The Roosevelt Network Celebrates 14 Years

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/12/2018 - 5:44am in



“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Fourteen years ago, a group of students recognized something important: who writes the rules matters. They dreamed of a world where voices from communities historically left out of the policy process would be instrumental in orchestrating their own futures. With this vision, the Roosevelt Network was founded.

Over the last 14 years, the reach of the Network has grown to over 130 college campuses in nearly 40 states across the country. Our work has helped reinstate the right to vote for 1.4 million formerly incarcerated Floridians, successfully fought against the privatization of campus jobs, provided menstrual hygiene products to students free of charge, lowered the cost of campus health care—and that was all in the last year alone.

However, the Network’s impact is not just about rewriting the rules—it is also about building collective power. Our people have always been our power, and every one of us shares one thing: we are Roosevelters. So today, on our 14th birthday, we want to celebrate what it means to be part of a network like ours—one made of people dispersed across all geographies, current students and young professionals alike, with experiences as diverse as the country we live in. To do that, we’d like you to share what being a Roosevelter means to you by posting with the hashtag: #RooImpact. We’ll be sharing your pictures and stories throughout the day on our Twitter, @VivaRoosevelt.

Thank you for believing in the power that we all have, together, to rewrite the rules. Regardless of the challenges ahead, the future belongs to us.

The post The Roosevelt Network Celebrates 14 Years appeared first on Roosevelt Institute.

BBC analysis of labour market statistics misses the point

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/12/2018 - 4:15am in

BBC analysis of labour market statistics misses the point

PEF Economist Michael Davies writes.

There are no big surprises in this month’s round of labour market statistics from the ONS. Very little has changed since August, when I wrote about the UK’s dismal wage and productivity growth – ultimately a result of labour market power imbalances and underinvestment.

Today, I just want to say a brief word about the uncritical interpretation of these statistics in the media, using the BBC’s article on the new figures as an example. The headline is “wages accelerate to fastest pace since 2008”, and the introduction reads:

Wages are continuing to rise at their highest level for nearly a decade, the latest official Office for National Statistics figures show.

Compared with a year earlier, wages excluding bonuses, were up by 3.3% for the three months to October, the biggest rise since November 2008. Average weekly wages are £495 – the highest since 2011, when adjusted for inflation.

The number of people in work rose by 79,000 to 32.48 million, a record high. That is the highest figure since records began in 1971.

Unemployment increased by 20,000 to 1.38 million, although the margin of error is 70,000 and the total is still lower than a year ago. The number of unemployed men increased by 27,000, while the number of unemployed women fell by 8,000.

The reason both employment and unemployment have increased is a result of the UK’s rising population and more people joining the labour force, such as students and older people.”

First, it is nominal wages that are growing at their fastest rate for nearly a decade. But real wages – wages after inflation – are what really matter, as they tell us far more about workers’ living standards.[1] Here, the picture is much more dismal. Real wages grew by just over 1% in the past year – slower than in most of 2015/16, and well below 1945-2007 average of 2.5%.[2]

Indeed, this meek growth has not been enough to compensate for the falls in real wages during and following the recession, conferring onto the UK the dubious honour of being one of the only OECD countries (along with Greece) to have experienced negative wage growth since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). So yes, weekly wages are at their “highest” since 2011, but this is not cause for celebration. If wage growth had kept up with the WW2-GFC trend, wages would be approximately ~28% higher than their current levels.

Instead of explaining this broader context in their introduction to the piece, the BBC decided to note that the number of people in work is at its highest since records began in 1971: unsurprising, given that the population of the UK has steadily risen by 11m people over this time period. Choosing to devote space to such a facile observation is questionable at the very least.

Though the BBC did add critical commentary from Margaret Greenwood, Frances O’Grady and others over the course of the day (though without timestamping these contributions/noting that the article had been edited ex post, I might add), the fact that the earliest, and likely the most-read version of the BBC article contained no such counterpoint is serious cause for concern.

The overarching issue is that wage and productivity performance has been so dismal over the past decade that it allows the Government to pass off news that would be considered miserable by any reasonable standards as fantastic. Employment Minister Alok Sharma, for example, cited “wages outpacing inflation for the ninth month in a row” as a sign of “the enduring strength of our jobs market”.

The fact that avoiding real wage falls for a grand total of nine months – outside of recession time, no less – is touted as a mark of enduring strength highlights that something is seriously wrong with the UK labour market. This is why continuing to draw attention to the wider context is so important.

[1] One commentator pointed out that higher nominal wage growth does benefit indebted households; this is true, but it is stagnant real wage growth that is driving the increase in consumer debt in the first place.

[2] Using the ‘real consumption earnings’ time series from the Bank of England’s A Millennium of Macroeconomic Data.

Photo credit from previous page: Flickr / Ali Craigmile

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The nature of heterodox economics revisited

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/12/2018 - 6:00am in

In 2006, Tony Lawson proposed a conception of the nature of heterodox economics. He argued that what unites the otherwise ostensibly disparate collection of schools of thought that come under the banner of heterodoxy is a desire to study economic phenomena in accordance with our best understanding of how social phenomena exist. In other words, his assessment was that what unites heterodox economists is a commitment to a conception of social ontology—a theory of how social reality exists—such as that which has been elaborated and defended in Cambridge.

That conception broadly holds that social reality is in some sense brought into existence by, and depends on, human beings. It emerges from, and is reproduced and transformed by, our interactions. Social structures are the transformed and/or reproduced results of socio-historically specific social relations between human beings. And concurrently these social structures have a power of conditioning over the actions of human beings who, in turn, transform and reproduce them. It is a never-ending dynamic back and forth.

I consider that the description above is relatively uncontentious. Therefore, if I was to summarise the argument to its simplest form, it would be that what is defining of heterodox economics is a concern with being realistic. This assessment, to me, is also seemingly uncontentious and very much in line with what I was taught during my undergraduate degree in Political Economy at the University of Sydney. Heterodox economics cared about being realistic in a way that the mainstream did not. This was a common refrain from ECOP1001 onwards.

Why, then, was Lawson’s 2006 assessment so disputed and why have so few heterodox economists adopted it? The answer I provide in my recently published paper in the Cambridge Journal of Economics is that this is largely due to misunderstanding the implications of Lawson’s conception for determining who is and isn’t a heterodox economist. And this misunderstanding, I argue, is built on a more general misunderstanding of Lawson’s views with regard to mathematical modelling. So, let’s start there.

Lawson argues that the problem with, and the defining characteristic of, mainstream economics is an insistence on mathematical modelling. What unites an otherwise, and increasingly, diverse economic mainstream is a methodological dogma of model first, ask questions later. Lawson’s important contribution was then to turn to ontology—the study of existence—to fully explain why this was problematic. Instead of simply claiming that the assumptions required for the models to function were unrealistic, he sought to draw out what exactly about them was unrealistic and, perhaps most crucially, to explain what exactly he meant by reality. It is all well and good to claim that something is unrealistic, but what kind of reality are we talking about?

Lawson has shown that mathematical models of the sort used by mainstream economists presuppose a world of isolated atoms in which event regularities hold. In other words, for the mathematical models used by mainstream economists to function, what they model must be conceived of as isolated atoms inside a closed system. Then, the reason why Lawson claims that this type of method is largely inappropriate in social science is that, given the fact that society seems to exist in a manner similar to what I describe above, those conditions do not seem to arise very often.

What I understand to be the general interpretation of Lawson’s above argument is that he is against the use of mathematics in economics. The problem with simplifying his argument in this way is that it misses the most important part of the argument. Mathematical modelling, just like any method, is appropriate under certain conditions. What Lawson does is to outline the conditions under which its use is appropriate, and to argue that these conditions do not seem to arise very often in the social realm. As Lawson often states, the argument is not anti-maths, it is anti-mismatch.

The anti-maths interpretation, however, persists and seemingly influenced the manner in which Lawson’s conception of heterodox economics was received. Due to the ingrained idea that Lawson believes if we are trying to be realistic, we cannot use mathematics, it was generally understood that the implication of Lawson’s conception of heterodox economics was that anyone who used mathematics could not be considered a heterodox economist. It was, therefore, claimed that as many heterodox economists do, indeed, use mathematical modelling, that Lawson’s conception could not be right.

But Lawson’s conception of heterodox economics does not define heterodoxy as those who succeed in being realistic but, rather, simply by the pursuit. While the mainstream is defined by an insistence on method, the heterodoxy is defined by a concern with reality. What is so powerful about the conception, and what seems to have been almost entirely ignored, is what comes next.

The implication of Lawson’s conception is that heterodox economics encompasses all those researchers that desire to study economic phenomena in accordance with our best understanding of how social phenomena exist. What method they decide to use is not a factor in determining whether or not a researcher is heterodox. However, Lawson’s assessment also identifies what specific methodological issues might be impeding heterodox economists from achieving that goal. For Lawson is arguing that in most instances, mathematical modelling of the sort used in economics is inappropriate for studying social phenomena. And he is imploring those heterodox economists who use such methods to pay attention to that probable mismatch.

Lawson’s conception of heterodox economics includes, in the simplest terms, all those economists who are trying to be realistic. This seems relatively uncontentious. However, the conception also shows that methods of mathematical modelling that seem to be used increasingly by heterodox economists are not going to get them any closer to that goal. Indeed, this assessment, while providing a useful definition, also serves, perhaps most importantly, to identify why heterodox economics is not in good shape.

The post The nature of heterodox economics revisited appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Winner of the 2018 Australian International Political Economy Network (AIPEN) Richard Higgott Journal Article Prize

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/12/2018 - 11:07am in



The prize committee is delighted to announce that Maria Tanyag’s article “Invisible labor, invisible bodies: how the global political economy affects reproductive freedom in the Philippines,” published in the International Feminist Journal of Politics, has been voted the winner of the 2018 Australian International Political Economy Network (AIPEN) Richard Higgott Journal Article Prize

Tanyag builds on past work by feminist scholars examining “the links between the global political economy, social reproduction and gender-based violence.” In her article, she seeks to show “how the work of social reproduction is harnessed to service economic activity at the cost of rights to bodily integrity with the aid of religious fundamentalist ideologies that (re)inscribe discourses of female altruism such as the ‘self-sacrificing mother’ ideal.” Applied to the specific case of the Philippines, Tanyag argues that “the control of women’s bodies is integral to the Philippines’economic strategy of exporting care workers in a competitive global political economy,” in a manner that is “abetted by local Catholic religious fundamentalists who challenge reproductive rights reform at various levels of policy-making and legitimize the lack of investment to sustain social reproduction in the household, community and country as a whole.” 

Taken as whole, the Committee viewed this piece as of substantial import to IPE debates in terms of its theoretical advance, empirical focus, and practical relevance to making sense of global political trends.

The prize will be awarded at the upcoming 10th AIPEN workshop in Perth and Maria Tanyag will be invited to write a PPE post on the winning article. 

Winners of the AIPEN Richard Higgott Journal Article Prize

2018 – Maria Tanyag, “Invisible labor, invisible bodies: how the global political economy affects reproductive freedom in the Philippines.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 19(1):39–54 (2017). 

2017 – Samanthi J. Gunawardana, ‘“To Finish, We Must Finish”: Everyday Practices of Depletion in Sri Lankan Export-Processing Zones’, Globalizations, 13:6 (2016): 861-75.

2016 – Gareth Bryant, ‘“Fixing” the Climate Crisis: Capital, States and Carbon Offsetting in India’ (co-authored with Siddhartha Dabhi and Steffen Böhm), Environment and Planning A, 47:10 (2015).

2015 – Ainsley Elbra, ‘Interests Need Not be Pursued if They Can be Created: Private Governance in African Gold Mining’, Business and Politics, 16:2 (2014).

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Don’t Close the Gap, Build a New Structure

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/12/2018 - 8:07am in



Three years ago, I worked with Roosevelt Fellows and economists Darrick Hamilton and Sandy Darity to demonstrate how intergenerational transfers are central components of wealth building and integral to the persistence of racial wealth inequality. Using the metaphor Umbrellas Don’t Make it Rain, we attempted to flip the script on the traditional narrative that education and income alone are the key drivers of upward economic mobility. I, along with many other scholars, have argued for years that racial wealth inequality is not an organic occurrence or a law of nature, but a man-made choice. But it was Roosevelt’s groundbreaking Hidden Rules of Race that finally provided the field with a cogent and powerful framework, analysis, and a compelling revision of our perspective on economic and racial inequality. This revolutionary work will serve as the foundation of my upcoming work as a Roosevelt Fellow.

 We must challenge the current thinking about the racial wealth gap as part of traditional asset-building strategies, even moving away from the goal of “closing a gap.” I have said before that, in this context, working to “close a racial wealth gap” falls short of understanding the systematic, historical advantage whites have received from American economic policies over generations. It sanitizes the argument, and in some cases, gives us a false notion that transactional approaches without structural change will lead us to the “Promised Land.”

I believe that we should be working toward policy recommendations that promote social freedoms and reckon with the deeply entrenched systemic decisions that are actually driving racial wealth inequality. I look forward to drawing from the important work of Andrea Flynn on the economic exclusion and wealth of women, and further explore the effects of student loan debt and trends in debt and labor market outcomes exposed by Roosevelt Fellow and scholar Julie Margetta Morgan and Research Director and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum in The Student Debt Crisis, Labor Market Credentialization, and Racial Inequality.

 I am deeply inspired by Roosevelt Fellow Rakeen Mabud and Program Associate Jess Forden’s focus on the future of work, and Roosevelt’s focus on the harms of increasing corporate power, including work from Roosevelt Senior Economist and Policy Counsel Lenore Palladino, which explores how financialized corporate behaviors are one of the primary drivers of economic inequality and the ways this impacts working families.

Ultimately, I am humbled and deeply gratified to be joining this impressive group of progressive and forward-thinking scholars and thought leaders. Roosevelt is uniquely positioned to support and advance pioneering ideas and policies that will tackle economic and racial inequality and challenge the power that comes with concentrated wealth. I am thrilled to be part of that process.

The post Don’t Close the Gap, Build a New Structure appeared first on Roosevelt Institute.

Statement on Trump Administration’s Latest NAFTA Announcement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/12/2018 - 3:20am in

Over the weekend, the Trump administration announced plans to terminate the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to force a skeptical Congress to accept his repackaged 2.0 version.

This risky gambit is based on a faulty premise: The executive branch lacks constitutional authority to roll back NAFTA’s implementing legislation. While the president can formally terminate U.S. membership in the pact with six months’ notice, he can’t terminate the U.S.’ preferential treatment of Canadian and Mexican goods – something only Congress can change. If Trump tries to move to roll this treatment back without Congress’ buy-in, he’ll at best produce a Zombie NAFTA that lives on past death. At worst, he’ll provoke a constitutional crisis.

More importantly, NAFTA 2.0 falls far short of a sustainable and equitable trade policy. Last year when the North American re-negotiations began, the Roosevelt Institute published my report “The Sustainable and Equitable Trade Doctrine.” The report offered a roadmap for how to fundamentally rewrite the rules of the unbalanced trading regime. The doctrine had three pillars: flip the class bias of trade policy that too often protects rich monopolists while shuddering workers’ organizations, promote systemic participation by actively involving workers and grassroots organizations in building global rules for a high-road economy (instead of engaging in time-consuming country-by-country talks), and build power by reinvesting in jobs and civil society in regions hard hit by trade competition.

On each dimension, NAFTA 2.0 fails to deliver. It retains and expands upon privileges for monopolies like Facebook. It lets corporate interests like Koch Industries directly challenge government regulation, while putting vindication of the rights of labor and environmental groups at the mercy of often unsympathetic bureaucrats. Because of the administration’s handouts to the rich in last year’s tax bill, they’ve deprived the government of needed resources for a robust public investment agenda. Finally, the administration’s often belligerent treatment of our allies has distracted from the more fundamental challenges facing the global economy and institutions like the World Trade Organization.

Going forward, policymakers should focus energy on proven strategies to boost worker power and livelihoods, not sideshows like NAFTA 2.0.

The post Statement on Trump Administration’s Latest NAFTA Announcement appeared first on Roosevelt Institute.

Brexit legal advice analysis: Are Tory ministers acting in contempt of Parliament?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/12/2018 - 11:27pm in

Co-Director of PRIME Economics and barrister Jeremy Smith writes on the accusation that ministers are holding Parliament in contempt for refusing to publish the full Brexit legal advice – is the Attorney’s General client the Government, or is it the public?

Today (I write on Monday evening) Speaker Bercow  has agreed to accept a motion from Labour, the Democratic Unionist party and other opposition parties, to debate a motion charging the government with contempt of Parliament, prior to the upcoming 5 days’ debate on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.  This potentially generates yet another mini constitutional crisis, between government and Parliament.

The House of Commons had passed a motion on 13 November requiring the government to publish in full the legal advice on the Withdrawal Agreement provided to it by the Attorney-General, Geoffrey Cox, a Brexiteer barrister of colourful legal and Parliamentary career, whose summary on Wikipedia merits a quick visit by those not easily offended.  This motion had passed with the abstention of Conservative MPs, given the government Whips’ fear that they would be defeated with the DUP ‘defecting’.  This may be seen, with hindsight, as an error of judgment.

The traditional view of the role of the Attorney-General as legal adviser to government is that his or her advice is covered by lawyer-client privilege, which means that government may keep it confidential, and Parliament generally cannot require it to be published.  The client (but not the lawyer) may waive this privilege.

In other contexts, the British courts have given a broad remit to legal privilege – it includes, said the House of Lords in Three Rivers District Council and others (Respondents) v. Governor and Company of the Bank of England (Appellants) (2004) advice on how the client might best present their evidence, as well as strictly advising on the legal issues concerned.

So assuming that Geoffrey Cox, as Attorney-General, was discussing with Cabinet colleagues the presentation of the government’s Brexit “case” to Parliament and the public, as well as advising on any purely legal implications, was this covered by legal privilege?

I see that former Labour Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer is tweeting that the Attorney-General should indeed yield to the House of Commons:

Well, there may be grounds for distinguishing this case from others – such as then Attorney-General Peter Goldsmith’s (changing) advices on the legal basis of the Iraq War – in which governments of different political persuasions have insisted on legal privilege.  In 2007, the Labour government published a consultation paper on the roles of the Attorney-General,

“1.37 On questions relating to the legal advice the Attorney General has given to Government, accountability is subject to considerations of confidentiality and legal professional privilege. However, the Attorney General is sometimes called upon to advise Parliament itself, particularly on questions of Parliamentary privilege, the conduct and discipline of Members, and the meaning and effect of proposed legislation.”

And again,

2.9 Furthermore, it is argued, the Attorney General’s advice, as well as needing of course to be honest and authoritative, is advice to a particular client (the Government) on how its policies may lawfully be achieved, including advice on the legal risks attached, the prospects of successful challenge and so on. It is, like other legal advice, subject to legal professional privilege and is not generally published. In this way, the Attorney General operates like an in-house lawyer…

2.10 However, some commentators have suggested that the Attorney General’s advice to Government should not (or not always) be treated in the same way as legal advice given to a private organisation. The Government is not a business and the relationship of the Attorney General to the Government is arguably of a different order to that of other in-house lawyers. This raises the question of whether, at least for some purposes, “the public” (or Parliament), rather than the Government, should be treated as the Attorney General’s client. Lord Bingham has said:

“There seems to me to be room to question whether the ordinary rules of client privilege, appropriate enough in other circumstances, should apply to a law officer’s opinion on the lawfulness of war; it is not unrealistic in my view to regard the public, those who are to fight and perhaps die, rather than the government, as the client.”

Well, Brexit is not quite war, but like war, it shapes the country’s future in more profound economic and constitutional ways than other lesser events.

So where does this lead us and leave us?

In general principle, the government appears to me to have a strong case, from precedent, that legal advice and explanation, including on presentational issues to Parliament, is covered by legal privilege and that the House of Commons cannot override this.

However, since the government did not ask its MPs to vote against the motion requiring the full advice to be given to the Commons, there is clearly an argument that the privilege has been waived.  Since the privilege is that of the “client” (the government) and not of Mr Cox as legal adviser, I would be surprised if he himself were to be found guilty of contempt.

Moreover, the facts of the withdrawal Agreement ‘case’ do offer an opportunity for Parliament to force the issue and win a broader right of access to legal advice than hitherto.  For example, there could be a new distinction drawn between legitimate legal advice on a matter of pending litigation by or against the government, where legal privilege would still apply – and legal advice on matters of general national interest where no immediate specific legal proceedings are involved.  Thus, general legal advice on war, or trade agreements or other international conventions (including the tactics for presentation to Parliament or public) would be disclosable to Parliament as well as government, unless government could adduce a specific overriding reason why there was a need to withhold.

Another thought – the government claims that Parliament already has the essence of the full “legal advice” before it.  But as David Allen Green, the Financial Times’s legal eagle has pointed out (once more, of course, via twitter!), the 43 page document put before Parliament does not even claim to be legal advice in any shape or form.  He imagines the discussion:

In fact, it’s simply entitled “EU EXIT:  Legal position on the Withdrawal Agreement.”  It’s not a ‘summary’ of legal advice, nor does it show sign of any meaningful communication between lawyer and client.  Maybe this opens up another front – that the Attorney General was not giving legal advice to government, and that no legal privilege can attach to a general political discussion on a generalised “position” that is no more than a jobbing summary of a long document.

The House of Commons of course can vote (if the majority is there) to find ministers in contempt, even if this stretches precedent.  We can sense a government rapidly losing its life-force.  In Parliamentary constitutional terms, it’s a potentially revolutionary situation.  We can even imagine the courts being handed this hottest of potatoes to adjudicate on – a dispute over privileges between Executive and House of Commons. But surely, in our common interest, it’s time for Parliament to take control.

The post Brexit legal advice analysis: Are Tory ministers acting in contempt of Parliament? appeared first on The Progressive Economy Forum.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: George H.W. Bush Hagiography is the Elites’ Finest Accomplishment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/12/2018 - 9:58am in

Image result for highway of death

Even by the recent can’t-believe-your-eyes-and-ears standards of American elitist hagiography this week’s over-the-top-of-the-top praise of George H.W. Bush was astonishing.

What separated Bush41apalooza from such previous pseudo-griefathons as those for Ronald Reagan and John McCain was that there was so little to work with. Not that it stopped the media.

I knew this was an insane historical benchmark when a major network interrupted its coverage of the G-20 summit with the BREAKING NEWS that George W. Bush had issued a statement about his dead dad: “George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.” Stop the presses!

When a right-wing Republican like Bush dies you can count on a Democrat to deliver his most fulsome praise. “America has lost a patriot and humble servant,” said Barack and Michelle Obama. “While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude…George H.W. Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.”

Trump lies constantly but it took the death of Bush 41 for American “leaders” and their media mouthpieces to fully commit to speaking an English language whose words have no meaning whatsoever. In this dystopia I’d call Orwellian save for the fact that old George’s prophecy didn’t anticipate its hilarious absurdity, a man who ran for president three times qualifies as “humble.” A commander-in-chief who ordered the massacre of tens of thousands of innocent people in one of the most gruesome war crimes ever recorded—the “Highway of Death” following the ceasefire that ended the Gulf War—is described as having great character—yet no one upchucks all over the camera lens as if it were a Japanese prime minister.

A steward of the economy who refused to stimulate a tide or raise any boats in the middle of a brutal six-year-long recession can be called many things but not—before the Obamas—“joyous.” Preppy, I’ll give you. Joyous, no.

John Sununu, Bush’s chief of staff, explained in 1991, that doing “tremendous good” was actually contrary to Bush’s governing philosophy: “The President feels very strongly that the free-market system operates best when it does not have its hands tied by government, is not shackled by a system that erroneously thinks it can improve it by command and control.” Bush chimed in: “I do not want to see the government pick winners and losers.” Except his government did create losers: his refusal to fund AIDS research killed tens of thousands of gay men.

I’m in favor of behavioral change,” Bush said to justify his policy, a brazen sop to the Christian Right. “Here’s a disease where you can control its spread by your own personal behavior.” Memo to gays: don’t have sex. So “joyous.” So much “tremendous good.” Guess we’ll never get that apology now.

Fawning over dead presidents and the occasional dead presidential candidate is always repugnant considering they’re such a callous and bloodthirsty lot of greed-dogs. But Bush 41—his death dance is different.

Like him or not, Reagan was a consequential person with undeniable political acumen. Even under Democrats Clinton and Obama we have continued to accept the Gipper’s redefinition of the social contract from a culture of looking out for one another to every man for himself. His easy aw-shucks vocal delivery made the most liberal voters sleep through eight years of budgetary, tax and military mayhem—no easy feat.

Likewise John McCain was a deeply—mostly—flawed man who nonetheless had enough of an engaging story, his experience as a POW in Vietnam, for the hagiographers to blow up into a fairly credible heroism narrative, overcoming the uncomfortable fact that the war he volunteered to kill in is understood to have been immoral and illegal.

Bush, on the other hand, has always been a former president universally understood to be a do-nothing failure. Screwed up the economy, set the stage for his son’s Iraq War, refused to turn post-Cold War Russia into a friend and ally, preferring to watch the former USSR plunge into chaos and mass starvation so his big banker backers could swarm in and loot state-owned enterprises. You could call him the Republican Jimmy Carter but Bush—unlike Carter—was never rehabilitated by history or the electorate. Whereas Carter (actually humbly) dedicated himself to Habitat for Humanity during his long post-presidency and so earned respect, Bush 41 just—what? Showed up for presidential reunion photo-ops? He just nothinged. Even Republicans didn’t much care for him.

Were you surprised that Bush died because you didn’t know he was still alive?

There was once a time when, when presidents died, you imagined that at least some of the network news talking heads believed some of what they read to you, that some of the mawkish tributes were heartfelt. No more.

The fakery is so phony they don’t even bother to hide it anymore.

Like Winston Smith at the conclusion of “1984,” the bullet in the back of the rotting head of BS American democracy comes almost as a release.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)



Review of Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/12/2018 - 6:00am in



Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues recognises that just as there is no point of departure for a dialogue, there is no point of conclusion. Dialogues with Massey continue even in her absence. The book spans twenty-six chapters, along with a variant on the introduction to the companion The Doreen Massey Reader and a new epilogue memorial, with a grand total of forty-three authors. I don’t think there could be a clearer demonstration of the wide range of conversations that Massey was engaged in prior to her passing in 2016. As a book framed around ’dialogues,’ the “authors listen attentively to Massey . . . but they also speak back to her” – which was, to my understanding, how Massey conducted her intellectual and political life. The book is an excellent tribute to how she intervened in so many debates in so many fields over the decades.

The editors organised the book into three parts, themed as Contexts, Conjunctures, and Connections. The first part traces the narratives of nine scholars’ engagements with Massey’s life and thought. The early chapters trace Massey’s early life, including a fascinating reflection on ‘her dark past’ as a regional scientist during the quantitative revolution in geography. The later chapters take up particular themes or debates, highlighting how Massey intervened in particular debates but also how her thought was formed during this early period. A stand-out chapter, for me, is Gillian Hart’s reflections on the 1990’s localities debates, where she drily notes that contemporary contestations over the planetary urbanisation thesis seem to mirror these earlier debates – including “in a similarly gendered fashion”.

Part Two – Conjunctures – is an exploration of particular conjunctures, primarily within the UK, with each chapter drawing on some of Massey’s foundational contributions to understanding landed property, spatial divisions of labour, places, global cities, and migration. The chapters avoid simply reflecting on Massey’s work but generally strive towards politically salient topics for debates within the Left today. Allan Cochrane, for example, undercuts the narrative of Brexit where Leave voters are represented as the economically ‘left-behind,’ living in underdeveloped regions. He argues that the geographies of Brexit and Bremain crosscut geographies of uneven development within the UK. Privileged elites outside of London voted to leave; insecure workers within London voted to remain. These voting patterns suggest the temporary formation of particular alliances, representing an open challenge for the Left to face today – “a challenge Doreen Massey would have welcomed”.

The final part focuses on the conceptual and practical connections between Massey’s life and thought with other places, disciplines, and politics. The chapters range from intersections with socio-ecological theory and queer phenomenology to the praxical relationship she had with Latin America. The nine chapters here, however, defy any general summation – perhaps just as her thought defies categorisation! (Is Massey an economic geographer? Critical geographer? Cultural theorist?) Part of why she is not readily categorised can be put down to her refusal to build systems. As the authors in this book frequently note, Massey lived by the axiom that ‘there is no point of departure.’ Massey’s concepts do not form a fixed theoretical edifice – unlike, for example, the work of Harvey, who stated in 1969 that the task of geography was to build theory and never changed his mind except to say that that theory was Marxism.

Her method of theoretical inquiry was (usually) grounded in empirical exploration. Spatial Divisions of Labour criticised prevailing views on uneven development by empirically exploring industrial restructuring in the UK. Her theory of place defended the political and methodological importance of studying and acting in particular places. But she always insisted for more – to drag concepts forward by entangling them with geographical and historical particularities. Hence her twist on uneven development with the ‘power-geometries of uneven development.’

Yet this theoretical flexibility and her theoretical dissidence lead to some fault lines in the book. First, the wide-ranging nature of Massey’s work and dialogues is reflected in the book, as I’ve highlighted earlier. But with twenty-six substantive chapters, spanning thirty-eight authors, the chapters begin to rehash the same conceptual material – there are only so many times that one can re-read an exposition, however short, of the same concept (power-geometries is the worst culprit)! Admittedly, this may be because of the ‘uneven development’ of Massey’s concepts within the academic literature.

Second, some of the chapters seem to make (conceptual) mountains out of (empirical) molehills. Questions of ontology and philosophy are foregrounded with regard to producing analyses which seems obvious (at least, to me). In one instance, Magilligan, Sneddon, and Fox draw on Massey’s insistence on the common epistemic community of physical and human geography to articulate a broader understanding of the process of dam removal in New England, USA. However, this leads them to make what seems like a self-evident claim: that “dam removal, although trying to achieve something biophysical, is at its core a social process”. Yet removing a dam involves the state, private companies, and local communities; ipso facto, it is social. Yes, explaining this demands a conversation between physical and human geographers, but their account of river restoration is wrapped up in theoretical language that quite possibly make it impenetrable to their physical geographer cousins.

The best of the book, I think, is in its historical and biographical detail: many of the chapters illuminate political and intellectual aspects of Massey as well as the debates she was engaged in throughout her life – detail that may be missed by someone, like me, who has not lived through those times or had the opportunity of dialogue with her. But I can say that Massey’s absence in this book is felt throughout, but it rarely bubbles through to the surface of the text. I am left wondering how the book would have felt if her absence from the dialogue had been brought to the foreground. The authors ‘speak back to her’ yet, I wonder: how would she have spoken back to them?

The post Review of Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

We Can’t Address the Student Debt Crisis until We Understand Its Effects

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/12/2018 - 12:00am in


Blog, Education

To address the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student debt that is held by American borrowers today, it is vital to have a full debate about the costs and benefits of potential solutions. But this debate must be grounded in a solid understanding of the problem. David Leonhardt’s recent takedown of universal student-debt cancellation flows from an incorrect diagnosis of the effects of student debt. Before taking a deeper dive here, we responded in a letter to the editor.  

Leonhardt argues that most of the people struggling to pay off their debts attended college but never earned a degree, and that, by contrast, most graduates of four-year colleges are “doing just fine.” It is true that student loan defaults are much higher among borrowers who left school without a degree—and who consequently have relatively little debt. But Leonhardt overlooks the troubling trends in default among higher-balance borrowers, who presumably obtained a degree. The New York Federal Reserve Board, for instance, reports a 20 percent default rate among younger borrowers with more than $100,000 in debt, suggesting that economic security is out of reach for many high-debt borrowers, too.

Declaring default as the best measure of debt burden, however, is an extreme position. Other measures paint a far more nuanced picture of how Americans struggle with their student debt. We can look to student debt’s negative impact on important financial decisions, such as homeownership, small business formation, and retirement savings, all of which suggest that even borrowers who are successfully repaying their loans are burdened in consequential ways. But our recent report points to two troubling indicators of increasing student-debt burden that are hiding in plain sight.

First, though average monthly loan payments are relatively steady over time, an increasing share of households reports having debt but making no payment at all on that debt. This phenomenon can certainly reflect defaults, but it also reflects other consequences of student debt not captured by a default rate, including delinquency and deferment.

Second, we argue that the implications of increased enrollment in income-driven repayment plans are often overlooked. The growing use of income-based plans is generally thought to be a policy success, as these plans provide a much-needed safety net to help borrowers avoid default. But income-driven repayment should also be viewed as an indicator of a larger policy failure: Individuals’ need to rely on income-based plans to avoid default is a key symptom of the unsustainable burden our student loan system places on borrowers. About 30 percent of borrowers are paying through an income-driven repayment plan, suggesting a widespread proportion of borrowers are feeling strained by their debts.

Understanding the problem of student debt means more than simply evaluating the extent of its burdens. It also means determining how this debt accumulated at such a fast clip and why it is so burdensome. Our work provides insight here, too: Debt has grown both because borrowers are accruing more debt than they would have in previous generations and because more students—particularly lower-income students of color—have to take on debt to go to college. And while this debt has grown, earnings have stagnated or fallen for those with postsecondary credentials, driven by employers’ runaway power to command higher levels of education for a given job without raising wages. In other words, borrowers today have more debt and lower earnings than previous generations. We believe this insight is key to evaluating solutions to the student debt crisis. It enables us to see that this crisis was driven not by individual choices, but by failed policymaking and larger economic forces.

The generalization of college graduates as “doing just fine,” even if they are struggling to avoid default, deferring loan payments, or missing out on the financial benefits that their education should have conferred, is not only wrong, it’s also deeply frustrating and alienating to those whose daily lives are affected by student debt. Surveys show that average Americans believe that student debt is a crisis, yet pundits and policy experts continue to argue otherwise. Instead of ignoring or explaining away these concerns, we must try to better understand them before rejecting potential solutions.

The post We Can’t Address the Student Debt Crisis until We Understand Its Effects appeared first on Roosevelt Institute.