Neocolonial geographies of occupation: portrait of Diyarbakir

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 5:12pm in

The terms military zone and death zone trace the colonial
dynamics which have compartmentalised the
city, in order to unpack further the claim that Kurdistan is a colony.

lead A street in Diyarbakır. Author's photo collection.

The situation of the Kurds in a drastically changing
Middle East has received little attention in academia and less in the
media despite their growing impact on regional and international politics. The
biggest stateless people living in the Middle East are on the verge of a new
status, not only in Iraqi Kurdistan, where a referendum for independence takes
place on September 25, 2017, but also in Syria and Turkey. In Syria, Kurds have
fought an organised and effective struggle against the IS. In Turkey, they have
suffered a massive destruction of Kurdish cities, displacement of half a
million Kurds and eradication of all forms of legal entity by the Turkish
state. Then there is Iran. This
week’s short series looks at current political struggles of the Kurds in four
neighbouring countries. Mehmet Kurt, series editor.

“The colonial world is divided into compartments [...] the colonial
world is a world cut in two
(Fanon, 2001).”

In the recent period starting in July 2015, with the sudden end in peace
negotiations between the Turkish state and the Kurdish mainstream movement, we
have witnessed an intensification of violence in Turkey Kurdistan. Kurdistan
unlike the Occupied Palestinian territories does not exist on world maps.
However, it does exist in the minds and hearts of its people. In this paper, I
examine the new modalities of power emerging in neocolonial geographies more
precisely, the spatial configurations of colonialism in Diyarbakır  – de facto capital of Turkey
Kurdistan. In doing so, I raise
the question of whether this is an internal war getting worse day by day? If
not, is it a colonial occupation, in the sense that the war is not in this
country (in Turkey) but somewhere else (in its colony). Can we approach the
Turkish state`s current policies by deploying a neo-colonial narrative?

A portrait of Diyarbakir

The geographical layout of Diyarbakır very much reveals the range of forces that
have shaped it. It is a city cut in two in a colonial manner, compartmentalized
both in terms of space and its inhabitants. Almost half of the city is
allocated to military quarters, compressing it from north and south. As a
result, the new city expands in a horizontal direction from east to west.

Researchers like myself, human right activists and journalists happen to
pass by Diyarbakır
from time to time. Other than these groups of people, Kurds living in other
cities and people who have an economic interest in the city, mostly hired by
the government, I haven't encountered anyone else who has mentioned living in, or
visiting the city.

People who are not local inhabitants of the city are either scared or do
not find the need to breathe the same air with locals. They go out from their
spatial accommodation and communities as little as possible. They simply do not
interact. Instead, they keep a distance which, I would argue, is in itself
singularly colonial.

Fanon calls them “the governing race”, those settlers who are
always foreigners who come from elsewhere. In the case of Diyarbakir, settlers
do not come from overseas but from the western part of Turkey. They remain foreign.
Bureaucrats, teachers, entrepreneurs, religious officials are likely to have an
economic interest in being there. They are strangers in the city in the sense
that first, they don’t interact with the local community, and have no interest
in participating in its social life, but mostly wait it out until their
compulsory service period is over.

Secondly, they are considered as strangers/representatives of the
Turkish state by the locals, and therefore get easily identified and marked in
public space. And not so surprisingly, they claim a right on the land and
administration as a part of the homeland. They represent the state – people
of Diyarbakır always add
Turkish when they use the word state – whose rule is imposed and can only be
maintained by means of force; guns and war machines. In Cizre, a district of
Sirnak almost completely destroyed during the curfews, 1300 teachers who are
originally from the west were texted and called back by the Ministry of
National Education, just before the armed conflict started.

Graffiti from those who imagine Kurdistan will end up in a graveyard.Indeed, the graffiti above, also from Cizre, gives an insight into the
anxiety gathered around the fact that people living in the Kurdish regions are
like natives of some place that is not Turkey.

Other than public officials, the direct representatives of the state
appear to be the police and army. Police barricades and stations on every
corner, the armoured vehicles passing every five minutes, checkpoints always
present in the street of Diyarbakır – these constitute the dominant symbols of social order.

An informant suggested
that, “if you move the flags and the army out of Diyarbakır, there is no State here”. All the police cars
and tanks carry Turkish flags and, at least once a day play a very
nationalistic song “Ölürüm Türkiyem” (I Would Die for My Turkey).

Death zone

As a snapshot of the year of 2016, the armed conflict between the
Turkish state and PKK moved into the city centres and, self-governance was
declared in several districts. By that time the governmental strategy of
declaring on and off curfews enabled the Turkish state to cut off all outside
connections and access to basic needs such as food, electricity, water etc. from
these districts. People who lived there were forced to leave: the ones who couldn`t
leave or refused to do so were criminalized as terrorists and killed.[2]

Within this period, I argue that the city divided into two – a military zone and a death zone[1]. The former includes the barracks, boardings for the families of soldiers,
teachers and bureaucrats, the office of the governor, which are usually built
next to or close by each other, very well-protected with high technology. All
the public housing allocated for government officials are surrounded by walls
and signboards stating that the area belongs to the military and that entrance
is not allowed.

The immediate presence of the police and military proves that no one
needs to hide their oppression. On the contrary, the ordinary language of life
is pure violence, the violence of the settler. Many checkpoints and portable
police stations have been built there,  as the figure shows, which can either target
or be the target itself. The death zone 
– contrary to the military zone as a territory of prosperity, wealth and
security – is defined and marked by the power to kill and of death as a result.
It can be a bomb attack; you can get hit by an armoured vehicle or just by a bouncing

Portable police stations everywhere in the city.After all, state violence has always been present in the streets of Diyarbakır and in the lives of its inhabitants. In the recent
period starting with summer 2015, however, we witness an intensification of
violence in a “war without an end” form. We have faced the
re-territorialization of physical space through turning many districts
into death zones; and the re-occupation of lives by constant police
harassment, fear of death and humiliation. Meanwhile, the Sur district of Diyarbakır has become a
fabric producing and circulating this toxic knowledge of death.

Re-occupation of Diyarbakır

In the Sur district, the most historic part of the city, known as the
heart of the city, armed conflict raged for almost four months. During that
period, the police and soldiers stayed in the local houses and hotels and left
their marks in the streets. When the curfew was partially lifted, the racist
and hateful language of the state once again became visible. Previously, mentioning
the mundane symbols of social order in Diyarbakır, I argued that they reflected the neocolonial legacy of
the Turkish state seeking ways to make its sovereignty visible and tangible. This
exhibitionist attitude operates not only at the symbolic level of social life
but also involves the struggle over the organization of the space.

With the sudden end in the peace negotiations the war moved to a new
phase. The notion of hendek, ditches was introduced into the political
discourse and became a symbol of resistance on the Kurdish side. Ditches,
beyond the holes in the land, represented the collective will of insurgency. At
this point, the graffitis carved on the walls give us important clues to the state`s
response; how space is imagined and twisted in Kurdistan.  “If you are
Turk be proud, if not obey” or, as the figure says “JOH (special police soldier
forces) came to Sur to educate. The subject is obedience”.

Police soldiers left their mark in Sur.These writings can be seen as outpourings of the colonial heritage of
the Turkish state. In the self-governing neighbourhoods, the state met the
autonomy of the ditches with destruction and humiliation.

Meanwhile, in the western part of Turkey, many attacks and lynchings
targeting Kurds took place. Those who live or work mostly as seasonal
plantation or construction workers were targeted. For example, in the city of
Kütahya the barracks that Kurdish building workers stayed in were set on fire.[3]
Both the players and executives of the football team of Diyarbakir, Amedspor,
were met with racist attacks and were beaten up during the Turkey cup match. I
took the figure 8 from a newspaper in which the opponent team unfurls a banner
at the start of the game saying “those of us
who die are martyrs and who live are soldiers, but those of you who die are
carrion and who live are traitors.”

Outpouring of racism in the Turkish Cup.War, after all, implies a struggle between a minimum of two parties. Yet,
the term itself does not tell us much about the reasons/nature of the
“conflict”. Therefore, I purposefully name it occupation, not to treat war
through the lenses of security and counterinsurgency but as a matter of the
takeover of land and resources and assimilation.

Racism, “essential to the social construction of an otherwise
illegitimate and privileged access to property and power” as Stoler said, has
long been the founding relation uniting the colonizer and colonized. In this
context, I treat racism as a central organizing principle of Turkishness, of
differentiating between ruler and the ruled as was the case in so many other
colonial contexts.

The ongoing war in Turkey Kurdistan can also be referred as “İsraellilesme”
(becoming Israeli likewise), embracing the Turkish state`s politics of collective
punishment of Kurds.  At this point, I
would turn to the term ‘re-occupation’ to understand the new phase of
the war in Turkey Kurdistan. Violence has always been present and foundational
in colonial geographies so – why now?

The Arabic word fetih means to conquer a city or a country by
war. Especially in the Ottoman political imaginary, it was often used to refer
to the politics of conquest. In the current discourse of AKP, it is possible to
find references to the same vocabulary, trying to recall the soul of fetih. “The
fetih of Istanbul”, for instance, is celebrated every year with million-dollar-budgeted
organizations. In 2016, the whole city was covered with pankarts of “joy of
fetih” synchronically matched to the ongoing war in the Kurdish regions, which escalated to the point of destroying entire towns
within a matter of days. The figure shows the level of destruction and “the
soul of fetih”, soldiers hanging flags everywhere and playing Mehter Marşi which
is originally the Ottoman military marching song.

Nusaybin June, 2016.The discourse of fetih
as a site of production makes reference to a particular time in history,
the Ottoman Empire. The justification for the bloody war taking place in the
Kurdish regions in the eyes of Turks is produced by recapturing the nostalgia
of the good, old, powerful days of the Turkish nation. No need to mention that
it accumulates other familiar, therefore, dangerous discourses of nationhood
and Islamhood, and by doing so, gets stronger. At the end of the day, to be a
Turk requires that one celebrate the soul of fetih for the sake of the nation, so much so that different
occupational groups sent Turkish flags and a Koran to the military forces “fighting
against terror” in the district of Sur.[4]

In this paper, I have aimed to reflect on the geographical layout of Diyarbakır which I believe very much reveals a city cut in two
in a colonial manner, compartmentalized both in terms of its space and its
inhabitants. The press release given in Artvin by a parliamentarian from the CHP  –  the
main opposition party who are regarded as social democrats – succinctly sums up the neocolonial outpourings of the Turkish state:

This is neither Cizre nor Sirnak (referring to the districts in the Kurdish
regions under curfew by this time). This is the Republican city of Artvin. I
hope that not even a single person's nose would bleed in Artvin. If the people
of Artvin get hurt, I am telling you, they cannot pay the price for it. They
are just mixing Artvin with other cities.

He gave this
speech at a protest in Artvin, trying to prevent police intervention against
the protestors. Claiming Artvin in this republican manner, as an indicator of
the city`s distinctiveness from the Kurdish regions, indeed reveals the founding
principle of the Turkish state. It is a very symbolic declaration of the simple
fact that the colony is distinct from the metropole, whereby the latter is seen
as a collateral of the state of emergency and the state of siege.



79 günlük sokağa çıkma yasağı Cizre gözlem raporu
(Rep.). (2016).       

Arslan, S., & Sandal, H. (2015, November 21).
Farqin`de devletin 'duvar yazisi' halleri [Web log

CHP milletvekili Uğur Bayraktutan: "Burası ne
Cizre, ne de Şırnak, burası bir cumhuriyet kenti
" (2016, February 16).           

Cörüt, İ. (2015, December 16). Türk Devleti’nin
kolektif cezalandırma siyaseti ve hendekler.

Ekin Van olayına dair inceleme raporu (Rep.).
(2015, September 4).     

Fanon, F. (2001). The wretched of the earth.
London: Penguin.

Mbembe, A. (2003). Necropolitics. Public
Culture, 15
(1), 11-40.

Memmi, A. (1965). The colonizer and the
. New York: Orion Press.

Stoler, A. L. (1989). Rethinking Colonial
Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries
of Rule. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 31(01).

Terörle mücadele eden polislere kur'an-ı kerim ve
türk bayrağı.
(2016, January 30). 

[1] I use the term death
to refer to a
territory where no one has security of life protected by law/citizenship- in order to underly
this peculiar terror
formation that keeps ramifying in the neocolonial geographies. Death zone
refers to geography of lawlessness where the tortured bodies can be tied to the
back of a police car and displayed in public.

[2] According to the report of Human Rights
Foundation of Turkey, between the dates August
16, 2015 and April 20, 2016 there had been 65 officially confirmed, open-ended
and round-the-clock [all day long] curfews in at least 22 districts of 7 cities in
Southeastern Turkey. At least 1 million 642 thousand residents affected by
these curfews and according to the statement of Ministry of Health on February
27, 2016, at least 355 thousand residents were forced to leave the cities and
districts they lived in and at least 338 people lost their lives.

[3] See the news here.

[4] See the news here.

Related stories: 

Kurds in Iraq: from Sykes-Picot to no-fly zones and beyond

Kurdish struggles and the challenge of foreign support: the case of Syrian Kurds

Round the clock control in Diyarbakir

Kurdish women’s battle continues against state and patriarchy, says first female co-mayor of Diyarbakir. Interview

Sur: against state violence in Turkey - an interview with former mayor Abdullah Demirbas

Cizre, don’t forgive us!

Country or region: 



Civil society


Democracy and government



International politics


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Pessimism and the ZLB

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 11:08am in


Economics, Video

Humanizing technology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 8:50am in

It’s easier to
turn technology in the direction of democracy and social justice when it’s developed
with social and emotional intelligence. 

Credit: Pixabay/Geralt.
CC0 Creative Commons.

Can we use
the internet to enhance deep human connection and support the emergence of
thriving communities in which everyone’s needs are met and people’s lives are
filled with joy and meaning?

That’s a
very challenging question, and the answer isn’t just about technology, at least
not in the conventional sense of that word. It’s not about any of the emerging
trends that are already impacting our societies like bitcoin, drones, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, hyperloops or any of the things that the Singularity University thinks will converge.

It’s not
just a matter of finding new technologies either, even if they are more
user-centric or built on self-sovereign digital identities in place of
corporate ownership and control—the field that forms my own techno-specialty.
And the solutions can’t be driven by a government need to find a military
advantage—which is the case for a vast range of everyday innovations today—as Manuel DeLanda outlines in his book, War
in the Age of Intelligent Machines

Our work on ‘technical’ technologies won’t generate
broad human gains unless we invest an equal amount of time, energy and
resources in the development of social and emotional technologies that
drive how our whole society is organized and how we work together. I think we
are actually on the cusp of having the tools, understanding and infrastructure
to make that happen, without all our ideas and organizing being intermediated
by giant corporations. But what
does that mean in practice?

I think two things are absolutely vital.

First of
all, how do we connect all the people and all the groups that want to align
their goals in pursuit of social justice, deep democracy, and the development
of new economies that share wealth and protect the environment? How are people
supported to protect their own autonomy while also working with multiple other
groups in processes of joint work and collective action?

One key
element of the answer to that question is to generate a digital identity that
is not under the control of a corporation, an organization or a government.

I have been
co-leading the community surrounding the Internet Identity Workshop for the last 12 years. After many
explorations of the techno-possibility landscape we have finally made some
breakthroughs that will lay the foundations of a real internet-scale
infrastructure to support what are called ‘user-centric’ or ‘self-sovereign’ identities.

infrastructure consists of a network with two different types of nodes—people
and organizations—with each individual being able to join lots of different
groups. But regardless of how many groups they join, people will need a digital
identity that is not owned by Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google or Facebook. That’s
the only way they will be able to control their own autonomous interactions on
the internet. If open standards are not created for this critical piece of
infrastructure then we will end up in a future where giant corporations control
all of our identities. In many ways we are in this future now.

This is
where something called ‘Shared
Ledger Technology

or SLT comes in—more commonly known as ‘blockchain’ or ‘distributed
ledger technology.’  SLT represents a
huge innovation in terms of databases that can be read by anyone and which are
highly resistant to tampering—meaning that data cannot be erased or changed
once entered. At the moment there’s a lot of work going on to design the
encryption key management that’s necessary to support the creation and
operation of these unique private channels of connection and communication
between individuals and organizations. The Sovrin Foundation has built an SLT specifically for
digital identity key management, and has donated the code required to
the HyperLeger Foundation under ‘project

While this
critical infrastructure is being birthed we need to think about how to leverage
it for the  world that we want to create—a
world of interconnected humanness in place of centralized social networks
controlled by profit-driven and publically-traded companies whose mission is to
manipulate us into buying more stuff. These networks are selling access to us
and limiting our ability to connect and organize independently. They have deals
with companies like Cambridge Analytica and Palentir to suck up the digital exhaust of our
lives, spy on us, and collectively manipulate us for their own ends.

As the basis
of this next generation of user-centric or self-sovereign identities, Shared
Ledger Technology is crucial if corporate control of the internet and our lives
is to be reversed, but this  won’t be
enough to humanize  technology, and that’s
my second key point: social and emotional ‘technologies’ are also vital.

technologies are the tools we use to interact with each other in groups of any
size, from the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and other neighborhood
organizations to national governments and international bodies. They are
increasingly important in the shift that is taking place from an exclusive
reliance on representative political processes and institutions to an expanded
range of deeper and more deliberative forms of democracy. The social technology
of voting for representatives was a breakthrough 300 years ago, but these
systems are breaking down and are not serving us well enough today.

technologies are the tools we use to interact with ourselves internally and in
our relationships with other people. They are more critical than ever because
the mental health of everyone is now a key concern—since one lone individual
can inflict enormous harm through high-tech weapons or by hacking into our core
infrastructures. Such technologies are well known and include mediation and
meditation practices of different kinds, yoga and mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication, Co-Counseling, and 12 Step processes like Alcoholics Anonymous.

technologies work a lot better if people have a range of these emotional tools
and practices to draw on, because they are better able to manage themselves and
interact with others. We want security and have been putting billions of
dollars into the security-surveillance-industrial complex post 9/11, but what
about the deeper issue of how we connect to each other and solve problems
together? What are we doing to address everyone’s mental and emotional
wellbeing to reduce alienation and disconnection?

How do you
get people on vastly different sides of controversial issues to collaborate to
solve what seem to be intractable problems? How do you structure inclusive
deliberations that involve whole communities and build up social capital and
connection? Individuals like Miki Kashtan,
and Sharif Abdulah and groups like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation have been working on these questions
for many years but deserve much more investment and support. Without further innovations in these social and emotional
technologies, no ‘technical’ technologies will save us.

To take a
concrete example, my ‘sweet spot’ is in designing and facilitating interactive
meetings for professional, scientific and technical communities in what are
called ‘unconferences.’ I’ve been co-leading one of these
unconferences—the Internet Identity Workshop—twice a year for over a decade,
during which we’ve developed many innovations built on nurturing the emotional
capacities  of the people involved and
the social processes we’ve been using at our meetings.

They are
organized primarily through Open Space Technology where the agenda is co-created live
on the day of the event with all the participants. We throw in an hour of
demonstrations on the second day after lunch and we eat dinner together every
night. The patterns described in the Group Works Deck have been particularly useful—things
like ‘Embracing
Dissonance and Difference
’ (meaning that anyone is welcome in the conversation); and opening
and closing every day in a circle while diverging
into as many as 15 different sessions every hour during the rest of the time we
spend together—what in Open Space terms is called the rhythm of ‘Convergence
and Divergence
Taken together these processes have been very successful in building a stronger

I got
excited by the possibilities of user-centric identity technologies over 15
years ago while part of the Planetwork Community, which came together to look at
global ecology and information technology and think through how planetary
challenges could be addressed more effectively. But through the process of
co-leading efforts to build that infrastructure it became clear that we must
also invest in the social and emotional technologies that make it possible to
collaborate and work together at all scales. 

All three
forms of technology are essential to the transformation of our relationships to
each other and our bigger social/societal systems. Technical technologies
provide the tools that can empower individuals to connect and work together for
their own wellbeing and that of their communities.  Social technologies enable these tools to be
used effectively and inclusively in processes of collective action. And emotional
technologies support everyone’s mental health as a precondition for engaging in
these processes with more chance of success.

To put it
simply, technical technologies are easier to turn in the direction of democracy
and social justice if they are developed and applied with social and emotional
intelligence. Combining all three together is the key to using technology for
liberating ends.

Related stories: 

Open protocols and open people: preserving the transformational potential of social media

Do we still need human judges in the age of Artificial Intelligence?

Why social media won’t transform our politics


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Fed Would Surprise Markets If It Stays Hawkish

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 6:49am in

Tim Duy:

Fed Would Surprise Markets If It Stays Hawkish, by Tim Duy: The Federal Reserve meeting this week will likely end with unchanged policy rates and the initiation of balance-sheet normalization. Market participants widely expect these outcomes, so they will come as no surprise. The real action in this meeting will come from the Fed’s description of the economy, the quarterly economic projections and Chair Janet Yellen’s press conference. The totality of the commentary should lean dovish as the Fed expresses concerns about the inflation outlook. The surprise would be a Fed that still leans more heavily toward the hawkish side of policy spectrum. ...[Continued at Bloomberg Prophets]...

Energy policy: can we have a Carbon-Cutting Reliable Affordable Programme (C-CRAP)?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 6:00am in



The root cause of the 'trilemma' is renewable energy. We could deliver reliability and affordability, as we have in the past, if we didn't have renewable energy targets.

Missing the point — the quantitative ambitions of DSGE models

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 1:00am in



A typical modern approach to writing a paper in DSGE macroeconomics is as follows: o to establish “stylized facts” about the quantitative interrelationships of certain macroeconomic variables (e.g. moments of the data such as variances, autocorrelations, covariances, …) that have hitherto not been jointly explained; o to write down a DSGE model of an economy […]

This morning in Holyrood; time to move on from GERS

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 12:45am in

I was part of a discussion at Holyrood on Scottish Economic Data this morning, which I have previously  flagged, as I did the evidence submitted.

As I predicted in the link, above, there was remarkable unity amongst those giving evidence. It was agreed that GERS now misses the point and further investment in it makes little sense. The consensus was that developing a system that assumes, in effect, that an independent Scotland which does not exist would continue to function as if it were still a part of the UK is a complete waste of time. Apart from some rather pointed questions on GERS from Jackie Baillie MSP (who seems to be a GERS enthusiast) to me, which did not take us very far because, as I pointed out, I could not give her precise answers to questions that GERS data would not permit to be answered in the way she demanded, the entire focus of discussion was on what to do to move on to delivering better data.

And I’ll be honest, most of what was useful in that debate was already in the submissions made. For the record my own elaborations were to say, first of all, that all data is subjective: the subjectivity coming in the decision as to what to measure, which is key to the success of any measurement system. Unless the goals of the organisation are supported by the reporting the latter becomes meaningless, which is why I was not convinced by the suggestion of a supposedly wholly independent of government statistical authority.

Second, I reiterated the need for better data on Scottish companies and better Scottish company regulation, which would otherwise undermine all attempts at accountability in Scotland.

Third, I emphasised the need for a Scottish balance sheet so that the undertsanding that investment is key to economic development is embedded in the system.

And last I made clear the importance of HMRC being instructed to secure Scottish VAT data, in particular.

But overall the session was most useful for saying the GERS debate needs to move on and those who think it is the focus of attention need to realise that it really is peripheral to what is needed because of the many flaws within it.

I fear some will not take any notice though. I got the impression some MSPs felt the same.

One final aside; some welcome discussions took place at a personal level and I’m grateful to those who said surprisingly kind things of my intervention in this debate. They know who they are.

And a PS: I found myself in the surprising position of saying that it was mildly embarrassing that Jersey can produce better data than Scotland on many issues, meaning Scotland has no excuse for not doing better because of size. But then, I think it’s also fair to say that much of that is the legacy of John Christensen’s time there.

What are economists good for?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/09/2017 - 11:00pm in


To judge by Christopher Snyder’s attempt to defend contemporary economists, the answer is clear: nothing!

Yes, Snyder is right, economists have expanded their domain, to analyze such issues as art auctions and corruption. But then he goes off the rails.

That’s because the only kind of economics Snyder appear to know about and give credence to is mainstream economics—in terms of what he argues are the “core concepts” that underlie economists’ thinking.

What are those core concepts, around which all economists supposedly organize their theories and models?

For starters, Snyder thinks the most important one is “scarcity”:

Devoting resources to one project—say, preventing diabetes—means some other worthy project—curing cancer—goes unserved. So, in determining whether a choice should be undertaken, one of the functions of economics is to argue that its benefits should not be considered in isolation but weighed against its costs. Costs put a dollar value on what has to be given up when one choice is made over another.

But he never even considers the possibility that scarcity is institutionally created, not a given. And different economies are characterized by different kinds of scarcities, which are endogenously produced and reproduced. Thus, capitalism both creates and is characterized different scarcities from other economic systems, such as slavery and feudalism. Where is that in Snyder’s definition of what economists do and the core concepts they supposedly hold.

And then there’s “value,” which for Snyder “is the result of the interaction of several impersonal market forces,” illustrated in the usual fashion:


But there’s no mention of long-run “natural” prices (of the sort classical economists such as David Ricardo or, more recently, Piero Sraffa focused on) or a class theory of value (emphasizing surplus labor, which Karl Marx developed in his critique of political economy)—or any one of a large number of other ways value can be, has been, and is being analyzed within economics.

Finally, Snyder, discusses “modern empirical research” and the attempt to uncover “true causal relationships rather than overinterpreting apparent correlations as causation.”

Uncovering causal relationships is difficult in economics. Opportunities to run experiments are limited by the expense and ethics involved in controlled interventions in markets (although these opportunities are growing, owing to an explosion of interest in laboratory and field experiments).

Once again, Snyder overlooks the many alternative approaches—concerning both “facts” and “causation”—within economics.

Sure, mainstream economists might claim they’ve finally solved the problem of “causal identification” (as they’ve claimed so many other times in the past). But they still fail to acknowledge the possibility that different economic theories produce different sets of facts. Nor do they consider the idea that economists actually use different notions of causation: some limit themselves to essentialist, one-way causation (from given causes to effects), while others, criticize essentialism and look at mutual effectivity (in which everything is seen to be both cause and effect).

The existence of different notions of scarcity, value, and causation within economics doesn’t prove that mainstream economists are wrong. It merely shows that reducing economics to a set of core concepts that pertain only to what mainstream economists do is wrong.

The problem, of course, is that’s the only set of concepts to which generations of students, who have been taught by mainstream economists, have been exposed. And Snyder just continues that tradition.

In the end, mainstream economists are good for nothing precisely because they exclude all other ways of thinking about and doing economics.

Tagged: causation, classical, economics, economists, facts, mainstream, Marx, scarcity, value

Book Review: Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason by David Harvey

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/09/2017 - 8:44pm in

In Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason, David Harvey provides a new systemisation of Karl Marx’s work in order to uncover, explore and explain the ‘madness of economic reason’ in the twenty-first century. This is an impressively wide-ranging work that draws upon Marx as a toolbox for contending with the crises of capital today, but Joshua Smeltzer is left questioning whether this is the appropriate conceptual apparatus to achieve this. 

If you are interested in this book review, you may also like to listen to/watch David Harvey’s LSE lecture, ‘Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason’, recorded 18 September 2017. 

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason. David Harvey. Profile Books. 2017.

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David Harvey, the author of The Companion to Marx’s Capital series and numerous other books on Marx and Marxism, has returned once more to the German philosopher and political economist, this time in order to provide a systematisation of Marx’s work that could explain and unearth the symptoms of a pervasive ‘madness of economic reason’ in the twenty-first century.

Part of Harvey’s drive to present an updated version of Marx relevant to the twenty-first century is directed against two intellectual sparring partners: on the one hand, recent biographies of Marx by Jonathan Sperber and Gareth Stedman Jones that, while ‘invaluable’, ‘both […] forget that the object of Marx’s study in Capital was capital and not nineteenth-century life’ (xiii); and on the other, ‘a supposedly scientific, highly mathematized and data driven field’ of orthodox economics (xiv). While Harvey’s engagement with the latter runs through the text, he largely avoids engaging with a historical reading of Marx’s work, preferring instead to present Marx as providing the answers to contemporary economic crises.

As a result, Harvey uses Marx’s work as a toolbox from which he updates and applies diverse concepts to illuminate the contemporary contradictions of capital. Harvey’s analysis is impressively wide-ranging, covering topics as varied as global natural resource consumption and Chinese economic policy (178-84), the Greek debt crisis (83, 205) and proposals for new trade agreements such as TPP and TTIP (160-64). As Harvey is at pains to illustrate, across the world ‘daily life is held hostage to the madness of money’ (172), generating a state of seemingly perpetual crisis. Against this, he suggests that Marx’s work is an ‘open door through which we could progress to ever higher understandings of the underlying problems that inform our current reality’ (209). Indeed, Harvey’s new book invites the reader to enter into the conceptual world of Marxism and encourages a critical distance from the language of economic necessity.

Image Credit: (Marco Gomes CC BY 2.0)

Meant as a ‘guide,’ Harvey places particular emphasis in this book on the clarity of language and accessibility for a general reader. Particularly in the first chapter, Harvey seeks to explain key concepts in the vocabulary of contemporary Marxism through basic examples, such as the exchange of shirts and shoes in the market (4). Indeed, Harvey wants to show Marx as a thinker deeply relevant for the present, demonstrating, for instance, why the 15 dollar minimum wage proposals of both Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter would ‘amount to naught if hedge funds buy up foreclosed houses and pharmaceutical patents and raise prices […] to line their own pockets out of the increased effective demand exercised by the population’ (47). To safeguard against this, Harvey argues that we need ‘strict regulatory intervention to control these living expenses, to limit the vast amount of wealth appropriation occurring at the point of realisation’ (47). Perhaps following Marx’s famous dictum, Harvey provides both an explanation for contemporary crises as well as a means of changing them.

And yet, at crucial moments, Harvey seems to forget the general audience for whom the book is intended. For example, Figures Two and Three on ‘Visualizing Capital as Value in Motion’ (6) and ‘The Three Circuits of Capital’ (151) attempt to make Marx ‘no more difficult to understand than the standard visualization of the hydrological cycle’ (7) – certainly a worthy endeavour. However, the text provides no key for the dizzying array of colour-coded arrows, leaving the reader to guess the significance of using a dotted black line to connect ‘reproduction of Labour power’ to ‘Labour power’ versus using a solid black line to connect ‘commodities’ to ‘Labour power’. Likewise, ‘Money Capital’ is the only term to be highlighted in black and surrounded by a grey box, but the significance of this formatting is left without explanation. For someone who hasn’t spent half a century interpreting Marx, an interpretative key would have been welcome.

Likewise, Harvey states in the opening chapter that ‘the only way to be true to my mission is to tell the story of capital in Marx’s own language’ (4). And yet the rest of the chapter is surprisingly light on citations of Marx’s work – there are only three, and all are to Grundrisse – let alone Marx’s language. For example, Harvey tells us that ‘at worst, Marx tends to concede […] that the rate of profit will tend over time to equalise between industrial capital and the other distributive forms’ (20), but this statement is not followed by any direct reference to Marx’s work.  Moreover, Harvey readily jettisons the idea of using Marx’s language when, on the subject of environmental protection and renewable energy, he notes that ‘Marx did not consider questions of this sort, but the visualisation here constructed, based on his thinking, is easily adapted to take such questions into account’ (22).

It seems then that we are confronted not with Marx’s language or even Marx’s thought, but rather Harvey’s revision and systematisation of it. This is particularly noticeable in Harvey’s discussion of Capital Vol. 2, in which he faults Marx for not conforming to his own expectations, noting that Marx ‘ignores the facts of distribution’, which Harvey finds ‘particularly annoying’, or that ‘oddest of all […] is the assumption that all commodities trade at their value’ (29).

Harvey ends his book with an apocalyptic warning:

to pretend [capital] has nothing to do with our current ailments and that we do not need a cogent, as opposed to fetishistic and apologetic representation of how it works, how it circulates and accumulates among us, is an offence against humanity that human history, if it manages to survive that long, will judge severely (210).

Finding a solution to the manifold crises of capital is certainly an imperative, but it remains a question if Harvey’s conjuring of the Ghost of Marxism Past will ultimately provide the appropriate conceptual apparatus to do so.

Joshua Smeltzer is a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge pursuing a PhD in Politics and International Studies, with a focus on twentieth-century German Political Thought.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.