Editor’s Picks

Invisible No More

Over at the Jacobin, George Ciccariello-Maher offers a much needed antidote to the dispatches from the Guantanamo Bay school of data torture (Harvard University) being published at Project Syndicate. Can you believe that Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff tried to pass off a 40-year per capita GDP change as if it were a standalone statistic to indicate the success of the first year of the Maduro government? Anyway, Ciccariello-Maher makes a pretty strong case why the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela has made progress in tackling inequality, even if foreign capitalists don’t like it.

Scientific Collapse: Lessons from Vietnam

Historian Carles Sirera offers a brief review of the well-received book of 2007, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America by Nils Gilman at Berkeley. Gilman explores the ideological and political underpinnings of the US “development” project for poor, postcolonial countries by providing an insightful intellectual history of the movement. Then Sirera analyzes the collapse of modernization theory due to the involvement of their main proponents in the theoretical and ethical failure of the Vietnam War and inquires, “what is going to be the analogous failure that will yield the scientific collapse of neoclassical economics?” My guess is the historical role of free-market ideology in promoting [economic] imperialism and colonization.

Human Rights Council condemns vulture funds activity

By Aldo Caliari, Director of Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern.

Last week, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning the activities of vulture funds for their impacts on the capacity of governments to fulfill their human rights obligations.

In a resolution passed with 33 of the votes of members, only 5 countries voting against (United States, Germany, Japan, UK and Czech Republic) and 9 abstentions, the Council held that debt repayment to the aforementioned funds, under predatory abusive conditions, bears a direct negative effect on human rights.

Although the upheaval created by US courts’ recent ruling on a case between Argentina and some of its creditors – NML v Argentina case – did, no doubt, add momentum for this decision by the Council, the Council built on the work carried out since several years ago by the Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights on issues that extend far beyond the Argentina debt restructuring.

In fact, in an amicus curia filed with the Supreme Court in the course of that litigation, debt campaigning organization Jubilee USA network argued that “Allowing the decision below to stand would…equip financial companies that prey on the poorest nations and people of the world with a game-changing legal precedent to accelerate their predation.”

Read the rest at Righting Finance.

A view of the Human Rights Council Chamber. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

A view of the Human Rights Council.
Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On Glass Houses

When I was in undergrad, I took an investment analysis class. The class taught me two things: First, to disdain business administration majors (during exams, we econ students would take our tests with our eyes on our exams, while the business students would take their tests with their eyes on our exams – the professor graded on a curve). Second, how to adjust your investment portfolio over your lifetime.

The percentage of bonds in one’s portfolio, we were told, should be approximately equivalent to one’s age. The reasoning was rather simple: bonds are far less volatile than stocks and other securities. Early in one’s life, the game is making money, but later in life, the game becomes keeping money. Of course, the unspoken caveat was that one must first possess so much money as to make having an investment portfolio an option.

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The Unearned Income Tax Credit

It’s that time of the year again when each of us makes the most valiant attempt to eschew the social contract. For some, this means a hefty reward for hiding money in offshore accounts. For the rest of us, it means forking over a portion of our incomes for the sake of the social structures we have collectively agreed to maintain through the public trust. For those outside the United States who don’t know, tomorrow is tax day.”

Nearly every year, and certainly every election cycle, there is a national discussion of the tax code. The chorus is always the same: despite nearly all economic reasoning to the contrary, conservatives want a flat tax rate and to eliminate the estate tax (which they call the “death tax,” much to the chagrin of heavy metal bands who totally missed out on that band name). Conspicuously absent from these often grating conversations is the greatest asset to campaign donors to all the party in Congress: The capital gains tax.

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World Protests: Listening to Grievances on a Global Scale

From the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement and beyond, protests have increased around the world in recent years. One of our colleagues at the New School for Social Research, Mohamed Berrada, has co-authored a paper that highlights exactly this trend. The paper profiles the motivations, participants, tactics, size, and oppositions of protests around the world from January 2006 to July 2013 and urges world leaders to listen to the demands of protestors. In service of this goal, the paper was presented to a selection of delegates working on the post-2015 development goals at the United Nations.

The paper, published by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York Office, is available here:

http://policydialogue.org/files/publications/World_Protests_2006-2013-Final.pdf

The executive summary:

http://policydialogue.org/files/publications/World_Protests_2006-2013_Executive_Summary.pdf

About the Authors:
Director of the Global Social Justice Program at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, Columbia University
Senior Policy Analyst at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York Bureau
Mohamed Berrada
Research Assistant at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue
Hernan Cortes Saenz
Research Assistant at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York Office

The Conservative Case Against Single Mothers

The rhetoric of the GOP has long focused on disguising policy proposals which are truly aimed at advancing its idealized family values as policy proposals aimed at reducing poverty– without, of course, raising any benefits or cutting any costs for the impoverished. Among the more dastardly of these rhetorical schemes by the party is the push to make ‘single mother’ a pejorative term. According to many, child poverty in the United States is advanced by the growth of single mothers, and, to them, this means we need to do something to reduce the number of single mothers. Marco Rubio, an apparent economic dilettante, said that the most effective tool for reducing childhood poverty is one simple word: marriage. In a January speech, Rubio said, ‘The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82%. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage [sic].’”

It is undoubtedly true that a child who grows up in a single-parent household is more likely to grow up in poverty than a child growing up in a two-parent household, and these statistics are readily available from many research institutions; but is there a direct causal element, or is it simply a correlation? Perhaps more important is the question of whether or not, if one does subscribe to the belief that the rise in single-motherhood causes a rise in poverty, it is wise to further incentivize humans on this planet to marry one another. What kind of tools could one propose to incentivize marriage, and, if you find them, does this mean you are assuming that the majority of unmarried parents (or prospective parents) are unmarried by choice, and that, with government encouragement, their choice will be affected? According to Gallup, an overwhelming majority of americans prefer to be married, and it is obvious that a low-income, single-parent raising children could definitely use the financial support of spouse. Would incentivizing marriage (that is, more so than it currently is given the tax structure of the United States) even work? It seems quite dubious, as, if we assume most people do indeed wish to marry and raise a family in a two-person household, the likely reason people are unmarried is they haven’t met the right person yet. If that’s the case, should we incentivize them to get married anyway? That is, should we encourage people to get married before they are ready to get married? It seems to me that this would be the only possible outcome, as people already want to get married, but for intimately personal reasons, have not. Encouraging marriage might lead to an even higher divorce rate than the U.S. already sees (between 40 and 50 percent), which would inevitably result in more single-parent households. If love, or simply the desire to spend the rest of your life with one specific person, is the driving force of marriage, then the government ought not intervene for very obvious, ominous reasons.
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William Easterly and ‘The Myths of Development’

Monday March 3rd Bill Easterly launched his new book ‘The Tyranny of Experts’ at NYU. Economists and development practitioners in the New York area filled the seats of the auditorium, eager to hear what the famous aid critic had to say. ”

His presentation is excellent. Lightheartedly, he delivers a clear and appealing message, intertwined with carefully planned and well executed jokes. He even has a separate joke slide in his power point, much to the audience’s amusement.
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Dismal, But Not Yet Science

When I was growing up, I had a fierce propensity for mansplaining. This might have had something to do with everyone around me (particularly my parents) insisting I was smart, likely due to my knack for filling in the correct combination of bubbles on standardized tests in elementary school.

Growing up, most of the statements I made were qualified with the word “probably.” It got so bad, that by the time I got to middle school, my parents would interrupt me mid-sentence to echo “probably” in unison. It wouldn’t be until much later that I would discover that, more often than not, “probably” is the best that we can do in science.

Eventually, I let go of “probably,” and began presenting these assertions – supported only by my ability to reason from axioms of conventional wisdom – as immutable fact. Three or four centuries prior, I might have been regarded as a cutting edge scientist. However, in the early 21st century, I was just another white boy using white boy logic to say white boy things.

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