Visualizing Corruption – Infographics Compared

I have mentioned and blogged about the Corruption Perceptions Index before, published by Transparency International every year. This year, I compared the interactive infographics that TI published for the 2010 and 2011 versions, as well as their usual Pdf map. This is the result (also another attempt at screencasting using different tabs and screens):

CPI compared from SocProf on Vimeo.

TI now also publishes the entire report in interactive format. It is embedded below.

C. Wright Mills – Ranting Sociologist

I have finished reading Stanley Aronowitz‘s Taking It Big – C. Wright Mills and The Making of Political Intellectuals, which is an intellectual biography of Mills, in the context of the post-War New York intellectual / radical scene. It is a very dense book. I don’t think it is meant for larger, non-academic audiences. It is not the easiest read but, if one is used to academic reading, it is quite readable.

However, if you expect to learn a lot about Mill’s personal life, you will be disappointed because there is practically nothing in that regard. And the reason seems to be that there wasn’t much to explore in the first place. The only thing one can discern is that Mills was a rather cranky, ill-tempered man with whom it was not easy to get along and that he spent a bit a of time, early in his academic career, hiding from his boss, Paul Lazarsfeld (but then, who wouldn’t! 🙂 ).

So, the focus of the book is the intellectual works of Mills as well as his relationship with the academic and intellectual scene of his time. Accordingly, the book is structured by chapters analyzing each of his major publications, with a concluding chapter, reflecting on Mills’s influence over contemporary American sociology.

Because it is such a dense book and because I took a ton of notes, I intend to dedicate a series of posts to the book so that it will not be a one-post book review but rather, probably, one post per chapter, with a focus on one publication in some depth. In the present post, I will just confine myself to the opening of the book and some general comments.

First of all, I think Mills would have made a great blogger and twitterer, for the following reasons (Kindle location):

“C. Wright Mills defies classification in the neat compartments of scholarly disciplines and ideology. His was a restless mind in the classical traditions of Marx, Thorstein Veblen, and Max Weber, all of whom broke through methodological rituals and drew widely from philosophy, social science, and the arts. Mills culled such sources as newspapers, census data, and ethnographic studies. He sometimes invoked popular novels to illustrate his points. Yet even as he performed some sociological procedures early in his career, he sharply criticized what he later termed “abstracted empiricism”—the practice of confining social science to small studies or specific domains without drawing them together in broad generalizations about society as a whole. From the beginning, he employed social and cultural analysis to make sense of what he termed the “main drift” of politics and social relations.” (Loc. 70)

I think he would have written excellent blog posts based on a multiplicity of sources. He would have used all sorts of social media to get his message across and would have had no problem ditching the regular academic publications. And mostly, he was cranky:

“Unlike many contemporary, or current, public intellectuals, he was neither a servant nor a supplicant of power but, in the sense of the seventeenth-century English radical, was a “ranter”: his job was to sound the alarm. Indeed, some of his writings recall the pamphlets of the American Revolution, wherein numerous and often anonymous writers addressed the “publick” of small farmers and artisans as much as they did those holding political and economic power. Much of Mills’s later writing can also be compared to that of turn-of-the-twentieth-century American populist and socialist pamphleteers, whose aim was simultaneously to educate and arouse workers and farmers to the evils of corporate power.” (Loc. 204)

And I was wondering whom Aronowitz had in mind in the quote above. Who does he think the servants and supplicants of power are. Power, of course, is at the heart of Mills’s work, in all its dimensions, and as it is exercised by the elites. His work sought to expose these mechanisms of power. In that sense, his work touches upon dominant ideologies (spread through mass culture… the inspiration from the Frankfurt School is clear), domination through institutions (the iron law of oligarchy), and the working of the men of power (the power elite).

“Throughout his intellectual life, he soundly rejected the dominant ideology of American pluralism, the view that American society and politics were constituted by a plurality of competing but ultimately compatible and conciliatory forces, none of which dominated the state and the economy. He drew instead on Veblen’s idea that political and economic power was constituted through those who control “institutional orders” and call the shots of public and economic policy. ” (Loc. 83)

And, when analyzing power, Mills did not believe in the Weberian scientific neutrality thing, especially when said neutrality is in reality a subservience to power, a cop out.

“In these days, when most members of the professoriate have retreated from public engagement except when they act as consultants for large corporations, media experts, and recipients of the grant largesse of corporate foundations and government agencies who want their research to assist policy formulation—or confine their interventions to professional journals and meetings—Mills remains a potent reminder of one possible answer to the privatization of legitimate intellectual knowledge.


Mills rejects as spurious the doctrine according to which the social investigator is obliged to purge his work of social and political commitment. His values infuse his sociological research and theorizing, and he never hid behind methodological protestations of neutrality. Mills was a partisan of movements of social freedom and emancipation while, at the same time, preserving his dedication to dry-eyed critical theory and dispassionate, empirical inquiry. He was an advocate of a democratic, radical labor movement but, nevertheless, was moved to indict its leadership not by fulmination but by a careful investigation of how unions actually worked in the immediate postwar period.” (Loc. 467)

This indictment of labor leaders is part of the larger analysis of the power elite. And one only needs to watch Inside Job to know how accurate that first paragraph is on the selling out of the academic elite:

More generally, Mills had a rather hegemonic view of the system:

“The institutions of the liberal state still need, and must solicit, the consent of the governed. But Congress and the executive are increasingly tied, both ideologically and financially, to the holders of institutional power, not to their electors, except insofar as the public refuses to confer consent to policies that they perceive to be contrary to their interests and succeeds in staying the hand of legislators beholden to corporate power, at least for a time. Having entered into an alliance with the military and corporate orders, the political directorate becomes a self-contained body, undemocratic in both the process of its selection and its maintenance.” (Loc. 400)

It is amazing how still relevant this is.

And I’ll end with this:

“In his analysis of the commanding heights, Mills is not content only to describe the three institutional orders that constitute the power elite. He shows that the scope of its power embraces wide sections upon which the legitimacy of American society depends. Chief among them are the celebrities who, as the premier ornaments of mass society, are routinely recruited to lend prestige to the high officials of the three principal institutions of power. Political parties and their candidates eagerly showcase celebrities who support them; corporate executives regularly mingle with famous people in Hollywood and New York at exclusive clubs and parties; and “the warlords”—high military officers, corporate officials, their scientists and technologists engaged in perfecting more lethal weapons of mass destruction, and the politicians responsible for executive and congressional approval of military budgets—congregate in many of the same social and cultural spaces as well as in the business suites of warfare.” (Loc. 344)

And he wrote this before Davos.

One question emerges right away and does not leave the reader all the way to the end of the book: where are the ranting sociologists today? Because Maude knows we need them.

Book Review – Haiti: The Aftershocks Of History

Laurent Dubois‘s excellent Haiti: The Aftershocks of History is a must-read for anyone interested in the social construction of race and race formation, as well as colonialism and its legacy. The book provides the longue durée context for the current situation of Haiti, especially when the devastating earthquake a few years back, and the current damages inflicted by hurricane Sandy.

If we were to consider Haiti a failed state, then it would be a failed state by design. From reading Dubois’s book, one would be tempted to think that no one ever wanted Haiti to succeed on its own terms ever since the slaves rebelled against their French colonizers.

The book is overall a highly readable and very well-written political history of the country from the end of French colony of Saint-Domingue (as it was called under French rule), dominated by a slavery-based plantation economy (especially sugar canes) to the present although the Duvalier II era to now is a bit short.

Indeed, Dubois describes the 19th century in great details, so, by the time the reader gets to the rise of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, it feels like the book is rushing to the end and one is left with many questions regarding the contemporary period (especially the second ousting of Aristide and beyond).

There is also no doubt that Dubois loves Haiti and roots for its success. As a result, you will find a lot of Amazon reviews decrying the lack of objectivity of the book. That did not bothered me all that much because Dubois is not shy about exposing the structural factors that have resulted in so much political instability in Haiti (the urban / rural divide as well as the dominance of a light-skinned, mulatto elite versus their darker skinned compatriots). Dubois actually presents these lines of division as central to Haiti’s persistent problems. Similarly, one can find at the very beginning of the book another major factor in Haiti’s political instability (Kindle locations):

“Haiti is often described as a “failed state.” In fact, though, Haiti’s state has been quite successful at doing what it was set up to do: preserve power for a small group. The constitutional structures established in the nineteenth century made it very difficult to vote the country’s leaders out of office, leaving insurrection as the only means of effecting political change.” (Loc. 126)

That lock on power and the lack of proper constitutional and institutional mechanisms for political alternatives are at the heart of the multiple rebellions and coups. These are the internal factors. There is no doubt that the French never forgave their former slave colony for rebelling and forcing them out. Indeed, the financial compensation that France demanded (and obtained) from Haiti (in order to reimburse plantation owners for the loss of their property… land and slaves… what is the French word for chutzpah? Quel culot, as we French would say) strangled the country financially so badly that it had to go into debt very quickly. This indebtedness was used, a century later, by the US to invade the country and rule it by force for 20 years. In both case, this was brutal expropriation either of direct monies for France, or exploitation of land and labor for the US.

In both cases, there was a clash of economic models. From the independence on, there has been, in Haiti, a strong rejection of the plantation model, so associated with slavery. So, the rural population has tried to develop alternative modes of agricultural production based on subsistence agriculture (rather than cash crops for export) in small cooperatives. These competing models have been a source of conflicts between the urban / port elites and foreign investors and the rural population. In a way, Haiti was constantly pressure to agree to structural adjustment programs before those even existed, especially from the US. And, big surprise, these neoliberal measures avant la lettre worked no better there than they did anywhere in the late 20th century. They explain the persistent stratification between the cities and the rural areas, forcing a lot of peasants to leave the land and flock to city slums.

“As more and more U.S. agricultural companies entered Haiti, they deprived peasants of their land. The result was that, for the first time in its history, large numbers of Haitians left the country, looking for work in nearby Caribbean islands and beyond. Others moved to the capital of Port-au-Prince, which the United States had made into Haiti’s center of trade at the expense of the regional ports. In the decades that followed, the capital’s growth continued, uncontrolled and ultimately disastrous, while the countryside suffered increasing immiseration.” (Loc. 157)

These unpopular policies were supported by the US, who also (along with France), supported the various authoritarian governments, especially the dreadful Duvalier dictatorship (father and son) in all their atrocities at the same time that the US denied Haitian refugees political asylum.

The end result?

“Ever since popular president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was violently overthrown in 2004, Haiti has been policed largely by foreign troops under U.N. command. Haiti’s proud independence has been eroded, too, by the thousands of foreign organizations that have flocked to the country over the years with projects for improvement and reform. For all their work, though, hunger, poverty, and disease still stalk much of the population. In the cities, the last decades have seen an increase in violent crime, including drug trafficking and kidnapping, while the situation in rural Haiti, where the majority of the population still lives, is increasingly desperate. The soil is severely depleted; generations of intensive agriculture and deforestation have taken their toll. As the population has grown and parcels of land have been divided into smaller and smaller bits, the social and agricultural strategies that worked well for Haitian peasants into the early decades of the twentieth century have become increasingly unsustainable. At the same time, the solutions prescribed by foreign powers and international organizations have largely turned out to be ineffective, or worse.” (Loc. 172)

But the theme that Dubois delineates throughout the book, and the source of his obvious affection for Haitians and hopes for Haiti are as such:

““Haiti disturbs,” sociologist Jean Casimir likes to say. It disturbs, of course, because of its poverty and its suffering. But it also disturbs because, throughout its history, Haiti’s people have repeatedly turned away from social and political institutions designed to achieve profits and economic growth, choosing to maintain their autonomy instead. The Haitian population has been told for two centuries, as it is told today, that it must change, adapt, modernize. No doubt some change is needed; but what has largely been offered to Haiti’s population in the guise of foreign advice is simply a precarious place at the bottom of the global order.

Haitians have consistently refused such offers.” (Loc. 192)

And, of course, White racism has been the source of much violence inflicted upon Haitians, first through the slavery system and later during the US occupation. The first country of free blacks has been depicted by the Western press and seen by Western political classes as a bunch of cannibalistic, voodoo-practicing savages. For instance, Dubois uses the example Marcus Rainsford’s drawings:

The one on the left, much reproduced, portrays the hanging of white officers by Maroons, the one on the right, much omitted, depicts a French officer throwing Haitians overboard to drown them, as if brutality was one-sided.

Similarly, racism was at the root of the constant religious persecution, especially against voodoo, seen as both superstitious paganism as well as somewhat scary.

As I was reading the book, especially regarding the repression of voodoo, and especially the figure of Baron Samedi, I was reminded of the persistence of stereotype and underlying racism that one can find in popular culture. Take a look at these two representations of Baron Samedi:

And remember this guy?

Yup, that’s right. When depicting Doctor Facilier, Disney designers tapped into the stereotypes of Haitian culture and voodoo for their main villain:

So, if you want to explore the roots of all this, then, Dubois’s book is what you want. It is full of rich details about 19th and early 20th century Haiti. As I mentioned before, it rushes a bit to the end, but Dubois seeks to highlight the origins of our views of Haiti, its persistent challenges, poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and natural disaster and its constant harassment by outsiders, from France, to the US, to the UN and a multiplicity of NGOs. It is also a great expose of cultural and structural racism and its consequences, as well as the fight for a non-market driven model of development.

Absolute must-read.

Paging Alberto Cairo

Now that I’m taking this MOOC course on data visualization, by Alberto Cairo, I’m paying a lot more attention to all the different infographics around (and I’m starting a visualization tag / category). Of course, with the election, infographics have abounded and they are of high interest to social scientists like me.

Take a look at this beauty (click on the image for a larger view):

It is a amazing representation of voting patterns at three points in time (2004, 2008 and 2012) by demographic categories. Starting with the first U-turn arrow, at the top, you can see that the majority of the electorate voted Bush in 2004, then Obama in 2008, then Obama again, but to a lesser extent, in 2012, hence the U-turn. And the same goes for all the different categories as you work your way down the graphic. You can clearly see which categories are solidly on one side or the other and which one go back and forth and in which direction. For instance, if you look at religion, the Jewish vote in not in play. It is solidly on the democratic side. However, if you look at the catholic vote, you see the shift from Republican to Democrat. By age, the younger voters are solidly democratic whole the 65+ are solidly Republican with the 30-44 category having shifted. Note the suburban U-turn from Republican, to Democratic, back to Republican.

The trend is overall rather clear: there was a great shift in favor of the Democrats from 2004 to 2008, with some mitigating in 2012 but still solidly on the Democratic side, so, the headline is accurate. I like that the background color is unobtrusive. The arrows are still clearly visible against the background. There is quite a lot of text inside the graphic itself. I think the designers anticipated that they were doing something relatively new and unusual and readers might initially look at that infographic and go “how the heck do I make sense of this?”, so, the inside copy is useful but not too big, nor too small.

It is also nice that the percentage of margin of victory is repeated at the bottom because, if you look at this on a small screen, you will quickly lose sight of the top of the infographic.

Even though it is not interactive, there is still a lot to explore and it clearly exposes the trends. I like it a lot.

Stuck on The Colonial Evolutionary Ladder (Since the 1700s)

I am still reading Laurent Dubois‘s excellent (so far!) Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. I just finished the chapter on the US occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century. And as any colonial venture, it involved massive mistreatment of the local population accompanied by rationalizations:

“Women were particularly vulnerable to abuse by the marines who controlled their communities. A Methodist Episcopal pastor working in Haiti who reported on the occupation for the Chicago Defender accused the marines of widespread rape, including the rape of young girls. He had also observed, he wrote, marines pressuring the Haitian gendarmes under their command “to procure native women for the use of the whites as concubines.” Haitian women were said to be universally immoral and promiscuous; after just a day in the country, one soldier had confidently asserted that “all native women are of easy virtue and all its accompanying vices.” Such attitudes helped justify and normalize coercive sexual relationships. Looking back on the occupation, one marine later wrote that “rape, I believe, implies a lack of consent. I never heard of a case where consent was lacking in Haiti’s black belt.” When it came to longer-term relationships with Haitian women, marines sometimes talked about such liaisons as being strategically useful—a mechanism for learning about the local culture—and occasionally referred to sexual partners as the “sleeping dictionary.”” (Loc. 3934)

And also:

“Several years later, U.S. Marine Brigadier General Ivan W. Miller also claimed that any violence during the occupation had been made necessary by the culture of Haiti. “You have to remember that what we consider brutality among people in the United States is different from what they considered brutality,” Miller explained. “Those people, particularly at the time there, their idea of brutality was entirely different from ours. They had no conception of kindness or helping people.” John Russell, the high commissioner of the U.S. occupation for most of its duration, concurred, writing in 1929 that the “Haitian mentality only recognizes force, and appeal to reason and logic is unthinkable.”” (Loc. 3968)

And this reminded me of this post, over at A Tiny Revolution:

“One of the great things about being American is we’re just lucky. Lots of countries have killed millions of people, and it made their families really angry and sad. So the countries sometimes had to feel bad about it. But when WE’VE done it, we’ve always been lucky enough to do it to people who turned out not to mind being killed. So no harm done.

Most recently, Steve Inskeep of NPR pointed out that Afghans haven’t gotten all bent out of shape about a U.S. soldier massacring sixteen of them, because “human life is already cheap” way over there.

That’s great journalism. However, it would have been even better if Inskeep had found out whether life is not just cheap in Afghanistan, but also plentiful, like it was in Vietnam:

WILLIAM WESTMORELAND: The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.

And what about Iraqis? Were they whiny bitches when we killed them? No way:

FRED KAGAN, ARCHITECT OF IRAQ “SURGE”: If anyone has seen pictures of Ramadi or Fallujah, they looked like Stalingrad. Cities absolutely crushed…The interesting thing is that when we were fighting those battles and doing that damage, on the whole the Iraqis were not bitching about collateral damage…the Iraqis don’t on the whole say “darn it, you shouldn’t have blown up all of our houses.” They sort of accept that.

We know this is correct because Iraqis felt the same way in the twenties when they were being slaughtered by the British:

“The natives of these tribes love fighting for fighting’s sake,” Chief of Air Staff Hugh Trenchard assured Parliament. “They have no objection to being killed.” The military’s argument was that, though the often indiscriminate air attacks might perturb some civilized folks back in London, such acts were viewed differently by the Arabs. As one British commander observed, “‘[Shiekhs]…do not seem to resent…that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs.”

Then we come to Koreans. Here’s a review of Curtis LeMay’s autobiography, in which LeMay explained why massive carpet bombing of North Korea during the Korean War didn’t make them surrender:

LeMay [argues] that bombardment failed because of an “undying Oriental philosophy and fanaticism.” He says, “Human attrition means nothing to such people,” that their lives are so miserable on earth that they look forward with delight to a death which promises them “everything from tea parties with long dead grandfathers down to their pick of all the golden little dancing girls in Paradise.””

Go read the whole thing because the list continues.

All of this, of course, reeks of racism mixed with the old “scientific” theories of colonial times where natives were perceived as not having reached the same level of evolution as (upper-class) Europeans (who represented the highest stage of evolution and civilization), and suffering from various forms of atavism and being therefore closer to animals in behavior, morality and sensibility. So, this translated into a series of rationales for exploitation (in the name of civilization) through creative tortures (which does not matter because, being more animalistic, they – the natives – are more resistant to pain and more reluctant to discipline), and mass murder (but that’s ok, because, like animals, they do not perceive death the way we do).

This is not exactly new. Colonialism elevated dehumanization and othering to an art form. But to see these instances listed above, and see the same pattern (or meme, as the cool kidz say these days) repeated across time and geographies is pretty striking. But this is typical racism where the dominant group takes itself as the higher standard and then goes around comparing (unfavorably) native populations on the evolutionary ladder, ignoring the trauma, exploitation, structural and mass violence that inevitably come with colonialism.

Colonialism, in a strict sense, may have disappeared but the gems keep coming, as the quotes above reflect. And I am sure many of us remember this one, from Daryl Gates, former LAPD Chief:

“We may be finding that in some blacks, when the choke hold is applied, the veins or arteries do not open up like in normal people.”

See? “They” are just not like us, normal people. That is also the way Rodney King was initially described by the LAPD officers who beat him up, as this neanderthal who would not go down, and therefore had to take an extra beating.

This kind of othering and dehumanizing discourse is pretty constant, as applied to non-white population here and abroad. The statements may not be as explicit as the ones above, but once you know the pattern, they are easy to find.

The Visual Du Jour – It’s Still The Inequalities, Stupid

As I mentioned in my previous post, a less unequal society produces better social outcomes. Case on point, this infographic (click on the image for ginormous view):

For those of you familiar with the Spirit Level, this is an alternative to the series of scatterplots using the same data, and showing, of course, the same results. The US, with its higher inequalities level, also produces worse outcomes on a series of social measures, from health, to political participation, to murder rates.

It is a neat way to replace a dozen scatterplots (which are pretty dry graphs even though they convey information pretty well) with one colorful infographic. But, as Alberto taught us in The Functional Art, the sphere thing is not great because the proportions are not really well represented. However, in this case, I did not find that too disturbing because you tend to pay attention not so much to the size of the disc but to the linear positioning.

Another issue is the screen real estate. The infographic is large, so, you have to scroll up and down and you quickly lose sight of which disc is which country, except for the US, because it’s always the one on the far right, with the worst outcomes. You kinda have to constantly scroll up and down to retrieve the legend.

Finally, I would have picked a more contrasted color scheme. On some measure, Sweden and Germany kinda look alike. I understand that there is a gradient thing going on with the graphic, but still. And with the sources, I would have added URLs and links to click to go to the sources straight from the infographic.

One More Time for Emphasis: It’s The Inequalities, Stupid

I am not sure how many ways there are to make highlight this. Part of the problem is the general attitude that inequalities are the “natural” effects of either individual tendencies or magical and impersonal economic forces, as Matt Vidal points out:

“Based on his interviews with economists, Leonhard lists the top two causes of “a decade of income stagnation” as automation and globalization. No one to blame here, just impersonal forces we can’t control!

Among a “second group” of forces, he notes rising health care costs and “shrinking” unions.

In contrast, neither Kalleberg nor any of his commenters highlight technology as playing an independent role in wage stagnation and growing inequality, unmediated by the decisions of managers and policymakers. Instead, Kalleberg focuses on the rise of low-wage work, driven by a shifting balance of power between employers and workers as employers, aided by policymakers, engaged in corporate restructuring to achieve flexibility.

Globalization is a key force here, indeed. But rather than viewing it as an impersonal force to which corporations respond, sociologists emphasize how globalization is actively created by American corporations through global outsourcing.

In her comment, Annette Bernhardt makes this point – that it is the decisions of managers and policymakers, not impersonal forces such as globalization and technology – even sharper:

“My reading of several decades of labor market research is that the main source of America’s low-wage problem lies in domestic service industries not impacted by globalization, where the key driver of precariousness is the growing evasion and violation by employers of both legal and normative standards, facilitated by the withdrawal of government’s hand in the labor market.”

In his comment, Jeff Madrick highlights the role of deliberate government policy in the 1980s – “before the rise of very low-wage emerging markets like China’s” – such as the preference for maintaining low inflation, at the expense of allowing unemployment to rise.

Our own Steve Vallas and Chris Prener add that uncertainty in the labor market has been ideologically legitimated through a discourse that idealizes flexible employment and personal responsibility. Labor market uncertainty is portrayed in this cultural discourse as emancipatory.

These and other arguments by sociologists – in this symposium and elsewhere – present a more enlightening analysis of trends in living standards and inequality. According to the sociologists, these outcomes have been driven by the decisions of real managers and real policymakers.

All that I would add is that, as I have recently written here, these decisions in favor of employers at the expense of workers are decisions in favor of capital against labor. This is class struggle. Capital is winning.”

Incidentally, my review of Arne Kalleberg’s book is here.

On the economic side, Dean Baker shows the ways in which people higher on the social ladder, with more political power, were somehow able to protect themselves against the supposedly ineluctable effects of globalization, through protectionist measures:

“If we want to ensure that we enjoy same sort of free flow of professional services as we do of manufactured goods we would need to craft treaties designed by hospital administrators, major law firms, and university presidents that eliminated all the obstacles that made it difficult for them to hire foreign professionals.

While this move toward freer trade would offer enormous benefits to consumers and the economy by reducing the cost of health care, education, and a whole range of services, there have been few steps in this direction. In fact, in the 90s the United States deliberately restricted the inflow of foreign doctors out of a concern that they were depressing the wages of doctors in the United States (see, e.g., “Caught in the Middle,” by Lena H. Sun, Washington Post, 3/19/96,Health Section, page 10; “A.M.A. and Colleges Assert There is a Surfeit of Doctors,” by Robert Pear, New York Times, 3/1/97, page A7).

In short, the fact that globalization has led to downward pressure on the wages of less educated workers is the result of a policy decision. It is not the result of some natural process. If policy were controlled by people who care about inequality and increasing economic efficiency, then the globalization would be directed in a way that lowered the wages of the most highly paid workers.

There are other ways in which policy has almost certainly contributed to inequality. For example, if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity growth since the late 60s (when the unemployment rate was less than 4.0 percent), it would be close to $18 an hour today. Also, the fact that unionization rates have plummeted is almost certainly due in part to policies that have made it more difficult to unionize. Canada, which has a very similar economy and culture, has not experienced a decline in unionization rates of the same magnitude.

There are other ways in which policies can be identified that have contributed to massive upward redistribution of the last three decades. (Read The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive for more on this topic [it’s free].) But it is far too simple and easy to just treat the surge in inequality as a natural phenomenon. It isn’t.”

And capital winning is not something that “just happened” either, as Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker explain:

Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Winner Take All Politics from on Vimeo.

This increase in inequalities has been pretty clear not just in the US:

“Global inequalities in wealth are at their highest level for 20 years and are growing, according to a new report by Save The Children.

While the charity acknowledges progress has been made in goals such as reducing child mortality, the report says this has been uneven across income groups.

Continuing inequality could hinder further progress in improving living standards, the charity says.

The report comes ahead of a meeting of a high-level UN panel on poverty.

“In recent decades the world has made dramatic progress in cutting child deaths and improving opportunities for children; we are now reaching a tipping point where preventable child deaths could be eradicated in our lifetime,” Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said.

“Unless inequality is addressed… any future development framework will simply not succeed in maintaining or accelerating progress. What’s more, it will hold individual countries – and the world – back from experiencing real growth and prosperity,” Mr Forsyth added.

Save The Children’s researchers found that in most of the 32 developing countries they looked at, the rich had increased their share of national income since the 1990s.

In a fifth of the countries, the incomes of the poorest had fallen over the same period.”

And again:

“The ongoing crisis of the major Western capitalist economies has citizens on both sides of the Atlantic asking why the incomes of the business elite keeps rising even as companies cut jobs, banks foreclose homes, and the threat of penury faces many families who thought they were solidly middle class.

In the United Kingdom, the High Pay Commission in its report last November stated that “pay at the top has spiraled alarmingly to stratospheric levels in some of our biggest companies.”  At BP the pay of the chief executive was 16.5 times that of the average worker in 1979-80 but 63.2 times in 2009-2011. At Barclays this ratio more than quintupled from 14.5 to 75.0 over the same time period.  The annual remuneration of the chief executives of both BP and Barclays in 2009-2011 was about £4.4 million.  The Commission concluded that this high degree of income inequality manifested “a toxic form of free market capitalism” that undermines worker motivation and ultimately innovation.

This toxic form of capitalism is even more virulent in the United States. According to data for the largest corporations reported by the AFL-CIO, CEO:worker pay ratio was an excessive 42:1 in 1980, an extravagant 107:1 in 1990, an astonishing 525:1 in 2000, and an outrageous 343:1 in 2010.  The average annual pay in 2010 dollars of the top 500 highest paid executives named in US corporate proxy statements has been as high as $40.5 million in 2000 and averaged $17.9 million in 2008-2010.

Most critics argue that this growth in income inequality is unfair, plain and simple. The problem, however, goes much deeper than that.  As shown by our research from projects funded by the European Commission, the Ford Foundation, and Soros’ Institute for New Economic Thinking, these overpaid corporate executives are getting these huge bonanzas for not doing their jobs.”

It is kinda nice of journalists to finally notice what has been going on for the past thirty years. It took a major collapse to finally notice that these levels of inequalities were not sustainable. And some systemic explanations have begun to surface:

“There is growing evidence that since the late 1990s the US venture-capital model has become one in which impatient capitalists expect a quick return, even if the extraction of this return undermines the innovation process itself.  In this, the Bush tax cuts have been a major boon. Ironically, as in the early 2000s US venture-capital model was turning from value creation to value extraction, the UK Labour Party embraced the US venture-capital model, reducing from ten years to two years the duration of time that private equity has remain invested in a company  to be eligible for capital gains tax rates on its profits .

The growing concentration of income at the top in the United Kingdom is both unfair to workers and taxpayers, and damaging to the growth and competitiveness of the economy.  The British need only look at what has happened in the United States over the past decade to see the economic stagnation, social decay, and political gridlock that results when this concentration of income at the top becomes ultra-extreme.  It is time to put an end to it, now.”

And these trends have visual illustrations (data are for the UK):

And, of course, people have adapted to declining income, for instance, through increased women employment:

But that is not always an option and inequalities have increased also because of the disappearance of full-time jobs, pushing people into underemployment:

“While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits.

“Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70 to 80 percent full-time to at least 70 percent part-time across the industry,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm.

No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation’s major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs.

Technology is speeding this transformation. In the past, part-timers might work the same schedule of four- or five-hour shifts every week. But workers’ schedules have become far less predictable and stable. Many retailers now use sophisticated software that tracks the flow of customers, allowing managers to assign just enough employees to handle the anticipated demand.

“Many employers now schedule shifts as short as two or three hours, while historically they may have scheduled eight-hour shifts,” said David Ossip, founder of Dayforce, a producer of scheduling software used by chains like Aéropostale and Pier One Imports.

Some employers even ask workers to come in at the last minute, and the workers risk losing their jobs or being assigned fewer hours in the future if they are unavailable.

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

To be sure, many people prefer to work part time — for instance, college students eager for extra spending money and older people earning money for presents during the holiday season.

But in two leading industries — retailing and hospitality — the number of part-timers who would prefer to work full-time has jumped to 3.1 million, or two-and-a-half times the 2006 level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In retailing alone, nearly 30 percent of part-timers want full-time jobs, up from 10.6 percent in 2006. The agency found that in the retail and wholesale sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of small stores that rely heavily on full-time workers, about 3 in 10 employees work part-time.

Retailers and restaurants use so many part-timers not only because it gives them more flexibility, but because it significantly cuts payroll costs.”

Read the whole thing.

So, what is to be done? More equality, no way around that:

“Economists such as Paul Krugman, Robert Reich and Stewart Lansley have increasingly stressed that more equality is an essential precondition for more stable economies less prone to recession. The filthy rich don’t spend their money, while working people spend their money and increase demand.

Joseph Stiglitz, another Nobel prize winner, in his most recent book, The Price of Inequality, develops these arguments providing a powerful critique of free market ideas. He also links inequality to the argument that flexible labour markets contribute to economic strength, arguing instead that stronger worker protections correct an imbalance of power. Weakened unions have thus contributed to greater inequality – an important argument in support of fair laws for unions to replace current restrictive legislation.

The Spirit Level and the widespread dissemination of this pamphlet and the new popularity of the importance of equality may be compared to the publication in 1931 of R H Tawney’s Equality. Tawney, Beveridge and Keynes were all part of the ideological development that was to become dominant in the war years. A set of ideas that underpinned political development. Ideas that contributed to the Social democratic settlement of 1945, and ushered in the welfare state.”

As we know, and as The Spirit Level aptly demonstrated, a more equal society is a better and better-functioning society, even for the wealthiest:

“Lower tax rates have affected these donors in two opposing ways. On the positive side, they have supported higher consumption in the private sector. But on the downside, the resulting budget deficits have reduced the quantity and quality of public services. Compelling evidence suggests that the negatives have been much larger, and the positives considerably smaller, than many donors have expected.

Through private schools, gated communities, personal aircraft and other adaptations, the wealthy have been insulated from many costs of a decaying public sphere. But ill effects remain. Declining quality of public schools, for example, makes it harder for businesses to recruit productive workers, and a shrinking middle class makes it harder to sell their products in volume.

Many other effects of budget deficits also cut across the income divide. First, consider two extreme examples: When a poorly maintained bridge collapses, rich drivers are no less likely to die than poor ones. And if cutbacks in the Energy Department’s program for locking down loosely guarded nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union one day enable terrorists to detonate a dirty bomb in Manhattan, hedge fund managers and their families will suffer along with everyone else.


Let’s say that two societies differ only in their mixes of public and private spending. In one society, lower taxes on the wealthy allow them to drive very fine cars — say, $180,000 Bentleys. The streets and highways in this society, however, are riddled with foot-deep potholes.

In the other society, the wealthy pay higher taxes that support well-maintained roads, but drive $120,000 BMWs. Some car buffs will grumble, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume that all view the Bentley as the better car.

In which society would the wealthy be happier? Because product-quality improvements cost much more to achieve beyond some point, the absolute quality of a $180,000 car may be only slightly higher than one costing $120,000. And because not even the most sophisticated automotive suspensions can neutralize deep potholes, it’s little wonder that most people think the BMW drivers would be happier, not to mention safer.

That conclusion is reinforced by evidence that consumption standards are highly local. The BMW drivers in the second society don’t often mingle with the Bentley drivers in the first, and are thus unlikely to feel deprived for having less-expensive cars.

If the wealthy often overestimate the attractions of higher private spending, they’re also likely to overestimate the regulatory burden on their businesses. Compliance with regulations, of course, can be costly. And if only one company has to comply, its profits may indeed decline sharply. But regulation applies to all companies in an industry, which typically allows them to cover their costs by raising prices. So if regulation promotes a safer, cleaner environment whose benefits exceed those broadly shared costs, everyone — even a business owner — is ahead in the long run.”

And consuming differently, e.g., collaborative consumption (which sounds a lot like solidarity economics):

“Streetbank is one such collaborative consumption initiative that works to establish a broad-based network of online sharing communities in order to develop stronger, locally-rooted communities across the UK and ultimately worldwide. At its simplest, Streetbank is a website that allows you to see all the things and skills that neighbours are giving away, lending or sharing – a shared attic, garden shed, toolkit, fancy dress chest, DVD collection and skills bank all rolled into one. Its ultimate vision is a hyper-local one in which members are connected to everyone in their street, dramatically reducing consumption through sharing as a result.

From an economic perspective, it could also be argued that organisations such as Streetbank are adding to the output of the UK, if in a small and unmeasured way. GDP measures items bought rather than the use of the items/activity purchased. Take a simple example: the average drill is used for just 15 minutes in its lifetime. GDP measures the number of drills bought but in the case of a drill, this is a poor measure of a nation’s output when its usage is so low. While Government and policy makers obsess over GDP data, any serious economist should agree that an efficient economy is one in which the resources are deployed well, and where output is useful. To put it in Rachel Botsman’s terms – pioneer of the collaborative consumption movement – we need to be taking into account number of holes drilled rather than number of drills sold.


The need for projects like this is huge if we are to establish the rapid reduction in consumption and re-skilling of our communities as we deal with financial and environmental instability. The question is how to reach neighbourhoods where trust is less apparent and how to scale-up community-minded collaborative consumption initiatives in the process. This is the challenge that organisations such as Streetbank and fellow “coll cons” initatives are working to address, constantly testing their innovations as they go and supported by organisations such as NESTA, not to mention one another, embedding peer-to-peer learning in their progress.

So what can peer-to-peer activity bring to the twenty-first century table where the feast is rapidly diminishing and what’s left is meted out so unevenly? The answer is an economy based on collaboration rather than individual ownership, trust rather than status, adaptation rather than standardisation. The answer is a sharing economy. 

Hair Extension And World-System Extraction

Culture and fashion are not really my thing but neo-colonial exploitation is SO… this!

“Today, hair is more than just a symbol: it is big business. From India to Peru, the human hair trade has spread across the globe, and it has the UK in its grasp. Last year HM Revenue and Customs recorded more than £38m worth of hair (human, with some mixed human and animal) entering the country, making the UK the third biggest importer of human hair in the world.

Despite the recession the UK extension industry is booming, with hair extension companies claiming it is worth between £45m and £60m (according to London based industry research firm IBISWorld, revenue from hair and beauty salons will be £3.64bn in 2012-13). Great Lengths Hair Extensions, who supply more than 1,000 salons in the UK, report a staggering 70% growth in the past five years. And according to Dawn Riley from Balmain Hair, which sells extensions to thousands of salons and hundreds of wholesalers, this is only the beginning. “It’s still an emerging market. We are now seeing the growth that colour [hair dye] saw 30 years ago.”

In the upmarket central London salon, a full head of Great Lengths extensions costs around £900, and lasts up to six months. And while profits from cuts, colouring and blow drys have remained static, in 2012 the salon’s hair extension business has grown 60% year on year. Owner Inanch Emir has well-known clients including Cher Lloyd, Mischa Barton and Saturdays singer Rochelle Wiseman, and when I visit one weekday afternoon her small salon is buzzing. “I do about two or three hair extensions a day,” she says. “I used to do that a month.””

So, ok, fashion trends. Celebrities start them. People follow. Nothing original here, except the fact that younger and younger women use them.

But this is where I get interested:

“”If I’m honest, I don’t think people care where it is from,” admits Riley. “I would like to say we are all ethically minded, but if clients want something and they can pay for it, they will have it.” Gascoigne agrees: “I never ask where the hair comes from, I just love it so much. When you have big, bouncy hair you feel a million dollars.”

Yet behind the bounce, the profit, and the rows of neatly packaged hair, is what hair historian Caroline Cox calls the “dark side” of the industry. With the exception of a handful of businesses such as Bloomsbury Wigs, most hair comes from countries where long, natural hair remains a badge of beauty – but where the women are poor enough to consider selling a treasured asset.

Cox points out that such exploitation has underpinned the industry since false fronts and hair pieces became popular in the UK in Edwardian times. “It’s taking advantage of those who are disadvantaged,” she says. “Working-class women’s hair is used to bedeck the head of those who are more privileged. It’s been going on for hundreds of years.”

Much of the hair on sale comes from small agents who tour villages in India, China, and eastern Europe, offering poverty-stricken women small payments to part with their hair. As one importer, based in Ukraine, told the New York Times recently: “They are not doing it for fun. Usually only people who have temporary financial difficulties in depressed regions sell their hair.” More worryingly, back in 2006, the Observer reported that in India some husbands were forcing their wives into selling their hair, slum children were being tricked into having their heads shaved in exchange for toys, and in one case a gang stole a woman’s hair, holding her down and cutting it off. When Victoria Beckham said in 2003 that her “extensions come from Russian prisoners, so I’ve got Russian cell block H on my head“, she may have been joking, but it was not long until the Moscow Centre for Prison Reform admitted it was possible: warders were forcibly shaving and selling the hair of prisoners. Thanks to such horror stories, reputable companies try to ensure the hair they sell is “ethical”. Balmain Hair, Riley explains, has been sourcing hair from China for almost 50 years, and pays women the equivalent of a man’s six-month salary (although she cannot give me an exact figure). However, not all companies pay donors. In temples in south India devotees travel for hundreds of miles and queue for hours to have their hair tonsured, or ritually shaved. Some have prayed for a child, others for a sick relative or a good harvest, and when their prayers are answered they offer up their hair. According to one report, most are rural women whose hair has often never been dyed, blow-dried, or even cut and is worth around £200. The hair is then sorted and sold, often by online auction. Last year Tirumala temple, apparently made 2,000m rupees (more than £22m), from auctioning hair. Great Lengths, who sell “temple hair”, point out the hair is donated willingly, and they have a representative based in India who buys it straight from the temple, and ensures the money is funnelled directly back into the local community to fund “medical aid, educational systems and other crucial infrastructure projects”.

But while the women who grew the hair may not be well paid, the price for the customers is rising.”

Just like there is a market for everything, there is no end to the resources we can extract out of the District 12 periphery and ship to the Capitol core areas for consumption.

Patriarchal Violence Never Takes A Break

Patriarchal cultures (and that’s pretty much all of them) have all sorts of creative ways of enforcing their norms on those who defy and resist them. They never run out of violent and publicly degrading way of punishing women and girls, especially, for their deviance, enlisting all social institutions to do their work of social control and sanctioning.

Item 1 – schools:

“A teacher in southern Egypt punished two 12-year-old schoolgirls for not wearing the Muslim headscarf by cutting their hair, the father of one girl said on Wednesday.

The governor of Luxor province – where the incident occurred – called the teacher’s actions shameful and said she had been transferred to another school. But rights groups say that some Islamic conservatives have been emboldened by the success of groups like Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafi trend in parliamentary and presidential elections and have been increasingly brazen about forcing their standards on other Egyptians.

The incident follows a surge in legal cases against Egyptians, mostly Christians, who allegedly showed contempt for religion.

It also comes amid a fierce debate over how the role of religion will be defined in the country’s new constitution. The preponderance of Islamists on the panel drafting the document has alarmed liberals and religious minorities.

In the village of Qurna in Luxor province, 300 miles south of Cairo, father Berbesh Khairi el-Rawi said the teacher forced the two girls to stand with their hands above their heads for two hours and then cut their hair in their school.”

Item 2 – families:

“The scourge of acid and “honour” has claimed another victim in Pakistan where a teenage girl was reportedly murdered by her parents after she was apparently seen talking to a young man.

Police in Pakistan-administered Kashmir said they had arrested Mohammad Zafar and his wife after they allegedly confessed to dousing their 15-year-old daughter, Anvu Sha, with acid. Police were alerted by the teenager’s married, elder sister who demanded they investigate.

The precise details of the teenager’s purported offence are unclear. Some reports said her father saw her talking to a young man, while others said he merely saw her looking at two young men who drove past their house on a motorbike.

Either way, police claim that at some point on Monday Mr Zafar became enraged with his daughter, attacked her in the house and then poured acid on her with the assistance of his wife. They did not take the young girl to hospital until the following day, when she died of her injuries. “Zafar beat her up with the help of his wife,” police officer Tahir Ayub told Agence France Presse, adding that the couple had confessed to their actions. “She was badly burnt but they did not take her to hospital until the next morning, and she died on Wednesday.”

Acid attacks, especially those  relating to cases of so-called honour, are commonplace in Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia and campaigners have struggled for years for the authorities to tackle the issue more forcefully.”