Capitalism, Alone

In the realm of those interested in inequality, Milanovic and Piketty have been leading intellectual voices in the last decade. A few years ago I wrote about Milanovic's 2016 book on global inequality, this post covers his 2019 book Capitalism, Alone. In general, I think anyone interested in development economics should read this, and fortunately for the rest of us who are not specialists in development economics, this book is written for a broader audiences. A few notes:

"The uncontested dominion of the capitalist mode of production has its counterpart in the similarly uncontested ideological view that money-making not only is respectable but is the most important objective in people's lives, an incentive understood by people from all parts of the world and all classes." (p. 3).

"These gaps result in what I call "citizenship premium" and "citizenship penalty." Citizenship premium … refers to the boost in income one receives simply from being a citizen of a rich country, while citizenship penalty is the reduction in income from being a citizen of a poor country. The value of this premium (or penalty) may be up to five to one or ten to one, even after adjusting for the lower price levels in poorer countries." (p. 129)

"The same role that colonialism played then, more brutally, is played today by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, hundreds of bilateral investment treaties, and other global governance bodies: they are the guardians against nationalization and the abuse of foreign property. In that respect, globalization has created its own governance structure." (p. 148)

"The existence of the welfare state is not, in the longer run, compatible with full-scale globalization that includes the free movement of labor." (p. 156)

"By our long custom of "methodological nationalism," where we essentially study certain phenomena within the confines of a nation, we are led to the position that equality of opportunity seems to apply, and to be studied, only within the nation-state. Global inequality of opportunity is forgotten or ignored. This may have been, philosophically and practically, a reasonable position in the past, when knowledge differences among nations was vague and inequality of opportunity was not addressed even at home. But it may not be a reasonable position now." (p. 159)

"The truth is that we are willingly, even eagerly, participating in commodification because, through long socialization in capitalism, people have become capitalistic calculating machines. We have each become a small center of capitalist production, assigning implicit prices to our time, our emotions, and our family relations." (p. 195)

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How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future

Open doors or build walls? Immigration is one of the most politicized issues. Thus, the value of the book by Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan (2011): "Exceptional People – How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future". Before delving into the detail, this book was likely written for an undergraduate audience – those moderately well read on migration will find the first two sections ("Past" and "Present") a summary of the literature. The third section ("Future") offers some interesting food for thought that draws from the literature. It is also worth emphasizing that this book was published in the year the Syrian Civil War started, before the large movements of people into Europe and well before Trump began promising walls and bans.

In the introductory remarks, the authors make clear their position: "International migration pays dividends top sending countries, receiving countries and migrants themselves. In receiving countries, it promotes innovation, boosts economic growth, and enriches social diversity, and is a boon for public finance. Sending countries have their economies stimulated by the financial and social feedback of migrant networks. Migrants reap the welfare benefits of higher wages, better education, and improved health when they move to relatively more developed countries. High rates of migration do, however, produce costs that are carried unevenly by particular localities and countries. These costs are often short-run, and they can be reduced through resource transfers and by building the capacity of public institutions to manage the social and administrative changes presented by higher rates of migration" (p. 5-6). Later chapters (e.g. 6: Impacts of Migration), confront assumptions and assertions with evidence, which has a tendency to emphasize the positive and downplay the negative, but nonetheless makes a strong and clear case for the important, and positive, role that migration has played, and will continue to play, globally.

The first part of the book ("Past") provides an overview of migration in human history. One notable point in reflecting upon history is the novelty of citizenship and immigration restrictions in the modern sense: "Throughout the development agrarian civilizations and the emergence of the first states and empires, borders were porous, and cross-cultural encounters were intermittent but far from uncommon. Cross-cultural interaction was a primary stimulus for the growth of commerce, the spread of ideas and religion, and the advancement of civilizations" (p. 28). Yet, the value of ideas moving with people began to have less of an impact because "somewhere around 1000 CE, world history began to shift from a pattern of divergence – or separate development of civilizations – toward a pattern of global convergence. Up until this time, migration had virtually always meant a permanent departure from the home community. Around the turn of the millennium, however, the accelerating tempo of cross-civilization commerce was launching transoceanic journeys and satellite communities that were the first tremors of globalization" (p. 32). Thus, a shift occurred from migration being an important way for ideas to move, toward migration as an important way for labor and innovative people to move.

It was not until recent centuries that the world of regulations, quotas and applications took shape: "The twentieth century would witness rising nationalism accompanied by a system of states increasingly capable of monitoring their borders. As migrant destination countries received people from ever more diverse locations – and often with fewer skills – native residents demanded greater management of migration flows by the state. Opposition to migration was commonly xenophobic or racist, and prejudices toward foreigners were inflamed by economic downturns and unemployment. The defense of perceived national interests through rising economic protectionism in the early twentieth century was extended to migration control" (p. 67-68). An interesting contribution this book offers, at least in my perspective, is how many nations (e.g. West Germany) used temporary worker programs, and much might be learned from these for the expansion of such programs in countries like Canada today.

Migration is "a key driver of human and economic development and that our future will be strongly influenced by policies regarding migration. How governments craft and coordinate migration policy will determine whether our collective future is defined by a more open and cosmopolitan global society or one that is unequal, partitioned, and less prosperous" (p. 2). What do the authors see for the future (from the vantage point of 2011): "all the evidence tells us that the first half of the twenty-first century will be characterized by more migration… By the middle of the twenty-first century, our societies will be more diverse than ever before" (p. 213). Yet, some caution of what this increase entails: "The dramatic forecasts of as many as 200 million "environmental refugees" by 2050 have been widely cited in official reports, but they have not held up to wider scrutiny. We believe it is unlikely that climate change alone will lead to a tenfold increase in the number of refugees and displaced persons, and doubling of the total number of migrations, as implied by these guesstimates" (p. 237). The authors note that the "'pressure points' include intercountry inequality and wage disparities, growing working-age populations in many developing countries, and environmental stress. More people will have the capacity and propensity to move because of economic growth in poor countries, urbanization, and rising education standards" (p. 241). Additionally, "developed countries are already witnessing a contracting in the supply of native low-skilled labor, a trend that will continue into the future… Without increased migration, these labor shortages will generate a long-term drag on the economies of developed countries" (p. 250).

What then to do – what policies and approaches do the authors recommend – on the question of open doors or walls? They conclude: "We propose five key principles that should guide engagement with migrants and migration by governments and international organizations: extend transnational rights; promote social and economic advancement for migrants; widen the umbrella of legal migration; combat xenophobia and migrant abuse; and improve data collection" (p. 272). Each of the principles is outlined in detail within the book.

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PhD Studentship: Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law

The Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL) at the University of Aberdeen is delighted to offer two 3-year PhD studentships to start in September 2016. The studentships will include home/overseas fees and a full stipend of £14,296 per annum. We welcome applicants from anthropology, cultural and literary studies, history, legal theory and socio-legal studies, philosophy, politics, religious studies, sociology and theology.

Founded in 2009, CISRUL studies the application of political ideas globally. The Centre draws on expertise across disciplines to examine how political principles function within and beyond the contemporary West. Concepts such as 'citizenship', 'civil society', and the 'rule of law' are used as often by policy makers as by scholars. Core to CISRUL's mission is informing academic and public debate on how they are used, and to what effect.

The deadline for full consideration of applications is 30 May 2016.

More details.

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