Thanks to this article in Salon, I became aware of the Pope's new statement on the evil of free market capitalism. It turns out that each pope issues an apostolic exhortation (multiple?) that elucidates his policy platform. Pope Francis just released his Evangelii Gaudium. It mainly seems to provide guidance for prosyletizing, but there is one section that directly addresses free market capitalism. In essence, it argues that free market policies are evil and that governments have a responsibility to intervene in markets to reduce inequality.
He describes the current economic order as an "economy of exclusion and inequality" that "kills". By excluding individuals from the benefits of economic growth, by turning them into outcasts and leftovers, it literally starves and kills them. And this is driven, he argues, by an attitude that privileges profits over people.
In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become[sic] the only rule.
The result is an "impersonal economy" that abstracts from the personal, reducing men and women to consumers and "globalizing indifference". Such indifference is characteristic of those who have rejected ethics (and, of course, God) and rule society in a somewhat anonymous manner.
To those who believe economic growth is the solution, he says:
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
He clearly recognizes that this system generates intolerable inequality and that inequality in turn generates violence. The solution is not policies and systems of surveillance, not police security, but economic security and greater equality.
This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.
Therefore, there is a role for the state in addressing the weaknesses of the system, if not in replacing an unjust, evil socioeconomic system. The Pope exhorts:
Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.
Overall this position seems to represent a renewed acceptance of liberation theology, which basically unites Marxism with Catholicism. This is supported by the Pope's meeting with and increased positive coverage of Father Gutierrez, who was a pioneer of the approach. And I'm no longer Catholic, but this still excites me very much.
My only concern is that the dichotomy established between "included" and "excluded" creates and defines a group of people "outside" the system that are thereby directly converted to a constituency of "outcasts", a constituency that the Church has traditionally sought to attract and serve. The first problem is that the excluded cannot really be excluded from the economic system if that very system is what produces them; they are inherently part of that system. The second issue for me is the use of political rhetoric to attract adherents. Obviously, on one level, one cannot blame the Church for working to maintain and strengthen its organization and influence. But I fear that the Church will mobilize the masses behind it and neglect the political activism needed to address their needs.
In the same class, one of the students (Tim) mentioned that efficiency is essential to development. This simple claim, which I think is correct, is easy to overlook if you are critiquing capitalist conceptions of development. But the fact of the matter is that if you want to improve people's material wellbeing, you have to improve the efficiency of their work. (Or perhaps you can just help them build better sewerage systems or houses?) Similarly to reduce material throughput in production and consumption, you have to improve efficiency. The consequent questions then are how much efficiency do we need? how quickly do we need to achieve it? and what forms of social organization will let us achieve the desired level of efficiency in the desired time?
So my graduate school class today took a surprising and welcome turn. There were two things that I'll separate out. The first is this: love and development. For class we read the 30-year update to Limits to Growth. At the end, the authors identify five tools for reshaping the feedback loops in the existing global system. One of these is love, which unsurprisingly gave everyone pause. And we spent most of the class discussing what love is, how it applies to development, how politicians have used love (current mayor of Bogota Gustavo Petro Urrego and former Paraguayan President Federico Franco), and love's connection to philanthropy and charity. It has me thinking that it would be interesting to look at the relationship between love and development. So here is a list, which I will amend over time as new ideas emerge, of books and articles that might be useful for such an endeavor:
- Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development, which addresses love in its final chapter.
- Cornell West, The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, which I assume addresses love since it has been one of his themes.
- Nel Noddings, Caring, which offers an ethic based on caring that has obvious connections to love and loving.
- Adam Kahane, Power and Love, which apparently former Paraguayan President Federico Franco asked some of his staff to read (if I understood correctly).
- Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude, a discussion (at Columbia's GSAPP) of which led him to shyly suggest that one possible solution to capitalist exploitation might be love.
- Julius Nyerere, Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism, "Socialism and Rural Development", speaks of 'love' as an assumption of traditional ujamaa living, which is to be the basis for Tanzanian socialism.
I am open to any other suggestions you have...
So I've finally started to sit down properly with Deleuze and Guattari's "A Thousand Plateaus". I read "Anti-Oedipus" years ago and found it very exciting, but I haven't found or made an opportunity to take "A Thousand Plateaus" off the shelf until now. This summer I suggested a tentative organized panel at ACSP to explore how D&G's ideas could fit into planning, since they've been largely ignored by planners with the notable exception of Jean Hillier and a few others.
So I read the conclusion a few weeks ago and over the last two days read Bassumi's introduction and the first chapter. And I am intrigued yet unconvinced. The text is certainly rich in provocative ideas, but I'm not sure its own ideas hold up or are desirable. Here I will try to identify why. Note, please, that this is a fragmentary and first reading, so I'm sure my thoughts will develop as I go further. In a sense, this can be thought of as one of the response papers I assign my students.
A quick summary of the ideas as I presently understand them is surely useful. In the first chapter, D&G are essentially proposing a "toolkit" of concepts that can counter the power relations inherent in philosophical frameworks that strive to centralize and unify understanding. They describe such unitary philosophies as trees, tap-roots, or root-trees to capture the idea that they have a dominant core of concepts (the trunk) that branch out hierarchically and are used to shape the world by inscribing these ideas into lived experience. In opposition, they advocate for rhizomes, plants like the quaking aspens and bamboo whose root systems grow horizontally in many directions at once and can establish new plants if the original dies or other conditions permit. Concepts that spread like rhizomes do not hierarchically organize experience but rather thrive on their interaction with the physical, biological, and social worlds, multiplying possibilities and interpretations. The apparent ideal philosophical toolkit would assemble "smooth spaces" of ideas folded over and into each other as "lines of flight" emerge from existing unified conceptions.
First, in many ways the ideas don't feel as new as I expected them to. Perhaps this is because I've absorbed them indirectly through other writers and friends. But this perpetual undermining of centrality and unification is rooted in dialectics, as much as D&G detest Hegel and disagree with Marx. Lefebvre's "Autogestion" offers the strategy of exploding through the seams, the contradictions, or existing, centralized institutions. Of course, the idea that there can only be one direction, as implied in Marx and explicit in Hegel, is anathema to D&G, but Lefebvre seems to have a much more open mind about where "The Explosion" will lead.
Second, the rhizome concept seems problematic in two ways. On one hand, rhizomes are supposed to be distinct from root-trees but they repeatedly note that root-trees, too, can be rhizomes. What I think they mean by this is that trees also have horizontal, non-hierarchical relations with other trees, animals, and plants as well as the weather, nutrients, and so on in constituting one part of a broader ecosystem. For instance, squirrels burying nut caches they've collected from trees is a significant portion of the life cycle of many trees and eventually produce forests that constitute their own character are mutually interdependent relations. So, in essence, rhizome seems to be much more about how one perceives the world (and they do say as much when they talk about rhizomes as "perceptual apparatuses") than about particular types of theories. Theories that are used to dominate all experience through their coding are bad in isolation, but perhaps when considered as possible interpretations (or tools of understanding) they are acceptable. On the other hand, a closely related concern is that if they want to put such weight on analogies to nature, why do I get the sense that root-trees will be inherently bad and rhizomes inherently good? Is simply a feeling I get because people misuse their ideas? Or is it their idea? Or are they overlooking the fact that natural ecosystems have provided many mechanisms of survival and propagation that sometimes complement and sometimes compete with each other? If the latter, perhaps we should be searching for other analogies, too? (D&G would probably enthusiastically endorse that project.)
Finally, I'm not sure that their smooth space, their plateaus, are attractive to me. They say that they have drawn the idea of plateaus from Gregory Bateson's analysis of Baliness practices. Since I have a copy of Bateson's "Steps to an Ecology of Mind", I read the chapter on the practices today. In essence, Bateson contrasts the Western predilection for orgasmic resolutions to increasing tensions (positive or negative) with the Balinese cultural practices that avoid such resolutions, especially in regard to conflict. Essentially, children are raised to experience an increase in tension (through flirtation, for example) that is abandoned before it can be resolved, that is, before there is a violent orgasm to dissolves the pressure. The suggestion, I believe, is that this unsatisfied libidinal desire is then redirected to other activities, particularly music, dance, and other arts. But even these forms, Bateson suggests, express the same pattern of increasing tension and libido that does not find release. This leads to a stable, peaceful society that perhaps reflects D&G's hopes(? ). But to me this stability, this smoothness, this libidinous plateau, appears to emerge from a perpetual suppression and redirection of the libido, of desire. Of course for repressed desires to reappear in artistic expression (as well as sports) is surely a healthy thing in many cases, especially for more destructive desires, as Herbert Marcuse pointed out in "Eros and Civilization". But I rather enjoy orgasmic moments. And I don't want to give them up. As Woody Allen says in "Manhattan", "even my worst one was right on the money".
Michael Hobbes writes in the Pacific Standard about his recent information gathering mission in Zambia. It's a very readable piece that surveys the complex issues facing the country. What I like most about it is that he has the humility to admit that he does not have a clear solution for alleviating the country's poverty. And I think that is what everyone who isn't trying to sell something probably has to admit. We know much less about development than we think we do.
Here is an attempt to lay down the history of Hunt's Donuts at the corner of 20th and Mission St. in San Francisco. I lived around the corner on San Carlos in 1996. I could see the shop from my bedroom window. And I could watch people buying drugs (supposedly methodone) from the building right across the street. While I knew the corner was actively illegal, I never knew it was quite like this! Unfortunately, I don't think I ever went inside... But I was also fascinated by the sign on the outside that said it was open 25 hours. There is something so simple and mystical about the claim.
I had moved into the apartment after separating from my girlfriend and moving out of our apartment. One roommate, Sophie, was a documentary film maker. The other, Patricio, is still one of my closest friends. Later Sophie moved out and we made the mistake(?) of letting a previous roommate move back in. From Mike I learned everything one could want to know about crop circles and Atlantis. Unfortunately, one time a "friend" he had met at a party stayed with us for a few days. At the end of those days, our place was robbed. I lost a good tape deck, a roll of stamps, and some other valuable things. Then I stupidly took my roommate and friend's word that they had already called the cops and the cops had visited. Fool! Soon after, by chance Patricio was offered the opportunity to move up into the "Swish Alps" between the Castro and Noe Valley in a 1908 house with virgin redwood beams and a garden full of flowers and fruit for an insanely low rent from a friend of his. "Paradise on a stick," we called it. And we passed the apartment lease on to a gay guy who had prosthetic legs from the knee down.
Crisis-induced reform, state–market relations, and entrepreneurial urban growth in China available online
My piece on Chinese urban entrepreneurialism with Lei Wang and Zhigang Li is now available online. Here is the abstract:
The urban entrepreneurialism literature on China has focused either on macro-level state devolution or on micro-level place-making initiatives. Little has been written on the meso-level question of how the mode of regulation in general or institutional reforms in particular have worked to forge China's state-led urban growth by reshaping the state-market relationship. Through an investigation of China's crisis-induced fiscal and land use reforms since the mid-1990s, this paper argues that piecemeal, gradualist reform has transformed local states from protectionist market actors to investment promoters with monopoly power over land markets. Though this shift has supported entrepreneurial urban growth driven by manufacturing and real estate investment, it also tends to aggravate inter-regional and urban-rural tensions. As a country in transition that faces multiple challenges, China needs more holistic reform framework for sustainable growth.
So I've been back for a few weeks now and working to get my world in order for the new semester. And everything seems to be looking up for me. It's a bit frightening.
First, I've just finished editing an article on urban industry for the Korean Planning Association's journal. This acceptance fulfills my requirements for recontracting. So it looks like they won't be kicking me out in March (at least not due to my publications!). And it gets even better. Unless the new scoring or system for evaluating publishing changes (which is a distinct possibility!), the journals I have published in have a high enough impact factor to secure my position for some time to come. (The fact that impact factor does not necessarily represent journal quality or reputation will have to be discussed another time.) At any rate, I have gone from a high level of job insecurity to a high level of job security. And it feels fine!
I have two classes to which I am looking forward, and getting the syllabus together and on my website has taken up a good deal of time over the last couple of weeks. For the undergraduates, I am offering Introduction to International Development, which examines the history of the concept of "development" and some preceding economic theory. I've shifted a number of the readings from previous years to expand my own resources. I'm particularly excited to read Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, which in part jumpstarted neoliberalism as a philosophy. For the graduate students I'm offering a new seminar class I am calling "Development Alternatives", about which I am very excited. I want to look at how systems theory has evolved into resilience theory and how this evolution has changed the way we thing about alternative forms of development that might address our pressing environmental challenges. It's a huge topic, but I think very rewarding. Of course, it will probably only be rewarding to a few students as most are likely to shrink away at the realization that they have to read about 150 pages each week. But at least that way I will only have students who really want to engage the topic!
And I am slowly but surely organizing my files and spaces. I am in the process of synchronizing my home files with my work files so that I can automate this in the future. Then I'd like to update the school OS and change the home OS, among other things. I also need to do some office furniture reorganization, but I need to get some new furniture first. Realistically all this will probably take the whole semester and longer, but at least it's moving forward and I can distribute my attention to more than just survival.
So my latest best-case scenario has been realized, albeit a couple of days late. A couple of weeks ago in the first couple of days of my real vacation, I received notice that my solo piece "Rivers of traffic: The spatial fragmentation of US ports" was accepted by Regional Studies. This means that my recontracting is now almost guaranteed. Only one of three Korean papers in progress has to be accepted for me to meet my requirements. Needless to say, this is a great relief to me. It's nice that it's going to be published, but much nicer is that I can keep feeding my family and teaching my wonderful students.
Once I return to the US from the joint AESOP-ACSP conference in Dublin, I will post my author's version of the paper.
[Somehow it's still a bit difficult to relax completely, though...]
So my summer is getting a bit better. Yesterday I received news that my article "Crisis-induced Reform, State-Market Relations, and Entrepreneurial Urban Growth in
China" (co-authored with Dr. Lei Wang of Wuhan University) has been accepted for publishing. This puts me much closer to meeting my recontracting requirements and relieves a good deal of stress. I think I still have to write another paper to add to my security and to meet my research fund requirements.
More on the article when it becomes available online.