mfioretti: globalization*

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  1. Limited liability not only allows companies to act recklessly with regard to the interests of others – it obliges them to do so. Directors have a duty to use all legally available means to maximise shareholder value. Limited liability compels them to externalise risk.

    There is no way that fossil-fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies.

    Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP. In other words, it exceeds the rate of economic growth. Were such costs internalised, the economy would have to be run on an entirely different basis. Human health and the survival of the natural world would come first; corporate greed would come last.
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  2. China is the biggest trading partner across the African continent, as well as Uganda’s largest foreign direct investor. Over the past decade, Beijing has loaned over $3 billion to the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who’s been in power for 32 years. These loans have helped foot the bills of Chinese companies constructing the $580 million expressway between the airport and the capital, Kampala, as well as a $2.2 billion dam on the White Nile. They have also funded construction of the president’s office, equipped with Chinese furniture and unveiled by China’s deputy premier at the time.

    With this investment has come an influx of Chinese. Although official figures from the Ugandan government put the number of Chinese living there at 4,473 in 2015, experts have said that the real figure, including undocumented immigrants, is at least twice as high, with some even estimating that up to 50,000 Chinese are living in Uganda.

    What we hustle with is to let the children get a good education. The rest comes naturally.
    - Elly Amani Gamukama, Ugandan man married to a Chinese woman

    Naturally, the boom in Chinese migration has also led to an increase in mixed marriages and partnerships. Although there are no statistics, officials from the Ugandan Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control complained to a parliamentary committee in 2016 that more and more Chinese are marrying Ugandans and taking jobs away from locals. While some are sham unions forged to gain better access to Ugandan citizenship, which makes it easier to do business, many are real. “We have many who are marrying and even re » producing,” one official told the parliamentary committee in English, one of the country’s official languages. “Even our Ugandan women are good at accepting to reproduce with these men.”

    The rise in interracial marriages isn’t confined to Uganda, of course. As the OBOR initiative expands and its investments and companies reach every part of the world, Chinese people are marrying more and more foreigners, raising a new question about China’s national identity: What makes someone Chinese?

    Qiu Yu, who has researched the large African community in China’s southern manufacturing hub Guangzhou, told Sixth Tone that mixed couples and their offspring can add new dimensions to Chinese culture. But such families often face cultural challenges and struggle for recognition in Chinese society, Qiu said. This can even be a problem for children of these unions who were born in China and are recognized as Chinese citizens, like Yuan and Gamukama’s first daughter, Barbara Yihong, who is now 20 and studying at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “It is more a blending of various cultural elements that makes their identity, including their racial identity in China, unique,” Qiu said.

    Mixed-race Chinese who are half white often garner admiration and envy in China, as many Chinese believe Eurasian children are stronger and more beautiful, capable, and intelligent, said Solange Chatelard, a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany who focuses on state formation and China-Africa relations. But biracial Chinese are also criticized for not being “Chinese enough,” she added.

    As the child of parents from France and China, Chatelard said that she has experienced both positive and negative reactions, depending on the place and situation. “There is a perceptible sense of hierarchy between different races one is mixed with,” she said. “Being half white is generally considered more positive or less problematic in China than being half black.”

    Over the years, Yuan and Gamukama have had issues as well, but nothing that couldn’t be solved. Yuan, who wasn’t raised religious, converted to Christianity in 2009. “If we didn’t believe in God, this marriage would have been finished long ago,” she said.
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  3. As relationships with working-class struggles was so important to 1968 movements – either in practice or in aspiration – the impact of the class war waged by neoliberal governments against both trade unions and the left-leaning governments, national and local, was devastating. Without the material, class alliances and base that these movements built up in the 1970s, the cultural break made by the rebellions of 1968 increasingly facilitated a shift towards the individualism of the market.

    In the absence of these material sources of what I call ‘transformative power’, new understandings of knowledge could – and often did – underpin a turn to what has been called a ‘post-modern’ perspective which has tended to focus only on the cultural dimension of social movements as if, in its most extreme forms, an extra-discursive reality had no existence.

    To give but one example, it could lead to an assumption that the treatment of women as sex objects was about culture alone – and therefore could be challenged without also resisting the economic super-exploitation and the social organization of reproduction through the nuclear family. A more materialist approach would explore the ways that these economic forms of oppression underpinned and enabled a contempt for women as human beings, without denying the importance of cultural representation – and its material consequences.
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  4. Economics has failed on three main fronts. First, its emphasis on unique equilibria, diminishing marginal returns and average behaviours means it has a hard time dealing with the central characteristic of capitalism: technological innovation. Innovation causes long-run difference between companies, far from average events, and self-reinforcing mechanisms that cause multiple equilibria. Indeed, the use of mathematics from Newtonian physics (rather than biology) allows these dynamics to be ignored.

    Second, most economics students are not trained in the history of economic thought so they think there is only one theory of value — which is not presented as a possible theory among many. The lack of “debate” about value in economics departments has allowed business schools to capture the word — and the concept of shareholder “value” goes largely uncontested theoretically. Hence one of the greatest ills of modern capitalism — financialisation — is ignored and we end up blaming the robots for de-skilling and unemployment, rather than corporate governance structures which have meant a lack of reinvestment of profits into the economy.

    Third, the assumption that price reflects value means that we end up constantly correcting gross domestic product for the priceless activities it ignores (caring services at home, environmental damage, quality of life). And similarly, those activities which do have a price, but are just moving things around rather than creating value, get included (eg. most of the financial sector).

    My suggestion is that before we add happiness indicators, we first take out rents. This would cause the GDP of some countries to drop drastically and for new questions to be asked about the “direction” of growth, not only its rate.
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  5. There is a reason for this cognitive dissonance, for this aesthetic disconnect. Ai Weiwei became globally celebrated and found his way to Doha or anywhere else around the globe by virtue of his US and European reception and celebration. He does not bring his Chinese experiences as a committed artist to other countries. His aesthetics are mitigated by his European curators. He projects a Euro-universalism with a Chinese signature: "Ai Weiwei".

    It is from the vantage point of those compromised gatherings of artists in US and European art institutions that Ai Weiwei comes to look at Syrians and their plights like Shirin Neshat did during the Egyptian revolution before him.

    And it is precisely for that reason that it makes no difference to him if he stages his work in occupied Palestine or in an Arab capital that welcomes him. Artists like Ai Weiwei are products of US and European art stages - their political and aesthetics sensibilities, as a result, are aloof and abstract, rootless and available to the highest bidder. They care about everything - a little bit.

    Hanging clothing items in Doha or planting monumental iron trees in Israel - it makes no difference to Ai Weiwei. "Unifying massive works by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei" we learn, "the Israel Museum presents Ai Weiwei: maybe, maybe not, an exhibition that features a series of installations that examine notions of the one and the multitude and of the individual's relationship to his or her broader social culture."

    That's lovely, isn't it? When they are done shooting Palestinians dead in Gaza, maybe Israeli soldiers could take a break and go for a tour of Ai Weiwei works at the Israel Museum.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2018-04-30)
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  6. In Project Syndicate and in a recent interview with ProMarket, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik provided one possible explanation: the left, he argued, has been largely complicit in the policies that led to rising inequality—namely globalization and financial deregulation—and has therefore been “missing in action” for the past 20 years.

    In his 2016 book “Listen, Liberal,” social critic Thomas Frank mounted a similar critique: the Democratic Party, which traditionally represented the working and lower middle classes, has gradually abandoned its traditional base and class commitments over the last 40 years, he argued, in favor of a technocratic elite of well-educated and affluent professionals. This entailed a set of policies that served to deepen American inequality, rationalized under the now-fetishized idea of “meritocracy,” under which many leading Democrats came to believe that (to quote Larry Summers) if inequality has gone up, it is because “people are being treated closer to the way that they’re supposed to be treated.” By failing to tackle the growth of inequality, argued Frank, the Democratic Party has ceded its historic role as “party of the people,” thus leaving far-right populists to fill the vacuum it left.

    In a new paper, French economist Thomas Piketty, who became a worldwide sensation with his seminal 2013 book on inequality “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” attempts to answer both questions: why democracy failed to address the rise of inequality, and why the response so far has been a turn to nativism.

    To do so, Piketty tracks electoral trends across three countries—the US, Britain, and France—from 1948 to 2017. Despite their vastly different electoral systems and political histories, he finds, a similar trend can be found in all three countries: left and center-left parties no longer represent the working- and lower-middle-class voters they were traditionally associated with.

    When examined in these terms, he finds, voters in all three countries have historically been split almost evenly between right and left.

    Despite the immense differences in the three countries’ political histories and socioeconomic structures, Piketty finds some striking similarities in the evolution of their party systems. In all three countries, in the 1950s and 1960s, the political system used to be divided along class lines: a vote for left-wing parties in France and Britain, and for the Democratic Party in the United States, was typically associated with low-income, low-education voters. The more educated, wealthier voters tended to vote for the right.

    Starting with the 1970s, however, the three countries underwent a similar process of political realignment: the traditionally left parties, which used to be associated with poorer, less educated voters, have gradually become associated with the highly educated “intellectual” elite—as opposed to the high-wealth, high-income elite that still largely votes for the right.

    The more educated voters are, he finds, the more they vote for “left” parties: in 2016, for instance, 70 percent of American voters with master’s degrees (which account for 11 percent of the electorate) voted for Hillary Clinton, along with 76 percent of voters with PhDs (2 percent of the electorate). Among voters with bachelor’s degrees (19 percent of the electorate), 51 percent voted for Clinton. Among those with only a high-school education (which account for 59 percent of voters), however, only 44 percent voted for the Democratic candidate.

    While globalization and immigration have played a big role in the creation of this “multiple-elite” party system, notes Piketty, the process that led to its creation began before these issues became so politically charged, and possibly would have taken place without them. The crucial factor was the growing number of voters with higher education levels, which, he writes, “creates new forms of inequality cleavages and political conflict that did not exist at the time of primary and secondary education.”

    This, writes Piketty, could be an anomaly, owing to the unusual nature of the 2016/17 election cycles in France and the United States. But they could also herald something much more significant: a complete realignment of the party system, which would move further away from traditional notions of “left” and “right,” instead pitting “globalists” (high-income, high-education) against “nativists” (low-income, low-education).

    Yet this transformation is far from certain. The “multiple-elite” structure could also stabilize—the 2017 British election, notes Piketty, points in that direction. While in France and America there are signs that high-income voters are shifting to the “left,” in Britain there is no sign of this happening anytime soon. In fact, he writes, the last two British elections (in 2015 and 2017) have “reinforced” the multiple-elite nature of the British party system: high-education voters have increased their support for Labour, while high-income voters increased their support for Conservatives.

    None of the above two options seems likely to lead to a reduction in inequality, renew voters’ trust that democracy can address their problems, or overcome nativist sentiments. However, Piketty proposes a third possible trajectory, one in which left-wing parties (or nativist parties, though this is less than likely) return to their long-abandoned class-based politics and adopt a powerful progressive agenda focused on reducing inequality through redistribution. Without such an agenda, he argues, politicians would find it difficult to unite low-income, low-education voters and build a wide enough coalition able to counter inequality.

    But first, left parties would necessarily have to put an end to Brahminism and convince voters they represent more than the sum of their elite.
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  7. Clapp identifies four arguments often voiced against food self-sufficiency from a food security perspective.

    - The first argument is that drought or natural disasters can lead to severe shortfalls in production, leading to periodic episodes of hunger for countries that do not engage in food trade.
    - The second argument is the economists’ belief that market intervention designed to insulate domestic markets from competition results in inefficiencies and in lower production and higher food prices, thereby harming long-term food security.
    - Thirdly, if farmers are denied the possibility to export, they are deprived of income which could enhance their food security.
    - Fourth, not all countries have the natural resource base that would allow them to supply all of their own food needs domestically, sustainably, for instance due to a shortage of water. The former Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, for example, considers food trade to be an ‘‘environmental obligation” ii »

    Clapp, however, identifies that there are many valid reasons for a country to increase food self- sufficiency and decrease its dependency to international trade.

    Clapp concludes that:

    ”A more nuanced approach based on the real-world application of food self-sufficiency policies does not view the concept as an either/or proposition, but rather sees it in relative terms. Such an approach could potentially create room for a more productive policy dialogue on this issue at the international level."

    In addition to the paper of Ms Clapp, I would add some pertinent drawbacks of international trade in foods.

    Europe has let almost 100 million hectares of farm land revert to forest or lying idle, while European farmers buy soy from South America and European food industries buy palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Europe could produce those, or equivalent crops, within its own territory, but it is simply cheaper to import it. iii » Thus, trade has diminished the European production and created a trade dependency. Only a quarter of the trade is with crops which could not be grown in the importing country. iv » (read more here). The higher proportion of food that is globally traded, the bigger dependencies will be created when regions that could produce their own food cease to do that. More and more people will be structurally dependent on global trade; trade becomes its own justification.

    The possibility to move food from areas of surplus to areas of shortage (food aid) should be a backup measure which will not be supplied by the market but by governments. The food security argument for global trade is therefore not valid.

    The increasing distance between consumption and production makes it easier for market actors to externalize costs and more difficult to citizens and the political system to influence the way things are produced. v »

    Competition drives farmers in to more and more specialization and larger scale in order to cut costs. This leads to that farms go into mono-cropping and, ultimately, economies of scale will turn whole landscapes to one or a few lines of production/commodities. Which is perfectly in line with the theory of comparative advantage but a disaster fur nature and sustainability of the production system.

    The carrot for trade is profit, but the much bigger driver is the stick of competition. On the level of the individual basic actor in the food system, the farmer, the main influence of trade is competition. It is competition that drives mechanization and structural transformation of the farm sector, it is competition which makes it necessary for farmers to externalize costs to the environment, to workers or to livestock. It seems to me that reducing competition would be an important objective for a food trade policy.

    Trade without competition, anyone?
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  8. interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow. Identity politics originated with the fact that members of certain groups really were disadvantaged by their group membership, which forged them into a coalition with common interests: Jews really did have a reason to form the Anti-Defamation League.

    But when it spreads beyond the target of combatting discrimination and oppression, it is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values, including, ironically, the pursuit of justice for oppressed groups. For one thing, reason depends on there being an objective reality and universal standards of logic. As Chekhov said, there is no national multiplication table, and there is no racial or LGBT one either.

    This isn’t just a matter of keeping our science and politics in touch with reality; it gives force to the very movements for moral improvement that originally inspired identity politics. The slave trade and the Holocaust are not group-bonding myths; they objectively happened, and their evil is something that all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, must acknowledge and work to prevent in the future.

    Even the aspect of identity politics with a grain of justification—that a man cannot truly experience what it is like to be a woman, or a white person an African American—can subvert the cause of equality and harmony if it is taken too far, because it undermines one of the greatest epiphanies of the Enlightenment: that people are equipped with a capacity for sympathetic imagination, which allows them to appreciate the suffering of sentient beings unlike them. In this regard nothing could be more asinine than outrage against “cultural appropriation”—as if it’s a bad thing, rather than a good thing, for a white writer to try to convey the experiences of a black person, or vice versa.

    To be sure, empathy is not enough. But another Enlightenment principle is that people can appreciate principles of universal rights that can bridge even the gaps that empathy cannot span. Any hopes for human improvement are better served by encouraging a recognition of universal human interests than by pitting group against group in zero-sum competition.

    How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

    SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research.!
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  9. There will be no economic or political justice for the poor, people of color, women or workers within the framework of global, corporate capitalism. Corporate capitalism, which uses identity politics, multiculturalism and racial justice to masquerade as politics, will never halt the rising social inequality, unchecked militarism, evisceration of civil liberties and omnipotence of the organs of security and surveillance. Corporate capitalism cannot be reformed, despite its continually rebranding itself. The longer the self-identified left and liberal class seek to work within a system that the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” the more the noose will be tightened around our necks. If we do not rise up to bring government and financial systems under public control—which includes nationalizing banks, the fossil fuel industry and the arms industry—we will continue to be victims.

    Corporate capitalism is supranational. It owes no loyalty to any nation-state. It uses the projection of military power by the United States to protect and advance its economic interests but at the same time cannibalizes the U.S., dismantling its democratic institutions, allowing its infrastructure to decay and deindustrializing its factory centers to ship manufacturing abroad to regions where workers are treated as serfs.

    Dividing everyone up on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference fails to address the major problem.

    the left lost its universalizing character. It no longer dealt with the intersection of all these issues within the context of a militarized, capitalist, hegemonic American empire. It treated politics as siloed group identity problems. Women had glass ceilings. Same with blacks. Same with gays.”

    The loss of this intersectionality was deadly. Instead of focusing on the plight of all of the oppressed, oppressed groups began to seek representation for their own members within capitalist structures.

    “When you bring politics down to simply about helping your group get a piece of the pie, you lose that systemic analysis,” he said. “You’re fragmented. You don’t have natural connections or solidarity with other groups. You don’t see the larger systemic context. By saying I want, as a gay person, to fight in the military, in a funny way you’re legitimating the American empire. If you were living in Nazi Germany, would you say I want the right of a gay person to fight in combat with the Nazi soldiers?”

    “I don’t want to say we should eliminate all identity politics,” he said. “But any identity politics has to be done within the framework of understanding the larger political economy. That’s been stripped away and erased. Even on the left, you cannot find a deep conversation about capitalism and militarized capitalism. It’s just been erased. That’s why Trump came in.
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  10. There’s an understandable impulse in the face of growing national divisions and what for many was the shocking and unpleasant outcome of the 2016 national elections to retreat to a comforting cocoon of the like-minded. Blue cities will do all the things that a solidly Republican national government won’t do: respect LGBTQ rights, provide sanctuary for immigrants, denounce climate change, and tax themselves to pay for needed investments and public services. But withdrawing to the safety of agreeable blue localities cedes the important national battle at just the time when it needs to be contested.

    It is well and good to celebrate the successes that mayors and local leaders are having. But transforming these heartening but small successes into a sweeping call for a new localism is misplaced when the fundamental functions of the national government are being steadily undermined. None of this works in a world in which the federal government is not simply rending holes in the safety net but knocking down its foundations.

    While the rest of the world’s nation-states adopted the trappings of modern social democracies, the U.S. was late to implement things like unemployment insurance, social security and universal health care. The New Deal, the Great Society, and Obamacare were only enacted after various local and state programs to address these problems were simply overwhelmed.

    Cities are not merely ill-equipped to tackle our major challenges on their own. Localism has an undeniable history of making many problems worse. Take two big issues of our time: climate change and surging inequality. Mayors and cities can strike a pose and demonstrate effective tactics, but they lack the policy throw-weight to solve these problems.

    It’s also worth noting that a key aspect of localism that has been effectively exempt from federal control—local control of zoning and land use—has worsened the economic segregation of our nation’s metropolitan areas
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