Tributes to David Graeber

David Graeber’s death shocked and saddened so many around the world… The bundles of emotions, memories and appreciation are being reflected in the incessant stream of obituaries and tributes. Links to a handful of them are collected here.

Bruno Latour: “What David Graeber wrote and did had an enormous effect in empowering his readers, and more generally a whole audience of stakeholders,  precisely because he was providing an alternative version of the economy in which we are imprisoned. In that sense, one can say that David Graeber was an optimist. However, his death does not make us optimistic at all: it is a shock for all those who hoped that his work would give a way out of the fiction that the economy is.
“David Graeber was an academic with a public commitment: his scholarly practice and his activist practice permuted with one another, but without ever being separated. In writing a book called Fragments of an Anarchist  Anthropology he was clearly showing an interest in the issue of power and his willingness to combat ordinary social theories that are based on a false conception of power. Did he fight by writing a book or by going out to the street? These are both acts that are too deeply intertwined to divide them.
“This short book [Bullshit Jobs: A Theory], which has been very successful, is typical of Graeber’s whole work. A work which shows that every time we delegate a function, we stop producing it through our own resources, we take on a bureaucracy that imposes itself on us. The increasing number of bullshit jobs implies that we are giving up our agency, [our capacities], to others. The anarchist thought sees in this delegation a self-conscious acceptance of domination through bureaucracy.
When asked, what is the effect of David Graeber on his own thinking, Latour replied: “A legacy is “diseconomization.” He shows that the topic of production, which obsesses Marxism as much as Liberalism, is a fiction. What is tragic about David Graeber’s death is that few are working to get us out of the economy as a fiction, to get rid of the economy as a principle of analysis of the social world. Economic notions do not grasp the violence of the social world.” (Thanks to Vassily Pigounides for the translation)

Michael Hardt: “One aspect of David’s writing that I greatly admire is the way it combines serious academic research with popular and accessible – and often genuinely humorous – writing. This combination of research and writing styles is, indeed, another facet of his figure as a scholar-activist.

Paul Mason: “Debt: The First 5000 Years taught a generation of activists that debt is a form of exploitation and repression; and that the progressive outcome of a class struggle over debt is its cancellation. Alongside the analysis of debt itself, Graeber developed the concept of an “everyday communism”, observable in clan-based societies but underpinning all human endeavours based on cooperation. Though under-developed in the book, the idea found an immediate resonance among the networked anti-capitalist activists who had been occupying the squares of major cities, determined to break with the gradualism and timidity of the official left.

Nathan J. Robinson: “Graeber noticed things. Everyone notices a few things here and there, but David Graeber noticed things other people did not. This was partly because he was an anthropologist, trained to shed presumptions about how human societies work and figure out how they actually work, to see people both through their own eyes and through the eyes of others. It was also, however, because he was an anarchist, instinctively inclined to reject the existing order of things and think for himself about what could and could not be justified. But Graeber did not simply see; he was a committed activist, participant as well as observer, who turned his intelligence to practical questions about how to make people more free to enjoy the brief, wondrous gift of getting to be alive.

Jerome Roos: “Graeber’s popularity on the left lay in his capacity to communicate complex ideas to a wide audience, combining engaging prose with disarming humour… He revitalised old concepts such as class and revolution, but in a way that gave readers the feeling they had encountered something new and exhilarating. Characteristically generous, Graeber spent his life fighting for a freer, more joyous and egalitarian world.

Marshall Sahlins: “David was the most creative student I ever had, constantly turning the conventional anthropological wisdom inside out, often to show how ostensibly dominated peoples, by their own means, subverted the states, kings, and other coercive institutions afflicting them to create self-governing enclaves of community.

Steve Keen: “He was fundamentally funny, and looked on the world with a sense of bemusement, and all the while, incisive insight. He was intrinsically an anthropologist, in that he was capable of living amongst people and seeing their customs more clearly than they could themselves, while all the while celebrating those aspects, the good and the bad, because they were his people as well.

Jeff Maskovsky: Many have coined phrases—activist anthropology, public anthropology, engaged anthropology, and militant anthropology, to name a few—to repackage disciplinary knowledge in more media-savvy, morally righteous, publicly consumable, and grassroots-oriented directions. Yet proponents of an “engaged” stance are often reluctant to name explicitly or to flesh out in any detail the political ideologies or philosophies that influence them. Graeber had no such hesitation.  His unabashed promotion of an anarchist perspective is more in line, in fact, with the ways that proponents of Marxist, feminist, antiracist, decolonial, and queer anthropology established their political and intellectual bona fides than it is with any “engaged” approach. And, like these more explicitly political approaches, David’s anarchist stance advanced political debates inside and outside of the academy, energized a new generation of politically motivated young scholars, and pushed all of us to elaborate more clearly what we think the relationship between scholarship and politics should be.

Andrew Ross: “David’s contribution to the theory and practice of Occupy’s conduct and tactics was much more profound and formative for the movement… More than anyone, David helped to revive and push into public consciousness the idea that debts should be wiped clean in a single act of abolitionary justice. It will be his greatest legacy if we can see that day come to pass. 

Brett Scott: “David was a master of a style of anthropology that opens your eyes to the fact that the pallette of economic options is far wider than you might think. While conservative econ departments attempt to naturalise the mentality that accompanies capitalist monetary exchange, economic anthropology – at its best – is like a rebel holdout in our collective subconscious, keeping alive knowledge of other ways of being… He told me [once] how tough it was trying to help out all the groups [calling for debt cancellation] that needed support, but he nevertheless kept at it. This is why David was an anthropological hero to me, because he explicitly politicised and lived his anthropological knowledge. He was acutely aware of how societies bulldozed by colonialism often had – and have – entirely different customs to apportion labour and energy, and was well-versed in the ambiguities of those customs. He believed, though, in our ability to rework this knowledge to challenge the oppressive structures of finance around us.

Nicholas Mirzoeff: “David was motivated by twin pillars, the radical capacities of the imagination and the need to place care at the center of any community… Reading David’s writing is like being in conversation with him: funny, incisive, and insightful at once, whether he’s talking about Batman, debt, direct action, or kingship. Like Stuart Hall, David was “in the university but not of it.” For all the times I heard him speak, I now realize none of them were in a university.

David Wengrow: David Graeber died three weeks after we finished writing a book together about human history, which had absorbed us for more than ten years. It will be called The Dawn of Everything, because he wanted that… It all started as a game really, an escape from our more “serious” responsibilities. Our only rule was no rules: no deadlines, no funding applications. Just a free space to ask questions and seek answers.

Matthew Zeitlin: “Graeber was a link not just between grassroots movements and the academic world, but between generations of leftist social movements. He was a veteran of the anti-globalization protests in the 1990s who helped start Occupy, one of the facilitators of a debtor movement that would influence the policy agendas of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders… The question Debt sought to ask was one that seemed natural in the wake of a debt crisis that would claim millions of homes and thrust much of the industrialized world into first a sharp economic crisis, then a self-destructive series of austerity measures designed to stem the tide of sovereign debt.

Debbie Bookchin: “Then there was his intellectual generosity. He seemed to project his own brilliance onto others, taking the latent kernel of an idea unrecognized by a speaker and following its logic, then weaving it together with his own knowledge of history, anthropology, and political theory until he had spun a beautiful synthesis, a comprehensive analysis of the subject at hand, for which he was always inclined to give the original speaker credit.

Benjamin Balthaser:David Graeber’s intellectual legacy is enormous and wide-ranging, but his recent writings on antisemitism deeply moved me. He knew that antisemitism was far from dead — and he also knew that only a democratic left could stop it.

My own tribute: “Graeber urged us to reject a narrow and deceptive economism, ask fundamental questions about what human beings are or could be like, and act morally… Graeber lived the coupling of theory and praxis… His iconoclastic research and writing have not just educated and inspired so many, but also paved the way to innovative approaches towards political activism and scientific investigation.

David Graeber, Occupy Democracy on Parliament Square, London, May 1, 2015

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Rest in Power, David Graeber – the Activist-scholar who Lived the Coupling of Theory and Praxis

A prominent social scientist and committed public intellectual David Graeber has died. This is devastating news and an enormous loss… Graeber was an original thinker, distinguished researcher, incredible writer, and vigorous speaker. He genuinely embodied the amalgam of scholarship and political activism. He urged us to reject a narrow and deceptive economism, ask fundamental questions about what human beings are or could be like, and act morally.
“His writings on anthropological theory are outstanding. I consider him the best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world”, stated Maurice Bloch. Among Graeber’s early works are groundbreaking and already classic Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value (2001), his own favorite Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar (2007) — a excellent ethnography of a community divided between descendants of nobles and slaves, and thought-provoking Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire (2007) that explored the nature of social power and the forms that resistance to it have taken, scrutinizing the origins of capitalism, the history of table manners, and the phenomenology of giant puppets at street protests.
Graeber’s magnum opus Debt: the First 5000 Years (2011) is probably needless to be presented. “If history shows anything,” he observes, “it is that there’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt-above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong” (p. 5). This remarkable, partly pugnacious, and highly influential treatise brilliantly covers a vast sweep of social global history, anthropology, and political economy, masterly elaborating and compellingly presenting a braid of complementary arguments with regard to the state-economy-society mutual embeddedness. Essentially, this research demonstrates that before there was money, there was debt and, more importantly, debt forgiveness.
In very interesting The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (2015) Graeber traces the peculiar and unexpected ways we relate to bureaucracy today, and shows how it shapes our lives in ways we may not even notice. Finally, in a recent and widely discussed Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018) Graeber reveals the neoliberal and post-fordist dark reality of labour, pointing out the existence and societal harm of meaningless jobs.
Graeber wasn’t just skillful in fusing scientific disciplines, he has also been virtuously crossing between the academic and nonacademic worlds. He has been constantly involved in a series of protests, movements and grassroots initiatives. Graeber’s political activism was the result, in part, of his anthropological analysis of economies and socio-economic arrangements, which gave him insight both into how people and groups interact and why economists are mostly wrong. His conviction that human society could be organized another way was empirically based — as an anthropologist, he was well aware that value systems vary across space and time. “[A]fter the beginning 2000
, he wrote, I threw myself into the Alter-Globalization movement and it might be said that all my work since has been exploring the relation between anthropology as an intellectual pursuit, and practical attempts to create a free society, free, at least, of capitalism, patriarchy, and coercive state bureaucracies.” His Direct Action: An Ethnography (2009) is an engaging study of the global justice movement in which Graeber was active. The book bears the underlying  message of optimism: what we choose to do politically does matter, therefore change  is possible and even inevitable.
In 2011 he became one of the leading figures of Occupy Wall Street, whose slogan “We are the 99%” was partly phrased by him. Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on PoliticsViolenceArt, and Imagination (2011) clearly reflects  Graeber the scholar-activist: his ideas and ideals, his aspirations and strategies. The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (2013) is an inside account of the Occupy Wall Street and an illuminating journey to reorient our understanding of democracy in history and its implementation in the future, based on equality and broad participation.
As part of this unforgivably short and insufficient depiction of Graeber’s huge contribution, I should also tell about his specific impact on me and, actually, you. Back in 2011, when I created “Economic Sociology and Political Economy” Facebook page, what was the first step in establishing the ES/PE community — I sent emails to dozens of esteemed researchers to let them know about this new, online initiative aimed at disseminating the insights of socio-political research on the economy to the public and academics. Well, not many of them replied. David Graeber did. He briefly wrote: “Sounds great. Good luck!” That meant so much to me… Sometimes it is not the number of words that counts, but their intention. The ES/PE community will keep cherishing his endorsement.
Graeber lived the coupling of theory and praxis. “For a very long time,” he asserted, “the intellectual consensus has been that we can no longer ask Great Questions. Increasingly, it’s looking like we have no other choice” (2011: 19).
His iconoclastic research and writing have not just educated and inspired so many, but also paved the way to innovative approaches towards political activism and scientific investigation. The challenges he raised and injustice he confronted still remain before us. “As humans we are fragile biological entities who will die unless we take care of each other“, he noted once. Revolutionary constituencies always involve a tacit alliance between the least alienated and the most oppressed” was David Graeber’s last tweet. Let us continue and realize his intellectual and public legacy and take care of each other.

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We Make our Careers in Networks

I recently came across an engaging and illuminating article “On the Acrimoniousness of Intellectual Disputes” written by a prominent American sociologist Randall Collins. Not just researchers and academics will find this paper relevant and thought-provoking because it tackles the inner workings of the intellectual world, but it also might be of interest for everyone who is curious about creation and diffusion of ideas and knowledge. I recommend to read it (see below its open-access version) and for now I leave you with its final, reflective and acute paragraph:

“As intellectuals, we make our careers in networks. What we produce is shaped by our predecessors who provide the topics and techniques of thinking, and–if we are lucky–by webs of successors who continue and transform our ideas. We are shaped too by maneuvering around rivals with whom we divide up a limited field of attention. Usually this process goes on tacitly. We would be better off if we were more explicit about our dependence on a network cycling through widely if unevenly shared bodies of ideas and argumentative techniques; more explicit, too, in recognizing that the few individuals who become the rallying points of intellectual movements are focal points in flows of ideas that wash in many directions around networks made up of large numbers of us. Less egotism, both individual and collective, and more awareness of how we all constitute each other: this could be a path toward lowering intellectual acrimony in the future.” (p. 70)

Collins, Randall. 2002. “On the Acrimoniousness of Intellectual Disputes.” Common Knowledge 8 (1): 47-70.
This article is substantially drawn from Collins’ astonishing The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (1998).

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Rethinking Central Bank Independence

by Vadym Syrota*

Nowadays global economy faces a slightly controversial type of crisis: despite looming economic recession, states, business and households find themselves in the environment of, what The Economist called, “free money”. Central banks are to be credited for the establishing such strange new economic order due to their anti-crisis toolkit applied in the past. So, the independence of central banks looks like an obsolete concept in these circumstances. Given the downward trend of globalization, the idea of central bank independence will be exposed to radical transformation within the revamped underlying economic theory free from an excessive neoliberal background.
Globalization under the umbrella of neoliberal ideology has been the key feature of the development of the economy worldwide in 1990-2000s. Free movement of goods, services, capital and labour served as a dominant idea underpinning this kind of economic integration. According to the supporters of the mentioned dogma, this type of economic relationships, which stems from the Comparative Cost Advantage Theory proposed by David Ricardo, is the best possible option to benefit all sides involved in such cooperation in the area of production and free-trade. Therefore the role of state intervention, through applying a regulatory toolkit, was set to be minimal within then dominant economic ideology.
Central bank was to be a reliable watchdog to guarantee the free movement of capital that is the cornerstone of globalization. Thus,  as Adam Tooze phrased in: ”if the freedom of capital movement was the belt, then central bank independence was the buckle on the free-market Washington Consensus of the 1990s”. By such independence it was meant that monetary technocrats were able to withstand the pressure of politics and organized labour to meet their demands. This concept favoured technocratic calculation, institutional independence, and nondiscretionary rules aimed to establish low-inflation macroeconomic environment. In public opinion, the stagflation of 1970s, which marked the crisis of Keynesian theory (which is experiencing a sort of renaissance today), is credited for arising the monetarists system of believes. The latter further transformed into the independence of central bank concept. Surprisingly, a group of thinkers from the ashes of the Habsburg Empire are believed to contribute significantly to the establishment of the mentioned idea even earlier. According to Quinn Slobodian, the concept of independent central bank is rested on the neoliberal “encasement” of market forces from the pressures of democracy through transnational governance. Such “social pressure” includes increasing public needs that are to be funded through the money printing of monetary authorities (mostly, indirect). Thus, the lender of the last resort should “be encased” into the institutional framework allowing it to withstand public and state intervention effectively (as well as, “independent” from national government).
The existing of the described ideological orientations may partially explain why Margaret Thatcher, the “Political Godmother” of Western neoliberal and conservative transformation, opposed central bank independence mistrusting the ability of such institution to steer effectively the economy via interest rate setting up (the main toolkit within this theoretical approach). Nevertheless, she did not manage to block the diffusion of the doctrine into political and financial discourse across the globe. So, the community of central bankers lived through the “Golden days” in the 1990-2000s, while enjoying the perks of the status of unelected “Lords of finance”.
“This music will sound forever” is the most suitable term to portray the type of complacency amongst the political and financial elite during the above-mentioned Great Moderation period of comprehensive prosperity in the economy worldwide. Unfortunately, even the high-flying gurus of central banking found themselves helpless against the backdrop of the Great Financial Crisis 2007-8. Moreover, the massive anti-crisis measures, including different sorts of central banks’ “quantitative easing” (QE) programs, resulted in the “New Normal”. The latter definition was used to describe the persistently lower short-term output growth in line with immensely low inflation in the leading economies. This situation is completely contrary to the case of 1970s stagnation that caused further “monetarists transition”.  Moreover, such macroeconomic situation ideally aligns with the fade of globalization. 
The nature of such economic process was revealed by Adjiedj Bakas that coined the term slowbalization to depict the slowing pace of economic integration around the world in 2008-2018. To illustrate such trend: long-term foreign direct investments by firms has tumbled from 3,5 % of world GDP to 1,3 % percent in 2018. Another striking example is the fact that cross-border bank loans have collapsed from 60% of GDP in 2006 to about 36% in 2018. Given the tariff wars and shift in the functioning of supply chains worldwide, it would be useful to foresee the possible trend of globalization if the described situation were not become reality. A phase of saturation was supposed to appear in such case due to the possible situation, when the pull of labour and multinational investment in physical assets have become less important. Moreover, financialization of the economy at the cost of production would only have restored its positions: financial flows such as bank loans had picked up as the shock of financial crisis receded and Asian financial institutions gained more reach abroad.
Thus, the existential crisis of dominant economic model of globalization rested on the neoliberal paradigm could have lost its momentum because of objective drawbacks and vulnerabilities of the mentioned economic theory. Even before the СOVID-19 crisis became obvious, the former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney
acknowledged that two items hold a special place among the main “lies of finance”: “Markets always clear” and “Markets are moral”. Given the failure of economical theoretical framework, the concept of the independence of central bank needs critical reassessment from the perspective of its adequacy to the current period of modern economy and finance development.
A decade of below-target inflation prompted the well-known across the globe gurus of finance and banking to admit that the current mandate of a central bank under the umbrella of “institutional independence” needs radical transformation. According to
Larry Summers and Anna Stansbury: “Central banks cannot always set inflation rates through monetary policy“. It is worth considering that COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the described trend. Markets suddenly found themselves functioning in the “free money” environment. This term was proposed by The Economist to depict the situation in which a large-scale government borrowing and central banks’ monetary injections, against the background of COVID-19 crisis, caused a huge amount of financial resources circulating around the world at an interest rate of near-zero or negative level. In such macroeconomic environment deficits and money-printing may well become the standard tools of policymaking for decades.
Nevertheless “free money” world order poses a significant threat to the classic imagination about central bank independence. First of all, the mammoth volume of today’s government borrowing is favoured by low interest rates
. The IMF predicts that rich countries will borrow 17 % of their combined GDP this year. Thus, the pressure on the setters of interest rates (central banks) sharply rises affecting the technocratic nature of decision-making process at the monetary authorities. The temptation of top-officials to cut the cost of sovereign borrowing by leaving minimal interest rates as long as possible is strong nowadays. Given this fact, the leading central banks may be compared with servants working as the government’s debt-management arms. Secondly, the upward trend of money printing by monetary regulators, in order to fund government borrowing, also undermines their independence. In the USA, Great Britain, the Eurozone and Japan central banks have created new reserves of money worth about $3.7 trn. in 2020. Thus, it would be quite logical to support the experts of the Bank for International Settlements, who proclaimed that “the fine line between monetary policy and government debt management has become blurred”.
In the light of the failure of existing neoliberal economic order, the current concept of the independence of central banks is obsolete and inadequate to the modern world’s realities. It may be predicted a significant shift in dominant political economy doctrine towards expanding the level of state intervention in the economy and financial markets, stimulating the aggregate demand at the economy, and the transformation of redistributive mechanism to fight social inequality. All the above notions will affect the tasks of a central bank prompting to broaden its mandate. For example, safeguarding the stability of a banking system may become the cornerstone task of monetary authorities, while some sub-tasks may become of significant importance within central bank’s framework (including the avoidance of market bubbles arising, overcoming technological challenges, etc.). To weather successfully the looming economic disaster, the newly-established concept of modern central bank and promotion the economic leadership under its umbrella are crucially needed. Those countries that are able to tackle this challenge will be subsequently granted the title of Post-Covid-19 economic recovery champion.
* Vadym Syrota (PhD) is an independent banking expert and former official of the National Bank of Ukraine (central bank) at banking supervision and financial stability departments. He is
a regular contributor to the Kennan Institute blog (Woodrow Wilson Center, USA) and numerous Ukrainian business and economic media outlets.

For critical accounts of the ‘Central Bank Independence’ concept see:

— Adolph, Christopher. 2013. Bankers, Bureaucrats, and Central Bank Politics: The Myth of Neutrality. Cambridge University Press.
— Epstein, Gerald. 2019. The Political Economy of Central Banking: Contested Control and the Power of Finance. Edward Elgar.
Hancké, Bob. 2013. Unions, Central Banks, and EMU: Labour Market Institutions and Monetary Integration in Europe. Oxford University Press.

— Maman, Daniel and Zeev Rosenhek. 2011. The Israeli Central Bank: Political Economy, Global Logics and Local Actors. Routledge.
— Tognato, Carlo. 2012. Central Bank Independence: Cultural Codes and Symbolic Performance. Palgrave.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell

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Great academic opportunities: 18 PhD fellowships, 12 calls for papers, 6 jobs, 2 winter schools, a post-doc, an award

Dear ES/PE community member, see below a list of great academic opportunities:call for papers 18 PhD fellowships, 12 calls for papers for online/off-line conferences and special issues, 6 job openings, 2 winter schools, a post-doc position, and an award in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with August 24 — October 1 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Best wishes and good luck!

Calls for Papers:

> CfP: Financial History Research Network webinars, once a month starting in September 2020. DL: August 24

> CfP: “The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought” conference, Collège International de Philosophie (Paris, France), 16-18 December, 2020. DL: September 1

> CfP: “Towards a Political Economy of Ecology: Transformations of the Social Relationship with Nature“, Régulation Review: Capitalism, Institutions, Power‘s special issue. DL: September 2

> CfP: “Corruption, Rent-Seeking Behaviour and Informal Practices in Institutional Contexts” online workshop series, every Friday in November 2020 (6, 13, 20, 27). No fee. DL: September 7

> CfP: “Making space for the new state capitalism”, EPA: Economy and Space’s special issue. DL: September 15

CfP: “Justice, Equity and the Circular Economy“, Local Environment‘s special issue. DL: September 15

> CfP: “Digitizing Valuation“, Valuation Studies‘ special issue. DL: September 15

> CfP: “EU Financial Regulation and Markets: Beyond Fragmentation and Differentiation” conference, Jean Monnet module “EU Financial Regulation and Markets“, Faculty of Law University of Zagreb (Slovenia), 26-27 November, 2020. Authors may choose between “in residence” or virtual presentations. DL: September 15

> CfP: “Trade Wars after Coronavirus: Economic, political and theoretical implications“, World Economics Association conference, online, 5th October to 5th December, 2020. DL: September 15

> CfP: “So­cial and Cultural As­pects of Cir­cu­lar Eco­nomy” edited volume and workshop, University of Helsinki (Finland). January 2021. DL: September 30

>  CfP: “Financialisation“, Review of Evolutionary Political Economy‘s special issue. DL: October 1 

> CfP: “Employment Relations as Networks: Methods and Theory” edited book. DL: October 1

Postdoctoral Positions: 

> Post-doctoral position on Socially Responsible Public Procurement in the European Union, the Technical University of Vienna (Austria). DL: September 15

PhD Fellowships:

> 5 PhD studentships in various topics in Economic Sociology and Political Economy regarding Covid-19, Department of People and Organisations, The Open University Business School. DL: September 7

5 PhD positions in Economic Sociology & Labour Studies, University of Milan (Italy). Fully taught in English. DL: September 14

> 3 PhD positions in the frame of  MARKETS: Mapping Uncertainties, Challenges and Future Opportunities of Emerging Markets: Informal Barriers, Business Environments and Future Trends in Eastern Europe, The Caucasus and Central Asia, Dublin City University (Ireland). DL: September 25

> 6 PhD positions at “The Economic Impact of Digital Transformation” programme, Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). DL: September 30

Job openings:

> A tenure stream position in African Diasporas and Development in the Global South focusing on political economy, The Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough (Canada). DL: August 24

> Full Professor in Economic Sociology, The University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland). DL: August 31

> Tenure-track faculty position in Global Affairs specializing in international political economy or global governance, from sociological or political perspective, Yale-NUS College (Singapore). DL: September 1

> Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Economics, The Open University (Milton Keynes, UK). The successful candidate should be committed to developing pluralist economics teaching and interdisciplinary research. DL: September 14

> Tenure Track Assistant Professorship at the Department of International Economics, Government and Business, Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). The core research areas of the department unite the study of states, markets, and international firms in the context of societal challenges. DL: September 24

> Fellow & Cluster Leader – Business, Markets & State, The Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (UK). DL: September 27

Winter Schools:

> CfA: The 2nd Winter Institute for the History of Economic Thought, Arizona State University,  a Zoom webinar, January 22–23, 2021. A $500 stipend will be paid to each of the 10 presenters. DL: September 1

> CfA: “Capitalism in Global Crisis: Economic Transformations, New Authoritarianism, and Resistance“, the DiscourseNet winter school, University of Valencia (Spain), January 13–15, 2021. Free of charge. Keynoter: Ngai-Ling Sum.  DL: September 30


> “Visualizing Student Debt” — The VizE Lab and the Dignity+Debt Network are calling for data visualizations, maps, or short documentaries and photography that portray student loan debt. 5 finalists will win awards of $1,000 each. DL: September 19

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The Return of the State

        “Stop! Wait! Government’s no longer the problem — it’s the solution.”

For in-depth discussions on various angles of the ‘State (in the Economy)’ topic:
Bourdieu, Pierre. 2015. On the State: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1989-92. Polity.
— Jessop, Bob. 2015. The State: Past, Present, Future. Polity.
— Kelton, Stephanie. 2020. The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy. Public Affairs.
Skidelsky, Robert. 2020.
What’s Wrong with Economics? A Primer for the Perplexed. Yale University Press.

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Democracy vs. Irony, Tragedy and Pathos

Disturbing events in several countries around the world during this turbulent time sprang to my mind a sharp observation by a prominent and influential American thinker and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. In all nondemocratic political theories the state or the ruler is invested with uncontrolled power for the sake of achieving order and unity in the community. But the pessimism which prompts and justifies this policy is not consistent; for it is not applied, as it should be, to the ruler. If men are inclined to deal unjustly with their fellows, the possession of power aggravates this inclination. That is why irresponsible and uncontrolled power is the greatest source of injustice.
The democratic techniques of a free society place checks upon the power of the ruler and administrator and thus prevent it from becoming vexatious. The perils of uncontrolled power are perennial reminders of the virtues of a democratic society; particularly if a society should become inclined to impatience with the dangers of freedom and should be tempted to choose the advantages of coerced unity at the price of freedom.
The consistent optimism of our liberal culture has prevented modern democratic societies both from gauging the perils of freedom accurately and from appreciating democracy fully as the only alternative to justice and oppression. When this optimism is not qualified to accord with the real and complex facts of human nature and history, there is always a danger that sentimentality will give way to despair and that a too consistent optimism will alternate with a too consistent pessimism.” (Niebuhr 2011: xxxii-xxxiii)

This thought-provoking excerpt is from The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense, published in 1944. Niebuhr has extensively written and spoken about topics in the intersection of politics, policy, social ethics and religion. His criticism of capitalism has resonated widely and in the early 1930s he organized the Fellowship of Socialist Christians. I think the ES/PE community members might find an interest in The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr: His Religious, Social, and Political Thought, and Reinhold Niebuhr and His Circle of Influence (Rice 2012). Barack Obama, by the way, called Niebuhr one of his “favorite philosophers“.
Let’s conclude this post with a passage from the last chapter of Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History. Feel free to attribute the meanings of these words to any context you find suitable.

“Irony must be distinguished as sharply from pathos as from tragedy. A pathetic situation is usually not as fully in the consciousness of those who are involved in it as a tragic one. A tragic choice is purest when it is deliberate. But pathos is constituted of essentially meaningless cross-purposes in life, of capricious confusions of fortune and painful frustrations. Pathos, as such, yields no fruit of nobility… One who is involved in a pathetic situation may be conscious of the pathos without thereby dissolving it. We can after all, pity ourselves…
An ironic situation is distinguished from a pathetic one by the fact that a person involved in it bears some responsibility for it. It is distinguished from a tragic one by the fact that the responsibility is not due to a conscious choice but to an unconscious weakness…
Elements of irony, tragedy or pathos may, of course be detected in life and history without any guiding principle of interpretation. All three types of experience are occasionally so vividly presented that they compel the observer either to the combination of pity and admiration which implies tragedy; or to the pure pity which pathos elicits; or to the laughter and understanding which are the response to irony.” (Niebuhr 2008: 166-7).


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B&B: Piketty – Covid-19 is an opportunity // Gendered lens on Covid-19 // Economic histories of pandemics // Pharma and the shareholder value // Network, not skills // Nature’s economics

> “Inequality is neither random nor unfortunate; it is structurally engineered, legally enforced, and politically and ideologically driven.” Gendered impacts of COVID-19 on work and workers — by Joanne Conaghan

> What were pandemics’ effect on markets, prices and wages throughout the history? Jamie Catherwood presents concise economic reviews of the 14th century Black Death, the 1892 cholera outbreak and the 1918 Spanish Influenza.

> Thomas Piketty: Covid-19 crisis has exposed the “violence of social inequality… We should take this opportunity of this crisis, and after the 2008 financial crisis, to just rethink not only about our health policy and investing more in hospitals, which is a just conclusion from this crisis, but also to rethink about our economic model more generally and moving toward more equality, more sustainability.”

> “Like no other sector, the Pharma Industry puts a spotlight on how the political economy of science is a matter of life and death.” William Lazonick and his colleagues scrutinize the US Pharma’s financialized business model and its underlying the shareholder value idea.

> Following the collapse of socialist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, some new businesses have been driven by the networks and resources associated with former membership of the ruling party rather than with entrepreneurial skills — by Artjoms Ivlevs, Milena Nikolova and Olga Popova.

> Congratulations to notable political economist David Soskice, economic sociologist Victor Nee, and inequality and urban scholar Mary Pattillo on being elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences. On this festive occasion let us feature some of their important books: Democracy and Prosperity (Iversen and Soskice 2019) & Varieties of Capitalism (Hall and Soskice 2001)Remaking the American Mainstream (Alba and Nee 2005) & Capitalism from Below (Nee and Opper 2012); Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class (Pattillo 1999) & Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City (Pattillo 2007)

> An interesting, from various perspectives, move by a leading science journal Nature: “Nature will soon appoint an economics editor… Economists, natural and social scientists and engineers must all engage with and learn from each other”

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American Sociology’s Emergence and Separation from Political Economy

Rereading Philippe Steiner’s excellent, thorough and highly recommended Durkheim and the Birth of Economic Sociology (2011) — in which Steiner argues that there were two stages in Durkheim’s approach to the economy: a sociological critique of political economy and a sociology of economic knowledge — led me to recall an interesting paper by Cristobal Young “The Emergence of Sociology from Political Economy in the United States: 1890 to 1940” (2009). This informative research describes and explains the disciplinary and institutional history of the relationship between political economy / economics and sociology during the formative period for both professions in the U.S. academia. 

“Professional sociology in the U.S. began as a field area within economics, but gradually emerged as a separate discipline. Using new data on joint meetings and the separation of departments, I track interdisciplinary relations through three phases: sponsorship (1890–1905), collaboration (1905–1940), and disengagement (post-1940). In the early years, sociology was mostly a branch of economics departments. With the formation of the American Sociological Society, relations with economics began to be more characterized by professionally autonomous collaboration. The 1920s saw a large wave of sociology departments separating from economics. Still, joint annual meetings (including joint presidential addresses) remained the norm until 1940. Paradigmatic conflict between institutional and neoclassical economists was the major force that sustained the economics–sociology collaboration. As institutionalism faded from the scene in the late 1930s, so went interdisciplinary contact”.

As the abstract’s last sentence reads — and the article‘s last part contends — the downfall of institutionalism in economics corresponds closely to its disciplinary and institutional deviation from sociology. Yuval Yonay’s groundbreaking The Struggle over the Soul of Economics: Institutionalist and Neoclassical Economists in America between the Wars (1998) elegantly elaborates on this fascinating topic — how the confrontation between mathematical (what later would become, neoliberal) and institutionalist schools of economics  has prepared the ground for the overthrown of the latter.
The three interesting analyses mentioned above lucidly and soundly deal with a broader set of issues and illuminate hidden chapters concerning the foundations, mechanisms ans forces behind evolution and changes in academic knowledge.

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Great academic opportunities: 14 calls for papers, 7 postdocs, 2 jobs, 2 summer schools, PhD fellowship, an award

Dear ES/PE community member, see below a list of great academic opportunities:call for papers 14 calls for papers for online and off-line conferences (some are free or funded) and special issues, 7 post-doc positions, 2 job openings, 2 summer schools, a PhD fellowship, and an award in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with July 17 — August 31 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Best wishes and good luck!

Calls for Papers:

> CfP: “The Academic Precariat: Understanding Life and Labour in the Neoliberal Academy“, British Journal of Sociology of Education‘s special issue. DL for proposals: July 17

> CfP: “The Power of Economic Ideas”, the 17th Italian Association for the History of Political Economy (Online) Conference, 1-3 October, 2020. Keynoters: Amos Witztum, Sheila Dow. There are no registration fees.  Scholarships for junior scholars and awards for best papers are available. DL: July 20.

> CfP: The 1st (In)Corporate Sustainability conference, Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain) and virtually, September 16-18, 2020.  No fee. DL: August 5

CfP: “Engels@200: Friedrich Engels in the Age of Digital Capitalism”, tripleC Communication, Capitalism & Critique‘s special issue. DL for abstracts: August 7

> CfP: “New Economic Questions“, the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s Young Scholars Initiative plenary, ONLINE, 6-15 November 2020. DL: August 15

> CfP: “Hidden Fallacies in Corporate Law and Financial Regulation“, an edited collection,  workshop in Copenhagen (or ONLINE) in December, and conference in New York in Spring 2021. DL for proposals: August 15

> CfP: The 5th conference of the French Association of Law & Economics, the University of Paris Nanterre (or Online), October 15-16, 2020. Session in English too. DL: August 17

> CfP: “The Socio-Economic Realities of Post-Industrial Capitalism“, Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology‘s special issue. DL: August 17

> CfP: “Banking and the State” conference by the European Association for Banking History & the Institute for Banking and Financial History, Frankfurt am Main (Germany), 23 February 2021. Accommodation and travel will be covered. DL: August 31

> CfP: “The Rise of the Illiberal Right in Central and Eastern Europe. A Countermovement to Neoliberal Capitalism?“, Forum for Social Economics – a Journal of the Association for Social Economics‘ special issue. DL: August 31

> CfP: “The Evolution of Transnational Private Rule-makers: Understanding Drivers and Dynamics” conference, Tilburg University (The Netherlands), 3-4 December, 2020. The travel costs and accommodation can be covered. DL: August 31

> CfP: “Towards a Global Intellectual History of an Unequal World, 1945-Today” symposium, Aarhus University (Denmark), June 10-11,2021. Keynoters: Adom Getachew, Siep Stuurman. No conference fee; some limited funds available to help with travel and accommodation costs. DL: August 31

> CfP: “What does the COVID-19 crisis reveal about Economics and the Economy?“, Regualtion Review – Revue de la Régulation‘s special issue. DL for papers: August 31

> CfP: “Financialisation in Developing and Emerging Economies: Manifestations, Drivers and Implications“, Cambridge Journal of Economics’ special issue. DL for papers: August 31

Postdoctoral Positions: 

> Postdoctoral researcher studying the Political Economy of Educational Policies, Department of Sociology, the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands). DL: July 17

> Research Associate in economic sociology or political economy to join ‘Foundational economy, citizenship and new forms of common ownership’ project, the Wales Institute for Economic Research and Data, Cardiff University School of Social Science (UK). DL: August 9

> Research Officer in Inequalities: Politics of Inequality, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics. DL: August 9

> Research Fellow in Inequalities: Politics of Inequality, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics. DL: August 13

>  Two full-time Postdoctoral Associates in sociology of finance or economic sociology to join the project carrying out ethnographic fieldwork in blockchain firms, King’s College London (UK). DL: August 17

> Political Economist to work within a project “Social Classes in the Digital Age“, Directorate for Strategy, Work Programme and Resources, Joint Research Centre, European Commission (Seville, Spain). DL: August 17

> Social Scientist to work within a project “Social Classes in the Digital Age”, Directorate for Strategy, Work Programme and Resources, Joint Research Centre, European Commission (Seville, Spain). DL: August 17

PhD Fellowships:

> PhD fellowship “Impact of the Circular Economy on the Labour Market“, Research Institute for Work and Society, KU Leuven, Belgium. DL: July 31

Summer Schools:

> CfA: “From the Transformation of Economics to Economic Transformation: Pathways to a Better Future” summer school by the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s Young Scholars Initiative and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, ONLINE, August 15-23, 2020. DL: August 10 

>   CfA: “A Critical Assessment of the Faces of Inequality”, an online Pre-Conference for Young Scholars before the 32nd Annual Conference of the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy, 1st September, 2020. DL: August 15 


> The International Political Economy Annual Best Book Award, International Studies Association. DL: August 1

Job openings:

> Professor of Comparative Policy Analysis (tenure), Faculty of Social Sciences & Business Administration, University of Bamberg (Germany). DL: August 14

> Lead Scientist in social stratification / inequality / social classes / occupational change to develop a project “Social Classes in the Digital Age“, Directorate for Strategy, Work Programme and Resources, Joint Research Centre, European Commission (Seville, Spain). DL: August 17

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The Long Divorce Between the Economy and Financial Markets

by Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely*

As the coronavirus spread around the world, the global economy entered a recession unprecedented in scale. The World Bank predicts a 5.2 percent economic contraction by the end of this year—the largest downturn since World War II. The current crisis is so enormous in magnitude that it has been called the Great Lockdown. Yet, the stock markets worldwide have surged at a stunning rate since the end of March and the S&P 500 jumped near 40%. The rally took place amidst widespread job loss, disrupted global supply chains, and the absence of a probable cure or vaccine for a pandemic that kills thousands of people daily.
Pundits have speculated why the current
disconnect between the real economy and financial markets exists, whether it be the assurance provided by the Federal Reserve or the soundness of public corporations. But no one can deny that the widely held belief in financial markets as a reflection of the economy’s strength is mere fiction. Stock prices do not measure the value that firms can create from producing but the profits they can distribute from extracting. A shrinking economy hurts only the former and not necessarily the latter.
Divested Inequality in the Age of FinanceIn our new book, Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance, we document how the United States has been taken over by finance. We show that the rise of finance represents a paradigmatic, regressive shift in how American society organizes economic resources. In this process, financial markets have channeled tremendous resources to investors and the financial sector, divesting ordinary households and states. The divorce between the economy and financial markets did not start in 2020 but in the 1990s. While the two were loosely linked between 1950 and 1990, financial markets began to decouple from the real economy during the Clinton administration, because of financial deregulation. Shareholder value became the corporate doctrine, mass layoffs become common practice, and economic inequality soared.
The Great Recession, following the 2008 financial crisis, exposed the consequences of this finance-driven economy. While the regulatory and monetary policies did steer the US economy away from a catastrophic collapse, the recovery was slow, painful, and highly inflation-adjusted relative growthuneven. Governmental stimuli, mostly in the form of monetary policies, first went to banks and large corporations, with the belief that credit would eventually trickle down to families in need.
The “banks and corporations first” approach worked, but only rescued the financial sector. Even though the financial crisis wiped out almost three-quarters of financial sector profits, the comeback was striking. Before mid-2009, the financial sector had brought in a quarter more income than 2007. Profits continued to grow in the following years. In 2017, the sector made 80 percent more than before the crisis. Similarly, the stock market began to rebound in 2009 and fully recovered in 2013.
To be clear, what was good for the stock market did not necessarily benefit American families. More than 80 percent of the stock market is owned by only 10 percent of Americans and foreign investors. Thus, the prosperity brought about by investing in the stock market does little for middle- and working-class families. The unemployment rate was still as high as 8 percent in 2013 and the single-family mortgage delinquency continued to hover above 10 percent. By 2016, a typical American family owed 30 percent less wealth than they did in 2007.

The racial wealth gap only widened during the recovery. The median household wealth of white, black, and Hispanic households all dropped around 25 percent after the burst of the real estate bubble. But white households recovered at a much faster pace. By 2016, black households had still lost about 30 percent of their wealth, compared to 14 percent for white families.
The unequal recovery shows that using monetary policy to address economy crisis creates a clear principal-agent problem by giving money to the banks and having them serve as stewards for the rest of the economy. This was particularly evident in the ineffectiveness of quan­titative easing.
The conventional wisdom held that banks—as well as corporations and investors—knew how to put the credit into best use. And so, to pro­vide liquidity and stimulate economic growth, the Federal Reserve increased the supply of money by purchasing treasury- and mortgage-backed securities from banks. What the banks did, however, was prioritize their own interests over those of the public. They were hesitant to lend the money out to homebuyers and small businesses, since the money would then be locked into long-term loans that paid low interest. Instead, they deposited most of the funds and waited for interest rates to rise.

As the nation faces another economic crisis, it appears that loose monetary policy and finance-centered welfare are again the default remedies. The Federal Reserve took action to cut the benchmark interest rate to near zero—a policy move that does not directly support those hardest hit by the crisis. Private banks have been tasked with distributing a majority of small business loans, which brought in $10 billion in fees.
These painkillers, after all, do not cure the disease; they merely deaden the symptoms. We show in
Divested that the US society has come to a turning point. Decades of economic transfer from productive to financial activities and from workers and the state to executives and shareholders has created an extremely volunerable society. Poor public health investments, crumbling infrastructure, flimsy social safety nets, and insufficient employment protection all contribute to the ongoing crisis in the United States. All these deficiencies not only put many lives at risk but also undermine the public’s confidence in the long-term prosperity of the US economy. All is made worse by a president who failed to enact a comprehensive government response to the virus, worrying that any action would scare investors.
While more urgent actions should be taken to lessen the economic impacts on American families, a new “New Deal” must be made. The coronavirus crisis shows that universal healthcare and paid sick leave are not just policies benefiting those who do not have them but also improves the safety and wellbeing of those who do. Having a more robust social safety net already in place would rescue a vulnerable population from unexpected economic turmoil. Importantly, the crisis reveals that we need to divest our resources away from financial markets and re-invest in institutions that support a prosperous society. One lesson of the on-going disaster: There is no true winner in a deeply unequal society.
* Ken-Hou Lin is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Megan Tobias Neely is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Organization at Copenhagen Business School and a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University’s VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab. (The emphases added by the editor.)

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What is Institutional Economics?

From William Dugger’s Underground Economics: A Decade of Institutionalist Dissent:

Institutionalism serves as the methodological conscience to the unrealistic neoclassicism that now dominates economics departments in U.S universities. Realism is the touchstone of institutionalism. Institutionalists may differ over many particulars, but on this we agree: economics should be realistic; it should deal with the real world, the world as we find it, not the world we must assume in order to build determinate models. This does not mean that institutionalists wish to be atheorectical. Institutionalism is not opposed to theory. Instead, the quest for realism means that institutionalism starts with history, with human economic experience. It is from experience, not a priori first principles, that institutionalists try to theorize, and we criticize those who take shortcuts that avoid the messy details of the human experience (p. xvii).
Little room for real disagreement was allowed within the neoclassical hegemony. So most economics departments in U.S universities became dread-fully dull places… When academic security is found in dullness, and when consensus is mistaken for scientific truth, disagreement and dissent are pushed below the surface of correct inquiry. And I suppose this is why institutionalism is usually kept in the underground. We [institutionalists] make too much of a fuss about realism, and a real world is a messy and, at times, unpleasant place. Digging into such things is considered decidedly unprofessional, particularity if the digger borrows tools from her sister social sciences, for them the digger has broken one of the strongest taboos in neoclassicism. He or she has become a sociologist!” (p. xviii)

— Dugger, William M. 1991. Underground Economics: A Decade of Institutionalist Dissent. London: M.E. Sharpe.

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B&B: Economists’ blindness to racism // We are all fast-food workers // For abolition of work // Arms purchase // Tests for profit // The financialized imagination // Gendered economics

This time, especially worth reading and sharing pieces:

> Racism is a system that manifests in norms, institutions, and policies. Economists who want to challenge it must abandon neoclassical assumptions and recognize the role of history, power, and institutions in shaping behavior — by Joelle Gamble

> Acquisitions of military style-weapons by local law enforcement agencies in the US increased over the past 10 years has exacerbated lethal use of force against black communities.  Olugbenga Ajilore explains how the US turned its police into an army

> Surveillance, speed, stress, and understaffing are the features of the neoliberal labor market. A powerful story of women-led Walmart strike, walkout, and struggle for workers’ rights — an excerpt from Annelise Orleck’s “We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now”: The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages (2018)

> “Investment” has become “a useful term to describe the transformation of ever more aspects of life into commodities and the orientation of our social imaginations towards individualized risk management and speculation” — Max Haiven tackles the monsters of the financialized imagination

> The work ideology has ruled our lives for centuries, and it does so today more than ever. But a new generation of “post-work” thinkers insists there is an alternative. Andy Beckett reflects on the radical idea to shatter an intense working culture, recalling Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality (1973), Bernard Lefkowitz’s Breaktime: Living Without Work in a Nine to Five World (1979) and Bob Black’s The Abolition of Work (1985), and reading Benjamin Hunnicutt’s Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream (2013), David Frayne’s The Refusal of Work: Rethinking Post-Work Theory and Practice (2015), Joanna Biggs’ All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work (2015), James Livingston’s No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea (2016), Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans: Work and its Absence in the 21st Century (2016), Elizabeth Anderson’s Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (2017), and David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs (2018).

> The corporate history of personality tests: they have always been bound up in politics, business, and management. Kira Lussier on how corporations convinced us personality tests are fun and how that made Cambridge Analytica possible.

> Do research topics in development economics studied by men and women differ? Yes. Does this male-dominated discipline express less interest in topics that women are more likely to be studying? Yes. Seema Jayachandran and Jamie Daubenspeck present findings on and call for change and more diversity in the economics profession.

Refusal to work - No more work

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The Probable Implications of the Coronavirus Crisis — Bruno Latour, James Galbraith, Mike Davis

> Bruno Latour: “The [COVID-19] health crisis prepares, induces, incites us to prepare for climate change… What allows the two crises to occur in succession is the sudden and painful realization that the classical definition of society – humans among themselves – makes no sense. The state of society depends at every moment on the associations between many actors, most of whom do not have human forms… Once the entire network of which it is only one link is taken into account, the same virus does not act in the same way in Taiwan, Singapore, New York, or Paris. The pandemic is no more a “natural” phenomenon than the famines of the past or the current climate crisis…  What is more worrying is that we do not see how that state would prepare the move from the one crisis to the next.” // Recommended read: Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (Latour 2018)

> James Galbraith: “Will we recognize, in time, the need to mobilize all our resources, to socialize our health system and keep the supply chains open until the virus can be contained? Will we realize that when this is done, life will not be what it was before, and that a vast reorganization of economy and society will be necessary? Or will the neoliberal ideologues in control succeed in squelching that debate—which they are trying to do, at this writing, by focusing on bailouts and stimulus in the belief that somehow the bubbles now bursting can be reinflated in a few months? Will we remain mired in illusions of growth, with or without equity and inclusion? Or will we now and finally displace those illusions, with a new wave that understands the nature of precarity capitalism.” These Galbraith’s remarks conclude his interesting review of Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia by Albena Azmanova (2020)

> Mike Davis: “The current pandemic expands the argument: capitalist globalization now appears to be biologically unsustainable in the absence of a truly international public health infrastructure. But such an infrastructure will never exist until peoples’ movements break the power of Big Pharma and for-profit health care… Since the Occupy days, progressives have successfully put the struggle against income and wealth inequality on page one, a great achievement. But now socialists must take the next step and, with the health care and pharmaceutical industries as immediate targets, advocate social ownership and the democratization of economic power.” // Recommended read: Planet of Slums (Davis 2005)


Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP

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The Feature of an Intellectual

F. Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. Life was something you dominated if you were any good. Life yielded easily to intelligence and effort, or to what proportion could be mustered of both. It seemed a romantic business to be a successful literary man—you were not ever going to be as famous as a movie star but what note you had was probably longer-lived; you were never going to have the power of a man of strong political or religious convictions but you were certainly more independent. Of course within the practice of your trade you were forever unsatisfied—but I, for one, would not have chosen any other.” (“The Crack-Up”, 1936)

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. 2009. “The Crack-Up.” Pp. 69-84 in The Crack-Up, edited by Edmund Wilson. New Directions. (pp. 69-70).

F. Scott Fitzgerald The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function

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