Revisiting The Global Imaginary

Last Summer, I wrote a two-part review of Manfred Steger’s book, The Rise of The Global Imaginary, truly one of the best books I have read in the past years.

In the latest issue of Global-E,  Steger revisits the relevance of the concept:

This short article is no substitute for the entire book that demonstrates in greater details the evolution of ideologies leading to a variety of global imaginaries. But in the context of the global economic crisis, fears of swine flu pandemic and new wars, the concept certainly has strong explanatory power.

Lane Kenworthy on Tax Myths

No one does readable data analysis of inequalities and stratification better than Lane Kenworthy. In the latest issue of Contexts (with a nice new design), he explores and debunks some common tax myths. The whole article is worth reading (in addition to his books, Egalitarian Capitalism and Jobs With Equality). For instance, here is what Kenworthy says of the idea that taxation reduces competitiveness.

Read the whole thing.

The Predictable Dangers of The New Western Way of War

War and genocide expert Martin Shaw describes some of the features of the new western way of war: its genocidal potential:

It is indeed a feature of new wars that civilians become major (if not deliberately principal) targets of the various combatants, especially when ethnic and religious aspects are involved. Religious warlords tend to not consider civilians as off-limits: any “so-and-so” (insert any hated ethnic or religious identity here) becomes a legitimate target.

And on the other hand, war-by-unmanned-drone creates a lot of “collateral damage” by Western forces.

This double dehumanization of war is devastating for civilians as (disputed) tolls reveal.

Corrective Rapes and Hegemonic Masculinity

I have already blogged about the epidemic of sexual violence in South Africa. Corrective rapes, the raping of lesbian women to put them back on the "right" track, are a subset of that and reflect hegemonic masculinity in that they involve a woman’s submission, against her will, to forcible intercourse with a man. Needless to say, it is hard to see how a straight rape could act as a corrective to lesbianism. I don’t see victims of such acts going "oh yeah, now that I’ve been raped by a man, I’m totally going to be straight!" And since it does not make sense, that means it is not the correct frame of analysis.

Let’s try a different tack here:

In the context of hegemonic masculinity in South Africa, lesbians are seen as women who voluntarily put themselves outside of the sphere of potential "hits" for straight men who are entitled to sex with any woman, whether the woman likes it or not. A lesbian is a woman who has found  a way out of this phallocratic system. A corrective rape is not so much geared at "turning her straight" but to put her back in the sphere where she is accessible to men. She tried to get out of the narrow box of gender roles, she’s violently thrown back in. From these men’s perspective, the lesbian is the one that almost got away with not submitting to hegemonic masculinity, THAT is what needs correcting.

Private Health Insurance: Inefficient and Unjust Today, Wholly Inadequate in The Future

Over at the Social Europe Journal, Henning Meyer states what should be obvious to everyone, based on his reading of Paul Krugman and William Buiter on health care:

So simple, isn’t it? You get cancer, you’re covered. You want liposuction or penis-extension (if there is such a thing), you pay for it.

What Do We Value?

The topic of this post started when I read this column by Will Hutton in the Guardian:

Hutton argues that in the past decades, financial professionals and their activities have been valued to the detriment of other professions. The hedge fund risk-takers, the charismatic CEO generating huge profits for his company, the innovative CFO and their cutting edge financial schemes, etc., all get front page articles in magazines. They are our 21 century heroes.

As a result, to extend Hutton’s point, not only have financial professionals been able to claim freedom from accepted values but they can now be part of the no-fault society. When there were economic booms (dot com or real estate), they were the ones we were supposed to celebrate for their ingenuity. But when things turn sour, unaccountability prevailed. It was not their fault that things got out of control even though they contributed to the dismantling of social controls. Again, their creative energies were not to be bound by regulatory restraints.

This reminded me of Denis Colombi’s post on traders’ compensation, in which he argued the following point:

As one category is elevated and exempt from normative sanctioning and accountability. Some other category is taken down the totem pole and their activity is degraded and subjected to more intensive mechanisms of accountability. Let’s see if you can guess which category I have in mind:

In the excerpt above, Marc Bousquet is referring to the plan to provide money to community colleges for workforce training. "Workforce training", not education. Education is where a major attempt a cultural downgrading is taking place.

As I have written previously, currently, the Obama administration subscribes to a view of education as "skills acquisition"… get a certificate, then go get a job, in and out real fast. Or even better, take your entire education online at a for-profit institution where there are no faculty / teachers but rather "facilitators". In this view, the labor market, and therefore the local chambers of commerce decide what skills are needed and institutions such as community colleges are expected to deliver.

The dirty little secret though is that if community colleges relied exclusively on vocational programs, they would all be bankrupt. These programs are capital intensive and have low enrollment. Community colleges make money on the general education curriculum treated as their hidden cash cow to be made even more productive, as Marc notes, through the increased use of adjuncts and online instruction, copying the model of the for-profits, emphasizing enrollment at all costs without putting additional resources. The funding, new buildings, etc. will go to vocational programs that process students quickly but NOT cheaply. The general education curriculum subsidizes the vocational one, without recognition.

And while financial institutions got billions without accountability from the government, you’d better believe that education will get much less money but a lot more accountability. No no-fault society for teachers. See here for the evidence. This is the end point of 25 years of assault on education from the right (as part of union-busting and their deluded belief that all teachers are commies) and of public education in particular. The supposed failures of public education are supposed to be remedied by stricter straitjackets on teachers and a deskilling of the teaching as craft and profession.

On Cultural-Deterministic Explanations of Economic Development

Ha-Joon Chang (2008), Bad Samaritans – The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations & The Threat to Global Prosperity, London: Random House, pp. 193-4.

"Culture-based explanations for economic development have usually been little more than ex post facto justifications based on a 20/20 hindsight vision. So, in the early days of capitalism, when most economically successful countries happened to be Protestant Christian, many people argued that Protestantism was uniquely suited to economic development. When Catholic France, Italy, Austria and Southern Germany developed rapidly, particularly after the Second World War, Christianity, rather than Protestantism, became the magic culture. Until Japan became rich, many people thought East Asia had not developed because of Confucianism. But when Japan succeeded, this thesis was revised to say that Japan was developing so fast because its unique form of Confucianism emphasized co-operation over individual edification, which the Chinese and Korean versions allegedly valued more highly. And then Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea also started doing well, so, this judgment about the different varieties of Confucianism was forgotten. Indeed, Confucianism as a whole suddenly became the best culture for development because it emphasized hard work, saving, education and submission to authority. Today, we see Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia, Buddhist Thailand and even Hindu India doing well economically, we can soon expect to encounter new theories that will trumpet how uniquely all these cultures are suited for economic development (and how their authors have known it all along)."

Why Social Justice Matters

I am shamelessly using the title of a truly great book of social philosophy because it seems relevant to Amartya Sen‘s forthcoming book, The Idea of Justice. The book will be out in September here, but there is an article on it in the Independent (h/t Mark Bahnisch).

I can’t wait to get my hands on that book. In the meantime, listen to the great man himself.