October 2nd, 2021

Stranger

THE HART CELLER ACT

A rise in deportations of Haitian immigrants at the US-Mexico border has brought another cycle of media attention to the US immigration system and border security apparatus.

The modern US immigration system was largely shaped by the 1965 Hart Celler Act, which passed amidst a wave of civil rights reforms. In a 2010 article, MAE NGAI unpacks the political history of the legislation and its role in defining contemporary understandings of legal and illegal immigration.

From the text:

"The problem of our present system is that it is based on a core paradox: Our system of allocating visas for the admission of permanent residents—the vaunted green card—is based on principles of equality and fairness, yet that very system has generated an ever-larger caste-population of unauthorized immigrants. We rarely, if ever, question the principle embedded in Hart-Celler that we should treat every country the same. It is based on a logic of equality and fairness and was meant to replace the patently inequitable and discriminatory system of national origin and racial quotas that had governed immigration policy since the 1920s. It was also very much in line with the outlook of the civil rights era. That was the ethos of the time—Hart-Celler is often recalled as being of a piece with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was also the self-conscious strategy of immigration reformers in the 1950s and early 1960s who decried the national origins quota system for its discrimination against eastern and southern Europeans.

When the initial hemispheric quotas under Hart-Celler went into effect in 1968, deportations to Mexico increased by forty percent, to 151,000. In 1976, when the country caps went into full effect, the United States deported 781,000 Mexicans. This compares with a total of 100,000 removals to all other countries in the world combined. By 1980 it was estimated that an illegal population of some two million people had accreted. There are now some twelve million unauthorized migrants in the United States. Three-quarters of them are from Mexico and Central America. They are the direct beneficiaries of legislation passed in the era of civil rights, founded on the principle of formal equality."

 Full Article

September 18th, 2021

Developmentalisms

The forgotten ancestors of East Asian developmentalism

2021 marked the centenary of the creation of the Chinese Communist Party, born of the May Fourth Movement of 1919. History textbooks tend to claim that the Movement emerged out of a widespread realization that China’s rights as a victorious power during WWI had been sold out at the Paris Peace Conference by the European Powers. Students were angered by elite collusion with Japan and the corruption of the early Chinese Republic—also known as the “Beiyang Regime.” The activists found hope in the new Soviet model, and May Fourth is credited with bringing Bolshevism to China and beginning its socialist phase.

In Japan, conversely, state-led economic development has often been attributed to a deliberate attempt to mimic the West industrially and militarily since the Meiji era. Japanese developmentalism is perceived to be strategic and straightforward, enabled after WWII by a foundation of free market capitalism.

In fact, state driven economic development in both countries is the product of a long and complex ideological history. In the late nineteenth century, Chinese and Japanese economists drew inspiration from Hamiltonianism (also known as the “American School”) and German State Socialism

 Full Article

September 4th, 2021

Red Coyote

ODIOUS DEBT

Haiti won independence from France in 1804, but in return for recognizing its formerly enslaved colony, France later forced Haiti to pay an indemnity of 150 million francs and give preferential treatment to French exports. The debt was equivalent to 270 percent of GDP—Haiti only paid off its debt in 1950.

Considering the absence of Haiti in larger conversations around sovereign debt, a new paper by Kim Oosterlinck, Ugo Panizza, Mark C. Weidemaier, and Mitu Gulati argues that Haiti’s debt should be seen as odious. The authors make the case that Haiti paid an exorbitant cost on an illegitimate debt, and that the nation is entitled to reparations.

From the paper:

"By any reasonable definition, the Haitian Independence Debt would seem to be odious. The circumstances suggest coercion, as does the fact that the agreement obliged Haitians to pay compensation for the freedom they had already won. The amount has been reported at around 300% of Haitian GDP (270% in our estimates), and it was understood that Haiti could pay only by borrowing vast sums from French banks, thus transforming the indemnity into a debt burden that would persist for generations. The debt cannot reasonably be characterized as in the best interest of the Haitian people. Yet we see little mention of it in the literature on odious debt or, indeed, in the larger literatures on sovereign debt or debt and development. To be sure, authors writing in French examine the intertwined history of Haiti and France and often discuss the Haitian Independence Debt. Likewise, articles in the popular press occasionally ask whether France owes compensation to Haiti for the episode. But these discussions have not yet made their way to the general sovereign debt literature or into the sub-field examining the doctrine of odious sovereign debt. Nor have they prompted a deeper examination of whether that doctrine should extend to debts imposed by former imperial powers in the context of independence and decolonization.

 Full Article

August 24th, 2021

Legitimacy Gap

We live in the age of the central bank. The financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 crash of last year have made visible the central role of the US Federal Reserve and its overseas counterparts in the international financial system, and their dramatic actions earned them applause for avoiding a second and third Great Depression. Rescuing banks and preventing financial collapse are the tasks of central banks, and their success brought relief to the economy. But these actions bore a distributional impact. Most of the financial policies adopted in response to the crisis—quantitative easing, bond purchases, and low interest rates—have protected wealth without creating opportunities to accrue new wealth for those who don’t possess it. As the “K-shaped“ charts of the 2020 recovery made plain, a market rebound did not spell economic wellbeing for ordinary people.

The outsize role of central banks—especially the Fed—in the international financial system has led to some of skepticism about central banks and their independence.

 Full Article

August 11th, 2021

Built Trades

Employer claims of unavailable labor are rooted in an unwillingness to raise wages and the long-term decline of the nation’s system of training and allocating labor.

As the American economy reopened in the first half of 2021, reports of a “labor shortage” have spread throughout US industries. But there was one sector where employer panic about hiring was old news: the massive and decentralized US construction industry. According to industry surveys, the share of homebuilders who rank the “cost and availability of labor” as their most significant problem has increased every year since 2011. This summer, the complaints continue.

What can the construction example tell us about the increasingly widespread idea of a “labor shortage”? Mark Erlich, the former Executive Secretary-Treasurer (EST) of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, now a fellow at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, laughs at employer claims: “Labor shortage” has been a “chronic cry for decades.

 Full Article

July 24th, 2021

Rayfish

CASTE & LABOR

Structures of unfree labor have always been at the edge of current and historical discourse on labor, mobility and caste in South Asia. This has been in focus during the COVID-led migrant crisis in India, where around 11.4 million migrant workers were forced into an exodus from urban to rural areas.

In a recent book, RADHIKA SINGHA unpacks the category of ‘menial’ labor as one structured by caste, class and race. She focuses on the massive role of Indian labor—involving 563,369 followers or non-combatants in the British Indian Army—in Mesopotamia and France during World War I.

From the book:

"In colonial civil offices, ‘menial establishment’ was the formal categorisation for the lowest rung of employees, from peons (messengers) down to file-suppliers, bhistis and sweepers. The label ‘menial’ was often used in discussion of their service conditions. In exploring this condition of ‘menial’ status, we have the benefit of a valuable body of writing which has shown how caste norms tended to hem powerless communities into the hardest and most stigmatised sectors of work regimes—even in those which were being refashioned under the drives of colonialism and capitalism. ‘Untouchability’ was thereby recast in new contexts, and low pay, degrading conditions of work, and corporal discipline were ‘naturalised.’ The attached followers found it particularly difficult to challenge their consignment to menial status because of the presence in their ranks of ‘untouchable’ castes who swept, cleaned latrines, washed clothes, and crafted leather. This was work characterised both as a ‘trade’—that is, as a caste structured specialisation—and as ‘polluting.’ Regimental followers, public and private, were, in the manner of domestic servants, expected to be constantly at hand to tend to the physical needs of their institutional superiors, who felt they had a personal right to chastise followers for inadequate service, evasion, or questioning of demands. The fact that regiments found themselves having to supplement the income of public followers and employ ‘private’ followers blurred the line between public employee and domestic servant."

 Full Article

July 10th, 2021

Dawning Man

THE HAITIAN STATE

Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on Wednesday, plunging the country into greater political unrest following months of protests around Moïse's controversial decision to rule by decree.

A 2006 article by ROBERT FATTON JR. investigates Haiti's state formation after independence, shedding light on the country's current distributional struggles.

From the article:

"Slaves knew that their freedom depended on the destruction of the plantation economy; however, Haiti’s place in world production and utter dependence on sugar exports also rested on the plantation system. At independence Haitian rulers confronted a cruel choice. If they preserved emancipation by supporting the former slaves’ aspirations to become independent peasants, they would ultimately condemn the country to material underdevelopment. If they promoted an immediate economic recovery, they would be compelled to impose a military-like discipline on the newly freed masses and they would thus emasculate emancipation itself. Moreover, the high army officers who led the revolution were determined to keep and expand their power; this in turn required maximising revenues and foreign exchange. The plantation system facilitated the collection of taxes and privileged the concentration of land ownership in the hands of the new ruling class. Thus the imperatives of economic recovery and defending emancipation against the potential military aggressions of the great powers coincided with the class interests of the first postcolonial leaders to create patterns of unequal land ownership and forced labour. Gross material inequalities and political despotism opened a massive chasm between rulers and citizens. The outcome of the slaves’ revolution for freedom was paradoxically a new authoritarianism in the name of emancipation."

 Full Article

June 5th, 2021

Essay on Urban Planning

PEASANT REVOLTS

This week marked the 640th anniversary of the 1381 Great Rising, a rebellion which swept across medieval England demanding an end to serfdom and an overhaul of the legal system and the aristocracy.

A 2009 book edited by A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi and Cristóbal Kay examines the past, present, and future of peasant studies, paying close attention to the impact of globalization on configurations of rural power.

From the book's conclusion:

"Agrarian restructuring has altered the land-, labour- and capital-intensity of production, in ways that have profoundly altered the terrain of the agrarian question. In Brazil and Vietnam, significant linkages between the export-oriented and peasant production subsectors has facilitated an asymmetrical but mutually reinforcing expansion of both subsectors, and consequently domestic demand. In both, the agricultural export sector now drives growth that, through its impact on product prices and wages, fosters increases in domestic demand in the rural economy in the first instance, but also more generally in the economy as a whole. Within both Brazil and Vietnam, rural accumulation continues to be of importance for both capital and labour and, in this sense, the classical concerns of the agrarian question remain salient.

By countrast, in countries as varied as Bolivia, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe, the processes of market-led land appropriation can be witnessed, though contingent trajectories of variation have produced manifestly different outcomes in specific settings. In particular, higher-value agricultural exports are an important determinant of aggregate rates of rural accumulation, but substantially weaker linkages between the export and peasant subsectors have fostered a significantly weaker distribution of the gains from rural accumulation and thus equality-deteriorating patterns of rural growth. Indeed, the greater emphasis on higher-value agricultural exports, coupled with devaluations and the removal of import restrictions resulting from ongoing structural adjustment in agriculture, has effectively, and in some cases deliberately, neglected agricultural production for the home market. Thus a range of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are increasingly engaged in the production of specialist farm output for niche consumer markets in developed capitalist economies, usually under the aegis of agro-food transnational corporations operating upstream in the commodity chain. The result, in many countries, has been to generate a reproduction squeeze within the increasingly fragmented peasant sector."

Link to the text.

 Full Article

April 28th, 2021

Reconstruction Finance

Reconstructing the RFC

Like the world system as a whole, segregated cities in the United States have their own finance driven core-periphery dynamics. The world economy is structured by countries with competitive export sectors and trade surpluses, like Germany and China, who exhibit underconsumption and excess savings; the US's debt-fueled economy receives these savings through its domination of global financial markets. The dynamic strengthens the power of global finance at the expense of wages and living standards. And within the US, the allocation of credit and investment has exacerbated racial disparities and altered the municipal geography of debt. At the level of the city and the financial system, these developments warrant a powerful political response. But what form can that response take?

 Full Article

February 20th, 2021

The Great Conspiracy

ELECTRICITY

Earlier this week, millions of households lost power in the face of a powerful snowstorm. While these numbers are unusual, they are not new—the US suffers among the most frequent power outages of any industrialized country, concentrated especially in rural areas and the South.

In a recent paper, ABBY SPINAK analyzes the political trajectory of America's weak electrical infrastructure by comparing the underlying economic assumptions of the New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration (REA) with those of the Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission in Canada.

From the paper:

"In the early twentieth century, experiments in electricity were experiments in statecraft. A malleable technology with significant financing and distribution challenges, electricity was a proxy through which budding welfare states could hash out their responsibilities to the public. Early public electrification efforts became sites of deliberation about balancing urban and rural needs, industrial development, and the public interest. Through electrification programs, policymakers in industrializing countries proposed and tested ideas of economic citizenship, the proper role for government, and the limits of private enterprise. Vibrant forums within and between industrializing nations intensely debated whether electricity was a right or a privilege—and where and for whom.

Why did REA power flow not quite so freely as it did in Ontario? With an explicit charter not to distinguish between private, municipal, or cooperative power companies for dispersal of loans, the REA focused on keeping rates low and distributing power to areas where it could encourage rapid economic growth. It only begrudgingly supported the use of federal loans in the construction of generating stations where power could not be purchased inexpensively enough through the private market. Despite the explicit connection of the REA to Dust Bowl mitigation efforts, its emphasis was less on protecting natural resources for the common good and more on ensuring the efficiency and sustainability of natural resources for national economic growth. In the latter case, who owned what mattered much less than how capably it would be put to use."

Link to the piece

  • "Although REA programs were planned and administered in Washington, D.C., western residents rather than New Deal administrators initiated most of the region's rural electrification projects." Brian Q. Cannon on "Rural Electrical Cooperatives and the New Deal." Link. & Carl Kitchens and Price Fishback examine "The Spatial Impact of the Rural Electrification Administration 1935-1940." Link.
  • "Africa is the most undersupplied region in the world when it comes to electricity, but its economies are utterly dependent on it." David A. McDonald introduces a book of collected essays on inequality and electrification across the continent. (Also inside: river privatization and hydropower, nuclear energy in South Africa, corporate power in Uganda.) Link.
  • Wuyuan Peng Jiahua Pan with a history of rural electrification in China. Link. And from Jonathan Coopersmith's 2016 book: "Electrification transformed capital markets, the military, manufacturing, the spatial geography of cities, and many other facets of Russian life." Link.
 Full Article