Development Taboos – Sex and Shit

Yesterday, as part of a post on the need for sanitation in the poorest countries as one of the major development challenges, I mentioned that access to sanitation is often just not discussed because who wants to talk about shit.

I also mentioned that Elizabeth Pisani had found the same problem in trying to design proper prevention policies for HIV/AIDS because who wants to talk about sex, especially gay or transgender sex.

Sex (especially gay sex) and shit are icky. So, they are either not discussed or discussed in such a euphemistic fashion that it’s meaningless.

In the comments, Elizabeth mentioned an earlier post of hers on this very topic:

Ways to be gay part 2: Places to pee | HIV / AIDS, science, sex, drugs via kwout

Personally, I find pouring trillions of dollars on bailing out the global financial system for the greed and recklessness of its major players more obscene than discussing whose penis gets into whose anus or vagina or who shits where. But that’s just me.

When Social Stratification Kills

All stratification systems have more or less formal ways of "keeping people in their place." The more rigid the stratification system, such as the caste system, the more formal the sanctions will be for those who cross class / caste boundaries, as in the cases discussed by Jonathan Turley. And these sanctions are bi-directional. They may be directed at the person from the upper class or from the lower class. The point is to maintain the boundaries between the social categories intact and non-porous. On the more informal side of the spectrum, the sanctions may not be direct or physical but symbolic through consumption practices or interactive signs that someone is not following the class rules.

All in all, these are various forms of structural violence involving a fairly thorough degree of both formal and informal surveillance against potentially deviant behavior (crossing class / caste lines).

A Pressing Development Challenge: Access to Bathrooms

Via Le Monde. In order to reduce global poverty and improve the health of the poorest of the poor, the simplest method is to build toilets. Yup, good ol’ fashioned johns.

At least, that is the conclusion reached by The United Nations University International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH). In a report published at the end of October, the group recommends that governments integrate and coordinate their approach to clean water supply and access to functional toilets.

The numbers are staggering: approximately 2.5 billion people use toilets that do not protect against diseases in fecal matters (I know, sorry, but that’s what it is). 1.2 billion have no other choice but to use the bush or any other natural setting as toilets, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. These people may spend over half an hour waiting in line for public bathrooms or to find an isolated place. That’s two days per months.

The health impact is devastating: diarrhea-based disease kill around 2 million people each year. 88% of these disease are linked to a lack of hygiene and access to healthy sanitary structures. 5,000 children die everyday as a result. They are the prime victims.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, half of all hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from disease borne by fecal matters. Worldwide, 200 million tons of human excrement end up in rivers, thereby contaminating surface waters or even water tables with all sorts of bacterias, viruses and parasites.

This sanitary challenge rarely makes headlines because it’s not very nice to talk about excrement, no more than it is to talk about sex as Elizabeth Pisani has demonstrated in The Wisdom of Whores. The United Nations have tried to overcome this taboo by declaring 2008 the International Year of Sanitation and Goal 7 of the MDGs, target 3 states the need to "halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation".

How much would this cost? A minimum $38 million (compare that to the trillions of dollars we are going to spend to salvage Wall Street). And for every dollar invested, $9 are reinvested in the economy, in the form of increased productivity and better sanitation, less disease, etc. According to UN projections, this would translate into 3.2 working days added to the year.

To install proper toilets in schools would allow a lot of young women to continue their studies past their puberty. And 10% more literate women translate into 0.3% additional growth.

Regarding access to drinking water, the most progress has been accomplished in East Asia and the Pacific region where coverage went from 30% of the population in 1990, to 51% in 2004. The Middle East, North Africa and Latin America should be able to meet their goals. However, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with only 37% of coverage, are behind. Some experiments have produced encouraging results but they are insufficient.

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When Corruption Sustains Institutions

Keith Darden has a pretty interesting article in Politics & Society (Vol. 36, No. 1, March 2008, 35-60), titled The Integrity of  Corrupt States: Graft as an Informal State Institution (abstract).

In this article, Darden sets out to refute the common assumption that widespread corruption and graft are indicators of institutional breakdowns which result in ineffective states. While this assumption is not entirely untrue, Darden notes that there exists a fairly large set of states with widespread corruption AND functioning state institutions.

"I argue that graft often serves as a form of unofficial compensation that reinforces rather than undermines the formal institutions of the state and can provide leaders with additional means to control subordinate officials. In sum, despite the deleterious effect that graft may have on democracy and economic development, there are circumstances under which graft may reinforce the state’s administrative hierarchies." (36)

In which case, Darden speaks of institutionalized graft .

In this article, Darden eschews the never-ending debate on the definition of the state by focusing on one specific aspect that the major schools of thought on the subject recognizes:

"The institutional mechanisms used to secure the loyalty and obedience of officials with the state’s administrative hierarchies." (37)

Any state form needs to be able to extract compliance from state officials in order to fulfill such functions as tax collection or the maintenance of law and order in addition to the provision of other services. What is the role of graft in this? As Darden explains, the major support for the theory of graft as state-weakening comes from the agency theories of economics. In this perspective, graft is a violation of the basic contract between state leaders and state officials when the latter substitute personal financial enrichment for the fulfillment of their stately tasks against a salary. And officials do so especially when they know that the systems of surveillance and sanctions are defective. Hence the lack of effectiveness of the state.

For Darden, this is not an entirely false picture but it is not the entire story and it is based on a narrow conception of state institutional form: the Weberian bureaucracy with all its well-known characteristics, a model which works well for the established Western democracies but not beyond those.

"It is not difficult to find cases where (1) graft is allowed as part of an informal agreement or contract between leaders and their subordinates, or, (2) the state is not grounded in the rule of law and functions largely through informal institutions – stable rules that are not written down or codified as law. (…) Corrupt practices and other violations of the law may signal the absence of a Weberian bureaucracy but do not necessarily imply absence or weakness of administrative hierarchy. It is possible to achieve a stable administrative hierarchy without the law-based bureaucracy that Weber saw as typical of modern organization or the web of personal obligations of traditional rule." (38)

For Darden, a fairly large number of countries fall into that category (widespread graft + robust state capacities and hierarchies) based on the 2003 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI 2008).

The CPI is considered one of the most reliable analytical measure of corruption at the global level. Countries are ranked based on a score between 0 and 10 where 0-3 is considered most corrupt and 7-10 least corrupt. Among such states with high corruption and high state capacity, we find Algeria, Kenya, Nicaragua, Romania, Russia, Papua New Guinea, and Ukraine.

When it comes to graft, Darden distinguishes between three types of graft in relation to the state:

  1. State-weakening graft: graft that undermines administrative hierarchies.

    "Graft unconditionally weakens the administrative hierarchy when it serves to buy disobedience – when officials take "a remuneration for what you are not supposed to do." (…) In such cases, the role of graft follows precisely the logic identified by agency theorists." (41)

  2. State-benign graft: graft that has no effect on administrative hierarchies.

    "Some forms of graft may have little effect on the functioning of the administrative hierarchy – it plays little role in determining whether officials loyally perform their obligations. It is simply a form of theft. This is common in environments where bribery takes the form of a convention, and officials receive additional informal payment for tasks that they are obligated to perform anyway. If everyone knows that bribes must be paid for officials to perform their functions and everyone pays bribes as a result (assuming that all can afford to do so), then a graft-ridden state of this type differs from a functioning graft-free bureaucracy only in the way that private wealth is distributed (it is reallocated from citizens to officials). Graft is "benign" in these cases only in the sense that it neither enhances nor undermines loyalty in the administrative hierarchy of the state." (41)

  3. State-strengthening graft: graft that reinforces administrative hierarchies

    "In such cases, administrative compliance is based on an informal contract between state leaders and their subordinates in which graft plays a critical role. In contrast to the benign case, state-reinforcing graft provides the basis, in whole or in part, for official loyalty and obedience. The illegal practices we identify as corruption reflect the fulfillment rather than the violation of an informal "contract."" (41)

And he identifies two mechanisms related to state-strengthening graft as a means to obtain compliance.

  1. Graft can serve as an alternative mode of compensation or as a second salary. The proceeds of theft or embezzlement or bribery are distributed to carry out the duties of the state. It is graft that guarantees the effective functioning of the state.

  2. Graft provides state leaders with means of coercion over their subordinates. If the officials do not fulfill their end of the bargain (discharge their official state duties in an efficient manner), they risk losing not only the money they get from graft but potentially to be among the few prosecuted and incarcerated for corruption.

"State leaders must be able to monitor their subordinates (1) to ensure that they are complying with directives, (2) to guarantee that they take no more than the allotted amounts, and also (3) to maintain a complete record of their illegal activities in the event that sanctions should be required." (43)

For Darden, it is important to note that such a state would still fit the Weberian characteristics of monopoly, hierarchy and impersonal authority. Such a state is able to function relatively effectively in terms of waging war, maintaining law and order, managing infrastructures and institutions, controlling political dissent, etc. Darden illustrates such state-effectiveness with the very enlightening (and entertaining) example of Ukraine under the rule of Leonid Kuchma. Such a study is made possible due to the fact that Kuchma’s interactions were recorded by a member of his security detail. These recordings allow access to the inner mechanisms of state-strengthening graft. Through them, we can see the different aspects of graft and its management in Ukraine.

In the case of Ukraine, the system of state-strengthening graft is accompanied by strict monitoring (to make sure that officials do not take more than their cut and adequately cover their tracks), intensive surveillance (another well-functioning state apparatus), and permits widespread intimidation and enforcement.

In the Ukrainian case, Darden identifies four types of officials:

  1. Criminal: those whose loyalty lies outside of the state structure, such as gang members.

  2. Selfish: those who are in it for personal enrichment and tend to take more than their share.

  3. Disloyal: those who secretly support political rivals.

  4. Compliant: those who conform to the state hierarchy.

The first three categories are those who can expect sanctions from the state as a result of extensive surveillance. The compliants reap the rewards of their loyalty but they are also subject to monitoring (precisely to ensure their compliance). Such extensive state-surveillance apparatus seems to be especially present in the former republics of the USSR, as legacy from that regime.

The massive use of surveillance for political repression and the mobilization of officials to "get the votes" when election time comes explains the stability and resilience of such states and regimes. Their weakness is that everyone knows what is going on and these regimes tend to be highly unpopular (see the Orange Revolution in late 2004 – 2005). Pakistan under Ali Bhutto and Peru under Fujimori are other good examples.

But the main point stands, there is no necessary negative correlation between graft and state capacity. As Darden concludes:

"This alternative view of the relationship between graft and the state may explain both the pervasiveness of graft and the objective stability of states that were hitherto classified as weak. If the pervasiveness of corrupt practices only signaled the breakdown of political authority, then political leaders would have clear incentives to overcome it, but if graft plays an important role in the informal institutions of state administration and political domination, then leaders have every incentive to sustain it." (54)

Some Interesting Stuff About This Blog

Via Historiann, yet again. First, I’m a guy, apparently:

Ooookay… is it because I don’t do mommy / kids / kitty / knitting blogging??

Next, something of which I should be proud:

My blog is worth $24,839.76 .
How much is your blog worth?

Needless to say, I’m not quitting my day job.

And last but not least, what parts of the brain does writing this blog involve?

I am shocked to discover I lack in spirituality and other related traits.

And this is where I scream SEXISM regarding these tests. I see: because I write with a more analytical mind rather than using emotions and spirituality, then, of course, I’m a guy (and a cheap one too, apparently). And you know, what test-making genius? At least I know how to spell rhythm!

Global Studies as Academic Field

In the electronic Global Studies Journal, Global-E, Sophia University sociology professor David Wank explores the idea of global studies as academic field (part 1 & part 2). This is of particular relevance to me as I am one of the people in charge of creating a center of global education at my college.

So, the basic question that Wank asks is whether "global studies" is an academic field in the first place. Is "global studies" a discipline? Does it have a clear subject matter? A clear research method through which it approaches and studies phenomena? These are questions that all institutions of higher education have to answer as soon as they start creating a global studies program. For Wank, these are traditional difficulties that all interdisciplinary programs face in discipline-based organizations.

Secondly, Wank raises the question of whether "global studies" is "old wine in a new bottle". What disciplines, now, do not recognize the importance of global and transnational phenomena and influences? How is global studies different than multicultural or area or comparative studies? Which, of course, gets us back to the question of the subject matter and methodology of global studies.

Third, Wank contends that global studies can be seen as part of the spearheading of the new post-Cold War neo-liberal order. I tend to disagree. From what I know of global studies programs I have studied, it seems that the opposite is the case. Global studies programs generally question the good and the bad about globalization from a variety of perspectives.

Of course, the central, organizing concept of global studies is globalization. Now, as soon as one uses that work, we’re in for lengthy debates about its meaning, its popularization or even its very relevance. Nevertheless, Wank and his department established three different frameworks of analysis for globalization:

  1. A world systemic framework that sees the world as a single order: some examples are Immanuel Wallerstein’s capitalist world system, John Meyer’s world cultural polity, and some concepts of global governance.

  2. A transnationalist framework that looks at flows and actions that move across two or more national state spaces. Examples are the works of Arjun Appadurai, Saskia Sassen and others.

  3. A third framework is global/local, which highlights how lives and processes in locales are constituted and animated by an awareness of being or existing in a global world: the works of Roland Robertson are seminal.

And what of methodology? Do global studies have a specific approach to their subject matter? On this, Wank is not clear. From his examples, it seems that global studies borrows its methodologies from its component disciplines. In which case, one can question whether it is a field in the first place.

Regarding curriculum, according to Wank, there are usually six types of courses offered in global studies programs:

Wank adds that any global studies program should have a strong critical component, for instance through the study of notorious globalization critiques (such as Naomi Klein or Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri) or the study of the alter-globalization social movements, as well as peace studies components and courses on alternative to the dominant orthodoxy (which makes sociology relevant , and yet underrepresented, in these programs that are usually dominated by economics or political sciences).

The usual frustration when reading such articles is that the analysis is mostly geared toward the creation of graduate global studies programs. But what of the undergraduate side of things? That part is usually left out. A major lacunae in my view.

Cautionary Tale for Women in Academia – Random Stranger Edition

Via Historiann, again… This time, it’s Female Science Professor who gets a live visit from a charming young man. Her conclusion from this interaction:

“But I apparently do sit at my desk just waiting for random people to stop by and ask me to do random things, and then insult me when I refuse.”


Book Review – Out Of Poverty

[It is my great pleasure to publish this first – and hopefully not last – post by a former student of mine, Dave E. (I don’t know if he wants his whole identity revealed, I’ll update with his full name if he wants). Dave is one of these students that makes teaching easy and makes teachers feel smart. I only hope he got what he needed out of my class and that the materials were stimulating enough for his brilliant intellect. Dave is also  a very compassionate individual, as evidenced by his involvement with the Interfaith Youth Core. This book review is entirely his, I only added links, some formatting and the video at the end.

Thanks for this, Dave.]

Out if Poverty I just recently read Paul Polak’s book entitled Out of Poverty. The basic realization that Polak and others have helped me come to is that humans have radically material needs. While I have reservations about using per capita income as a primary measure of development, an income of less than $1/ day is staggering and must not be treated like yet another neocolonial or materialistic paradigm or measure.

Polak is a successful entrepreneur and changemaker who comes from a strawberry farming background. His perspective is wonderfully refreshing and simple. Through his organization, International Development Enterprises (IDE), he claims to have effectively lifted 17 million people out of poverty. According to Polak, IDE was founded and operates on the basis of four very simple observations:

  1. The biggest reason people are poor is because they don’t have enough money.

  2. The vast majority of people living on $1 per day earn their living from one-acre farms.

  3. They can earn much more money by increasing productivity and finding ways to grow and sell high-value labor-intensive crops such as off-season fruits and vegetables.

  4. To do that, they need access to very cheap small-farm irrigation, good seeds, fertilizer, and markets where they can sell their crops at a profit.

So Polak has invented and marketed affordable, efficient, and effective tools like treadle pumps and drip irrigation systems that can be afforded by the world’s poorest farmers. Couple this technology with the global expansion of microfinance, a second green revolution could be in the cards. Polak doesn’t depend on donations or subsidies for his method of change. Instead, he is able achieve scale, sustainability, and a small profit by marketing low-profit tools to millions of small-acreage farmers around the world.

In Out of Poverty, Polak also identifies three great poverty eradication myths, which I found most informative:

1) We can donate people out of poverty

This is a direct critique of Jeff Sachs, head of the UN Millennium Development Goals, who argues that poor people are too poor to invest their own money to move out of poverty. Sachs calls for rich countries to make gifts to poor countries to essentially continue the enormously ineffective trend that has gone on for over 50 years. William Easterly, in The Elusive Quest for Growth, is right in that we have spent billions of dollars in foreign aid and private philanthropy and have very little to show for it. Both myself and Polak see the Sachs plan as merely a continuation of the past 50 years; big infrastructure, irrigation, and agriculture projects with big budgets that will be controlled by the governments of developing countries, the benefits of which will very rarely reach the poor rural farmers who really need it.

2) National economic growth will end poverty

India and China have both experienced incredibly impressive GDP growth over the years. However, 360 million people in India and over 200 million people in China continue to live on less than a dollar a day. Any scholar of India can notice a development of “two Indias,” one for those who reap the benefits of growth and those who continue to be entrenched in poverty. Yes, we need growth, but all too often that growth is aimed at urban industrial growth instead of empowering small-scale, dollar a day farmers to increase their production and profits.

3) Big business will end poverty

Polak sees very little reason to think that multinational corporations will seriously invest in lifting people out of poverty. Not because they are evil or selfish, but they are just not competent in designing affordable solutions for the poorest people in the world. According to Polak, roughly 90% of innovation and design efforts are focused on catering to the richest 10% of the world’s population. Corporations simply don’t have the competence in understanding, reaching, and selling to customers who live on a dollar a day. Until the target market they are designing and innovating for changes, we will not see a major breakthrough from corporations in solving poverty.

In sum, Polak bypasses donors, governments, and big business to directly empower the millions of people who need the most help. He sells small-acreage farmers unsubsidized and high-quality tools and resources by which they can generate enough income to send their kids to school, see a doctor, be properly nourished, and partake in community activities. He is a grassroots visionary in a world where the IMF, World Bank, and UN Millennium Development Goal initiatives continue to dominate.