The deep divisions in American political and social life have long been thought to explain the unique weakness of America’s welfare infrastructure, and the absence of an integrated system of universal benefits.
But on their own, demographic divisions need not necessarily fragment coalitions for universal demands—history is teeming with political movements which were capable of uniting different factions. In his 1981 book, City Trenches, political scientist IRA KATZNELSON situates a history of immigration and racial conflict within a structural account of America’s urban geography and economic development.
From the text:
"Analyses of games or contests, political or otherwise, must do more than describe the players and their adversary play. They must also say something about the boundaries of the contest, which define its limits prior to the playing of the game itself. Attempts to make sense of what is special about class in America have ordinarily proceeded without this specification. They have most frequently focused on one of three conditions of American life—the racial and ethnic fragmentation of the working class itself, the unusual economic rewards of the economy, or the values that integrate American society—and they have generally argued that these conditions have made virtually impossible the development of class-based politics.
But America’s working class was not created once and for all. It has been fashioned and refashioned as members of national, ethnic, or religious groups that had been outside of the frame of capitalist labor relations have entered the ‘free’ labor market. I argue below that the unique characteristics of American institutions are aspects of a sharply divided consciousness about class in American society that finds many Americans acting on the basis of the shared solidarities of class at work, but on that of ethnic and territorial affinities in their residential communities. Each kind of conflict has had its own separate vocabulary and set of institutions: work, class, and trade unions; community, ethnicity, local parties, churches, and voluntary associations. Class, in short, has been lived and fought as a series of partial relationships, and it has therefore been experienced and talked about as only one of a number of competing bases of social life. What is distinctive about the American experience is that the linguistic, cultural, and institutional meaning given to the differentiation of work and community, a characteristic of all industrial capitalist societies, has taken a sharply divided form, and that it has done so for a very long time."
Link to the book.
- "The factors that lead people to see the world in class terms may not be the same as those that sustain organizations created to act on such a vision. We need to investigate the conditions which encourage both the world view and organizational longevity in critical moments." Kim Voss’s 1992 paper examines American Exceptionalism through the rise and fall of the Knights of Labor. Link.
- Mike Davis considers the question in a 1980 NLR: "On the one hand we must discard the idea that the fate of American politics has been shaped by any overarching telos. On the other hand, we cannot underestimate the role of sedimented historical experiences as they influenced and circumscribed capacities for development in succeeding periods." Link.
- "Perhaps the debate over American exceptionalism has gone on for so long and so inconclusively because the question itself is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps beginning our investigation with a negative question inevitably invites ahistorical answers." A 1984 article by Eric Foner casts doubt on the debate. Link.
Agribusiness in Brazil
PhD Candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University DANIELA ANDRADE studies rural poverty and agrarian development, with an interest in agrarian change in Mozambique and Brazil. In a 2017 paper, Andrade traces the rise of agribusiness and primary commodities export specialization in Brazil.
From the paper:
"In the course of the 2000s, the expansion of agribusiness production and exports has boosted economic growth in Brazil, contributing to its rise as an emerging economy and a major player in the global food system. This article explores the relationship between the empirical rise of Brazilian agribusiness and its fundamental historical and material sense (or essence), which is abstracted from its relations with the broader economy and its logic of reproduction and accumulation. Using statistical series from the country’s Balance of Payments (BoP), macroeconomic and sector parameters, agribusiness expansion is analysed in the context of the overall transformations in the patterns of production, trade and capital flows, underpinned since the neoliberal policy reforms of the 1990s. The analysis shows that the rise of Brazil as an agribusiness powerhouse is part and parcel of the economy-wide effects of financialisation, sponsored by state macroeconomic policies. While these policies have created opportunities for transnational financial – and often speculative – gains, they have also undermined production and exports, particularly in the industrial sector, inducing a process of primary commodities export specialisation. As it is discussed, reprimarisation has contributed to BoP fragility, the reproduction of debt and external dependence, which are at the core of the current crisis."
Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you'd like to see shared here? Send it our way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- "The 'Volcker Shock' ended the era of stagflation by destroying the demand for money. It wasn’t the reduction of the state’s money supply, but the absolute destruction of the private economy that ended the great inflation." New on the blog, Yakov Feygin on the political economy of inflation. Link.
- Save the date: Join Phenomenal World on January 25 at 2 pm ET for a discussion on "Party Politics and the Financialization of Social Policy in Brazil," moderated by Barbara Weinstein and featuring Lena Lavinas, Rosana Pinheiro Machado, and André Singer. Register here.
- "The pandemic provides further evidence of the intimate interconnection between occupational health and public health and the need for both practice and policies to be shaped with these interactions in mind." Michael Quinlan on Covid-19 and worker health. Link.
- Edward Glaeser and James Poterba on infrastructure investment. Link.
- "We offer a dynamic theory of climate politics based on the present and future revaluation of assets." By Jeff Colgan, Jessica Green, and Thomas Hale. Link. h/t Paul
- David Francis, Imraan Valodia, and Edward Webster on exacerbating inequality amid the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. Link.
- "I use geospatial analyses to map ocean currents and explore routes of passage for maritime maroons from the island of St. Croix." By Justin Dunnavant. Link.
- In Bloomberg CityLab, Sarah Holder calls 2021 "The Year of Guaranteed Income Experiments," referencing JFI's work with the Compton Pledge. Link.
- "Our analysis shows that Left parties face a trade-off between mobilizing workers and other voters and that unionization renders workers more loyal to Left parties that mobilize non-workers." Line Rennwald and Jonas Pontusson revisit Przeworski and Sprague’s Paper Stones. Link.
- "Credit undersupply and regional fragmentation could only be overcome through the integration of the South within a larger Italian market, in which, however, the lion's share went to a predominantly Northern institution." Maria Stella Chiaruttini on 19th-century financial development in Southern Italy. Link.
- "Based on data from all US recessions since 1949, this column shows that the 2020 recession deviates most sharply from the historical norm in its disparate gender impact." Titan Alon, Matthias Doepke, Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, and Michèle Tertilt in VoxEU. Link.
- "During the second half of the seventh century AD, the coin-using regions of North-west Europe switched from gold to silver currencies. This change was a key element in the social and economic transformations that resulted in increased long-distance trade, greater specialisation and the growth of large port settlements.Yet the sources of the silver that allowed the shift from gold to silver coinage have proven enigmatic. Recent archaeological exploration of an early medieval silver mine at Melle (Deux-Sèvres, France) and the isotopic profiling of its lead have indicated that exploitation of these deposits could have contributed to the epochal economic shift of the mid seventh century AD. Data on lead pollution from a new ice core at Colle Gnifetti, Switzerland, provides evidence of the renewed smelting of silver-lead ores from c. AD 640–670. This unambiguously shows that, alongside any residual pool of Roman bullion and imported metal, new mining facilitated the production of the last post-Roman gold coins—debased with increasing amounts of silver—and the new silver coinages that replaced them." Link.