Where slavery thrived, inequality rules today

More than a century later, some experts say, a terrible institution is still exacting its price.

By Stephen Mihm  AUGUST 24, 2014

EARLIER THIS MONTH, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services, a credit rating firm that rarely weighs in on social issues, published a scathing report on income inequality and social mobility in the United States. The firm warned that current levels of inequality were “dampening” growth, and predicted that “inequalities will extend into the next generation, with diminished opportunities for upward social mobility.”

This unusual report on inequality, like Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book on the same subject, addresses unequal fortunes, declining mobility, and stagnating economic growth as national or even global problems, which demand similarly large-scale solutions. But scholars are also well aware that these problems vary greatly from place to place. Consider a recent, much-publicized study of social mobility by economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues at Harvard and Berkeley. As the illuminating map generated by that study shows, children born in some regions—Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif., for example—have a reasonable shot of moving up the social ladder. By contrast, many parts of the former Confederacy, it seems, are now the places where the American dream goes to die.

Why is that true? At first blush, you might guess race could explain the variation. When the study’s authors crunched the data, they found that the larger the black population in any given county, the lower the overall social mobility. But there was more to the story than blacks unable to break the cycle of poverty. In a passing comment, Chetty and his co-authors observed that “both blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility.” Far from being divergent, the fates of poor blacks and poor whites in these regions are curiously, inextricably, intertwined.

Institutions are Built to Maintain, Automate Collective Action

Slavers Built Inegalitarian Institutions

Instead of chalking it up to race, recent research points toward a more startling and somewhat controversial explanation: When we see broad areas of inequality in America today, what we are actually seeing is the lingering stain of slavery. Since 2002, with increasing refinement in the years since, economic historians have argued that the “peculiar institution,” as it was once called, is dead but not gone. Today, in the 21st century, it still casts an economic shadow over both blacks and whites: “Slavery,” writes Harvard economist Nathan Nunn, “had a long-term effect on inequality as well as income.”

His work is representative of a new, more historical direction within economics. Its proponents believe that institutions devised centuries ago tend to persist, structuring economic reality in the 21st century in ways that are largely invisible. Their hope is that, by tracing these connections between past and present, they may be able to point the way toward more effective solutions to today’s seemingly intractable economic problems.

Engerman & Sokoloff’s (2002) Institutional-econ Hypothesis Explains Inequality and Economic Stagnation

IN 2002, two economic historians, Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, published an influential paper that tried to answer a vexing question: why are some countries in the Americas defined by far more extreme and enduring levels of inequality—and by extension, limited social mobility and economic underdevelopment—than others?

The answer, they argued, lay in the earliest history of each country’s settlement. The political and social institutions put in place then tended to perpetuate the status quo. They concluded that societies that began “with extreme inequality tended to adopt institutions that served to advantage members of the elite and hamper social mobility.” This, they asserted, resulted in economic underdevelopment over the long run.

More specifically, they observed that regions where sugar could be profitably grown invariably gave rise to societies defined by extreme inequality. The reason, they speculated, had to do with the fact that large-scale sugar plantations made intensive use of slave labor, generating institutions that privileged a small elite of white planters over a majority of black slaves. These institutions, their later work suggested, could encompass everything from property rights regimes to tax structures to public schools.

Harvard economist Nathan Nunn offered a more detailed statistical analysis of this “Engerman-Sokoloff hypothesis” in a paper first published in 2008. His research confirmed that early slave use in the Americas was correlated with poor long-term growth. More specifically, he examined county-level data on slavery and inequality in the United States, and found a robust correlation between past reliance on slave labor and both economic underdevelopment and contemporary inequality. He disagreed with Engerman and Sokoloff’s claim that it was only large-scale plantation slavery that generated these effects; rather, he found, any kind of slavery seemed to have begotten long-term economic woes.

Nunn also offered a more precise explanation for present-day troubles. In Engerman and Sokoloff’s narrative, slavery led to inequality, which led to economic underdevelopment. But when Nunn examined levels of inequality in 1860—as measured by holdings of land—these proved a poor predictor of future problems. Only the presence of slavery was a harbinger of problems. “It is not economic inequality that caused the subsequent development of poor institutions,” wrote Nunn. “Rather, it was slavery itself.”

Soares, Assuncao & Goulart (2012) clarify that not race but slavery intensity begets long-term economic inequality

This finding was echoed in a study by Brazilian economists Rodrigo Soares, Juliano Assunção, and Tomás Goulart published in the Journal of Comparative Economics in 2012. Soares and his colleagues examined the connection between historical slavery and contemporary inequality in a number of countries, largely in Latin America. The authors found a consistent correlation between the existence—and intensity—of slavery in the past and contemporary inequality. Moreover, this relationship was independent of the number of people of African descent living there today. As Soares said in an interview, “Societies that used more slavery are not more unequal simply because they have relatively more black people.”

The question, then, is how exactly did slavery have this effect on contemporary inequality? Soares and his colleagues speculated that limited political rights for slaves and their descendants played a role, as did negligible access to credit and capital. Racial discrimination, too, would have played a part, though this would not explain why whites born in former slaveholding regions might find themselves subject to higher levels of inequality.

Inequality-transmission Mechanism: Public Institutions are Stunted in Slavery Zones

The Toll of Inegalitarian Anti-public Institutions Over Time: A Dearth of Public Infrastructure Translates Inegalitarian Economic Growth into Economic Stagnation

Nunn, though, advanced an additional explanation, pointing to an idea advanced by Stanford economic historian Gavin Wright in 2006.

In lands turned over to slavery, Wright had observed, there was little incentive to provide so-called public goods—schools, libraries, and other institutions—that attract migrants. In the North, by contrast, the need to attract and retain free labor in areas resulted in a far greater investment in public goods—institutions that would, over the succeeding decades, offer far greater opportunities for social mobility and lay the foundation for sustained, superior economic growth.

As it happens, a contemporary critic of slavery took it upon himself to measure some of these differences between North and South. In 1857, a Southerner named Hinton Rowan Helper published an incendiary book titled “The Impending Crisis.” Though a virulent racist, Helper was no friend of slavery, and he quantified in excruciating detail the relative number of schools, libraries, and other institutions in both free and slaveholding states, finding time and again that his region failed to measure up to the North.

In Pennsylvania he found 393 public libraries, but in South Carolina, a mere 26. In the South, he observed, “the common school-house, the poor man’s college, is hardly known, showing how little interest is felt in the chief treasures of the State, the immortal minds of the multitude who are not born to wealth.”

Antisociological Denouement, or Even Institutional Economists are Professionally, Dogmatically Adverse to Admitting Preferences Are Socially-constructed through History

Institutionalized Hegemony Can Divorce People from Their Own Interests: Southern Whites Surprised to Find They Benefit When Public Institutions Imposed

WHAT SOMEONE like Helper may not have foreseen is that the abolition of slavery would not cure these ills. The destruction of slavery did not destroy all the political institutions, social mores, and cultural traditions that sustained it. Nor did it make public institutions, of the kind that the north had been building for decades, suddenly come into being.

This notion about the “persistence” of economic institutions is part of a larger dialogue within economics. Economists ranging from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu to Harvard’s Melissa Fisher have examined how institutions and practices adopted centuries ago can shape economic reality. But not everyone buys the idea that the past can structure the present in such an enduring, predictable fashion. Wright is among the critics of this approach; he is skeptical of Engerman and Sokoloff’s hypothesis. “The persistence of inequality per se is a myth,” he says, pointing to research that highlights the degree to which inequality has ebbed and flowed in Latin America.

Wright counts himself “unconvinced” regarding comparable claims about the United States. “No doubt slavery has played some kind of background role,” he concedes. But he sees the relationship between historical slavery and contemporary inequality as an interesting correlation, not a directly causal one. Correlating one variable with another across the centuries “isn’t the same as writing history,” he notes. “If you don’t connect the dots, you’re just groping.”

Another criticism of the “persistence” school is that it may justify passivity. If counties or countries have always been poor or unequal because of something that happened so long ago, what chance do contemporary policy makers have at deflecting the dead hand of the past?

But there is room for hope, as Wright’s own research would suggest. In “Sharing the Prize,” an economic history of the civil rights movement published in 2013, Wright found that efforts to end discrimination paid substantial, enduring benefits to black Southerners. Perhaps more surprisingly, he found that the movement benefited whites, too. Many poorer whites found that that the destruction of the old order—the end of poll taxes, for example—ushered in increased levels of public funding for schools, newfound political power, and a host of other economic, political, and educational benefits, particularly in the years immediately following the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Positive Affirmations for Liberals

That revolution, of course, is still a work in progress. As we’ve been reminded over the last two weeks by the clashes in Ferguson, Mo., between mostly black protesters and a mostly white police force, there’s a long way to go before the vestiges of slavery are fully and finally made a thing of the past. But this new body of research may help us grasp that solutions to persistent inequality will require more focused policies. Increasing the level of food stamps, as economist Paul Krugman has suggested, might help, but it is perhaps too diffuse and indiscriminate a solution.

Instead, the best way to deal with the lingering effects of dead institutions like slavery may be to create regional institutions aimed to promoting social mobility and economic growth. Georgia, for example, has tried to level the field with the “HOPE Scholarship,” which enables high schoolers with a “B” average or higher to attend in-state public colleges and universities for free and private in-state schools at a heavy discount.

Such programs, with some modifications, could go a long way toward promoting social mobility in the former slaveholding regions of the United States. That’s not to say that the problems will be easy to solve. But the progress we’ve already made, both politically and economically, would suggest that while we may live in slavery’s shadow, we are not prisoners of the past, either.

Stephen Mihm is an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, and co-author, with Nouriel Roubini, of “Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance” (2010).

This article was published online in the Boston Globe in 2014; but as of 2019 it is no longer available online, so I have added it here. I have added my own subtitles to help Sociologists navigate through Mihm’s disciplinary metaphysics and personal politics.

References

Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez. 2014. “Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States.”

(Note for Community Economic Development research: Patrick Kline is the econometrician in this group. He also publishes comparative economic assessments of “place-based policies.”)

Engerman, Stanley and Kenneth Sokoloff. 2002. “Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development Among New World Economics.” NBER Working Paper 9259.

Helper, Hinton Rowan. 1857. The Impending Crisis of the South. New York.

Mihm, Stephen. 2007. A Nation Of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, And The Making Of The United States. Harvard.

Nunn, Nathan. 2008. The Long Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades. Quarterly Journal of Economics 123 (1) : 139-176.

Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the 21st Century.

Soares, Rodrigo, Juliano Assunção, and Tomás Goulart. 2012. “A Note on Slavery and the Roots of Inequality.” Journal of Comparative Economics 40(4):565–580.

Wright, Gavin. 2006. (Note: Berkeley’s Wright is retired. I cannot locate this reference. Might have to email Mihm.)

Wright, Gavin. 2013. Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

 

Scenario Analysis

Best-Practices Management: Scenario Analysis

A common form of risk-reduction management in industries, like finance, where results matter, Scenario Analysis is increasingly being adopted to assess the impact of policy proposals on climate change, another field where growing consensus holds that real-world, in-situ results need to be optimized. There is also enough at stake in seemingly small middle-management decisions made within institutions that collect and house valuable public and private assets and income to warrant the adoption of Scenario Analysis to mitigate risks to the enterprise.

At stake: Reducing Perverse-incentive Spillover

One of the standard problems over the past half century of institutional reforms has been the adoption of Isolated Optimization analysis and decision making throughout institutions. In the Isolated Optimization management approach, variables that the policy designer can control are optimized in isolation from the context that they will operate in. Factors that the manager cannot immediately control are excluded from the analysis and the decision-making process.

It is one thing to distinguish controllable, “Close to Home” factors from environmental factors. It is a serious overstep to ignore those environmental factors, or dismiss them prematurely as unknowable, in a strategic analysis and in making organizational decisions. Analytical reduction generally can be a useful tool for making decisions; however, it would be a mistake to equate the Isolated Optimization analytical reduction with analytical reduction generally. Isolated Optimization is just one, excessively-parsimonious variant of analytical reduction, and the risks and costs associated with this reductive variant  over the past half-century have proven too high.

Isolated Optimization policies are generally understood to be the product of the best of intentions, including positive intentions expressed toward growth, efficiency, seniority, and diversity. The problem that Isolated Optimization policies create is not bad intentions. The problems they create when they hit the road include insufficient decision-making method, and resulting bad decisions and perverse incentives.

The perverse incentive epidemic we have lived through ranges from the tax reduction movement’s perverse incentivization of labour oversupply and wage and economic stagnation, to excess carceral build up on behalf of rationalization and its perverse incentives to war, concentration camps for immigrant children, and the far-reaching reduction of public, working class life-supports in expensive economies, to financial deregulation and socio-economically perverse incentives resulting from automatic state convertibility responses to financial failures. The empirical record of perverse-incentive spillover resulting from management optimizing “controllable” immediate variables in isolation from their context goes on and on and on. It is unfortunately the management aesthetic that we have known in our era. But we have enough data on the results to respectfully require  managers to adopt the more fully-specified cost-benefit risk-assessment and decision-making methodology that is used when resources are at stake and outcomes matter.

Scenario Analysis: The Benefits

Scenario Analysis by contrast is designed to mitigate the avalanche of unintended consequences of Isolated Optimization decisions. It can be particularly appropriate and beneficial for those institutions and organizations that have insufficiently accounted for their own access to assets, income streams, and benefits relative to that same accounting made by better-organized, for-profit institutions like finance and investment firms, tech and management firms, and management-directed accounting consultants.

By extrapolating the introduction of proposed policy changes to a fully-specified environment of institutional connections and their operational mandates, including and analyzing Best and Worse-case Scenarios within policy proposals, Scenario Analysis allows a decision-making collective to make better decisions–still optimizing controllable variables, but with respect to the context they operate within.

Key benefits include:

  • Future planning – gives public-sector stakeholders a peek into the expected returns and risks involved when planning to shift budgets.
    • The goal of any business venture is to grow–to increase revenue over time, and it is best to use informed calculations when deciding to begin a transfer of public budgets to private businesses.
  • Proactive – University communities can avoid or decrease potential losses that result from uncontrollable factors by being aggressively preventive during worst-case scenarios, by analyzing events and situations that may lead to unfavorable outcomes. As the saying goes, it is better to be proactive than reactive when a problem arises.
    • Worst case scenario example:In 2012 Bain Financial (owners of Dollar Stores, inter alia) famously identified regional (hinterlands) universities as under-tapped resources for investors wanting low-risk publicly-provided assets in their tranches and portfolio mixes. In 2019 the Republican government of Alaska reinterpreted the financial industry’s asset vein interpretation of universities to mean that the public was excessively larding universities with income and assets. In lieu of inter-regional income transfer, the conservative government of Alaska stripped 41% of university funding, targeting 1,300 university workers for layoffs.

      What will happen to 40% of each regional university’s budget over the upcoming years? Will it be diverted to investment portfolios and for-profit management and software sales/data-accumulation firms? Or will it be stripped by governments and converted into regional tax reductions? Can university stakeholders and managers identify strategies alternative to facilitating or  private v. public income and asset mining?

  • Avoiding risk and failure – to avoid poor budgeting, priorities, planning, and policy decisions, scenario analysis allows the university organizations and communities to assess prospects detracting from or fortifying institutional integrity and degrees of freedom. It takes the best and worst probabilities into account so that stakeholders can make an informed decision.
  • Projecting investment returns or losses – the analysis makes use of tools to calculate the values or figures of potential gains or losses of an investment. This gives concrete, measurable data that stakeholders can base the approaches they take for a better outcome.

Case Study: Replacing University Courses with Software Rental

Let’s take the scenario of a project by a regional university’s management to replace first-year university courses with renting delegated-education technology (DET) from an international for-profit Health and Education Management and Software corporation with national and regional offices. The Isolated Optimization management approach would both design and market the policy as optimizing controllable immediate, organization variables, while black boxing how those variables will perform within the context of the same business environment it institutionalizes. In the Isolated Optimization approach, management would be simply required to present outcomes of this policy that we would expect if the organization and institution were operating in a black box, rather than in a specifiable context.

Rose colored glasses: For example, sans context, the replacement of first-year courses with capital-intensive, reduced-labour costs training software could be expected to a) allow scholars employed by the university to better use their skills, concentrating on university-level education and research (assuming the university has previously established loose income-driven or immigration-driven admissions criteria, flooding first-year courses with seriously-underprepared education-credential consumers). Sans context, and less realistically, the replacement of first-year courses with training software might be hoped to be designed to b) professionally, neutrally, incrementally introduce students of all identities to the university experience and basic work expectations, or perhaps instead to c) efficiently, objectively weed out underprepared education credential consumers after they have contributed income to the university. Sans context, the replacement of first-year courses with capital-intensive, reduced-labour costs training software could be expected to d) allow management to institute a “cost-saving” (substituting capital for labour) managerial strategy recognized by the business community and its legislatures for its contribution to profits or economic control, or e) build strong, portable relationships within international Health and Education management and software market networks. In an Isolated Optimization analysis, the policy change is presented–marketed–as a win-win all-benefits proposition. It lacks a realistic accounting of probable costs in situ. Yet in a specifiable context that such policy change will help institutionalize and operate within, these win-win scenarios can very well fail to pan out, or even produce the perverse incentives that have been a hallmark of Isolated Optimization.

Financial management corporations such as the ubiquitous Bain Capital (owner of Dollar Stores, inter alia) are part of that identifiable context that should be incorporated in analysis and accounted for in decision-making. They have long advised that privatizing multiple functions and assets of regional universities and redirecting regional universities’ public funding into financial instruments channeling organization income into private investors’ income streams will permit investors around the world to expand their opportunities to earn income on their otherwise-underemployed wealth, while the financial advisors themselves enjoy income and profits from managing these privatized assets and innovating the financial instruments that are built upon investor credence that these assets will provide lucrative income to financial firm shareholders.

The perverse incentive characteristic of an era in which a small number of people around the globe own more assets than they can productively employ in wealth-generating production is that commonly–as in the famous case of Lehman Brothers inter alia–the real, amassed assets that global shareholders rely upon to deliver market-busting returns, such as those contained in the regional public university–are simply depleted, the debts owned by financial firms are transferred into the depleted organization, and that underlying productive organization feeding the financial-instrument strategy is allowed to die, stripped of assets and burdened with transferred debt.

Financial advisors identify regional universities in particular as promising sources of private income and debt sinks because global investors are thought to be distant from the effects of regional asset liquidation. The current financial system is awash in moral hazard. As well, dedicated to private wealth, legislatures can be relied upon to let the public resources die rather than restore the public institution by taxing the very investors (possibly beyond the jurisdictional state’s reach, and due to wealth transfer, increasingly wealthier and more powerful than regional actors) whose financial investment earnings were taken out of the public resources, and debts transferred to the public resources, to boost private wealth in the first place. Socially-rational taxation currently violates wealth entitlement. Under current conditions, the perverse incentive cascade can only be nipped in the policy proposal stage, for example with effective barriers to the privatization/expropriation of public budgets.

Fortunately, the management corrective to analysis overlooking these salient contextual factors is available. Organizations can require their management to pursue a more fully-specified analysis, the Scenario Analysis. The key is requiring management modeling to incorporate context research and specification, which management will deploy in crafting Best and Worst-case Scenarios concerning the policy innovation.

If organization members have adequate freedom to hold management to competent research into contextual factors and analysis of Best and Worst-case Scenarios, these scenarios will allow management to make more valid analyses, and will allow the organization to make better decisions preserving member goals and organization integrity, including as that integrity supports regional socio-economic integrity.

The Scenario Analysis Method

Identifying Optimization Parameters

The first step is asking the members of the organization what it is that they value about their work, in this case as scholars. Compiling these answers will inform the organization’s policy optimization parameters, which will be reintroduced after the contextual identification and analysis and the Best and Worse-case Outcomes analysis stages.

Contextual Identification and Analysis – TBD

An organization needs to understand the nature of the market-related risks and opportunities it may face.

  • Each organization faces a different blend of market-related risks and opportunities.
  • The enterprise impacts related to market change may vary significantly depending on the economic sector(s)/sub-sector(s) in which an organization operates.
  • Enterprise impacts may also vary significantly depending on the following:
    • the geographic location of the organization’s value chain (both upstream and downstream).
    • the organization’s assets and nature of operations.
    • the structure and dynamics of the organization’s supply and demand markets.
    • the organization’s customers.
    • the organization’s other key stakeholders.

Best and Worse-case Outcomes Analysis, Prep

There are 3 major categories of considerations organizations face in constructing scenarios and conducting scenario analysis: parameters/assumptions, analytical choices, and impacts.

Parameters/Assumptions

Discount rate – what discount rate does the organization apply to discount future value?, see Best-case/Worst-case Scenarios, below.

Labour & technology commodity prices – what assumptions are made about how labour v. technology prices would develop over time, including economic incentives and disincentives to the in-house or outsourced development and maintenance of the skilled v. deskilled or unskilled university labour force, and multiplier effects and their social and geographic distribution? How does the distribution of in-house v. outsourced skilled v. unskilled labour impact socio-economic inequality and attendant political shifts recursively impacting university funding? How does the distribution of multiplier effects impact socio-economic inequality and attendant political shifts recursively impacting university funding?

As technology inputs allow private for-profit companies to monopolize data on stratified consumer-products (students and their households) over time, how will private data pricing impact the cost structure, to the university, to the public financers, and to its consumer-products and their end-users, of the education commodity?

In the university enterprise, as with online media, the consumers are also the product. As management and technology allow higher-education and credentialing inputs to be standardized, optimized for efficiency, and cheapened, what conclusions does the organization draw about the development over time of quality and market prices for the student consumer-product outputs of public financing, private financing, labour, and technology? How might optimizing efficiency of production in regional universities, v. flagship national universities, impact the consumer-product’s capacity to penetrate the higher-value labour markets increasingly concentrated in metropoles in a period of declining economic mobility, or contribute to stagnation or exceptional economic dynamism in regional networks?

Work demand and mix – what would be the resulting total work demand and work mix across different sources of primary work (labour, technology)? How does this develop over time assuming supply/end-use efficiency improvements? What factors are used for work conversion efficiencies of each source category and for end-use efficiency in each category over time?

Macro-economic Variables – what public financing rate, consumer-financing rate, employment rate, and other economic variables are used?

Demographic variables – what assumptions are made about population growth, migration, labour mobility and its distribution, economic mobility, socio-economic network development, and socio-economic inequality?

Institutional, social and economic distribution of benefits and costs – to what extent are distributions of income and assets, efficiency (type specified) gains and losses, sovereignty and strategic degrees of freedom gains and losses, clean energy transition, and ecologically-driven regional physical changes incorporated into scenarios, priorities and planning?

Geographical tailoring of transition impacts – what assumptions does the organization make about potential differences in input and output parameters across regions, countries, asset locations, and markets?

Technology – does the organization make assumptions about the development of performance/cost and resulting levels of deployment over time of various key supply and demand-side technologies (e.g. education and research labour, and technologies in interested sectors including financial, managerial, data accumulation, and patent rentiers)?

Policy – what are assumptions about the strength of different private-public policy coalitions and signals, and their development over time and across jurisdictions (e.g. provincial university funding, university managerial independence, collective bargaining and organized labour, Academic Freedom, Collegial Governance; subsidies for technology; subsidies for construction; marketing budgets; accounting budgets; Black Budgets; managerial and other administrative budgets; the university as conduit for increasing the public funding of international private marketing, management, education services, social services, immigration services, and financial services providers). What can we assume about the upcoming likelihood of private-public growth political parties v. anti-public political parties and governments?

Expropriation sensitivity assumptions – assumptions of privatization increase v. taxation stagnation or decrease; increased demand by financial, technology, and managerial firms for income streams, public access; assumptions about university consolidation in Canada v. spinning off regional universities or their parts into online course credential sales?

Analytical Choices

Scenarios – what scenarios does the organization use for transition impact analysis and which sources are used to assess physical impact both for central/base case and for sensitivity analyses?

Quantitative vs. qualitative or “directional” – is the scenario exercise fully quantitative or a mix of quantitative and qualitative?

Timing – how does the organization consider timing of implications under scenarios e.g. is this considered at a decadal level 2020; 2030; 2040; 2050

Scope of application – is the analysis applied to the whole value chain (inputs, operations and markets), or just direct effects on specific organization units / operations?

Financial, tech, and managerial models/data sets – which models and data sets support the assessment of privatization-related risks?

Risks to scholarship, schools, and the university – when assessing market risks, which specific risks have been included, including tje severity of their probable impact? To what extent has the organization assessed the impact to its portfolio (e.g. largest assets, most vulnerable assets) and to what extent have risks been incorporated in future organization strategy?

To what extent has the impact on prices and availability in the whole value chain been considered, including knock-on effects from suppliers, infrastructure, and access to consumers?

Enterprise Impacts/Effects

Earnings – what conclusions does the organization draw about impact on earnings and how does it express that impact (e.g. as EBITDA, EBITDA margins, EBITDA contribution, dividends)?

Costs – what conclusions does the organization draw about the implications for its operating/production costs and their development over time?

Revenues – what conclusions does the organization draw about the implications for the revenues from its key commodities/ products/ services and their development over time?

Assets – what are the implications for asset values of various scenarios?

Capital Allocation/ investments – what are the implications for capex and other investments?

Timing – what conclusions does the organization draw about development of costs, revenues and earnings across time (e.g. 5/10/20 year)?

Responses – what information does the organization provide in relation to potential impacts (e.g. intended changes to capital expenditure plans, changes to portfolio through acquisitions and divestments, retirement of assets, entry into new markets, development of new capabilities etc.)?

Enterprise Interruption due to physical impacts – what is the organization’s conclusion about its potential enterprise interruption/productivity loss due to market impacts– both direct effects on the organization’s own assets and indirect effects of supply chain/product delivery.

 

Best case-Worst case Scenarios

When performing the analysis, managers and executives at a university, school or department will generate different future states of the university, higher education, and the economy. These future states will form discrete scenarios that include assumptions about supplier business plans, product prices, student-consumer data, operating costs, politics and public funding, and other drivers of the  enterprise.

Managers typically start with 3 basic scenarios:

  • Base case scenario – this is the average scenario based on management assumptions.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, the rates most likely to be used are the discount rate, or the cash flow growth rate.
  • Worst case scenario – considers the most serious or severe outcome that may happen in a given situation.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, one would take the highest possible discount rate and subtract the possible cash flow growth rate.
  • Best case scenario – this is the ideal projected scenario, and is almost always assumed by management to market and institute their pre-existing preferences.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, use the least possible discount rate, highest possible growth rate, or lowest possible tax rate.

 

Preventing Garbage In, Garbage Out: Distributed Power in Organizations

While a significant improvement on Isolated Optimization, Scenario Analysis is not immune to GIGO–Garbage In, Garbage Out hazard. Though we would like to believe that all managers are competent at identifying and analyzing environmental factors and their likely interactions with policy, it also remains that managers can often have seriously-compromised incentive to constructing effective Scenario Analyses.

This is not just because Scenario Analysis requires more work of managers, but because the same firms with a business model tapping into public-organization budgets standardly also provide incentivizing career-building, income-enhancing, and network opportunities to helpful agents within the target organization. This business model has been particularly common within sales to the public sector, which labor market is subject to legislatively-imposed income compression, stagnation, and in the course of anti-public campaigns, status degradation. In fact, recognition of this standard business model–selling both products to organizations and managerial job opportunities to helpful agents within those organizations– should be built into the Scenario Analysis, as the business model itself imposes environmental costs upon the organization.


It is easy to identify whether this business model is an environmental factor: Does the firm selling the product also support helpers’ career advancement within customer organizations, or, more ostentatiously, hire helpful agents from within client organizations? Is the for-profit goods or service provider also a management or consulting firm? Huron Consulting Group is an example of such a firm (see appendix), advertising to cooperative health care and university managers and purchasers career-mobility opportunities in its own international management and sales network expansion.


An important cost of this business model to be analyzed in decisions to adopt their products, to transfer public funding to the private for-profit corporation, is that organization members serving as agents of private firm product adoption are opening exclusively for themselves a wider field of credible employment opportunities, an advantage in employment negotiations that can allow them to command a larger share of organizational resources at coworkers’ expense. These employment opportunities may also engage moral hazard by incentivizing predatory, organization-depleting decisions from which the facilitating agent is uniquely shielded by virtue of their employment mobility through their relationship with the management and product sales firm.

The integrity of the cost-benefit analysis requires that managers not be allowed to exclude this prevalent contemporary context from analysis, and regardless of whether organization intermediaries admit an intention to take advantage of perks on offer, no policy change proposal should be allowed to proceed until such cost-benefit distribution factors are incorporated in the Scenario Analysis and Best- and Worst-case Scenarios. After all, even respected and well-remunerated professionals like medical doctors have been known to overprescribe medications under pharmaceutical rep influence.

The safeguard against disincentivized, half-hearted, ineffective Scenario Analysis is an organizational structure of distributed power, wherein organization members have the capacity to push managers for analytical improvements and policy options based on fully-specified analysis.

This is also to point out another common contextual factor today: Because hierarchical decision making undermines the conditions required for effective, fully-specified Scenario Analysis, and so permits greater opportunities for predatory decision-making capture, interested corporations, such as financial, technology, and management-consultant firms, have an especial, compelling interest in supporting hierarchical decision making in the organizations whose income and assets they target, as Bain Capital has also indicated. Therefore, in universities, active Collegial Governance is an institution essential to fully-capacitated policy analysis and sound decision making.

 

References

Bain Capital. 2012. “The Financially Sustainable University.” https://www.bain.com/insights/financially-sustainable-university/

Corporate Finance Institute. “Scenario Analysis.” https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/modeling/scenario-analysis/

Kishita et al. 2016. “Scenario Analysis.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/scenario-analysis

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton.

TCFD. “The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-related Risks and Opportunities.” https://www.tcfdhub.org/home/scenario-analysis

 

Appendix: Tech Sales-Driven Management Goals, Stage One

The following images summarize institutional optimizations that for-profit management and tech sales corporations are geared to sell to universities via their managers. Recall also that most tech sales firms have a less-public, longer-term business plan to eventually monopolize and monetize the data (eg. on consumer-products) that they will gain through organizations adopting their technology; this typical, staged business strategy in the present era of private property law-making can create and lock in future increased–constraining and possibly prohibitive–costs for the technology-adopting (university) organization and its (student) consumer-product base.

Roaming Rights Now!

Over the last couple of years there have been books and bills introduced to establish Roaming Right in Anglo-American jurisdictions. Roaming Rights were denied in the colonies on the grounds that indigenous people had to be cleared from the land to make way for colonial extraction. As contested as they were and are, Roaming Rights were established for indigenous populations in treaties between colonial and indigenous governments, however.

The racist, colonial denial of universal Roaming Right in Anglo-American law produces an unjust conflation between private land required for living, such as a house, a yard, and a garden, and mass-acreage land privately owned, for example in land speculation, for the accumulation of social power over other citizens, rival rentier capitalists, and global markets. In Marxist terms, this (im)moral conflation reflects the power-blind liberal conflation of capitalist use value–profit–with general use values, which legitimates sovereign-consumer and consumer-market choice arguments, private monopoly and collusion, corporate deregulation, inequality, and general capitalist Best of All Possible Worlds assumption/argumentation. Under this ruling and codified conceptual conflation, even homes have been used in apartheid settler societies not for shelter (use value), a necessary minimal condition of health, enjoyment and development, but as assets (capital) permitting Whites and global economic victors to claim intergenerational wealth over, power over, and capacity to exclude Blacks and smallholders.

This conceptual blindness is the vehicle through which inequality produces inegalitarianism, despite liberalism’s formal subscription to the former and proscription of the latter. While it brings liberalism to coalesce with conservatism, liberalism’s formal separation of inequality and inegalitarianism keeps liberalism able to co-opt the exhausted portions of its egalitarian opposition, and better able to maintain law; in this way, while it’s less immediately appealing than conservative exceptionalism, liberalism can ultimately outcompete raw conservatism, devoted to inequality, inegalitarianism, and exceptionalism. Or, liberalism and conservatism together create a system-stabilizing oscillation of strategies that pragmatists and true-believers alike can insert themselves into.

Because of this lack of conceptual distinction, for a long time, the incapacity to recognize a public interest in cross-population, sustainable use of land and water supported an inegalitarian elite-settler coalition dedicated to absolute, exclusive private property in liberal societies. This institutionalized blindness to public interest, this inegalitarianism can be observed every day in financial apartheid advertisements for gated rural and suburban property and Poor Door urban real estate property, in excluding curtains and punitive air travel policies corralling most travelers, and in the enduring public goods and services poverty of historical slavery counties. It sustains a socialized inability to distinguish depletion activities on land and water from sustainable activities. This apartheid-society conceptual incapacity was useful for establishing colonies as premier global sites of unfettered resource extraction and unfree labor exploitation and expropriation.

Restoring Collective-action Capacity and Freedom in Rural Tributaries

In the latter-day context of global monopoly capitalism, with its institutionalized wealth cores and tributary peripheries, these conceptual incapacities, codified in law, strongly undermine the freedom and reproductive capacity of non-elite, smallholder settlers. It is another case where in the multi-generational run, non-elite settlers would have been better off in coalition with peasantified indigenous people and enslaved workers than serving as grunts for elite colonial interests, under the hope that their own patrimony would be protected, not by a politically- and socially-constructed status such as citizenship, but by a magical, mythical identity conferred only at elite convenience–White Ownership.

To start off with, as discussed above, smallholders’ interests–in securing living space and life enjoyment in balance with others–are not reducible to or stably, largely compatible with mass-property owning rentier-capitalists’ interests in mining wealth for the exclusive, advantageous accumulation of social power and control over other citizens, over rival rentier capitalists, and over global markets. Whiteness politics are the result of a naive, excessive belief in the munificence and durability of economic elites’ instrumentalist marketing campaigns. But as the recent mass primitive accumulation of New Zealand, the Canadian West, and particularly the US West demonstrate, even Christian Texan billionaires–raised as Masters of Whiteness sacralization and politics–will not maintain White coalition in all those places where non-Whites have already been cleared from the land (Turkewitz 2019). If you cannot count on even Evangelical Texas oil-extractionist billionaire patriarchs for White protection, do you think it’s a good social contract option for you to buy into?

As a mystical moral exclusion, a promise of inclusion in an exclusive coalition with ruthless, teeth-baring elites, the White political construction was always designed to be land-owning elites’ paw of control over a traumatized, fearful population, for elites’ own political benefit, if variably distributing lesser resources to a malleable “White” “police” force. The broad Whiteness elite-“police” coalition is easily scrapped–in England, but just as well in the militarized, surveillance-embedded settler colonies–in favor of the narrower elite-police employer relationship in Nightwatchman societies. Today’s capital-intensive, tech-addled Nightwatchman policing relationship with exclusive, absolute, mass private property severely curtails non-elite freedom and enjoyment–from snowmobiling to fishing to hunting, to cross country skiing, mushroom gathering, forest bathing, walking, clean-water swimming, stargazing, fresh air, and so on–outside of capitalism’s expensive urban metropole commodity market.

Roaming Right & Freedom of Movement, Right of the “Starving” Man in an Excluding, Privatized World Economy

In Europe, Roaming Rights were codified in law in the mid-20th century (In England, they were codified in liberal law in 2001). They distinguish the exclusionary space needed for living–the yard, garden, house, barn, garage–from the larger, decommodified space required for people, the public, to both modestly supplement private life and enjoy sustainable use of the political-territory’s land: hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, horse watering, berry gathering, and camping rights, etc. Roaming Rights assume that people are living, reproducing, developing Earthlings, and therefore the public needs to traverse–move freely–and enjoy life in a social, balancing, non-depleting manner. This assumption is not shared by property right law, built for perpetual conquering (See the influential, founding formulations of property right and its underlying assumptions, forwarded by liberal-conservative theorists including Hobbes, Grotius, and Burke’s later reconciliation with capitalist liberalism, etc.). Roaming Right corrects property right and its antihuman excesses.

Organizing for Roaming Rights is important in the settler colonies today because inequality has grown to the point where settlers are financially excluded from global rentier capitalism’s metropoles, while at the same time they are losing access to the dispersed resources required to live and enjoy life in the tributary regions. In this context, tributary settler-indigenous coalition is vital. After all, and all pretty mystifications aside, how are indigenous people made? Indigenous people are not another, animal-like species or colorful otherworldly visitation, as political discourse has predominantly constructed them. Whatever their history and culture, the indigenous have been repeatedly constructed, and will be made out of the raw material of people again, by imperialists prohibiting indigenous people’s free movement and access to the necessities and enjoyment of life outside of inaccessible, commodified, commercial cities. Race is network boundary construction, and it’s not been as tight or class-distinguishing a boundary as wealth accumulators prefer. Today’s FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate industry) and surveillance and military tech do the exact same function, tighter.

Every capitalist elite is afraid of working class settlers and smallholders recognizing that they can be made indigenous or enslaved. To some extent this is an honest, liberal fear, because many smallholding settlers have, with but a little elite threat/encouragement, moved from that sociological, historical realization to “Better you than me” imperial warfare against indigenized people, the enslaved, and descendents thereof (See Wilson 1976).

But that honest fear has always been in coalition with the much more self-interested elite fear that other smallholding settlers will coalesce politically with the indigenized, the enslaved, and their descendants. By suppressing non-elite organic intellectuals, we have hardly come to terms with this liberal-conservative elite coalition, the imperial “civilized” bloc, and its ravaging effects.

Instead, apartheid society is fed a nonstop stream of conservative and liberal high and low cultural enforcement, cementing us apart along the difference-justice telos: Whites must know only their unjust, isolated historical place. Reified, stylized, Black positionality, Black Exceptionalism will carry difference justice (as that is reduced to liberal Dem Party political rentier strategy). In the UK, this quasi-historical (permitting recognition of heritage, but prohibiting recognition of ongoing social construction, social reproduction) cultural pseudo-speciation is further reinforced through regional class distinctions.

The Primitive Accumulation of the US West in the 21st Century

From Turkewitz 2019: “In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The fracking-lord Wilks brothers “who now own some 700,000 acres across several states, have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, as their property has expanded, the brothers have shuttered trails and hired armed guards to patrol their acres, blocking and stymying access not only to their private property, but also to some publicly owned areas…The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, Justin said. In return, he said, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

“Gates with “private property” signs were going up across the region. In some places, the Wilkses’ road closings were legal. In other cases, it wasn’t clear. Road law is a tangled knot, and Boise County had little money to grapple with it in court. So the gates stayed up.

…The Wilks family hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass…

The problem, said Mr. Horting, “is not the fact that they own the property. It’s that they’ve cut off public roads.”

“We’re being bullied,” he added. “We can’t compete and they know it” (Turkewitz 2019).

As well, financial institutions started dispensing with land titling a few years ago, so in the post-2007 property grab, claims on property are going to fall to might rather than right. It’s a new mass primitive accumulation offensive.

Climate Crisis, Unproductive Capital, & Elite Rentier Strategy

While they let their Republican henchmen lull the peasantry with squeals of “No climate crisis” for decades, billionaire rentier capitalists shifted quietly into land-capturing overdrive.

“Brokers say the new arrivals are driven in part by a desire to invest in natural assets while they are still abundant, particularly amid a fear of economic, political and climate volatility.

‘There is a tremendous underground, not-so-subtle awareness from people who realize that resources are getting scarcer and scarcer,’ said Bernard Uechtritz, a real estate adviser” (Turkewitz 2019).

The Persistent Role of Moralism in Expropriation

Moving into extractive fracking from a Texas religious franchise, the Wilks Bros provide a strong example of how extractivism and expropriation is buttressed by moralism.

While buying political and legal cover, they continually assert that their antisocial land speculation offensive is mandated by God, sacralizing their self-interested conflation of smallholder living space with their own, exclusionary mass capture of land.

Expropriative, Gilded-Age Restoration: Separating Out Global Rentier Capitalists’ Interests from Smallholder Interests

TBD

The Urbanite’s Interest in Roaming Right

Why would an urbanite care about Roaming Right? After all, urbanites are precisely the people who have forfeited Roaming Right in favor of obtaining all their life reproduction needs and enjoyment through the concentrated commodity market of the city, and by proximity to self-interested elite infrastructure. As Mike Davis and Cedric Johnson (2019) clarify, the cosmopolitan eschews the public. Relatedly, the condition of inequality-restoration urbanity, the engine of global monopoly capitalism, is the denial of capitalism’s reproductive dependence upon its sea of expropriation. A city is built on legalized, overlapping claims on future wealth creation, but the ingredients to that wealth creation are not exclusively to be found in the city.

Urban intellectuals and social workers recognize that denial extremely partially, as “gentrification.” Those who cannot live on 100% commodified life, the poor, are removed out of sight from the metropole. Yet at the same time, within and across borders, the tributary countryside is enclosed by global billionaires, and the people in that periphery are shoved to the smallholding margins, left without wealth, without access to fully-commodified life (which affordability, which wage-consumption urban economy depends on rural decommodifications, cheap inputs), or access to non-commodified life reproduction or enjoyment. They are expelled, set marching, set reeling. We admire how they’ve chosen us when they alight amongst us to serve us. Or we demand to speak to the manager. As in past Primitive Accumulation offensives, itinerancy is criminalized, and imperial militarization and an international for-profit carceral industry rages like a climate-crisis Firenado.

In this context, wouldn’t it be more natural, an efficient division of political labor, for urbanites to focus on getting Democrats (or Liberals or NDP) elected to office? Meanwhile urbanites can wait for deprived, low-density rural populations to organize their own solution to their desperate lives. After all, in those moments when those rural folks were organized and slightly-patronized by big owners (See Wilson 1976), they should have seen the limits of the inequality coalition…like wage-earning urbanites do? Something seems to be impeding organization. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s that massive surveillance, policing, and carceral apparatus (Johnson 2019).

Cities depend on tributaries for most of the raw materials of life bought on the urban market. As well, they depend on using the countryside as an urban waste sink. A pervasive lack of recognition of the non-autonomy of the city, urban commodity fetishism, including imagining the enjoyments–museums, libraries, bars and restaurants, dance venues, art galleries, theatres, orchestras, ballet troupes, poetry nights, etc.–as the sui generis private-collective property of the city, the lack of  conceptualization of how the cheap raw-material market goods come to appear in the city and how wastes disappear from the city, leads to pervasive political mis-analysis.

If cosmopolitans around the world want to stop being ruled by Donald Trump and like politicians, if they want to enjoy the free expression of their cosmopolitan merit, they need to use their geographic concentration as an organization asset to break down the marginalization, the peasantification of the countryside domestic and international, the remnant alignment between rural -tributary smallholders and global rentier capitalists–particularly in an unfree time in which those rentier capitalists are aggressively excluding rural settlers from enjoyable rural life and yet inequality, including tight metropole police exclusion of indigents, prohibits mass rural-urban mobility.

museum display

Artwork by Fernando Garcia-Dory & Amy Franceschini

As beholden as their enjoyment and their identities are to FIRE (Finance Insurance Real Estate capital) patronage and cheap commodity inputs and waste sinks, urbanites need to organize, to reconstruct a smallholder Red-Green alliance traversing the urban-rural divide, and taming private property right, as Swedes did at the turn of the Twentieth Century to establish an effective, semi-independent social democracy. Roaming Right is a great coalition vehicle for such a democratic realignment and legal revolution. City people should use their structurally-superior communication and organization capacity to reach out and help rural people–across race and gender–to secure–but not mine–the non-commodified world they need to live and enjoy themselves, through universal Roaming Right. Recognizing that the past half century of rural expulsions transcends national boundaries, Red-green political coalition could be the “close to home” foundation of internationalist capacity, rather than mere consumption cosmopolitanism.

 

You Are What You Enjoy: Identity, Alienation, & Inegalitarianism in Capitalism

TBD

 

Bibliography

 

Greens of British Columbia. 2017. “Weaver introduces Right to Roam Act.”

Ilgunas, Ken. 2018. This land is our land: How we lost the right to roam and how to take it. Plume Press.

Johnson, Cedric. 2019. “Black political life and the Blue Lives Matter Presidency.” Jacobin, February 17.

Turkewitz, J. 2019. “Who gets to own the West?The New York Times, June 22.

Wikipedia. “Freedom to Roam.”

Wilson, William Julius. 1976. “Class conflict and segregation in the Postbellum South.” Pacific Sociological Review 19 (4): 431-446.

The Canadian Right-wing Academic Argument Against Environmental and Social Justice

A McGill historian of science, looking as much like Foucault as he can, in 2018 published an article, with a fellow conservative holding physical science credentials, in which he makes an argument that epigenetics should not be linked as a rationale to egalitarian policy change.

After a two-paragraph intro to epigenetics, Canadian Foucault-Latour coins three neologisms, three sins, to package his argument for prohibiting a bridge between physical science findings and egalitarian social policy:

1) “Mischaracterization”: This is the (dubious) problem where the Historian of Science doesn’t agree with findings–for example, that epigenetic information can be transmitted intergenerationally, and he selects those particular epigenetic findings to dismiss as inconclusive.

2) “Extrapolation”: This is the problem (for Canadian Foucault-Latour) where scientists bridge the physical and social sciences, particularly including social epidemiologists, to suggest that with the theory-backed, mechanism-identified evidence of correlation and time-order, we can make a scientific claim that the material world and institutionalized social relations impact human health, and thus changing institutions, design, and infrastructure can reduce the socio-material harm.

Canadian postmodernist doesn’t say here how he defines science, but it’s probably commercial laboratory science, per postmodernism’s capitalism-accommodating idealist reduction. Along with positivists, discourse-totalizing postmodernists are a Cartesian Praetorian guarding the sacred boundary between the human, idealist world(s) and the base, material projection.

The article is basic, and extremely light on the empirical evidence. Yet with masculinist aesthetics, it presents errant pedantry as technocratic rigor. The McGill third arm of policing–not particularly well supported– is to attribute to mostly-unidentified other scholars a lack of his own fine appreciation of the connection between genetics and epigenetics. He decides this is the 3) “Exceptionalism” sin. This is raw crank. Even in pop culture accounts of epigenetics, the historical relation between the Human Genome Project and the growth of epigenetics is emphasized. The authors need to spend more time reading other people’s academic work, and less time in the patio party conversations.

It is a very thin article evincing a cursory familiarity with the substantive topic–which is not a survey of epigenetics. It is how epigenetics are being approached by anti-cartesians. Extremely thin on data, the article is only justifiable by an overinvestment in either positivism or in the postmodern, idealist, theoretical reduction of science to the commercial lab. It is a “textbook” recent case in reactionary “critical” idealism. It is the embodiment of the institutionalized Canadian settler-extractivist theoretical approach to reconciling private-property-reifying liberalism with hierarchy-reifying conservatism: effacing the inequality while censoring the inegalitarianism.

The basis for this authority’s institutionalized expertise is that while he was a grad student, he had to work with an indigenous community, as most Canadian social science and humanities academics did by the second decade of the 21st century, and that required him to write an article denouncing the association in medical studies of Canada’s First Nations with health problems due to the colonial relationship. I know this, because that is what I was being commanded to do then. You were told, by indigenous leaders in institutions, that you had to write stories about how there is no problem. Obviously, indigenous people outside of power were not clamoring for academics to amplify this particular voice. It became a theoretical specialty to argue that the material world is radically divorced from, inaccessible, and unknowable to humans–unspeakable.

Then McGill had a short burst in 2012 of trying to set himself up as an authority on how the biome is just imaginary and a bad discourse, because its metaphysics connects the material to the social–social design, institutions, and infrastructure overdetermine human health– and so its justice telos is about reducing social, economic and political inequality. He analyzes surveys, which is what he uses to back up the idealist social science theory.

In idealist thought, human health is not a thing. Health is just a holographic projection of bad Minds. Some physical scientists twiddle around with health because the tyrannical state. In idealist thought, design, institutions, and infrastructure are not recognized to create different kinds of social relations oriented to distinct justice teloi. Their discursive ontology only permits them to recognize difference, and they reject the idea that inequality is a thing, let alone a problem. The only problem, for which idealist humanities and social science academics are the official police, is reduction of difference–for example, state policy changes that reduce social hierarchy. Reducing inequality is the ultimate injustice from the idealist position. They believe the historical-materialist justice telos competes with the idealist justice telos–to proliferate difference, including inequality.

Inegalitarianism is difficult for postmodernists. Like good imperialists, and against all historical and concurrent evidence, they believe we can have moral, tasteful, polite inequality, reconceptualized as playful, fecund difference, without the discursive rudeness of inegalitarianism, which they typically project outward upon Americans, because of the brutish conservative culture of slavery-backed capitalism that feeds the US global imperial role, or another geopolitical Other–Nazis or Russians.

Canadian Foucault-Latour also sprinkled an article in his CV about how “contagion” is really financial crisis; wholly within discourse, that was a less-reactionary effort.

When critical idealists can keep within texts, they do not necessarily support capitalist and capitalist-state efforts to repress egalitarian, developmentalist design, institutions, infrastructure, and relationships. A postmodernist, like this McGill Man or Latour, may instrumentally play with a conservative, positivist physical scientist–they share the inclination to denounce inequality recognition and egalitarian redistribution; they both bury metaphysics; and they are both keen to reduce science to the commercial lab.

Yet the alliance between postmodernists and positivist commercial scientists of course contains an inner crack. Postmodernists as idealists are distinct from physical scientists in that they abject recognition that the world we live in transcends the textual. The Postmodernists reject an ontology material and historical and social. There are only words, which is the hermetically-sealed flat universe of the social, and when the textual ontology is imported into the social sciences, the lacunae–through which, in proper discursive philosophy, the historical-material world enters–is papered over. Thus postmodernists reject expanded, scientific methodologies, rather than just authoritarian bluster (“Meritcratic” decisionism, eg genealogy, and associated speculative idealism). When they use their idealist hermeneutics against the Earthly and human material world, it is all reactionary conservatism and it has been for a long time.

McGill ref: Huang, JY & NB King. 2018. “Epigenetics changes nothing.” Public Health Ethics 11  (1): 69-81.

Note that the Swedish Universities by contrast are immersed in studies linking epigenetic difference and health effects. Canadian idealism v. Scandinavian historical-materialism. University of Washington has an anti-cartesian epigenetics lab.

Benner: Actually-existing Nationalisms

In her chapter “Explaining Nationalism” (Really Existing Nationalisms, 2018, Verso), Erica Benner conveys Marx’s assessment of the British ruling class M.O.:

“In Marx’s view…a (British) statesman of the bourgeoisie (succeeded) precisely in his ability to avoid British engagement in European conflicts (over monarchy v. democracy) while preserving Britain’s international image as the level-headed guardian of constitutional principles…”

Marx: “‘If he betrayed foreign peoples for fear of encouraging revolution,’ the British ‘did it with great politeness.’ ‘If the oppressors were always sure of (British) active support, the oppressed never wanted a great ostentation of (British) rhetorical generosity.’….(The British) ‘knows how to conciliate a democratic phraseology with oligarchic views…'”

My point: Why aren’t we all as politically-“discerning” as the British ruling class, if in a different direction? Is capital (wealth) required to maintain a political compass within a collective action coalition while that coalition ideologically and materially divides and conquers competitors, rivals, colonies, and enemies? Political compass, backed by shitloads of capital, permit ruling classes so many more strategic degrees of freedom than their would-be challengers have.

 

“The bourgeoisie’s interests in Britain, as in France and Germany, were thus advanced through the highly-selective application of principles that were supposed to underpin the legitimacy of its representatives. By suggesting that class interests explained why and when those principles were or were not applied, Marx challenged two more conventional ways of explaining foreign policy choices: those based on the idea that statesmen are motivated by free-floating principles or ideals, and power-political accounts which postulated a class-neutral ‘national interest’ as the basic guide to policy-making. Marx’s observations suggest a general, cross-national hypothesis: that the bourgeoisie’s commitment to the political doctrines which express their substantial interests is weakened, not reinforced, in proportion to the clarity of those interests and the confidence that they can be secured” (Benner 2018: 121).

We can reasonably suggest that a Marxist would revise the premise that liberal or constitutional political doctrines distinctly express the capitalist class’ substantial interests. That premise reflects the regional, historical view from unconsolidated 19th c. Germany, or, again, it reduces the British premier-capitalists’ venerable, instrumentalist, flexible and strong divide-and-conquer strategic tradition to one of its tactical components–  marketing co-optative, abstract liberal principles. Marx elsewhere (Capital V 1, Part VIII, Chapter 26; Rheinische Zeitung and New York Tribune reporting and analysis) recognized that slavery, colonialism, genocide, and extractivism also express substantial capitalist interests quite at odds with a constitutionalist posture.

Conservative wheelhouse: Assuming the impossibility of mutual recognition

David Graeber summarizes Hegel’s account of human desire for recognition in the Master-slave dialectic as a prime example of conservative theory’s assumption of the impossibility of mutual recognition. Most philosophers and many social theorists playing in the conservative wheelhouse proceed to theorize recognition upon the assumption of highly-unequal, slavery relations as normal, universal human relations. “But it’s one thing to say that the quest for mutual recognition is necessarily going to be tricky, full of pitfalls, with a constant danger of descending into attempts to dominate or even obliterate the other,” Graeber cautions. “It’s another thing to assume from the start that mutual recognition is impossible.”

“As Majeed Yar has pointed out (2001) this assumption has come to dominate almost all subsequent Western thinking on the subject: especially, since Sartre refigured recognition as ‘the gaze’ that, he argued, necessarily pins down, squashes, and objectifies the Other.

As in so much Western theory, when social relations are not simply ignored, they are assumed to be inherently competitive. Todorov notes (2000) that much of this is the result of starting one’s examples with a collection of adult males” (Graeber 2015).

Philosophy rejects collectivist, knowledge-building science, rigorous, collectively-regulated empirical methods to discern the range of –not just probability but also– possibility, including by identifying trends, averages, standard deviations and other summaries of main dynamics in a select place and time, as well as variations within that milieu and in main dynamics across space and time, identifying via theory, correlation, time-order, and comparison together their contributing factors, to systematically refine and correct these descriptive and explanatory frameworks collectively. In science, empirical disconfirmation of theory is maintained as part of the knowledge ideal–thus, the pursuit of scientific knowledge employs a diverse collectivism; one study is not science, nor is uniformity stable in this kind of collectivism (per Kuhn 1962).

Science constructs probable descriptions of what tends to exist or not, how–under specified relations or conditions, within a comparative understanding of the constellation of possibility in complex, often reflexive life relations. Philosophy’s desultory knowledge method, by contrast, tends to rather rely on a few, fetishized “expertly”-chosen cases (Olympe de Gouges!) exclusively confirming elite interests (Social rationality = death!). Philosophy celebrates the exception.

Not theory exactly, but due to its method, in particular philosophy’s (including theory primarily based on philosophy) long-term characteristic problem tends to be importing, as its bed of assumptions, the wisdom of the ruling social segment–classically, property-owning man between the ages of 20 and 50. While we have arrived at a point in global capitalism where such perspective can be readily denounced, the discrediting move tends to issue from within the desultory, antidemocratic-elitist philosophical knowledge project itself, and in the conservative effort to maintain manufactured scarcity across global integration, it tends to be directed at waged workers and science, or rather, commercial scientism qua science tout court. Weber saw doom in the shift from princely state managers to working-class state bureaucracies. Bruno Latour has made a career and academic institute based on showing that white-coated technicians working in commercial labs are irrational. Foucault reified opportunistic, scientistic Psychology as his reduction of science, even while admiring conservative economics. Philosopher GA Cohen argued that in the communist utopia the affront to philosophy that is social science would die, as it contributes nothing to knowledge besides demystification of labor and commodities. With these expert Great Man philosopher selections of cases “demonstrating” that Enlightenment scientific method offers no advantages to knowledge issued by Great Men serving warlords, and many disadvantages (a lack of independent genius, per Nietzsche), philosophers–particularly the French school by way of the German-Catholic idealist philosophy tradition–protect and advance the reputation of philosophical contributions to knowledge, based upon an elitist assumption bed–particularly elite distributions of misanthropy and anthrophilia, elite assumptions about the distribution of sovereignty and rationality, and elites’ recognition failures, in addition to assuming that humanity is reducible to young, elite male experience, including autism and unbound competitiveness. These elitist assumptions provide the foundation for arriving at the philosophy and theory objective, the foregone conservative-wheelhouse conclusion that non-elite human development and democracy are impossible. It is a venerable, neat political ecology.

(For a prime example, see the neo-Hobbesian, French (cum German idealist)-school philosophy of Justin Smith, as his recent contribution to this tradition offers a crystallization of this ancient, antidemocratic Atlantic elite project.)

Elitist Idealism v. Democratic Materialism

Graeber discusses Catholic Europe’s Medieval psychology theory, which started with the proto-Cartesian premise of a human soul divorced from an object world, where a kind of intermediary mucus or film, a “pneuma,” was posited to represent that world like a script or teevee show to the temporarily-embarrassed (separated from Heaven) soul of man. Desiring to apprehend and embrace that world–for example with the human body– was pathological, in Catholic Medieval thought. In its ethics, the externally-imposed passion must be self-managed, via a priest-like, contemplatory orientation to the imagined pneuma.

This baroque and improbable idealist theory set up a few conceptualizations useful for inegalitarian organization in feudalism: 1) Humans are conceived as utterly alien to Earth. This alienation will be useful, from a warlord perspective, in isolating people and extracting and exploiting. 2) As shared sovereignty within human relations is impossible, desire is reduced to unrequited sexual tension. The male adolescent experience is reconceived as the universal human condition, and we all pretend priests don’t molest children. 3) Ethics: The proper business of man is not to organize and engage in collective action with other people, since slavery relations are universal and we cannot share sovereignty. It is to sit alone on the couch and absorb the Pnetflix…er, pneuma, a normative individualism sanctified as a relationship between a man and his imaginary lord. Man is a teenage monk.

Graeber’s genealogy identifies an historical shift from understanding individualist, imaginative desire as erotic, in Medieval Catholic Europe, to understanding it as consumption, eating food, a universal, individualist act of private property destruction and incorporation in global capitalism.

“The ultimate proof that one has (absolute) sovereign power over another human being is one’s ability to have them executed. In a similar fashion, one might argue, the ultimate proof of possession, of one’s personal dominium over a thing, is one’s ability to destroy it—and indeed this remains one of the key legal ways of defining dominium, as a property right, to this day. But there’s an obvious problem here. If one does destroy the object, one may have definitively proved that one owns it; but as a result, one does not own it any more.”

In either the conservative Catholic tradition or the liberal capitalist tradition, desire is propelled, and an inegalitarian social order is perpetuated, by the logical impossibility of an isolated individual simultaneously having a cake (or bang, or slave) and eating it too. These are logical proofs of the impossibility of absolute sovereignty distributed across human individuals. What ho, we’re not gods. The infantile passion imposed by the gulf separating man from consumerist utopia in capitalism is conceived as the proper focus of individualist man. (This is why psychologists classify philosophers as neurotics.) Man’s passion is imposed upon man from outside, above. It is solitary man’s duty to self-manage the imposed passion, and not to judge, decide, and act collectively, not assess and allocate resources to wants and needs over time and across life, as per materialist philosophy. Selecting illustrative cases, philosophers and economists pump out denunciations of such shared, socially-rational use of full human capacity, while conservative Catholic legal authorities forbid it in favor of elite rationality.

Note by contrast what democratic Enlightenment’s scientific approach to knowledge does with the reality that humans are not gods: It devises social knowledge-acquiring methods that both deploy our human capacities and compensate for our human limitations. Not Genius-boy philosophy, tho, based as it is upon a misanthropy that instrumentally excludes the exceptional.

Ideas before Organization

In Graeber’s theory, the origin of capitalism is Medieval Catholic Europe’s individualist idealism, the conceptual requirement for consequent capitalist individualist practice.

“The shift from a conception desire modeled on erotic love to one based on the desire for food (“consumption”) was clearly a shift in the direction of popular discourse; at the same time, though, one might say the innovative aspect of modern, consumeristic theories of desire is to combine the popular materialist emphasis on consumption with the notion of the ephemeral, ungraspable image as the driving force of maximization of production.”

“The idea of human beings as creatures tainted by original sin, and therefore, cursed with infinite wants, who therefore were in an almost natural state of competition with each other, was already fully developed in authors like St. Augustine, and therefore a part of Christian doctrine throughout the Middle Ages… the notion of the maximizing individual existed in theory long before it emerged in practice.” Still in Catholic European Medieval society, “almost any increase in popular wealth was immediately diverted into communal feasts, parades, and collective indulgences. One of the processes that made capitalism possible then was the privatization of desire.”

Distinguishing Making (Unalienated Work and Social Reproduction) from Consumption

Graeber calls for scholarly specification of what we identify and analyze as consumption, limiting consumption to those activities that involve incorporation and destruction (eg. burning fossil fuels) driven by capitalist possessive-individualist desire. He argues that expanding the concept of consumption to encompass all of human life beyond the manufacture of commodities renders absurd moral narratives. “When ‘creative consumption’ is at its most creative, it’s not consumption; when it’s most obviously a form of consumption, it is not creative.” In inflating the concept of consumption to conform with a marketeer’s desiderata, scholars are rendered sub-critical, ridden by the historical, hegemonic metaphor, not scholarly. Scholars of integrity–as opposed to court philosophers–have to be able to distinguish between activities that are really semi-sovereign, unalienated, and creative making (in Scarry’s 1985 sense), and those that are not.

This distinction, however, requires of conservatives and liberals a perhaps-impossible conceptual shift to recognition of non-elites as humans, with a human range of capacities and limitation, capable of human development and making. It forces a conceptual shift in our understanding of sovereignty–not to dispense with the notion, but to shift it from a God-like absolute ideal, jealously monopolized over a dominion, to an alloyed and socially-distributed attribute, fit for a social life on Earth.

By classifying all non-productive activities as consumption, commodified acts of ceremonial destruction making way for more production, we deny all human making (imagination and realization to address a suffering) beyond the capitalist class. Consumption scholars “are categorizing all non-alienated forms of production as consumption, which has the incredibly reactionary political effect of treating almost all every form of unalienated experience we do engage in as somehow a gift granted us by the captains of industry.” Graeber calls for us to replace the (pseudo-) “Marxist” (capitalist) opposition between production and consumption with another understanding of human activity–effectively Marxist social reproduction, what Anthropologists conceive more idealistically as “the sphere of the production of human beings, not just as labor power but as persons, internalized nexes of meaningful social relations.” Human creative activity essential to capitalist value accumulation, because mostly uncommodified and so expropriated.

(Graeber, an anarchist, sometimes is a little sketchy on Marxist theory, or at least prone to viewing the Frankfurt School as a logical extension of Marx, rather than an historical-psychological extension from the Holocaust. Note that while Marxists do analyze consumption as one of several forms of capitalist alienation–commodity fetishism, the Marxist “sphere” distinction is between the sphere of production and the sphere of circulation (not a “sphere of consumption”), and that contrasting-spheres conceptualization serves in Marxist theory to explain capitalist incentive, anxiety to secure the surplus, profit.)

“Insofar as social life is and always has been mainly about the mutual construction of human beings, the ideology of consumption has been endlessly effective in helping us forget this. Most of all it does so by suggesting that: a)human desire is essentially as a matter of a relation between individuals and phantasms; b)our primarily relation with other individuals, then, becomes an endless struggle to establish their sovereignty, or autonomy, by incorporating and destroying aspects of the world around them; (MF: So idealist capitalist phagocytotic desire compels us to revoke others’ sovereignty absolutely.) c) this logic ultimately becomes the basis for ways of imagining the very possibility of relations with other people (the (Sartrean) problem of “the Other”); d) materially, it becomes the basis for imagining society as a gigantic engine of production and destruction in which the only significant human activity is either manufacturing things, or engaging in acts of ceremonial destruction so as to make way for more: a vision which in fact sidelines most (social reproduction) things that real people actually do, and insofar as it is translated into actual economic behavior, is obviously unsustainable.”

“Even as anthropologists and other social theorists directly challenge this view of the world, the (overly-broad,) unreflective use and indeed propagation of terms like ‘consumption’ ends up completely undercutting their efforts and reproducing exactly the tacit ideological logic we would wish to undercut” (Graeber 2015: 30).

…That is if consumption theorists wish to undercut the Catholic-capitalist logic. But it’s not clear that anyone playing in the wheelhouse of conservatism wants to undercut conservatism’s logic. Perhaps all they aspire to do is wittily, pseudo-critically, conservative-ethically coordinate and regulate pneumatic contemplation, prescribe the self-management of the delegated passion, wonder at the creativity–a munificence bestowed by capitalist lords upon the multitudinous bellies, and assert the fatal impossibility of mutual recognition, shared sovereignty,  non-elite development, and democracy.

See also: Post on Star Wars: An Ethics Discourse on Who Made Me?

 

Queer-constructionist Political Economy?

Seriously, though, I don’t get the promotional friendship between Melinda Cooper and the US East Coast-networked leftists, their combined attempt to mischaracterize and discredit Nancy Fraser, as if she were an opponent of queer constructionism.

Where Fraser, as a philosopher, did a philosophical analysis of how neoliberalism co-opted the antimarxist liberal and postmodern feminism that developed upon a conservative philosophical tradition championing the justice telos of difference against the justice telos of egaliberte, Cooper just appropriates some of the 1990s family sociology and political soc work, tosses in a couple superficial gestures to Marx, and tacks it onto a hatchet job on Fraser. Australia has the worst academic production incentives. Maybe it would seem fresh and necessary if you were a Political Scientist and thought queer social constructionism was birthed in the 2016 H. Clinton multijurisdictional campaign. Cooper’s latest is the most manipulative, orchestrated, bad-faith academic work I have seen coming out of the social sciences in recent years. Because the empirical history retelling is so derivative, it seems like it was done just to sell the denunciation, maintain the conservative elite + patronaged-exception political coalition.

Every time I see a reviewer scratch “Masterful” or “Magesterial” next to Cooper’s cheap appropriation smacked onto a wildly-bad faith denunciation, I grow curiouser and curiouser. Is this about Political Science just co-opting Political Sociology work, and Political Scientists rallying behind that? After all these years, I finally worked out how much the tenured Arts academy (not just commercial science faculty) is a collection of people seeking patronage from (or contributing to the campaigns and interests of) political parties, foreign states and defense industry, banks, etc. Is this a security institutions thing–some attempt to hush down the political, antimarxist role of academic poststructuralism in the academy? Why is Cooper so well networked into the Anglo-American Atlantic–to the point where a quick ‘n’ dirty, basic, redundant lit review is hailed as “magesterial”? Usually, Australians are networked into the Commonwealth. Curiouser & curiouser.

Maybe Cooper gets carte blanche for some reason after “Life as Surplus”? Maybe she just earned publishing house-backed credit as someone who can crank out books. Again, quality is at issue.

For obdurate reasons of ontological difference, Queer social constructionism is not a logical fit with political economy. Micro constructionism (discursive essentialism) and macro-constructionism (political economy) can make space for each other, but they cannot fuse. All Cooper did to bridge the ontological incompatibility was fake a shared epistemology–by appropriating it. This is clearly not sustainable, because it required not producing knowledge but stealing the work of and then denouncing all the people who did the empirical work, the social science social reproduction feminists, whom Cooper dismissed by reducing and subsuming them under their philosophical-interpretive ally,  Fraser. This is not scholarship; it’s gaming. While I understand that ambition’s at play here, it’s really not going to work to demand that older feminists in particular submit like good cis-het girls to queer-careerists humping their leg, because to be a mature female feminist is also to work with being existentially queered, and it always has been. It’s not a choice. It’s not a strategy. It’s not a brand.

For leftists, it is not worth selling out all the socialist feminists who do the social reproduction empirical and theoretical work, have done it since Kollontai (1915), just to try to fake like there’s a viable, hybrid queer-constructionist political economy tradition or agenda to market. Don’t force it. If you need a queer path to political economy to fill out the cocktail party or to compete with a Coca-Cola commercial, some slightly-less-mercenary queer careerist can plagiarize Stephanie Coontz and Sarah Diamond (not queer enough 4 U ?) without profoundly disrespecting all the sex-heterogeneous socialist feminists and their work.

By contrast…The great things about Fraser are that as a philosopher she pays attention to the empirical, craft work of feminist social scientists without appropriating it. She does her own work. And b) her work is rigorous, reflective, coalitional and politic, informed by experience, and a reorienting, politically-necessary intellectual intervention that guides and clarifies ideas. Like a philosopher is supposed to. It’s not just a weathered French academicism–pre-scripted, delegated, conservative imperial market-state reproduction strategy–slap-dash and slathered with bluster, a la Cooper.