"Give a Man a Fish" (2015) by James Ferguson

Notes from James Ferguson's (2015) Give a Man a Fish (not a summary or review). A few thought provoking quotes.

On neoliberal criticisms and a more productive way forward:

  • "…I have been drawn into this project by an impatience with the increasingly empty (as it seems to me) politics of "opposing neoliberalism." Critiques of neoliberalism have had an important and necessary place, but one reaches a point of diminishing returns when the same critiques are simply repeated over and over (as they today seems to be) in what I have called a "politics of the anti-" (Ferguson 2010). In place of such denunciations, the more pressing issue seems to me to be the challenge of positive government, the need to develop real strategies and tactics that would enable one to mobilize around specific programs or initiatives that one might be for, not against." (p. 26-27).

Assumptions of control, and new perspectives:

  • "Biometrics are often imagined as scary instruments of control at the disposal of a potentially totalitarian state. Indeed, in a traditional Left perspective, discipline and surveillance are fundamentally capitalist tools used for extracting and controlling labor. Resisting such forms of discipline as enumeration and registration, in such a perspective, can thus easily appear as a way of protecting and defending one's own life and labor, which someone is trying to take from you. But today, under conditions in which labor is in surplus, the poor and cast off may actually aspire to certain forms of surveillance and enumeration, just as they aspire to certain forms of biopolitical care, seeing in them forms of incorporation, recognition, and support that are otherwise unavailable. Here, inclusion in systems of registration and accounting may appear less as an oppressive system of control than a valued token of recognized membership." (p. 85-86)

On markets and justice:

  • "But, of course, markets do not just allocate a good based on how much it is needed or desired by the buyer; they also allocate based on the consumer's ability to pay for it. And, in a world of huge inequalities, those with the greatest needs are often those with the least ability to pay… Critical scholars attentive to such problems of inequality will insist that real-world markets often, or even usually, produce such effects, yielding an allocation principle that is brutally simply and has little to do with either information or justice: the rich get whatever they like, and the very poor get nothing. In the extreme situation of famine, for instance, the "market signal" of high prices ensures that all the available food is routed to those who can afford to buy it, leaving the rest to die. For this reason, markets are often bypassed in times of famine, as governments move to hand out food directly to those in need – justice, not prices." (p. 130-131)

On rights, shares and charity:

  • "Consider the difference between receiving "assistance" and receiving an ownership share, what I have called the "rightful" share. What would change? First of all, social payments would become accessible to a much broader set of recipients (including able-bodied eighteen- to fifty-nine-year olds), casting aside age-old presumptions about who "deserves" to receive payments and severing the link between labor and income in a quite fundamental way. Equally important, those already receiving payments would see a fundamental change, in that even an unchanged payment would bring with it a very different social significance. Framed as a rightful share, a transfer might bring with it not just some modest material resources but a new and powerful social identity: owner." (p. 188)
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