Milgram 2008

Plus ça change…

The results are even more disturbing now than they were in the 1960s but after years of "War on Terror", 24, justification of massive torture, dehumanization of entire categories of people, and recent and ongoing genocides, it is not hard to see how ordinary people find it relatively easy to engage in that kind of behavior.

I would argue that any task provided with rationalization would work, not just "in aid of science". There is now a strong corpous of journalistic accounts of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay that reveals the dynamics at work which allow people to become torturers and butchers.

It would be interesting to be able to examine whether the rationalization change as one goes up the chain of command (and not incidentally, the social stratification ladder… the grunts do the dirty work and have to find justification akin to "I was following orders" or "they were shooting at us" where "they" can become pretty much anyone in the country whereas the justifications up the ladder are promulgated differently thanks to distance).

In any event, it is still disturbing and it is a Pandora’s Box, once open, there is no putting all that !@#$ back in it.

La Sociologie Par L’Image – Economic and Environmental Collapse

There is no question that images can sometimes powerfully illustrate sociological concepts and ideas. Visual sociology is a strong form of public sociology. I have stumbled upon two great examples of the power of images. First, Carlos Serra has been blogging a lot about the economic collapse and runaway inflation in Zimbabwe. In this post, he offers images of that situation:

Inflation Inflation2

Then, via Sociological Images, I discovered the work of Edward Burtynski, a photographer who reveals powerful shots of our impact on the environment (many many more incredible shots at Burtynski’s site):

Nickel Tailings

And here is a video of Burtynski discussing his work:

What more powerful illustration of the risk society?

David Held Was Prescient

Just as I was reading the article I shall discuss below on the need to reform the Washington Consensus system, I saw this great and very relevant cartoon that Carlos Serra had posted on his blog and I could not resist (other great comics by Gado are available on his website):


The article by David Held I wanted to discuss here is"At The Global Crossroads: The End of the Washington Consensus and The Rise of Global Social Democracy?" in Globalizations, May 2005, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 95-113. Held is well known for his conceptualizations on global governance as he has published extensively on the subject. The article offered here is, to put it simplistically, a short version of his book Global Covenant: The Social-Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus.

Held’s conception of globalization is increased interconnectedness that created overlapping communities of fate as opposed to discrete national communities of the Westphalian order. Globalization is multi-layered and is not just economic, but political and cultural as well. The question of global governance is especially crucial for Held as greater interconnectedness involves a greater reach of a body of international laws dedicated to the promotion of justice. A great deal of this body of human rights juridical activity came about after World War II and the Holocaust.

"[Those involved in drafting these universal principles of human rights] rejected the view of national and moral particularists that belonging to a given community, limits and determines the moral worth of individuals and the nature of their freedom, and they defended the irreducible moral status of each and every person. The principles of equal respect, equal concern and the priority of the vital needs of all human beings are not principles for some remote utopia; they are at the centre of significant post-Second World War legal and political developments." (96)

The global crossroads mentioned in the title of the article refer to the dilemma faced by the international community: promote and extend this human rights regime, or let be eroded and dismantled. And Held is rather pessimistic (remember, that was in 2005 although I don’t think there is much reason to be more optimistic now). For Held, the human right regime is particularly threatened by four crises:

1. The collapse of the Cancún trade talks

And the correlative rise in bilateral and preferential trade agreements. This goes back to the fact that the global trade system is rigged against developing countries and therefore is of questionable legitimacy.

2. Little progress on the Millenium Development Goals

I have blogged extensively on the MDGs and the lack of progress is attaining these goals is a massive failure of the moral conscience of the international community. I would add that this is even more shameful now considering that the cost of reaching these goals does not compare to the money poured into the financial system to rescue the developed economies.

3. Little progress on a sustainable framework to deal with global warming

And the lack of real progress at Poznan shows that this is still an issue today and we are already witnessing some of the effects of this in the form of more frequent violent storms, resource wars (especially for water, oil and land) as well as climate migrants and refugees.

4. The threats to the multilateral order by the unilaterialism initiated by the US in Iraq

Incidentally, the change in administration might not change much on that. The additional problem is that other countries can use the same doctrine to go it alone against defined enemies, further undermining the multilateral order and weakening the UN system.

All these crises are both symptoms of increased interconnectedness and crises that threaten the global order. According to Held, what is missing is greater integration and greater commitment to social justice. This is so for two main reasons: the Washington Consensus and the Washington Security Agenda.

The Washington Consensus

This one is well known and rather well defined. It is understood as the underpinning of the global spread of global capitalism through liberalization. The Washington Consensus was promoted and pushed though global institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank who imposed conditions – structural adjustments – on developing countries, forcing them into integration into the global market.

This Washington-driven economic agenda has come under heavy criticism for a number of reasons and after years of being forced on developing countries, it does not have much to show for it. Held (99) cites three major points made by Branko Milanovic (2003: 679):

  1. How to explain why after sustained involvement and many structural adjustment loans, and as many IMF Stand-bys, African GDP per capita has not budged from its levels of 20 years ago. Moreover, in 24 African countries, GDP per capita is less than in 1975, and in 12 countries even below its 1960s level;

  2. How to explain the recurrence of Latin crises, in countries such as Argentina, that months prior to the outbreak of the crisis are being praised as model reformers;

  3. How to explain… ‘pupils’ among the transition countries (Moldova, Georgia, Kyrghyz Republic, Armenia), after setting out in 1991 with no debt at all, and following all the prescriptions of the IFIs, find themselves 10 years later with their GDPs halved and in need of debt-forgiveness.

So, on the one hand, the Washington Consensus failed many developing countries and at the same time, the countries that have experienced growth and development are those that stayed outside of that system (China and the emerging Asian tigers as well as India, for instance).

"There is much evidence to suggest that a country’s internal economic integration – the development of its human capital, of its economic infrastructure and robust national market institutions, and the replacement of imports with national production where feasible – needs to be stimulated iniitally by state-leg economic and industrial policy. The evidence indicates that higher internal economic integration can help generate the conditions in which a country can benefit from external economic integration (Wade, 2003). The development of state regulatory capacity, a sound public domain and the ability to focus investment on job creating sectors in in competitive and productive areas is more important than the single-minded pursuit of integration into world markets." (100)

The Washington Consensus has eroded the state capacity to promote internal integration, promoted the misleading view that there is only one path to development and growth and aggravated the major asymmetries of global market access and power and therefore made things worse for developing countries.

"Leaving markets to resolve alone problems of resource generation and allocation misses the deep roots of many economic and political difficulties; for instance, the vast asymmetries of life chances within and between nation-states which are a source of considerable conflicts; the erosion of the economic fortune of some countries in sectors like agriculture and textiles while these sectors enjoy protection and assistance in others; the emergence of global financial flows which can rapidly which can rapidly destabilize national economies; and the development of serious transnational problems involving the global commons. Moreover, to the extent that pushing back the boundaries of state action or weakening governing capacities means increasing the scope of market forces, and cutting back on services which have offered protection to the vulnerable, the difficulties faced by the poorest and the least powerful – north, south, east and west – are exacerbated. The rise of ‘security’ issues to the top of the political agenda reflects, in part, the need to contain the outcomes which such policies provoke.

The Washington Consensus has, in sum, weakened the ability to govern – locally, nationally and globally – and it has eroded the capacity to provide urgent public goods. Economic freedom is championed at the expense of social justice and environmental sustainability, with long-term damage to both. It has confused economic freedom and economic effectiveness." (102)

Attempts at reforming the Washington Consensus have been meek and unconvincing. For Held, the alternative lies with a social-democratic approach. Held defines social-democratic view as follows:

"Traditionally, social democrats have sought to deploy the democratic institutions of individual countries on behalf of a particular project: a compromise between the powers of capital, labour and the state which seeks to encourage the development of market institutions, private property and the pursuit of profit within a regulatory framework that guarantees not just the civil and political liberties of citizens but also the social conditions necessary for people to enjoy their formal rights. Social democrats rightly accept that markets are central to generating economic well-being, but recognized that in the absence of appropriate regulation they suffer various flaws, especially the generation of unwanted risks for their citizens and an unequal distribution of those risks, and the creation of negative externalities and corrosive inequalities." (103)

The problem is then how to extend social-democratic policies on a global scale in the context of diminished capacities of the states. That is the major challenge for Held: how to create a global social democracy based on transparency, accountability, commitment to social justice, equitable distribution of life chances, public management of global flows of various sorts, corporate governance and environmental sustainability. Held provides a fairly detailed laundry list to make this happen. And, again, the question of cost is no longer a valid one in the context of massive bailouts.

The Washington Security Agenda

For anyone who has been following the doctrines of the Bush administration, this is a familiar story of the US policy after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The choice faced by the US government was to either strengthen the multilateral order or to undermine it. We all know which path the administration chose.

"After 9/11, the US and its major allies could have decided that the most important things to do were to strength international law in the face of global terrorist threats, and to enhance the role of multilateral institutions. They could have decided it was important that no single power or group should act as judge, jury and executioner. They could have decided that global hotspots like the Middle East which feed global terrorism should be the main priority. They could have decided that the disjuncture between economic globalization and social justice needed more urgent attention. And they could have decided to be tough on terrorism and tough on the conditions which lead people to imagine that Al-Qaeda and similar groups are agents of justice in the modern world." (106)

They decided none of these things and the rest is history with side effects with long-term impacts and none of the issues above addressed.

In other words, both the Washington Consensus and the Washington Security Agenda are massive failure and this is even more visibly true now than it was when Held wrote his article. But Held does not end with this pessimistic diagnosis. He offers specific prescriptions for a global social-democratic agenda based on some basic principles:

  • Commitment to the rule of law and development of multilateral institutions

  • Generation of new forms of legitimacy for global political institutions for security and peace-making

  • Acknowledgment that ethical and justice issues based on the global polarization of wealth, power and income, the asymmetries of life chances

None of these can be solved by the market. Similarly, security must be reconceptualized from a narrow conception (protection from coercive power and violence) to a broader meaning (economic, political and environmental protection especially for the vulnerable). So, indeed, what Held suggests is a global social covenant to promote fair trade rules, more democracy at the global level, a more just and equitable world order. This is also means a more open mode of governance including the global civil society.

Held was indeed prescient when he wrote this article and the current disastrous financial and economic conditions should, if reason prevailed, mark the end of the Washington Consensus and the final days of the Bush administration should also be the final days of the Washington Security Agenda. However, Held was somewhat pessimistic then, and there is no reason to be less so now. Leadership on these issues will not come from the US. According to Held, the only other likely candidate for such leadership is Europe.

Seized Caviar Goes To The Poor

Yup, that’s what happened in Italy:

For those of you who persist in not learning French, the story is as such: the Italian equivalents of park rangers seized 40 kilos of beluga caviar transported illegally from Warsaw. These forty kilos have a $560,000 value. The Courts will only keep a sample as evidence for future prosecutions but the rest will be given to charitable organization who feed the poor in Milan. This will make some organized crime boss very unhappy.

Charles Tilly Reminds Us Of The Importance of Conceptual Clarity

From the article "Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists", in Sociological Theory, March 2004, 22:1, pp. 5-13, Charles Tilly discusses an old sociological question: can sociologists use categories and concepts generated outside of the field even if they are ridden with inconsistencies and charged with political meanings, especially categories like terror, terrorism and terrorists.

"Some vivid terms serve political and normative ends admirably despite hindering description and explanation of the social phenomena at which they point. Those double-edged terms include riot, injustice civil society, all of them politically powerful but analytically elusive." (5)

Indeed, and especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,

"In the words of the president and the secretary of state, terror, terrorism, and terrorists become inseparable concepts, coherent entities, efficacious actors, and enemies to be eradicated." (5)

This process of reification is something that sociologists, even since Durkheim through Bourdieu have struggled with. As Tilly, quite similarly, reiterates, sociologists

"should not incorporate the categories wholesale into their own descriptions and explanations of the political processes at hand. In particular, social scientists who attempt to explain sudden attacks on civilian targets should doubt the existence of a distinct, coherent class of actors (terrorists) who specialize in a unitary form of political action (terror) and thus should establish a separate variety of politics (terrorism)." (5)

For those of us who had to start their sociological education by reading Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method and Bourdieu et al’s Craft of Sociology, this is a very familiar point that leads back to the importance of the construction of the research object. To adopt wholesale a familiar concept or a commonsense notion is to adopt all its layers of meanings as well as the social history of its construction within given fields and relations of power.

Charles Tilly shows how it is done by deconstructing (although I should know better than use this VERY loaded term) the political uses of terror, terrorism and terrorists and offers the following points (pp. 5-6):

The word terror points to a widely recurrent but imprecisely bounded political strategy.

Tilly defines terror as a strategy as asymmetrical deployment of threats and violence against enemies using means that fall outside the forms of political struggle routinely operating within some current regime.

A great variety of individuals and groups engage in terror from time to time, most often alternating terror with other political strategies or with political inaction.

Groups and individuals that use terror specifically and not other forms of political strategies tend to be unstable and not last.

Groups and networks that engage in terror tend to overlap with government-employed or -backed specialists in coercion (armies, police, paramilitaries, private military groups, mercenaries, etc.).

Even when terrorist groups position themselves against a government, these specialists in coercion tend to use forms of organization and logistics comparable to that of government-employed specialists.

Most uses of terror actually occur as complements or as byproducts of struggles in which participants – often including the so-called terrorists – are engaging simultaneously or successively in other more routine forms of political claim-making.

Terror as a strategy ranges from (1) intermittent actions by members of groups that are engaged in wider political struggles to (2) one segment in the modus operandi of durably organized specialists in coercion (including those employed or backed by governments) to (3) the dominant rationale for distinct and committed groups and networks of activists.

Despite the publicity it has received recently, variety (3) accounts for a highly variable but usually very small share of all the terror that occurs in the contemporary world.

Indeed, as Tilly reviews statements by the US State Department (post-9/11), he finds such ambiguities and lack of clear boundaries as to the use of the category of terrorism, applied mostly to state terror but also a variety of non-state actors based on rather broad interpretations of supposed political motives. For Tilly, there lies a problem:

"In social science, useful definitions should point to detectable phenomena that exhibit some degree of causal coherence – in principle all instances should display common properties that embody or result from similar cause-effect relations." (9)

Face with the lack of coherent definition of the terror phenomenon, Tilly finds some order in four steps:

1. Terror as a strategy

Defined as asymmetrical deployment of threats and violence outside of routine forms of political struggle, terror does more than inflict harm, it is a form of communication that conveys multiple meanings: it signals that (1) the target is vulnerable, (2) that the perpetrators exist, (3) the perpetrators have the capacity to strike again.

Also, terror has three types of audiences: (1) the targets, (2) the perpetrators’ potential allies, and (3) third parties that might be sitting on the fence.

Terror also most often involves the demand for some form of recognition, redress, autonomy or transfer of power (hardly ever an end in itself).

"Considered as a strategy, terror works best when it alters or inhibits the target’s disapproved behavior, fortifies the perpetrators’ standing with potential allies, and moves third parties toward greater cooperation with the perpetrators’ organization and announced program." (9)

2. Multiple uses of terror

Terror is used in a multiplicity of ways by a multiplicity of actors: mafia groups, repressive as well as weak governments, dissidents and more recently, religious and ethnic activists.

3. Terror and other forms of struggle

"As these varied examples suggest, the strategy of terror appears across a wide variety of political circumstances, in the company of  very different sorts of political struggle. Attacks of Irish Protestant and Catholic activists on each other and on governmental targets, for instance, frequently follow the strategy of terror, but they generally intersect with other forms of negotiation at international, national and local levels. In many parts of the world, specialized military forces – governmental, nongovernmental, and antigovernmental – frequently engage in kidnapping, murder, mutilation in addition to their occasional pitched battles with other armed forces." (10)

4. Terror and specialists in coercion

Regarding specialists in coercion, Tilly generates a twofold distinction based on (1) a distinction between specialists and non-specialists, and (2) between those who target their home territory versus those whose target lies outside of the home territory. This generates the crude typology below (why don’t tables never look the same between the html editor in which I create them and the post!)

(Crude) Typology of Terror-Wielding Groups and Networks Major Locus on Violent Attacks
Home Territory Outside
Degree of Specialization in Coercion Specialists Militias Conspirators
Nonspecialists Autonomists Zealots
  • Autonomists are those groups who launch attacks on their home territory but against symbolic targets such as authorities, rivals or any stigmatized groups. They do not become durably organized specialists in coercion.

  • Zealots commit their violent acts outside of their home territory but are otherwise similar to autonomists.

  • Militias may be governmental, nongovernmental or antigovernmental terror groups composed of coercion specialists engaging in attacks in their own countries, with enduring organizations.

  • Conspirators are organized striking forces (therefore specialists) conducting their attacks outside of their home territory.

Based on that crude typology, Tilly’s point remains:

"A remarkable array of actors sometimes adopt terror as a strategy, and therefore no coherent set of cause-effect propositions can explain terrorism as a whole. (…) Terror is a strategy, not a creed." (11)

And indeed, it would be a major mistake to use 9/11 as the typical terrorist attack. Actually, according to Tilly, conspirators attacks are the least frequent. Most terrorist attacks are committed in the home territory of the perpetrators and most of the rest is committed by zealots.

Tilly closes his article with this powerful statement:

"Terrorists range across a wide spectrum of organizations, circumstances and beliefs. Terrorism is not a single causally coherent phenomenon. No social scientist can speak responsibly as though it were." (12)

66 Countries Ask The UN General Assembly to Decriminalize Homosexuality

With Sarkozy and his thugs in control of the French government, there aren’t that many opportunities to be proud of France these days, except for this:

Or for the anglophone crowd:

So, who aren’t the enlightened nations who refused to join the list of 66 signatories (which includes the entire European Union, Brazil, Israel, and Japan)?  The United States, China and Russia, Arab nations,The Holy See (the Catholic lobby), the Organization of the Islamic Conference. What are their objections? Why, legalizing homosexuality will legitimize pedophilia (a bit rich coming from the Catholic Church, that great moral authority) and other "deplorable" acts (whatever the hell that means), of course.

Well, at least, there is now a document in place and that’s a big step.

Historians for A “New” New Deal Without Gender Discrimination

Via Historiann, historians have written a letter to President-Elect Obama to ensure that any economic stimulus plan does not focus exclusively on economic sectors that would benefit mostly men. The letter can be accessed through the Center for Research on Women and Social Justice. We already know Obama is tone-deaf on women and LGBT issues, so, we’ll see if this has any impact.

Open Letter to President-elect Obama

December 18, 2008

Dear President-elect Obama,

As students of American history, we are heartened by your commitment to a jobs stimulus program inspired by the New Deal and aimed at helping "Main Street." We firmly believe that such a strategy not only helps the greatest number in our communities but goes a long way toward correcting longstanding national problems.

For all our admiration of FDR’s reform efforts, we must also point out that the New Deal’s jobs initiative was overwhelmingly directed toward skilled male and mainly white workers. This was a mistake in the 1930s, and it would be a far greater mistake in the 21st century economy, when so many families depend on women’s wages and when our nation is even more racially diverse.

We all know that our country’s infrastructure is literally rusting away. But our social infrastructure is equally important to a vibrant economy and livable society, and it too is crumbling. Investment in education and jobs in health and care work shore up our national welfare as well as our current and future productivity. Revitalizing the economy will require better and more widespread access to education to foster creative approaches and popular participation in responding to the many challenges we face.

As you wrestle with the country’s desperate need for universal health insurance, we know you are aware that along with improved access we need to prioritize expenditure on preventive health. We could train a corps of health educators to work in schools and malls and medical offices. As people live longer, the inadequacy of our systems of care for the disabled and elderly becomes ever more apparent. While medical research works against illness and disability, there is equal need for people doing the less noticed work of supervision, rehabilitation, prevention, and personal care.

We are also concerned that if the stimulus package primarily emphasizes construction, it is likely to reinforce existing gender inequities. Women today make up 46 percent of the labor force. Simple fairness requires creating that proportion of job opportunities for them. Some of this can and should be accomplished through training programs and other measures to help women enter traditionally male-occupied jobs. But it can also be accomplished by creating much-needed jobs in the vital sectors where women are now concentrated.

The most popular programs of the New Deal were its public jobs. They commanded respect in large part because the results were so visible: tens of thousands of new courthouses, firehouses, hospitals, and schools; massive investment in road-building, reforestation, water and sewage treatment, and other aspects of the nation’s physical plant–not to mention the monumental Triborough Bridge, and the Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams. But the construction emphasis discriminated against women. At best women were 18% of those hired and, like non-white men, got inferior jobs. While some of the well-educated obtained jobs through the small white-collar and renowned arts programs, the less well-educated were put to work in sewing projects, often at busy work, and African American and Mexican American women were slotted into domestic service. This New Deal policy assumed that nearly all women had men to support them and underestimated the numbers of women who were supporting dependents.

Today most policy-makers recognize that the male-breadwinner-for-every-household assumption is outdated. Moreover, experts agree that, throughout the globe, making jobs and income available to women greatly improves family well-being. Most low-income women, like men, are eager to work, but the jobs available to them too often provide no sick leave, no health insurance, no pensions, and, for mothers, pay less than the cost of child care. The part-time jobs that leave mothers adequate time to care for their children almost never provide these benefits.

Meanwhile the country needs a stronger social as well as physical infrastructure. Teachers, social workers, elder- and child-care providers and attendants for disabled people are overwhelmed with the size of their classes and caseloads. We need more teachers and teachers’ aides, nurses and nurses’ aides, case workers, playground attendants, day-care workers, home care workers; we need more senior centers, after-school programs, athletic leagues, music, and art lessons. These are not luxuries, although locality after locality has had to cut them. They are the investments that can make the U.S. economically competitive as we confront an increasingly dynamic global economy. Like physical infrastructure projects, these jobs-rich investments are, literally, ready to go.

A jobs-centered stimulus package to revitalize and “green” the economy needs to make caring work as important as construction work. We need to rebuild not only concrete and steel bridges but also human bridges, the social connections that create cohesive communities. We need a stimulus program that is maximally inclusive. History shows us that these concerns cannot be postponed until big business has returned to "normal." We look to the new administration not just for recovery but for a more humane direction—and in the awareness that what happens in the first 100 days and in response to immediate need sets the framework for the longer haul of reform.

Mimi Abramovitz, Hunter College
Rosalyn Baxandall, SUNY Old Westbury
Eileen Boris, UC Santa Barbara
Linda Gordon, New York University
Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University
Alice O’Connor, UC Santa Barbara
Annelise Orleck, Dartmouth College
Sally Stein, UC Irvine

The War Against Women

It is real and it is global. Let me count the ways in which women are victim of violence: symbolic, interpersonal and structural. All these forms of violence are interrelated and overlap. Symbolic violence makes interpersonal violence more socially acceptable which itself is often justified by cultural narratives of supposed innate biological / genetic / brain differences between men and women (do yourself a favor a go read the short seven-part series on how such explanations by brain differences don’t hold water by Amanda Schaffer).

But first, let’s start with symbolic violence,

This, folks, is symbolic violence. Take a woman seeking a high political office, cut her down to size (literally) and simulate date rape on her. This is violence disguised as something else… and indeed it worked so well that a lot of commenters across the Internet thought it was (1) funny, and (2) totally not sexist and the common rationalization was a variation on the "boys will be boys" theme. It is this kind of supposedly harmless "humor" makes it easier for further symbolic denigration of women in the public sphere, in the workplace, etc.

And I have blogged not too long ago on this great ad on the wage gap. The power of the ad is the way it exposes structural violence (inequality) but turning it into interpersonal violence (insults) as a device to make it visible rather than disguised, invisible and taken-for-granted as structural violence often is, embedded as it is in the social structure.

These forms of violence sometimes operate jointly, especially in extreme situations such as the appalling conflict in the DRC where mass rape has become an integral part of the conflict (as was the case in Bosnia as well).

Continue reading

Good Books for the Holidays

[Hat Tip to Mike who came up with this great idea] Are there any good non-fiction, sociology or books on social issues that would make great Christmas presents?

I think in the current context, anyone should have and read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine .

As always, Kevin Bales books are great to raise awareness and provide realistic solutions to the appalling slavery problem that persists today. Not to mention that Kevin does not make a dime off his books. All the proceeds go to fighting slavery. Get smarter and do a good deed at the same time:

Here are Mike’s selections

[Dude, you need more current sources! ;-)]

Also, since Charles Tilly died this year, two short readable books,

  • Brian Barry’s Why Social Justice Matters is a powerful statement in defense of social justice (in contrast to all the identity / recognition stuff which I, old-fashioned lefty that I am, find unconvincing).

Leave your own recommendations in the comments

Don’t Buy Cheap Computer Crap for Christmas

The article also has a slideshow of workers in computer parts plants. It is of course nothing new that our appetite for cool electronic gadgets that need to be upgraded and changed every few months or (lest we stop being totally cool and hip) come at the expenses of cheap materials (such as coltan and copper) which play apart in current conflicts and labor made cheap as well.

Globalist thinkers (Friedman, Sachs) have argued that people in developing countries need these jobs which are better than anything else they could hope for. That may be true but it is also a convenient excuse for exploitation. They could have the same jobs at less exploitative conditions.

Personally, I think these electronic items should come pacaked with photos of the people who made them and an unremovable sticker listing the wages these people were paid and their working hours.