentioned by Galbraith and at times inferable from his arguments. Among these instances, mentioned by both Galbraith and Lewin, is investment in technological innovations. Galbraith writes: “...even in the conventional wisdom, no one questions the importance of technological advance for increasing production…they are the result of investment in highly organized scientific and engineering knowledge and skills. Yet we do very little of a systematic sort to increase the volume of this investment, except where some objective of military urgency provides the excuse.” (Galbraith, 103) (BTW, it is not irrelevant to point out how easily and ironically the funding of research institutes like UC Berkeley is cut). Later Galbraith writes: “…large numbers of industries make little or no such investment [in innovation], have little or none made on their behalf, and we are quite untroubled.” (Galbraith, 104). Lewin writes on the same subject “Without a long-established war economy, and without its frequent eruption into large-scale shooting war, most of the major industrial advances known to history, beginning with the development of iron, could never have taken place.” (Lewin, 53)
The next impediment to the growth of production that Galbraith mentions is the traditional economic attitudes which usually concern monopoly, tariffs, subsidies, importing labor-force, etc. He argues that since these old attitudes are now a part of conventional wisdom, anything outside of them has little appeal. Galbraith writes: “our operative concern for increasing production is confined to the measures—for getting greater resource-use efficiency and promoting thrift and diligence—which were relevant a century and more ago. The newer dimensions along which there might be progress attract our attention much less…they are outside the formal and stylized concern of the conventional wisdom for the problem of production.” (Galbraith 107) Galbraith immediately continues by writing how war production provides the necessary circumstances to overcome this impediment. “There is an interesting proof of the point in the increase in production which, in the past, we have regularly achieved during war or under the threat of war. Under the stress of circumstance, the conventional wisdom is rejected. We set about expanding output along all the relevant dimensions. Serious efforts are made to expand the labor force…because of a rational concern for production, war has brought an astonishing expansion in output, and this despite the withdrawals from the labor force for military purpose…Our peacetime concern for production, central though it is to our thoughts, is selective and traditional.” (Galbraith, 107) Similarly, in Report From Iron Mountain we read: “War production is progressive because it is production that would not otherwise have taken place…Far from constituting a wasteful drain on the economy, war spending, considered pragmatically, has been a consistently positive factor in the rise of gross national product and of individual productivity.” (Lewin, 54)
Another important factor that Galbraith points at is the negative attitude towards government spending to provide public services. While almost all sorts of government spending are shunned in conventional wisdom, war spending is even welcomed. This provides the chance for an additional massive spending and production, solely driven by the government. In the Affluent Society we read: “in general view, it is privately produced production that is important, and that nearly alone…Public services, by comparison, are an incubus…Although they may be defended, their volume is almost certainly never a source of pride.” (Galbraith, 109)
Even though Galbraith does not allude to the exemption of War spending from other criticized public spending, most of the arguments he mentions as the reason for the rejection of public spending do not apply to that of war spending. Galbraith writes: “…these services, although they reflect increasingly urgent desires, remain under the obloquy of the unreliability, incompetence, cost and pretentious interference of princes.” Later he writes that conventional wisdom is unyielding in the point that “Any growth of public services is a manifestation of an intrinsically evil trend. If the vigor of the race is not in danger, personal liberty is…the movement toward socialism may be measured by the rise in public spending.” (Galbraith, 111) According to Galbraith, conventional wisdom holds government to be unreliable and incompetent in providing public services and its interference with the market leads to socialism. However, since war spending does NOT compete with the market alternatives, the way other public spending do, and since there is no private alternative for it, it is safe to say that war spending is at least extenuated if not completely approved. Lewin writes on the same notion: “In the case of military ‘waste’ there is indeed a larger social utility. It derives from the fact that the ‘wastefulness’ of war production is exercised entirely outside the framework of the economy of supply and demand. As such, it provides the only critically large segment of the total economy that is subject to complete and arbitrary central control.” (Lewin, 52)
The more interesting demonstration of the “superiority” of war production has to do with the demand side of the binary. In chapter 10, The Imperative of Consumer Demand, Galbraith explains the need for existence of consumer demand for the goods produced to justify their production. Here he introduces some economic theories. He starts the chapter by emphasizing that the increase is production is a belief among economist and in conventional wisdom that must be religiously followed. This cannot be questioned. “There remains, however, the task of justifying the resulting flow of goods.” (Galbraith, 114) For doing so, there was a need for “a defense which makes the urgency of production largely independent of the volume of production.” (114) This is to say that there had to be a formula that assures us, that no matter how much we produce, there is going to be urgency to produce more and under which the production of any kind of goods, even if “frivolous” is justified. Galbraith writes: “The weakness, as well as the ultimate defense, lies with the theory of consumer demand.”(Galbraith, 116)
Galbraith describes the theory of consumer demand by explaining its two broad propositions: first, that the “urgency of wants does not diminish appreciably as more of them are satisfied” meaning that as physical needs are satisfied, psychological and more complicated desires are yet to be satisfied. Second, that “wants originate in the personality of the consumer or, in any case, that they are given data for the economist.” in other words, it is not important to the economist, how the wants of the consumer are formed. The problem that remains with this point, is the problem of the “doctrine of diminishing marginal utility” according to which, the increase in the production and quantity of a certain good, leads to the decrease in its marginal utility. This diminished the importance of production, since, as mentioned, when the quantity of a produced good increases, the importance of the production of more of that same good decreases.
This problem is answered by a two-tier solution. The first step was to get rid of any notion of importance associated with a certain good. “any notion of necessary versus unnecessary or important against unimportant goods was rigorously excluded from the subject.” This way, all goods have almost the same degree of importance in production. If it can be sold, it should be produced. Second, was the “…cognizance of the fact that an almost infinite variety of goods await the consumer’s attention…So long as the consumer add new products…he may, like a museum, accumulate without diminishing the urgency of his wants.” (Galbraith, 120) This simply means that when the production of a certain good reaches a point beyond which its marginal utility will decrease, production can shift to new goods, which the consumer will develop new wants for! Galbraith anticipates the objection that goods that are less necessary will have lower urgency of need, by saying that, once the necessary needs of a consumer have been satisfied, the next level of needs will have the same urgency as the previous one, since the consumer has already satisfied the more basic needs.
The doctrine of marginal utility and the theory of consumer demand, both explain the “superiority” of war production to other productions. Firstly, weaponry gains its usefulness in as much as it is superior in number and technology to those of the enemy. Therefore, weapons of today are not of much use when new technology is introduced and hence the interminable circle of production of weapons. On the other hand, since the enemy is always making more, there is a need for constant production of more and more weapons. On the other hand, each war depletes the inventory of a country of its weapons and necessitates its replenishment. These factors make war production exempt from the doctrine of marginal utility. Besides, the demand of such production is not to be created in the market. Unlike other productions, war production has a demand irrelevant of the market. Its demand is arbitrarily created by the government and its production is consequently justified.
At the beginning of the chapter Galbraith opens with an epigraph from economist and renowned social historian Richard Henry Tawney, an avid socialist who helped conceive the economic and moral viewpoint of the Labour Party (a centre-left political party in the UK) in the beginning of the 20th century. The selection from Tawney’s Equality (1952) basically says that money can’t quite buy a happy and healthy life. Galbraith builds upon this theme throughout the chapter to argue for a “social balance” of privately produced goods and the supply of public services.
The disparity between the private and public sectors, Galbraith asserts, are “no matter of subjective judgment” (186). Yet as he goes on to expound this point, he makes a series of subjective claims that are ultimately faulty syllogisms.
“The schools are old and overcrowded. The police force is inadequate. The parks and playgrounds are insufficient. Streets and empty lots are filthy, and the sanitation staff is underequipped and in need of men. Access to the city by those who work there is uncertain and painful and becoming more so. Internal transportation is overcrowded, unhealthful and dirty. So is the air.” (187)
The “deficiencies” Galbraith describes are defined primarily by antithetical terms depicting subjective qualities. He prescribes that the success of an education system relies upon tangible conditions rather than quality of curriculum and instruction. What makes a police force “adequate” or “inadequate”? What makes parks and playgrounds “sufficient” or “insufficient”? Aren’t streets supposed to be relatively dirty? If access to the city and internal transportation within the city are “uncertain” or “overcrowded”, wouldn’t this mean that THESE parts of the public sector are “insufficient” and thus in need of the private sector for viable alternatives?
Galbraith goes on to argue that the conventional wisdom of American economic theory values increased production in the private sector as a measure of a strong economy, all the while disparaging the goods and services of the public sector. He refers to the “satisfactory relationship between the supply of privately produced goods and services and those of the state” as “Social Balance”(189). According to this theory, the consumption of private goods necessarily requires a facilitative good from the public sector. However, for Galbraith, while the goods of the private sector continue to advance the facilitative goods of the public sector become inadequate. So why then does he argue for merely an increase in the production/consumption of public goods and not innovative advancements in the public sector?
“Schools do not compete with television and the movies. The dubious heroes of the latter, not Ms. Jones, become the idols of the young.” (191)
Well, perhaps Ms Jones needs to get in touch with the changing times and update her pedagogy a bit more to make it relevant for her pupils! As Galbraith mentions the question then arises, “who is to pay?” This, then, is to assume that throwing money at a problem will automatically fix it. Public goods and services must then be proactive and sustainable, rather than reactive to the private sector. Does this come in the form of money alone? I would argue that it does not. Perhaps the public sector should allocate its resources with the proactive efficiency and innovation of the private sector.
This is an example of what I'm trying to get at:
Chris Witmer 20482684
Monday, March 8, 2010
In Ch. 11, Galbraith finally addresses the question of whether urgency of desire for goods goes down as affluence increases. He proposed it earlier in connection to the evil of conventional wisdom, but in the start of this chapter he puts is cards on the table with a weirdly phrased statement of the conventional wisdom: “with increasing affluence there is no reduction in the urgency of desires and goods…”(124). I find it strange that there can be urgency of goods. But, this is indicative of the idea that the goods themselves, or rather the process of production that produces them, create their own urgency: “Production only fills a void that it has itself created” (125).
More than in any other chapter, the descriptive imagery and similes that Galbraith uses to call attention to the gravity of this structural bind are quite provocative. He argues that the individual who promotes production is like an “onlooker who applauds the efforts of the squirrel to keep abreast of the wheel that is propelled by his own efforts” (125). This instance is funny, but when he writes that products must be advertised to be successful, and that this “would be regarded as elementary by the most retarded student in the nation’s most primitive school of business administration” (127), he enters the realm of offensive. Let us not forget his clever phrase: “Like a woman’s, his (the economists) work is never done” (130). This line, I found particularly interesting after is disclaimer in the introduction that he supported the greatly woman’s movement. I don’t think he meant it to be offensive, although I find the notion questionable, but as with all of these instances, it demonstrates his project of colloquialization.
Compared to many of the texts that we’ve read, I would say that this one takes on the most disparaging tone. He does not openly insult those who would disagree with him, but his descriptive explanations allow for the text to take on a more persuasive tone. Whereas Polanyi used the perspective of historical justification, Galbraith colloquializes his arguments to make them more digestible. The often-mocking rhetorical strategy that solidifies in Ch. 11 carries all the way through to the climax of the book. I say climax because of the passage in Ch. 17 when he describes the horrors of production-dominated life and asks “Is this, indeed, the American genius?” (188), is when the stakes of his argument really become clear. The colloquial picture he paints is appalling, which provides a clear incentive to listen to his argument. He is able to mobilize his argument in favor of social services because he uses the idea of want creation to then distinguish between those wants that are and are not created. What supports his derision of the excesses of modern life is the essential warrant introduced in Ch. 11: that production is engaged in the project of creating wants to keep itself alive.
I suppose it is improper to call the move that he makes in this passage “Debordian” because after all, Debord did write after him, but this chapter is essentially calling attention to the idea that our society is based on pseudo needs. By undermining the essential mechanism upon which society is based, Galbraith lays out the essential premise to the mechanism of his own argument. In Ch.19 he says: “…the main task of this essay has been accomplished. Its concern has been with the thralldom of a myth – the myth that the production of goods, by its overpowering importance and its ineluctable difficulty, is the central problem of our lives” (209). Ch. 11 is absolutely central to his argument because is the introduction of that myth in a colloquial style that allows the dire conclusions to be heard.
Man, this feels a bit intimidating. I mean submitting a collection of words to a group trained in dissecting them, shizer. I am also under the assumption that because you are making us post to a blog, I can use an emo-ish confessional tone (maybe that’s just livejournal). OK, now that that’s settled. The chapter I will be focusing on is IX (aka 9), The Paramount Position of Production. I chose this chapter for a couple reasons, first I posses a particular affinity for alliteration. Second another one of my shticks is to, well, criticize the paramount position of production [or more specifically (or maybe actually less specifically) growth] in contemporary society.
Right, so the bit I enjoyed the most in this chapter is right at the beginning, and I’m sure there is some term that best encapsulates this rhetorical maneuver, but I don’t know what it is. What I speak of is where he allegorically delineates the point that everybody from the Commies to the US Chamber of Commerce sees the main “measure of achievement” of society as production or economic growth. The interesting thing for me here is that he does not denigrate this position as an example of the conventional wisdom he explicated in chapter 2, because to do so would mean that he would be attacking the fact that production should have a paramount position, a limb that he seems unwilling to go on. Which even becomes more curious later on with all his talk of balance, yet nary a peep about the notion of the steady-state heralded my J.S. Mills, but I digress.
So instead he approaches (un-)said conventional wisdom from the flank, saying our preoccupation with production is half-hearted at best (well actually 3/10ths hearted.) “It is not a goal we pursue either comprehensively or even very thoughtfully…Our efforts to increase production are stylized”(131-132). He goes on to telegraph his later point that we specifically emphasize private production and public production as bad and how this is a remnant of society’s past incarnation, mired in scarcity.
I just started doin this Sunday Salon thingy at my house. Its fun, we eat food and drink wine and discuss about a particular topic. Anyway, this week’s topic was ‘Time Is Money’, and throughout the event I came back to this text. The thing that I kept stumbling upon was that he seems to have some so close to unearthing the main problem but he fumbles just short on many points. Like how in section 2 of chapter 9 he briefly mentions the vacuum of societal aim that would occur should we undermine the position of production, giving voice to that primal societal existential quandary “What else is there”(119), promising to answer that question later on.
Only I never feel he does, instead falling back on theories of a redistribution of productive aims. But, if time is money (or the position of production as paramount) is an anachronism of scarcity, than in a (hopefully) coming age of post-scarcity, what the fuck is time (or what becomes paramount ofr the individual). As in, if I don’t have to work, what do I do with myself? Where is the easy meaning for the intellectually lazy? I mean some people (very reasonably) don’t want to think about this kind of shit, what are they supposed to do? The hippies will say “Love”, the burners “Art”, but to me these have proven inadequate because (perhaps ironically) of their immateriality.
But I can totally buy the balance thing Galbraith is trying to sell, yet he falls short of expanding that balance to all sectors of interaction, inexplicably not even contemplating the merits of a steady-state, which in my humble opinion is his greatest sin. Though perhaps his kowtowing to that particular conventional wisdom (combined with his obvious rhetorical talents cause let’s face it, dude is funny, like chortle to yourself in the coffee shop funny) is what allowed his book to have the great success it did (cause let’s face it people don’t like to read economic tomes, and if they do it has to come in form of a bodice ripping mystery that makes them feel ok for being a self-absorbed dick.)