Aug
22

The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

"Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism" (2018) by Slobodian (Harvard Press) is a detailed history of the people and ideas neoliberalism, and the institutions they created. The book is historical and delved into the deep end. One reflection, which is somewhat counter intuitive, is that neoliberals are not opposed to government or regulation, just certain types. In fact, they are very pro certain types of governance / law / regulation, such as protecting private capital internationally (which requires clear and strong international law). A few quotes:

"If we place too much emphasis on the category of market fundamentalism, we will fail to notice that the real focus of neoliberal proposals is not on the market per se but on redesigning states, laws, and other institutions to protect the market." (p. 6)

"Hayek himself was explicit that the international power needed "an authority capable of enforcing [the] rules." Although after the war Hayek swerved away from engagement with international order, other neoliberals did not. As we will see, neoliberals argued against adding social and economic rights to the basic list of negative rights, even as they made the case for economic rights of their own - above all, the right to keep foreign investment safe and to move capital freely over borders. Like Hayek, they focused on the expropriation of foreign-owned property and controls on capital movements as being the central violations of rights. They would help design institutions that would safeguard the "negative rights" of freedom from expropriation and capital control." (p. 123)

"Other neoliberal thinkers downplayed the centrality of culture and race after 1945, but Ropke insisted on its importance. "Racial fanaticism," he wrote in 1965, "does not justify denying that there is something called ethnos, race, and it is elementary importance." The literature he footnoted was stark in its hierarchical biological essentialism. Among his recommendations for the field of "ethnopsychology" was a study that concluded that "mental capacity tends to be adequate among peoples and races adjusted to cold and temperate climates but inadequate among those adjusted to hot climates" and warned of "lethal power in the hands of nation-states dominated by populations incapable of rational thought." At a time when biological race was being either marginalized or recorded for many of the social sciences, Ropke brought it to the center of his analysis." (p. 157)

"Scholars often use overly broad characterizations of Global South countries as adherents to the ideology of dependency theory, which supposedly privileged the protection of infant industry above all else to diversify the economy. In that narration, the exceptions are those countries with especially close ties to the United States - Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea - whose export-oriented industrialization models are usually seen as prefiguring the direction in which development would go once the third world snapped out of its dependency-theory-driven delusions. Looking at the response to the Haberler Report, one sees that the truth is less black-and-white. In fact, developing countries were advocates of both protection and liberalization at the same time. They followed a policy of "both-and" rather than "either-or"." (p. 202) 

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Aug
17

The Ghost Map

"The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World" (2006) by Steven Johnson is the story of cholera in Victorian London and how germ theory emerged. The book is well written, conveyed through the key figures involved, and enjoyable. The author weaves in the macro and with the micro, such as urbanization, and towards the end speaks of germ warfare (amongst other threats). Not an academic work, an interesting read during a time of pandemic.

One random note on the connection between diet and change: "The dramatic increase of people available to populate the new urban spaces of the Industrial Age may have had one other cause: tea [amongst others mentioned]. The population growth during the first half of the eighteenth century neatly coincided with the mass adoption of tea as the de facto national beverage... Brewed tea possesses several crucial antibacterial properties that help ward off waterborne diseases: the tannic acid released in the steeping process kills off those bacteria that haven't already perished during the boiling of the water. The explosion of tea drinking in the late 1700s was, from the bateria's point of view, a microbial holocaust. Physicians observed a dramatic drop in dysentry and child mortality during the period." (p. 94-95) 

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Aug
10

Philosophy and African Development

Earlier I posted about a CODESRIA book on methodology, in the same year (2011) CODESRIA also published the book "Philosophy and African Development: Theory and Practice", edited by Lansana Keita. As with the other volume, there are amazing contributors and contributions. The text was largely published earlier, as a 2004 journal issue, however most remains relevant. The chapter topics range quite widely: religion, human rights, Fanon, culture, coloniality, decolonization, education, globalization. This is a book that should be widely shared, and adopted within relevant areas of study particularly within African universities. The book is available online here

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Aug
04

Elections and Development in Africa

What does democracy / democratization result in within African contexts? Robin Harding argues that due to the increase of elections, combined with a majority of many countries being rural, is an increase in rural interests as an outcome. The answer is summarized in his 2020 book "Rural Democracy: Elections and Development in Africa", which is part of Oxford's series on African Politics & International Relations. The book draws on doctoral work, with research done in Botswana and Ghana (which have case study chapters). This is a brief book of 169 pages, but makes a clear and compelling case for the this rural interest process as one influence on elections as well as outcomes of elections. I began the book skeptical, and probably shared some of the biases of the literature that focus on ethnicity and clientelism (interestingly, the countries I have more experience with are mostly not included in the 28 countries included in the sample). I would have liked to see some discussion on governance systems (Nigeria and South Africa, included in the sample, are federal; and South Africa is an outlier; in these contexts the expression of rural interests may differ. Would have also liked to see this tested not only in improvements of outcomes, but in actual expenditures. Could further strengthen the case, in both instances. Well worth a read (fortunately a paperback version makes the book somewhat more accessible to those beyond the gated walls of privileged academia - Oxford sells the hardback for $155!). Very short summary by the author is here.

From the start: "Elections are a powerful thing, but they are not a panacea. Despite being a means to peacefully manage conflict, they remain inherently conflictual, creating winners and losers out of those with competing interests and ideals. In light of this recognition, this book is in part an attempt to understand who has benefited from democratic electoral competition in sub-Saharan Africa, and why." (p. vii)

"Urbanites across Africa are unhappy with their governments. Evidence from public opinion data demonstrates this clearly; urbanites are significantly and substantially less likely to support incumbents, and more likely to express dissatisfaction with democracy itself. While there are likely multiple facets to any explanation for this situation, it is not merely the result of structural factors, because these differences transcend demographic variations, and differential access to information. My argument in this book is that the large residual differences, those unexplained by structural factors, result from the differential experiences of urban and rural residents with regard to government policy choices. Put simply, urbanites sense that they are getting a raw deal." (p. 54-55) 

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