The Waste of the Progress
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The Waste of the Progress
The disappointing outcome of the G8 Okinawa summit regarding the initiative for debt relief for impoverished and indebted countries of the Global South, led President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo to proclaim in August 2000:
“All that we had borrowed up to 1985 or 1986 was around $5 billion and we have paid about $16 billion yet we are still being told that we owe about $28 billion. That $28 billion came about because of the injustice in the foreign creditors’ interest rates. If you ask me what is the worst thing in the world, I will say it is compound interest.” (Jubilee 2000 news update, 18 August 2000)
About two years ago, I asserted that debt is a product of power relations, and elaborated a definition of debt and a neologism ‘neoliberal pauperism‘. My intention then was to grasp the notion and depict the phenomenon of debt on an individual, family or community levels entwined in the broader context of a political economy:
“Debt is a product of power relations which inherently exhibits capturing and dominating mechanisms of subordination, appropriation and exploitation in various societal, political and economic fields. Debt is degrading institutional tool which not merely controls and masters labor in advance, it also self- and socially estranging, and entangling the indebted person solely into the ropes of economistic valuation. Contemporary societies are burdened by the Neoliberal Pauperism which is a state of dragging-down indebtedness disguised as a fictitious “trickled-down” wealth.”
The point is that if we expand the analytical scope, the above articulation of debtor-creditor framework is essentially applicable to the relations of the Global North (industrialized “core” countries, international governance organizations, and western financial and corporate minotaurs) and the Global South (developing “peripheral” formerly colonized countries). If we look at the timing of this scene, the year 2000 – in the height of the “Globalization-End of History-Third Way” banquet – this implication is certainly valid, particularly when we read the conditions (known as “structural adjustment” programmes) set by the powerful G8 states, purely reflecting the neoliberal ideology:
“We encourage those HIPCs [heavily indebted poor countries] that have not done so to embark quickly on the process by beginning to develop Poverty Reduction Strategies, in close cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF, and thus benefit from debt reduction.”
“This will be known as the Squandered Summit. While the G8 leaders have enjoyed Japan’s $750 million hospitality, they have squandered an historic opportunity to cancel the unpayable debts of the poorest countries. They have squandered the hope of a fresh start for the world’s poorest people in this new millennium. Their failure to act on third world debt cancellation was the defining moment of the summit.”
Well, times apparently changed, locations probably too, but the essence of debt bondage and the mounting burden of indebtedness, in every aspect and level, remains the same — debt is a product of power relations.
“This enumeration of my indebtedness, together with much else that I have doubtless omitted, is more than sufficient to account for any virtues this study may possess. For the faults that nevertheless remain, I blame society.” (Parsons 2004: x)
Parsons, Jotham. 2004. The Church in the Republic: Gallicanism and Political Ideology in Renaissance France. CUA Press.
Su Xun (1009-1066), a renowned writer of that period, presents a direct testimony on social classes and feudal system in Medieval Imperial China:
“The fields are not the property of the men who till them, and those who own the fields do not work on them. The fields of the tillers belong to the rich. These rich men have extensive lands and vast properties; their estates join up one to the next, and they bring emigrants among whom they divide the work of cultivation. The lash and the rod used to urge on the levies of forced labor; their master treats them no better than slaves… He takes half of the produce: there is only one landowner to every ten cultivators, so that day by day the landowner accumulates his half and grows rich and powerful, while the cultivator lives from day to day on his half and grows poor and hungry, and there is no remedy.”
From: Grousset, René. 1953. The Rise and Splendour of the Chinese Empire. University of California Press. (p.182)
– They pretend to know.
– Yet they don’t know.
– And they get paid for this?
– Paid well, too.
– Man, I wanna be an economist!!!
See below a list of great and interesting academic – mostly funded – opportunities: 11 calls for papers for conferences and workshops, 4 calls for summer schools, 2 doctoral positions and a job opening in various topics in economic sociology and political economy, with March 15 – 31 deadlines. Share this list with your colleagues and students. Good luck!
Calls for papers:
Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller (1895 – 1983) was a renowned and influential American inventor, designer, systems theorist, and futurist. Fuller saw himself as a practical philosopher and worked to solve global problems surrounding housing, transportation, energy, ecological destruction, and poverty. During his prolific career, in his different capacities he had been lecturing extensively and published about 25 books, stimulating and leaving a great impact especially on “geeks” of his time and their successors who have then engendered the Information Revolution from the 1970s onward.
In the 1960s, Fuller developed the World Game, a collaborative simulation game in which players attempt to solve world problems and overcome the uneven distribution of global resources. The object of this anti-Malthusian and anti-militaristic game was in Fuller’s words, to “make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone”. Over the 1960s-70s, the World Game and its ideas diffused via workshops, seminars, conferences, and educational and strategic papers.
The 1971 publication “The World Game: Integrative Resource Utilization Planning Tool” (open-access), along with the game instructions and charts, also included several Fuller’s talks about the essence of game. One of them, given in the US Congress in 1969, caught my eye and it is certainly noteworthy.
First, Fuller constantly ans sharply criticized the mainstream economics that disregarded the ecology and the consequences of economic growth on the environment. For instance:
“Because 99 percent of humanity lives normally upon the dry land, the logic of its economic thinking lacks spontaneously some of the critical variables of the universe which, however, perforce of fundamentals had to be scientifically incorporated in all man’s effective coping with world-ocean and sky-ocean undertakings. (p.9)
There are a myriad of economic trends and other vital evolutionary events taking place today which are invisible to humanity only because they are too fast or too slow for man to apprehend and to comprehend them. We will be able to accelerate or decelerate such evolutionary events by electronic controls.” (p.10)
Secondly, Fuller presented a vision, embedded in the game, reflecting his concern about the world’ resources on the one hand, and individuals’ ability “to exercise complete actionale discretion” and their freedom of decision regarding their time on the other hand. Therefore, to confront the big businesses power to pursue immediate profits and direct individuals’ activities transforming them into obedient consumers, Fuller called for the “reintegration of our present world inventory of systematically differentiated-out physical and metaphysical variables” (p.9). The following lines, which are expressed in the text and in the game in different ways, actually embody the intellectual origins of, as we call it today, Sharing Economy:
“All the beds and bedrooms around the world are empty two-thirds of the time. All the automobiles are empty and motionless five-sixth’s of the day. There are two main causes of this vast uselessness. Firstly, we try to do everything at peak loads. Secondly, we try to “own” too many objects that we use too infrequently to justify “ownership”.
Assimilating the running of the world by computer we see quickly that we must find ways in which humans can be induced to employ all equipment all the time, thus smoothing out the peaks and valleys and eliminating the 66% empty time and servicing 100 percent instead of only 40 percent of humanity. (p. 19)
The idea that equipment is satisfactory only as permanent property is no longer valid. Many customs of humanity that have long defied political reform on strictly ethical or ideological premises are about to evaporate on a practical obsolescence basis. The computerized World Game may obviate vast manslaughter revolutions by disclosing in advance and thus accelerating the elimination of, “unwanted” or “unfair” customs and practices. Such obsolescence is unanticipated by the political revolutionaries; who, had they known the evolution was about to establish the desirable conditions by new invention and insights might have foregone vast and unnecessarily continuing mayhem.
Among other grand strategies for making the world work and taking care of everybody is the design science revolution of providing ever more effective tools and services with ever less, real resource investment per each unit of end performance.” (p. 20)
Now, back to the future.
Well, does the 2010s “Sharing Economy” of stomping giants like Uber and Airbnb reflect Fuller’s ideas? No. The rapidly spreading varieties of Platform Capitalism, Digital Labor and prosumption forced on the precariat hardly have something in common with Fuller’s purpose to “design science process for arriving at economic, technological and social insights pertinent to humanity’s future envolvement aboard our planet Earth” (p.2). But this amazing story reminds us about the power of ideas and imagination. The point is that once ideas are disseminated, the manner of their deployment depends on the winds of power in the field.
An eminent French philosopher Jacques Derrida reflects on the dualistic process of intellectual creation in the course of writing — (un)consciously anxious yet urgently imperative.
”Each time I write something, and it feels like I am advancing into new territory, somewhere I haven’t been before, and this type of advance often demands certain gestures that can be taken as aggressive with regard to other thinkers or colleagues […] or even hurt others. So every time I make this type of gesture, there are moments of fear. This doesn’t happen at the moments when I’m writing. Actually, when I write there is a feeling of necessity, of something that is stronger than myself that demands that I must write as I write. I have never renounced anything I have written because I have been afraid of certain consequences. Nothing intimidates me when I write. I say what I think must be said. That is to say, when I don’t write, there is a very strange moment when I go to sleep. At that moment when I am in a sort of half sleep, all of a sudden I’m terrified by what I’m doing. And I tell myself ”You’re crazy to write this!”, […] ”You’re crazy to criticize such and such person”, ”You’re crazy to contest such an authority, be it textual, personal or institutional”. And there is a kind of panic in my subconscious — what can I compare it to? — Imagine a child who does something terrible […] In any case, in this half sleep I have the impression that I have done something criminal, disgraceful, unavowable, that I shouldn’t have done. And somebody is telling me: ”You’re mad to have done that!” And this is something I truly believe in my half sleep. And the implied command is this: ”Stop everything! Take it back! Burn your papers! What you’re doing is inadmissible!” But once I wake up, it’s over.
What this means, or how I interpret this, is that when I’m awake, conscious, working, in a certain way I’m more unconscious than in my half sleep. When I’m in that half sleep there’s a kind of vigilance that tells me the truth. First of all it tells me what I’m doing is very serious. But when I’m awake and working, this vigilance is asleep, it’s not the stronger of the two. And so I do what must be done.” (From a documentary “Derrida”, 2002)
A fear always accompanies those who make inroads into wonderful, yet intimidating, spaces of creative ventures of any kind. But this fear will eventually vanish, consciously or unconsciously, exactly as it appeared. The main challenge is not to retreat.