Is ‘Imperialism’ a Relevant Concept Today? A Debate Among Marxists

This month, four prominent Marxists met at The New School in New York to debate the relevance of imperialism. The debate was related to the publication of Prabhat Patnaik’s (Jawaharlal Nehru University) new book A Theory of Imperialism (written with Utsa Patnaik). With him in the panel were geographer David Harvey (CUNY), political scientist Nancy Fraser (The New School), and economist Duncan Foley (The New School). Economics Professor Sanjay Reddy (The New School) moderated the debate. The main question for the panelists was: Is ‘Imperialism’ a relevant concept today? A fruitful debate followed, suggesting that contemporary imperialism is crying out for analysis and critique.

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What Can We Learn from Alternative Theories of Economic Development?

As people across the world are struggling to understand the rise of Trumpism, anti-establishment and anti-free trade movements, Erik Reinert (Tallinn University of Technology), Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Rainer Kattel (Tallinn University of Technology) have put together an impressive Handbook of Alternative Theories of Economic Development that can help make sense of what’s going on. As the field of Economics has become increasingly narrow since the 1970s, many important scholars and theories have been excluded from the field, and since forgotten. This Handbook presents rich historical accounts and ideas that can help explain economic and social development, and is a much needed attempt to correct for the existing biases in the field of Economics.

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This Econ Department Sure Has A Lot of White Dudes

Over on the INET blog, NSSR PhD student Alexandria Eisenbarth co-wrote a reflection on new research demonstrating little change in the overwhelmingly white and male makeup of the economics profession.

Responding to the wider social turmoil surrounding the Civil Rights struggle, the American Economics Association (AEA) in 1968 created its “Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession” (CSMGEP), tasking it with “increas[ing] the representation of minorities in the economics profession.” Three years later, the AEA formed its “Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession”(CSWEP) to promote “the principle that economics is a woman’s field as much as it is a man’s field.”

Both committees have included very senior economists and have received a good deal of attention within the AEA. It should be both notable and of great concern, then, that a new study some 45 years later confirms that “the economics profession includes disproportionately few women and members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups,” even when compared to other disciplines. Researchers Amanda Bayer and Cecilia Rouse find that, “this underrepresentation…is barely improving over time.”

Their report, titled “Diversity in the Economics Profession: A New Attack on an Old Problem,” is a collection of statistics that reveal significant ongoing disparities across the United States. For instance, women receive only 30% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in economics — a proportion unchanged for the past 20 years. Economics lies far below all other disciplines. In the case of the humanities, social sciences and STEM, women now account for nearly 60% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded. Though racial and ethnic minority students were awarded 22% of all bachelor’s degrees in 2014, the proportion in economics is only 14.7%. While all of the sampled discipline categories are struggling to maintain representative numbers of racial and ethnic minorities equivalent to population ratios, economics consistently trails behind.

Read the full post on INET

Facebook Isn’t Responsible for the Price of Information

Many keystrokes have been spent on the next of the succession of scourges meant to counter-explain the collapse of establishment politics and the loss of Hillary Clinton: Facebook hoaxes! Not to be outdone by the Alex Jones crowd, liberals, in their evergreen smugness, have decided that they too are victim to a political climate where everyone is falling prey to false reporting. The furor has gotten so deafening that Mark Zuckerberg himself has vowed to renew the fight against fake news after abandoning the project when in testing the algorithm, the company reportedly feared conservative backlash.

While Facebook is certainly capable of building an algorithm that perhaps begins to shadow ban users proliferating misleading content, it isn’t as if Facebook put that information there in the first place. There are entire industries dedicated to the production and proliferation of information, and as with any product in capitalism, it comes with a price.

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Philanthropy in Development: Undermining Democracy?

The word philanthropy dates back to the Greek word φιλανθρωπία, which means the love of humanity. Today the OECD defines private philanthropy as non-official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries. Such assistance can be through large philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller or Clinton Foundation, or through ‘direct giving’ platforms such as Global Giving or Kiva. But does what we call philanthropy today deserve its name? Rather than focusing on the actions of specific philanthropic organizations, this piece will assess the impact the rise of philanthropy has on global governance and democracy.

Figure 1: Grants by private agencies and NGOs


Source: OECD data

As Figure 1 illustrates, there has been a drastic increase in private funding for development over the past four decades, with the growth really picking up in the 2000s. However, these numbers from the OECD are incomplete in many ways, as much philanthropic funding is not reported as such. The Center for Global Prosperity has done more in-depth data collection on philanthropic funding for global development projects, and found that while OECD estimated private grants to be at $31.5 billion in 2011, CGP estimates the amount to be $58.9 billion. In the same year, OECD ODA was approximately $134 billion. Thus, according to the CGP estimates, philanthropy is now equivalent to 44% of ODA.

What is the effect of this rise? While some see philanthrocapitalism as a way for the rich to save the world, others criticize it for being a way for corporations and rich individuals to divert attention from the unequal outcomes that the current global economic system generates. Before assessing the effects of philanthropy on global democracy and development discourse, let me briefly touch on some of the main issues philanthropic foundations deal with in practice.

Read more at Developing Economics.

Tragedy of the Internetz

On Friday, huge chunks of the internet were taken offline in an apparent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. From what we know so far, thousands of internet-enabled devices ranging from cameras to thermostats were marshalled to attack the servers of Dyn which provides domain name services (DNS) to connect the addresses of websites to their location on the web. While DNS has been described as an internet phonebook, it’s closer to your phone carrier providing cell service to your phone number allowing people to call it. This is less like someone ripping up a phonebook than it is them shutting down AT&T by programming your printer to make hundreds of calls per minute.

The immediate reaction has been a pessimism at the future of cyber warfare. Already in this presidential campaign, the candidates have extolled the pitfalls and promise of “cyber,” especially as it pertains to national security. Further, a joint committee of 17 intelligence agencies is insisting that Russia is behind the hacking of emails from the DNC that are currently being released by WikiLeaks. While the prospect that you can get an ageing political functionary to fall for a spear-phishing email scam is nothing knew, shutting down the ability for people to access hundreds of websites using their televisions is quite another.

In spite of the prospect that our civilization can be thrown into a new dark age if intelligence agencies or hostile non-state actors competitively shut down portions of the internet, I remain optimistic. What this attack highlights for me, above all, is the fundamental contradiction between cyber-security and data-capitalism. These internet-enabled devices – the so-called “internet of things” – are designed with security flaws built in.

In addition to the discrete tasks the user seeks to accomplish without having to go through the trouble of walking to push a button or plug in a cable, these devices also enable manufacturers to access usage data and apply patches and updates remotely. While businesses are interested in providing a product that consumers want to buy and use, they have more recently become interested in capitalizing on their products’ use data. In order to do this, companies making these products have built in the capability for these machines to routinely send data to the manufacturer through the internet without user initiation. That functionality, as we have seen, can be coopted by anyone.

Ultimately, businesses will have to rethink the degree to which they breach their customers’ privacy. A machine that can be used as a drone by a manufacturer is necessarily able to be used as a drone for a nefarious actor. In spite of domestic and international law, the power of individuals on the internet is only limited by what you are able to code. As far as a machine is concerned, an FBI agent has no more authority to use it than a hacker. If tech companies don’t want users to lose control of their devices to malicious coders, they will likely have to give up much of the control they currently have back to the consumers using their products.

Distributing the Costs of Climate Change

In an event sponsored by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) and the student group oikos, Professor Randall S. Abate of Florida A&M University College of Law lectured and led a discussion on the issue of climate refugees.  

As broadening swaths of earth are rendered uninhabitable by— let’s not mince words— capitalism, villages currently, subsequently nations, will be forced to seek relocation.  Climate refugees—those who are forced to emigrate as the land they’ve lived on is transformed to either desert or ocean—must appeal for clemency from the very countries that have disproportionately contributed to their problem.  In the midst of these slow-burning kinds of genocides are numerous legal imbroglios, petty feuds, impolitic discourses, and opportunities for redistribution from poor to rich.

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Call for Papers: The Political Economy of University, INC.

Neoliberal restructuring includes an unprecedented attack on the autonomy of universities, their faculties, administrators, support staffs and students. How has your work—as a professor, graduate student, educational support professional, administrator or researcher—changed in response to policies designed to remake the University in the image of the for-profit business concern? How have you and your colleagues organized resistance to these changes?

The premise of this special issue of World Economic Review: Contemporary Policy Issues—an on-line peer reviewed journal with a global subscription of 13,000—is that every aspect of post-secondary education is affected by the corporatization of the university. Thus, we seek contributions from all disciplinary fields and every location within the university. We welcome papers exploring the intellectual, personal, pedagogical, and theoretical dimensions of the attack on public higher education.

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Why Isn’t The World Bank’s Choice of Chief Economist More Controversial?

This week it became clear that the World Bank has chosen Paul Romer as its next Chief Economist. As Chief Economist he’ll have the overall responsibility of the Bank’s research program and be able to shape the developments of the highly influential development institution. Commentators have named the choice of Chief Economist impressive, great, huge news, bold, and forward-thinking. The choice of World Bank Chief Economist rarely garners this much attention – so, why the fuss?

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