Climate Change & Class War

This Thursday NSSR phd candidate Julia Puaschunder gave the oikos lunch presentation with a talk called “Intergenerational Justice: Climate Change Burden Sharing,” which suggested the possibility of using bonds to fund mitigation and adaptation costs of climate change.

If we take as a given a trade-off between sustainability and growth, the problem of climate change can be presented as a zero-sum game to be played with our children: We may expend the earth now and leave our children with nothing, or we may bolt for asceticism and leave our children a plenitude.

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Is Development Possible In Capitalism?

Last Friday was the Debating Development conference, organized by the titular scholars of INET’s Young Scholars Initiative, a group coordinated by NSSR’s own Ingrid Kvangraven. The conference put many scholars of different regions and different theoretical perspectives in conversation. Although it was titled “debating development,” as NSSR economics professor Sanjay Reddy noted in his opening remarks, most of the perspectives presented were more intersecting than mutually exclusive, so the conference could also be understood as a means to compound or complexify perspectives, rather than adopt or discard them.

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Coffee vs. Capital

On April 14th, Oikos NYC launched its first out of three lunch talks scheduled for the spring semester 2016 at The New School. In line with its mission, to enhance student’s engagement with sustainability in economics, the speaker, Christopher London who is Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Milano, discussed the issue of environmental sustainability of food production.
The sociology professor London combined his general thoughts on economics with insights from his field research in the Colombian coffee region.

He started by highlighting the meaning of the roots oikos (house) and nomia (law or management) for the understanding of economics and the dual role it plays for people as external functioning of the economy and internal management of the household or family economy. Before coming to the economics of coffee production, he elaborated on the history of agriculture, thereby emphasizing the inherent political character of rights to land as well as the Marxian interpretation of the role of land enclosures in enabling the transition to capitalism. In an unexpected turn he discussed the connections between earlier peasant economies and today’s romanticized “neo-peasantry” as exemplified by the hipster movement.

London gave a quick overview over the institutional development of the Colombian coffee farmers since the early 20th century and brought visual material to show the difference between early “organic” and post-green revolution monoculture coffee plantations. He explained that the green revolution on the one hand allowed millions of farmers to escape poverty, while on the other hand it locked them into unsustainable agricultural practices and led to the depopulation of rural areas.

After discussing the role advertisement around the romanticized coffee farmer “Juan Valdez” played in connecting producers to consumers, he delved into the contradictory topic of “ethical consumerism” and certification of coffee products. While certificates make coffee farming more sustainable, the flipside lies in the one-sidedness of the poor peasants’ responsibility to implement sustainability measures and comply with a huge variety of institutional and technical requirements. Without trying to downplay the positive effect of certification, London argued that they create a regulatory regime which restricts the development of peasants as they do neither allow for sufficient accumulation to move towards a really sustainable and organic production of coffee nor offers a promising future for the young generation.

The question which emerged from the discussion was, “How can we organize production in a way that it is not simply demand oriented but also takes into account the ecological, social and economic well-being of the affected regions?”

One proposition mentioned by London would be a massive state investment program to establish the capacities for organic farming in Colombia. In the lively open discussion which followed, several points were raised regarding the role of sustainability in global food production and agricultural subsidies. The main conclusive point was that if we want to move towards a world of sustainable food production, which enables farmers to live well off their product without degrading the environment, any regulatory regime has to be accompanied by the willingness to pay much higher prices for food. Prof. London gave the example of 15-20$ for a pound of sustainably produced coffee.

This brought him back to the neo-peasantry movement in the main coffee consuming countries. He emphasized that these higher prices can only be sustained by a society, in which full time workers earn sufficient wages and do not depend, as it is the case for millions in the US, on food stamps to get by. Therefore we can conclude, that the distributive regime in developed countries indirectly affects such diverse issues as the long term sustainability of the Colombian coffee industry.

There’s No Migration Problem Amnesty Can’t Solve

On Wednesday, Branko Milanovic whose work deals mostly with quantifying global inequality wrote a piece about migration for the Financial Times. The piece, titled “There Is a Trade-Off Between Citizenship and Migration” bespeaks the many ways in which economists seek to improve world systems by adjusting its parameters rather than calling into question the structures which underlie them.

As the title suggests, Milanovic insists that there is a trade-off between the types of citizenship countries grant immigrants and the levels of migration those countries will see. Rather than treating such migration as a result of political and economic calamities that are disproportionately laid upon the global South by the forces of Western economic and military rapaciousness, he treats it almost as an economist might treat pollution – something generally socially undesirable, but only preventable in degree by manipulating property rights.

Taking for granted a trade-off between citizenship rights and migration, Milanovic proposes a system of graduated citizenship akin to the systems of the United States and the Arab Peninsula. Needless to say, Milanovic’s approach has already seen some push-back. Chris Bertram, writing for the blog Crooked Timber has already called Milanovic’s suggestion “reinventing apartheid.” And while it might be a tad bombastic to equate the visa system of the US or the sponsorship system of the GCC with the brutally repressive white nationalist regime of South African apartheid, Bertram does have a point that such systems create arbitrary legal gateways for brutal racial repression and a sort of ethnic caste system.

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Video: Launch of NSER Vol. 8 & Discussion on Money, Power and Capitalism

On March 1st 2016 The New School Economic Review celebrated the launch of its 8 volume with talks by Professors Ramaa Vasudevan (Colorado State University) and Paulo dos Santos (The New School) on ‘Money, Power, and Capitalism’. See the video of the event below.

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What’s Wrong with Heterodox Economics?

A couple of days ago I was exposed to a piece by Randall Wray discussing some remarkable findings presented in a paper by Leonhard Dobusch and Jakob Kapeller. The paper discusses citation practices and their relationship with the performance of economic journals. Wray’s comments are centered on the following four points made in the article:

  1. Cross-citation between heterodox journals and orthodox journals is largely biased towards the latter. This is due to orthodox journals constantly citing other orthodox journals and heterodox journals mainly citing orthodox journals.
  2. These biased cross-citation practices create perverse incentives. Researchers that want to get tenure send their best work to the highly ranked orthodox journals.
  3. A number of top heterodox journals are biased towards formal and econometric-based research. These articles are more likely to cite orthodox journals.
  4. Heterodox journals restrict the availability of their papers pre and post-publication.

In this piece I want to make some comments regarding the first three points.

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