Archive for January, 2013

Global Inequality

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

“existing capitalism has always expanded over the past two centuries in tandem with a generally stable and unequal hierarchy of wealth between countries.

I would love to get a literature source on this. Other interesting bits from this post:

Global inequality has been decreasing sine 1980 between countries and increasing within countries. This is true even without India and China. One of the top contributors to decreasing inequality has been Iran. It’s economic performance between 2000 and 2005 was stellar.

From the article by Ho Fung:

“Whether globalization is boosting or reducing between-country inequality depends on whether we measure each nation’s per capita income by currency exchange rate (FX, usually expressed in constant US dollars) or by purchasing power parity (PPP, expressed in constant international dollars). Whereas studies using the former unit find increasing inequality (Korzeniewicz and Moran 1997; Arrighi et al. 2003; cf. Wade 2004), studies using the latter indicate decreasing inequality (Firebaugh and Goesling 2004; Sala-i-Martin 2006).”

“In their most recent analysis, Firebaugh and Goesling (2004; cf. Bhalla 2002; Berry and Serieux 2006) find that inequality continuously decreased in the late 20th century. They attribute most of the decrease to the rapid industrialization of China and India, as the two most populous nations.”

Powerlessness and Responsibility

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

“As Caspary observes, powerlessness has a negative effect on morals; it is difficult to feel responsible for what is outside of your control” From Christopher Ansell. Pragmatist Democracy, ch7, p15. He cites Caspary, 2000, p158.

This comes in terms of the irresponsibility of the American voter on demands made of government. They ask of everything with no regard as to how it can be accomplished. I think this is a very incisive point and it relates to questions of political attitudes and beliefs of the poor and powerless. Those who have no stake in the system are prone to revolution. But those who are extremely poor cannot afford a revolution (thus De Silva in Brazil was voted in by the middle class not the peasants on the promise of social change, peasants or those in poverty like stability, see article on De Silva by Perry Anderson in LRB)

This could explain the tendency to fatalism, which I do not think is unnatural or deserves any explanation really, in poorer communities. The ability to change ones life affects the perception of how much control you have over your life. This in turn leads to political irresponsibility. What form does this irresponsibility take? One possibility is apathy, but another possible hypothesis is that it could lead to suicide bombings or terrorization of other people. When all venues for change are closed off, then killing may be the only option. Does it explain attitudes towards the state by the poor or by immigrants who feel they have no control over it? Does it explain the lack of assimilation into host societies? I am tempted to say that it is part of the explanation, but it is too easy to fall into the blame the poor for their own ills argument. Describing them as aliens, who are driven by irrational and unaccountable behavior is simply falling into the old rhetoric of civilizing the brutes. Still I think the point on powerlessness, responsibility and “morals” explains some of that dynamic with respect to orientation to certain political and economic institutions.


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Typology of causes of rise of Europe

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

We have the political institutionalists, Europe fragmented politically, like Montesqieu. We have the Economic institutionalists, like Jan Van Zaden. Culturalists like Weber. Then we have historical sociologists who focus on one off events like the discovery of America, Mongol invasion, change in climate. Finally technological supremacy, that explains technical advances as lying behind growth.

My own view is a mix, but an initial one off event helps capital accumulation that allows the development of capitalism that is not stifled due to the plural state system in Europe that allows discovery of america in an effort to bypass muslim trade tarrifs and spread religion. The question is how that process was institutionalized so that inequalities are propagated today. Institutions have lock in that perpetuate inequality and growth.

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Gods and Beasts

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Aristotle says only gods or beasts have no need for politics.

The issue of human rights is not one of universality or local rights. Let us imagine the most abhorrent thing to human sentiments. The killing of Children. It is not right or wrong that allows the activist to inject himself in this debate in a local community. Behind every act of normative claims against another community and even ones own community is an institutional and material disparity in power. The debate at the moment seems to waver between recognizing universal human rights versus allowing local habits. The first has the detriment that it is an imposition of external values on a local community but it sees this local community as human. The second preserves the habits of others but as some distant savages who do not deserve membership and are not equal in their humanity. My sentiment is that this obsession over who is human is simply a problem of language and not of logic. My case rests on the treatment of aliens in sci-fi movies. Aliens are not human, their particular characteristics and cultural particularities are not under the scope of human interference in general (though some shows they are). What is it that allows humans to impose claims of what is normatively better on other humans. It is not reason, it is inequality. Thus the issue is not whether the other is human or not and therefore deserving of some special privileges. What seems to have been taken for granted is that the very possibility of such an intervention in the lives of others is founded on the superior economic and military and ideological capability of one side over the other. This is a pervasive and long-enduring facet that underlies all aid regimes. Ofcourse the weaker party may take on this aid out of necessity and may be swayed by the ideology of the powerful as in previous times powerful religions have spread (christianity) through institutional means.But the key point is that this ideology is not right or wrong it is about who is more powerful. My case is that even beast can be treated as cattle or be treated as gods. It is not an issue of human versus non-human but one of power. Why are some animals treated as gods and revered while others not, the reason is that these animals are powerful and can resist human manipulation. And if humans are also animals, which they are, then the corollary is that the treatment of other humans with respect or with disgust is a result of the ability to impose ones will on others with minimal resistance.

As a result I see all the debates on human rights are pretty much useless. The real origin of the problem is the disparity in power between communities and within communities. But more importantly between them. And without a resolution of this disparity, and despite all talk of the order and stability provided by the unipolar hegemon, only a multipolar system can lead to respect and true understanding between communities.

There is a difference between being seen as a beast or a god.

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