Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

January 10, 2019
by sarcozona

If voting changed anything they’d abolish it

I’m really enjoying Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad samaritans: the myth of free trade and the secret history of capitalism. In a chapter discussing some serious tension between free markets and democracy, he discusses typical neoliberal policies and how they actually undermine democracy. He’s talking about developing countries and writing from 2008, but I’d argue that neoliberalism undermines democracy in all countries – just look at the last 10 years in North America and the EU.

Neo-liberal economists worry that politics opens the door for perversion of market rationality: inefficient firms or farmers may lobby the parliamentarians to get tarrifs and subsidies, imposing costs on the rest of society that has to buy expensive domestic products; populist politicians may put pressure on the current central bank to ‘print money’ in time for ecection campaign, [etc] …

The neo-liberals solution to this problem is to ‘depoliticize’ the economy. They argue that the very scope of government activity should be reduced – through privatization and liberalization – to a minimal state. In those few areas where it is still allowed to operate, the room for policy discretion should be minimized. … Such restraints can be provided by rigid rules that constrain government choices – for example, a law requiring a balanced budget ….

This next paragraph channels my personal political economist hero, Karl Polanyi.

The first problem with this argument for de-politicization is the assumption that we can clearly know where economics should end and politics should begin. But that is not possible because markets – the domain of economics – are political constructs themselves. Markets are political constructs in so far as all property rights and other rights that underpin them have political origins. … [W]hen neo-liberals  propose de-politicizing the economy, they are presuming that the particular demarcation between economics and politics that they want to draw is the correct one. This is unwarranted.

More importantly for our concern …, in pushing for the depoliticization of the economy, the Bad Samaritans [developed countries like the US and EU members] are undermining democracy. Depoliticization of policy decisions in a democratic polity means – let’s not mince our words – weakening democracy. If all the really important decisions are taken away from democratically elected governments and put in the hands of unelected technocrats in the ‘politically independent’ agencies, what is the point of having democracy? In other words, democracy is acceptable to neo-liberals only in so far as it does not contradict the free market…”

January 7, 2019
by sarcozona

The university hybridized with business and kept only the worst of both

On the one hand, the authors are clearly concerned about the fate of their younger colleagues. On the other hand, I could not avoid the impression that the report considers young scientists not as unique creative individuals with “brains and character, strength and health, happiness and spiritual vitality, interest and motivation, and no one knows what else”, but as colonies of laboratory mice that need to be maintained at a low cost, propagated in needed quantities, and trained for use in the laboratory.

Source: Are scientists a workforce? – Or, how Dr. Frankenstein made biomedical research sick – Lazebnik – 2015 – EMBO reports – Wiley Online Library

January 3, 2019
by sarcozona

One obvious problem [of patents] is that patents, by definition, create monopolies, which impose costs on the rest of society. For example, the patentee could use its technological monopoly to exploit the consumers… But it is not just the problem of income distribution between the patentee and the consumers. Monopoly also creates net social loss by allowing the producer to maximize its profit by producing at a less than socially desirable quantity… Also, because it is a ‘winner takes all’ system, critics point out, the patent system often results in the duplication of research among competitors – this may be wasteful from the social point of view.

Source: Bad samaritans : the myth of free trade and the secret history of capitalism (Book, 2008) []

December 31, 2018
by sarcozona

New Year’s Resolutions for us all

  • Rapid, planned decarbonization and transition to renewables concomitant with equal restrictions on fossil fuel extractions.
  • Decommodification of basic social goods that we already know are more efficient and effective when publicly provisioned.
  • A vast shift of resources—and sovereign power—to the Global South, not out of moral duty, but out of rational necessity concomitant with a move away from economic-growth paradigms and toward “growth agnosticism,” human development, and redistribution.
  • An end to further dispossession and enclosure, and a turn to sustainable, agroecological food production.
  • A permanent shift in the balance of political power away from capital and to labor.
  • Greater restrictions, and democratic guidance, of capital flows, and greater freedom and facilitation for human migrations.
  • And, underneath all, a release from the vicious cycle described above, a world of greater individual, social, and political security, greater temporal freedom, greater if different material freedoms, and greater human flourishing.

From Ajay Singh Chaudhary in n+1

December 22, 2018
by sarcozona

Doing state-owned enterprises right

Enterprises in industries that are natural monopolies, industries that involve large investment and high risk and enterprises that provide essential services should be kept as SOEs [state-owned enterprises], unless the government has very high tax-raising and/or regulatory capabilities. … Privatizing politically important enterprises on the basis of dispersed share sales is unlikely to resolve the under lying problems of poor SOE performance, because the newly privatized firm will have more or less the same problems as when it was under state ownership. …

SOE performance can often be improved without privatization. … Very often, public enterprises are charged with serving too many goals … There is nothing wrong with state-owned enterprises serving multiple goals, but what the goals are and the relative priority among them need to made clear

The monitoring system can also be improved. In many countries, SOEs are monitored by multiple agencies, which means either that they are not meaningfully supervised by any particular agency or that there is a supervisory over-kill that disrupts daily management …

… More competition is not always better, but competition is often the best way to improve enterprise performance. Public enterprises that are not natural monopolies can easily be made to compete with private-sector firms. … [W]here feasible, competition can be increased by setting up another SOE. … Of course, SOEs are often in industries where there is a natural monopoly, where increasing competition within the industry is either impossible or would be socially unproductive. But, even in these sectors, some degree of competition may be injected by boosting some “neighboring” industries (airlines vs. railways).

Source: Bad samaritans : the myth of free trade and the secret history of capitalism (Book, 2009) []