World Inequality Report 2018: Great Data, Bright Analysis, Perturbing Reality

world inequality reportThe World Inequality Lab led by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, Facundo Alvaredo and Lucas Chancel released today the first of its kind World Inequality Report 2018The Report aims to become the comprehensive reference report on income and wealth inequality around the world, and to stimulate extensive global and local debates about it. To pursue the essential mission to promote research on global inequality dynamics and maintain the unique World Wealth and Income Database, the Lab works in close coordination with over one hundred researchers covering nearly seventy countries. 
On the first pages of the Report, state the authors:

“By developing this report, the World Inequality Lab seeks to fill a democratic gap and to equip various actors of society with the necessary facts to engage in informed public debates on inequality…
We show that income inequality has increased in nearly all world regions in recent decades, but at different speeds. The fact that inequality levels are so different among countries, even when countries share similar levels of development, highlights the important roles that national policies and institutions play in shaping inequality…
Since 1980, very large transfers of public to private wealth occurred in nearly all countries, whether rich or emerging. While national wealth has substantially increased, public wealth is now negative or close to zero in rich countries. Arguably this limits the ability of governments to tackle inequality; certainly, it has important implications for wealth inequality among individuals…
Tackling global income and wealth inequality requires important shifts in national and global tax policies. Educational policies, corporate governance, and wage-setting policies need to be reassessed in many countries.”

The World Inequality Report 2018 is a great resource of enormous data and bright analyses, based on a cutting-edge methodology, of our perturbing and troubling socio-economic and political reality. The Report, written in a very accessible manner, is available in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian.
Read it, share, teach — Act.

world inequality report piketty

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Paul Samuelson: Chicago is not so much a place as a state of mind

In 1954 a future Nobel laureate in economic sciences Paul Samuelson published one of his seminal articles “The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure”, which formalized the concept of public goods (which he called “collective consumption goods”) — i.e. goods that are non-rival and non-excludable. In this research, Samuelson showed and asserted that “No decentralized pricing system can serve to determine optimally these levels of collective consumption“. He also highlighted that “it is in the selfish interest of each person to give false signals, to pretend to have less interest in a given collective consumption activity than he really has.” (p. 388).
A decade later, Jora R. Minasian wrote a paper titled “Television Pricing and the Theory of Public Goods” in which he railed against Samuelson’s research and conclusion. Actually, Minasian misinterpreted and misrepresented them. In his bright and stormy rejoinder “Public Goods and Subscription TV: Correction of the Record” Samuelson masterly refuted Minasian’s propositions. In his final words, inter alia, Samuelson emphasized an essential point which is relevant till today:

“The final question is, Why all this? Is it because, despite all denials, Chicago is not so much a place as a state of mind? Is it because of the fear that finding an element of the public-good problem in an area is prone to deliver it over to the totalitarian state and take it away from the free market? The line between conviction and paranoia is a fine line… Only a bigoted devotee of laissez faire will find the theory of public goods, properly understood, subversive.” (Samuelson 1964: 83)

University of Chicago Department of Economics
Samuelson, Paul A. 1954. “Pure Theory of Public Expenditure.The Review of Economics and Statistics 36 (4): 387-389.
Samuelson, Paul A. 1964. “Public Goods and Subscription TV: Correction of the Record.”  The Journal of Law & Economics 7: 81-83

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Is Homo Economicus Dead?

by Peter Fleming*

In Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street the narcissistic, egotistical and money hungry investment banker Jordan Belford memorably summed up his attitude to life: “Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.”
Belford is terrifying not simply because of his ruthless demeanour and unscrupulous greediness. He scares us because this persona was celebrated, nurtured and encouraged by a particular economic paradigm: neoliberal capitalism. He’s a product of our own making. At the end of the film we are left wondering, how could such as monster be unleashed on society?
Jordan Belford is meant to epitomize ‘homo economicus’ — the self-interested, utility maximizing individual that is at the heart of neoclassical and mainstream economics. Of course, homo economicus is an imaginary figure, an idealization that economists assume we more or less approximate. An ‘as if’ proposition (let’s assume people act as if they are self-interested individuals) that feeds abstract econometric formula and theorems. While homo economicus has been around since the days of Adam Smith, only with the rise of Thatcher and Reagan did governments have the audacity to completely rebuild society after its image. And behavioural economics has done little to dethrone the trend.
The Death of Homo EconomicusThere is a problem with The Wolf of Wall Street narrative. I noticed it when I began conducting research for my new book The Death of Homo Economicus: Work, Debt and the Myth of Endless Accumulation (Pluto Press, 2017). When the myth of homo economicus was used to inspire the wholesale reform of education, the workplace, healthcare and government agencies, it wasn’t really the rich who were affected. Ironically, the wealthy tend to enjoy a more socialist and gentler surroundings, particularly the plutocracy. No, homo economicus was probably designed for those who could never live like Jordan Belford, namely, the unemployed, working poor and the middle-classes who were least likely to successfully live up to the ideals of possessive individualism.
A good example here is human capital theory developed by Gary Becker, Milton Friedman and T.W. Schultz. It assumes that people actively invest in their own earning potential through skill acquisition, training and education. But the notion has strong ideological elements too. Chicago School ministers alleged that Marxists are wrong for seeing any clash of interests between labor and capital because now everybody’s a capitalist of some sort. Moreover, human capital cannot be owed by anyone else and its benefits are only accrued by its individual possessor. Thus, why should anyone else pay for its investment, particularly the public purse?
In one foul swoop, human capital theory helped break unions since they’re irrational in this worldview. It also stigmatized public investment in education and training. Now you are on your own, and tough luck if who can’t afford a tertiary education. We can draw a direct line from neoclassical ideas like human capital theory to massive problems today facing working people such as student loan repayments, insecure contracts and low wages. Of course, the ultra-rich curiously had little interest in human capital or its cognates for this very reason.
The provocative title of my book is trying to highlight what has happened after 30 years of being water-boarded by the ideology of homo economicus. It is truly bizarre that following the 2007-2008 financial crisis the glorification of homo economicus didn’t die. Indeed, the ethos is promoted in both the public and private sectors more now than ever, driven by policy makers, politicians and captains of industry. Economic historians will be trying to figure out why for years to come.
However, what about the real people who have to live their lives according to the extreme and largely unworkable ideal of homo economicus? This is where the real tragedy of neoliberalism lies in my opinion, which is consistently swept under the carpet and seldom mentioned in the American Economic Review. In the real world, homo economicus is sick and dying off at an alarming rate. Two areas are explored in the book to back up this point.
When filtered through the lens of neoliberal capitalism, homo economicus is first and foremost a worker. She requires income to invest and consume. Hence why work is still so celebrated, even in the face of structural unemployment, a stress epidemic and the coming wave of robotics that threatens to abolish work for good. For sure, over the last 15 years a near suicidal work ethic has emerged, exacerbated by economic insecurity and mobile technology. Epidemiologists have increasingly pointed to the public health crisis that’s unfolding due to overwork and stress. It’s now up there with smoking.
Just look at the case of Moritz Erhardt. He was a 21-year-old Bank of America intern working in London. He put in an incredible 71 hours of non-stop work and died of an epileptic seizure. The tragedy raised serious questions about the killer-work ethic that is condoned in many institutions, even among the poor and unemployed. For example, I also mention another UK case of a very ill woman whom the government declared fit for work and thus ineligible for welfare payments – she died the day the letter arrived.
I also examine the issue of debt, particularly student debt. I suggest this directly stem from human capital theory and the argument that funding education is strictly a private responsibility. In the US the student loan bill stands at a breath-taking US$1.26 trillion. And the stress and anxiety caused by indebtedness is killing people. For example, Jason Yoder incurred a $100,000 debt studying at Illinois State University. He committed suicide after he failed to find a job. His mother said that even when preparing for her son’s funeral the debt collector agency constantly called about the outstanding sum.
So this book is about how an idea – homo economicus – is sadly still alive and well in theory, but in practice represents an unfolding human catastrophe that is hidden in plain sight. When I imagine homo economicus personified I don’t see The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belford. Jason Yoder is closer to the mark.
The real question at the heart of the book is this: What will replace homo economicus and what kind of economic analysis will emerge as a result?
Market individualism is basically about privatizing the economic event. Not only public assets and state organizations, but the individual productive act itself, with work as leading example. There is no way to collectively let off steam and call for progressive change. Workers fall in upon ourselves and remain mute as a result. Thus we need to vigorously revive a notion of the public good in my opinion, where economic (mis)fortunes are lived not as a private torment but openly acknowledged as a trans-individual phenomenon. Homo Politicus is thus diametrically opposed to homo economicus because s/he reverses the privatization of work and debt, viewing it as a shared problem that no individual should face alone.
This is the central message of my book, The Death of Homo Economicus.
———————
Peter Fleming is Professor of Business and Society at Cass Business School, City, University of London. He is a columnist for the Guardian and the author of The Mythology of Work, also published by Pluto Press (2015).

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BITS & BRIEFS: Dynamic workplace suppresses // Economics is a religion // Conference as a neoliberal commodity // Networks conceal power // Business schools spur immorality

This time, especially worth reading  – and sharing – articles:

Life at the Nowhere Office: The “dynamic” workplace has arisen at a time when professional work has become increasingly insecure — by Miya Tokumitsu and Joeri Mol 

Economics is a religion: its doctrines are taken on faith and its priesthood is expected to guide us — by John Rapley

Academic Conference: a scene of knowledge circulation or a feature of the marketized academia — Fawzia Haeri Mazanderani reviews Donald Nicolson’s Academic Conferences as Neoliberal Commodities

Treating a networked life as a immutable fact tricks us into also accepting as fact the uneven development of power —  by Mary Pappalardo

Harvard Business School and the moral failure of MBA elite: Reshaping capitalism and strangling the ethics through academic training — Duff McDonald discusses his book The Golden Passport

Life at the Nowhere Office

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Great academic opportunities: 20 calls for papers, 4 jobs, 3 PhD fellowships, 2 postdocs, and 2 awards

Dear ES/PE community member, see below an abundant list of great and interesting call for papersacademic opportunities: 17 calls for papers for conferences and workshops (some of them are partially funded), 4 job openings, 3 doctoral fellowships,  3 calls for papers for special issues, 2 visiting and postdoc positions, and 2 awards — in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with November 30 – January 1 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Good luck!

Calls for papers:

> CfP: “Crises of capitalism, new and old forms of protest“, the 4th Conference on Strikes & Social Conflicts,  University of São Paulo (Brazil), July 10-13, 2018. DL: Nov 30

> CfP: “Rethinking Transformation” international conference, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain), 7-8 March 2018. No conference fee. DL: Nov 30

> CfP: “Corporate Governance, Ownership and Control” International conference by Virtus Global Center for Corporate Governance, Sapienza University of Rome (Rome, Italy), February 27, 2018. DL: Dec 1

CfP: “Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Alternative Economic Models and Responses to Decline in Contemporary Society” workshop, University of Warsaw (Poland), 21-22 May 2018. DL: Dec 10

> CfP: “Reproduction and Resistance“, The BSA Bourdieu Study Group 2nd Biennial International Conference, Lancaster University (UK), 10-12 July 2018. DL: Dec 12

> CfP: “Regulation between Effectiveness and Legitimacy“,  ECPR Standing Group on Regulatory Governance Biennial Conference, University of Lausanne (Switzerland), 4-6 July, 2018. DL: Dec 15

>  CfP: “Class at the Border: Migration, Confinement, and (Im)mobility“, Working-Class Studies Association conference, Stony Brook University (NY, USA), 6–9 June, 2018. DL: Dec 15

> CfP: “Poverty and the Family“, Salzburg Workshop in Philosophy and Poverty, Centre for Ethics and Poverty Research, University of Salzburg (Austria), May 17-18, 2018. No conference fee. Coffee breaks and two lunches will be covered. DL: Dec 15

> CfP: “Rethinking the Future of Work: Competing Perspectives and Methodological Challenges” international conference, University of Bucharest (Romania), 27-28 April 2018. DL: Dec 15

> CfP: “Migration at Work: Opportunities, Imaginaries and Structures of Mobility” international conference, University of Antwerp (Belgium), 19-20 April 2018. DL: Dec 15

> CfP: “The Power of Failure: New Perspectives in Social Theory and Practice” and “The Effects of Macroeconomic Failure in Intimate Life and Gender Relations workshops, University of Warsaw (Poland), 7-8 May 2018. DC: Dec 15

> CfP: “Political Economy Ten Years After the Crisis”, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute conference, University of Sheffield, 2-4 July 2018. DL: Dec 18

> CfP: Political Theology Network inaugural conference, Emory University (Atlanta, GA, USA), February 15-17, 2018. The organizers are particularly interested in proposals focusing on economy. Funding is available to cover travel and registration costs of a limited number of contingent faculty or graduate student. DL: Dec 18

> CfP: “Austerity Against Democracy: Work, Welfare and the Remaking of Global Capitalism“, Alternate Routes journal conference, University of Bologna (Italy), June 11-13, 2018. DL: Dec 31

> CfP: “Rosa Luxemburg and Her Ideas: Engaging the Left and Impacting the World“, the International Rosa Luxemburg Conference, Chicago (USA), 26–29 April, 2018. No registration fee. DL: Dec 31

> CfP: “The origins and legacies of the Little Divergence in Central and Eastern Europe“, a workshop on Economic History, Growth and Development, University of Vienna (Austria), 1-2 June 2018. There is no participation fee and accommodation will be provided. Young scholars can apply for a travel grant. DL: Jan 1, 2018

> CfP: “Political Economy of Finance” conference, The Stigler Center at the University Chicago (USA),  May 17-18, 2018. DL: Jan 1, 2018

Calls for contributions to special issues:

> CfP for a volume on “Postcolonial Economies: Genealogies of Capital and the Colonial Encounter” edited by Maureen Ruprecht Fadem and Michael O’Sullivan. DL for proposals: Nov 30 

> CfP for an issue on “Pro-sumers on the move: overcoming the line between labour and consumption“, Sociologia del Lavoro. DL for abstracts in English: Dec 15

> CfP for an issue on “Finance in Africa“, Qualitative Research in Financial Markets. DL for papers: Dec 31

Jobs and positions:

> Book Reviews Editor for The Sociological Review journal and website. DL: Nov 30

Assistant Professor specializing in Political Economy (tenure track, full time), Department of Economics at Loyola Marymount University (California, USA). DC: Dec 1

Tenure Track Assistant Professor Sociology of Organizations with an interest in economic sociology, University of Groningen (The Netherlands). DL: Dec 7

> Tenure-track assistant professor with a focus on economic sociology,  Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies at the American University of Beirut (Lebanon). DL: Jan 1, 2018

Postdoctoral and Visiting positions:

Postdoctoral researcher in a project on Public Support for European Unemployment Insurance,  University of Amsterdam. DL: Dec 1

Visiting Fellowships for postdoc and senior researchers studying history of policies, concepts, or debates related to development, Center for the History of Global Development, University of Shanghai (China). DL: Dec 15

Doctoral Fellowships:

PhD Studentship on Public Policy Development in the Centre of International Public Policy at Royal Holloway, University of London (UK). DL: Dec 1

Jack Henning Graduate Fellowship in Labor Culture and History to encourage  study of the expressive culture of working people, their identities, philosophies, and the problems — by the Fund for Labor Culture and History. DL: Dec 1

> Fellowships for PhD students whose work contributes to making USA more equal, democratic, and sustainable — by Center for Engaged Scholarship. DL: Dec 15

Awards:

> Student Award Paper Competition in Evolutionary-Institutional Economics — by the Association for Institutional Thought. DL: Dec 20

Herbert G. Gutman Prize for Dissertation on working people, workplaces, communities, organizations, cultures, activism, and societal contexts — by the Labor and Working-Class history Association. DL: Jan 1, 2018

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Nietzsche on Danger in Wealth and Pretense

Friedrich Nietzsche“Danger in riches. — Only he who has spirit ought to have possessions: otherwise possessions are a public danger. For the possessor who does not know how to make use of the free time which his possessions could purchase him will always continue to strive after possessions: this striving will constitute his entertainment, his strategy in his war against boredom. Thus in the end the moderate possessions that would suffice the man of spirit are transformed into actual riches – riches which are in fact the glittering product of spiritual dependence and poverty. They only appear quite different from what their wretched origin would lead one to expect because they are able to mask themselves with art and culture: for they are, of course, able to purchase masks. By this means they arouse envy in the poorer and the uncultivated – who at bottom are envying culture and fail to recognize the masks as masks – and gradually prepare a social revolution: for gilded vulgarity and histrionic self-inflation in a supposed ‘enjoyment of culture’ instil into the latter the idea ‘it is only a matter of money’ – whereas, while it is to some extent a matter of money, it is much more a matter of spirit.” 

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1996. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Cambridge University Press. (p. 283-4, an aphorism no. 310)

Nietzsche Friedrich  Human, All Too Human

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Probably the best “Acknowledgments” ever (3)

Erving Goffman, a preeminent sociologist and one the most influential scholars of the post-war social science, was greatly impressed during his graduate studies by the works of the British social anthropologist A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. Two decades later, Goffman — known for his witty writing style — reflected his reverence for Radcliffe-Brown on the opening page of Relations in Public (1971): 

best Acknowledgments ever

“Dedicated to the memory of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown
whom on his visit to the University of Edinburgh in 1950
I almost met”
(Goffman 1971: v)

See here and here the past posts featuring the probably best “Acknowledgments” ever 🙂  

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The Pricing of Progress and the Origins of GDP

by Eli Cook*

In the past few years, roughly half a dozen books have come out examining the meteoric rise and profound impact of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). An economic indicator that measures the money-making capacities of a nation by aggregating together the monetary values of all market goods and services produced in a given year, GDP first came into being in 1934 (first as Gross National Product) thanks to the joint efforts of Harvard economist Simon Kuznets, the U.S. Commerce Department, and the National Bureau of Economic Research. As a result of these developments, recent histories of GDP have – save for the obligatory hat tip to William Petty and his founding of political arithmetic in seventeenth-century England – focused mostly on the twentieth-century economists, statisticians, organizations, and government policymakers who invented, disseminated, institutionalized and transformed Gross Domestic Product into the leading metric of social wellbeing, economic growth and national progress in the world. the Pricing of Progress Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American LifeBe they celebratory or critical, the gist of these arguments is that in the wake of the global economic and social devastation brought on by the Great Depression and two world wars, an assortment of macroeconomic indicators emerged as much-needed planning tools with which economic experts and nation-states could manage and steer the novel and reified construct we moderns commonly refer to as “the economy.”
There is no denying that these important histories are all correct. Nevertheless, they are also incomplete. The meteoric rise of economic indicators has roots far deeper and broader than twentieth-century macroeconomic expertise. In my book, The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life, I argue that the idea that one can gauge progress by quantifying the income-generating abilities of a society and its inhabitants has a far longer history than GDP and emerged out of the centuries-long rise of modern capitalism. While the pricing of progress (like capitalism) is not unique to American society, the book makes its case by tracking the rise of economic indicators  in the United States. That said, to do so it begins by tracing the first inklings of a pricing of progress back to seventeenth century England and eighteenth century Caribbean islands.
The key element that distinguishes capitalist societies from previous forms of social organization is not the existence of markets or money but rather capital investment, the act through which basic elements of society and life—including natural resources, technological discoveries, cultural productions, urban spaces, educational institutions, human beings, and the nation-state—are transformed (or “capitalized”) into income-generating assets valued and allocated in accordance with their capacity to make money and yield profitable returns.
In my book, I argue that economic indicators and the pricing of progress emerged out of such acts of capital investment as capitalist forms of quantification and valuation used to manage or invest in railroad corporations, textile factories, real estate holdings, or slave plantations slowly but surely escaped the narrow confines of the business world and seeped into nearly every nook and cranny of American society. As a burgeoning “investmentality” led American businessmen and policy makers to quantify not only their portfolio but their nation as a for-profit investment, the progress of its inhabitants, free or enslaved, came to be valued according to their moneymaking abilities.
Follow the capital, therefore, and you will find the origins of GDP and our current obsession with monetized metrics:  William Petty, who is rightly credited with the invention of national income accounting,  could value the income generating powers of English land (£8 million per year) and English  labor (£25 million per year) in 1662 only after the enclosure movement had transformed peasants into wage laborers and land into a capitalized investment whose goal was ever-increasing monetary yields. In 1746, Malachy Postlethwayt calculated that the average slave on caribbean plantations produced  £16 of income per year and that “the annual Gain of the Nation by Negroe Labour will fall little short of Three Million per Annum.” Postlethwayt could only come up with these figures because Caribbean sugar colonies were being run as absentee, for-profit investments and human slaves were being treated not only as pieces of property but pieces of capital. Postlethwayt was not shy about referring to slaves as “annuites” because he was the main pamphleteer for the Royal African Company, a for-profit joint stock company that earned returns for its investors by enslaving African bodies.  Up until the American Civil War, similar calculations of proto-GDP market productivity can be found throughout the long and ugly history of American slavery. As planter, enslaver and South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond typically noted in his “Cotton is King” speech in 1857, “there is not a nation on the face of the earth, with any numerous population, that can compete with us in produce per capita… It amounts to $16.66 per head.”
As investment flowed out of tenant agriculture and slave plantations in the second half of the nineteenth century and into urban real-estate, railroad stocks and industrial machines, the pricing of progress spread along with it. By the 1870s, a leading American physician was pricing the “value of life” by determining not only people’s money-making capacities but also ““the cost of development of a man, or building the productive machine, and his worth to the body politic.” By the Progressive Era, economists such as Irving Fisher were openly referring to human beings as “money-making machines” and capitalizing the value of adults at $2900. Treating society as an income-generating investment and workers as human capital, Fisher and other Progressive Era efficiency experts used such price points in the first two decades of the twentieth century  in order to calculate the annual cost or benefit of such varying things as tuberculosis ($1.1 billion), government health insurance ($3 billion), prohibition ($2 billion) skunks ($3 million) or Niagara Falls ($122.5 million).
To conclude, by the time GDP was finally invented during the Great Depression, Americans already had much experience with the notion that one could measure social success by calculating the income-bearing capacities of the nation. The rise of GDP, therefore, is not the opening scene in the rise of modern economic indicators, but rather the final act of a global story that began not  in twentieth century economic departments, government bureaucracies or think tanks but rather with the enclosure of English lands, the enslavement of African bodies and the capitalization of American life in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
—————–
* Eli Cook is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Haifa
   

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Giddens: We are suffering from ‘cosmopolitan overload’ and a huge task lies before us – to create responsible capitalism

by Labinot Kunushevci*

From the editor: The following interview with a distinguished British sociologist and political thinker Lord Anthony Giddens is interesting from various perspectives. The interview is part of the forthcoming book by Labinot Kunushevci featuring his conversations with renowned social scientists. The emphases here are mine.

LK:
 How would you describe the importance of sociology, and what is the role of sociologists in the social emancipation, especially in the ‘century of changes’ we are living in? Do you think sociology should function as part of the positivist paradigm, or should it be more reflexive in relation to history and social reality?
Giddens: The prime task of sociology is to reflect upon the origins and consequences of the rise of modern industrial civilisation and its spread across the world. As such its main focus is upon the past two or three centuries, but of course there has to be a comparative perspective: hence the overlap of sociology with anthropology is quite strong. Positivism is a non-starter so far as sociology is concerned, since its relationship with its subject matter – human behaviour – is inherently reflexive. Sociological ideas, if they are at all interesting, become incorporated into the world they seek to describe and to some extent restructure that world.
LK: What would you say about the media, the development and sophistication of technology in this era of Globalization? Is Globalization bringing us more opportunities or more risks, and what is the type of society we are going to create in the future in an already globalized world?
Giddens: Globalization – the interdependence of societies across the world – is a key feature of Modernity. Over the past three hundred years, globalisation has been driven by two main influences – the economic (and military) expansion of the West; and the intensifying of communication. The two processes are closely related. The rise of printing from the eighteenth century onwards made possible the emergence of the modern state, and facilitated the development of far flung-empires. The rise of electronic communication massively accelerated these processes, but eventually meant they became more genuinely global – not so centred in the West. The coming of the digital age has intensified processes of globalisation and driven them deeply into our personal lives too.
LK: In your opinion, what are the structural and cultural changes brought by globalism in the modern era, especially to the transitional societies of the Post-Socialist bloc and Balkan region?
Giddens: The result is a world in flux, without parallels in previous ages. Digital communication is often empowering and emancipatory – it is likely to transform medicine, for example. However it has also helped to produce a volatile and uncertain future, and has helped accentuate existing ideological divisions rather than dissolve them. It is difficult to live in a world of intense, everyday cosmopolitanism. We are suffering from ‘cosmopolitan overload’ – there are powerful counter-trends, a return to sectional ideologies and divisions at the same time as the world becomes more intrinsically cosmopolitan. Thus we see a return of nationalism in many places and a questioning of cosmopolitan values, including the emergence of religious fundamentalism. These forces can be combined in seemingly bizarre ways. Islamic State, for example, is a sort of mediaeval theocracy, but makes use of cutting-edge digital technology to promote its aims. It is hostile to modernity, but deeply embedded in it.
LK: The world we are living in is facing many challenges, one of them is the global migration of population from East to West and from South to North. How would you explain migrations, the main challenges faced by countries affected by it, and what are the challenges of migrants themselves?
Giddens: Hence there is a sense in which we are all migrants now, whether or not we move physically from one part of the world to another. Via digital technology, most of us are in touch on an everyday basis with a diversity of cultures and opinions. Distance is no longer any barrier to instantaneous communication, driven by a vast expansion in computer power. The first smart phone was only marketed about ten years ago. Today there are 2.5 billion smart phones in the world and double that number of mobile phones as a whole. The smart phone in your pocket has more computing power than even a super-computer of fifteen years ago. Physical migration takes many different forms, but normally has a global component. To take an example, about 2 million Philippinos are living and working in other countries around the world. The large majority are women and children. They use digital means to support global families – networks of spouses and other relatives stretching around the world. Of course, many migrants from poorer countries are not so sophisticated and are fleeing oppression, such as the many thousands now trying to cross from Latin America into the US, or those fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East. Real tragedies are unfolding here on an everyday basis.
LK: Knowing the global challenges and risks: nuclear weapons, inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, the increasing extremism, the climate change, etc., which one, in your opinion, is threatening the global peace the most? Is there any balance between the opportunities offered by the Modernity in one side and the real threats on the other?
Giddens: We live in a world that has moved ‘off the edge of history’ at the same time as it remains deeply embedded in it. By this I mean that today we face risks that no other civilisation has to deal with – such as climate change, the massive growth in world population, or the existence of nuclear weapons. Some of these risks are existential: they are threats to the very continuity of the industrial order as it spreads across the face of the earth. We cannot say which are the ‘most threatening’, since the true level of risk is by definition unknown. There is no past time series to go on as there are with more traditional risks.
At the same time we have opportunities, as collective humanity, that go massively beyond what was available in previous ages, not just for material advancement but for the spiritual enrichment of our lives. I call this a ‘high opportunity, high risk society’ – in which it is almost impossible in advance to know what the relation between these two factors will turn out to be. This problematic relationship is today an elemental part of the human condition. This is not a post-modern world in the sense in which that term is usually used – to refer to the dissolution of reason and of potentially universal values. Rather, a battle is being fought almost everywhere between such values and sectional divisions of various sorts.
LK: What makes you think that we are not living in the post-modern era, but we are still living the high Modernity?
Giddens: Our personal and even intimate lives are being transformed by the changes running through world society. Here I would stick with the main themes of my book Modernity and Self-Identity, although some of the processes I described there have become further radicalised. In a world of almost infinite sources of possible information the self becomes a reflexive project. All of us have to develop a narrative of self – a story line that holds our lives together, against the backdrop of a world in flux. Tradition and custom are no longer there to do the job: they themselves are invented and reinvented. As Modernity advances not just identity but the body becomes shaped by these forces, in complicated and contradictory ways. Thus obesity today is becoming a global phenomenon, with massive implications for health. About a billion people across the world today are radically overweight, not only in the prosperous countries, but in many developing economies too. At the same time roughly the same number are undernourished, suffering from malnutrition or even at risk of starvation. And among the most affluent, the cultivation of the body takes a completely opposite form – people devote many hours to fitness and exercise training, often to the point of obsession.
LK: What changes has Modernity brought with the development of expertise and the stimulation to trust on them? How much does this contribute in creating a ‘technocracy’, which ‘devours’ the spontaneity, freedom, equality etc., which in the same time serve as fundamentals of modernity?
Giddens: ‘Technocracy’ does not seem to me the main barrier to our chances of successfully mastering the bundle of opportunities and risks we have created in modern civilisation. Rather, the influences I have described still operate in a world driven in some large part by the exigencies of market capitalism, now itself radically globalised and penetrated by the digital revolution. Almost all money has now become electronic, for example, and can be transmitted instantaneously across the world in a way that was never possible before. The world economic order is driven in fundamental ways by the actions of consumers on the one hand and the global companies – including financial ones – on the other. Most of these processes do not pass through the democratic systems of states, even the most powerful. This is one reason for the stresses and strains of politics today. Everyone can see that national politicians lack the power to significantly influence some of the major forces influencing our lives. To get elected, they must make promises that they simply cannot deliver upon. Huge inequalities, especially at the very top, have arisen, but it is very hard to contest them, given that capital can be moved around the world so fluidly. Much of the revenue that lies in tax havens has no productive role. Only if they can learn to co-operate collectively will states be able effectively to master these forces. It is an open question how far such collaboration is possible.
LK: Do you continue to embrace the “Third Way Politics”, and is it still current to this day? In this context, how would you explain the world economic crisis? On what premises should we have mechanisms and systems that would help to overcome the challenges of the generation of economic growth? 
Giddens: The global financial crisis – still far from having been fully resolved – reflects many of the features of world society discussed above, even including the gender dimension, given the role that ‘charged masculinity’ played in the aggressive behaviour of those playing the world money markets. However, there is a further key factor: the role of neoclassical economic theory. No other academic discipline has ever had such a world historical role before. It has driven the world economy and its radical subjection to unfettered market mechanisms. This observation brings us to general issues of a political nature. There is still a key role for the ‘third way’, understood as an overall political orientation and applied beyond the limits of nation-states. A huge task lies before us – to create a form of responsible capitalism, in which wealth creation is reconciled with social needs, including environmental ones.
LK: To conclude, what about the state of European Union these days and its relations with Balkan countries?
Giddens: The EU, as we all know, is passing through a particularly troubled phase of its evolution. Only about a decade ago, the EU – and its currency, the euro – were widely seen as success stories. Today it floats in a sea of troubles. The euro has not been properly stabilised and its very continuity remains at risk. Trust in the EU among its citizens has fallen, precipitously in some member-states. Populist parties are on the rise almost everywhere. To the east the situation in the Ukraine poses huge risks, at the outer edge even the risk of nuclear conflict. Chaos in Libya and some other states in the Middle East and North Africa poses major risks on the EU’s southern flank. Migrants are flooding across the Mediterranean desperate to find a new life. In spite – and partly because – of these problems, the EU remains an essential to the stability and further development of the European sub-continent. In my book Turbulent and Mighty Continent: What Future for Europe? I try to show why this is so. Only with the further progress of the EU can the problems of the Balkan countries potentially be resolved.
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Labinot Kunushevci (labinotkunushevci@gmail.com) was born in the Republic of Kosova. He holds a Master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Prishtina and his main field of study is sociology of communications. As part of his project on the intersection of international and national sociology, he conducted interviews with prominent sociologists around the world. Three of them – with George Ritzer, Patricia Hill Collins, and Ibrahim Berisha – were recently published in Global Dialogue – The Magazine of International Sociological Association. 

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BITS & BRIEFS: Sharing, not “Sharing Economy” // Zelizer on Money // Social movements create unionization // Schumpeter’s “Economics of Socialism” syllabus // Deaths of Despair rise

This time, especially worth reading  – and sharing – articles:

Sharing, not “Sharing Economy”: For most of human history, there was no such thing as private property

> Money is not a social engine, but rather a malleable social product“, Viviana A. Zelizer unmasks the meanings of monies 

Social Movements prompt Labor Unions: local civil rights and gender equality protests lead to unionization — find John-Paul Ferguson, Thomas Dudley, Sarah Soule

> Joseph Schumpeter’s last “Economics of Socialism” syllabus (Harvard University, 1950), taught after his death by Overton Taylor with guest lectures by Wassily Leontief, Walter Galenson, and Alexander Gerschenkron

Deaths of Despair are rising due to the structural lack of opportunities and the disruption of social safety net –  reveal Anne Case and Angus Deaton 

economic sociology political economy
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