Thursday, May 31, 2012

Moorsom on Why NeoLiberal Policies in Africa have been Disastrous

In yesterday's issue of Al Jazeera Toby Leon Moorsom has produced a terrifying image of what's happening in Africa owing to the influence of neo-liberal economic policies -- that is, the view that free trade and open markets, and the privatization of all state-owned enterprises are always good for the public generally.  What Moorsom points out is that the way this has been applied in Africa has favored the rich and left the poor ever more worse off.  And give their desperate plight, the poor are left to finding work in fighting forces such as those connected with extremist agendas.  Whoever can command the wealth in these countries can command armies, a situation that leads to more militarism.

There is more here worth serious reflection.  By all means you should read it in full.  Merely to wheat interest I reproduce some statements that need to be examined carefully [leaving out or truncating the material evidence he provides for his claims]:

Over the past year, Africa has seen the decomposition of states from coast to coast. A belt of war, coups and large-scale spontaneous demonstrations has emerged across the Sahel, from Guinea-Bissau to Somalia. ...
These political processes have a variety of localised causes, yet they have some commonalities. All of them emerge in a context of failed agricultural markets and a boom in mineral and oil extraction.  ...
It is not a coincidence that African governments are falling apart while Europe and North America are facing financial crisis. We are witnessing the declining hegemony of African states at the same time the competition for spoils intensifies, while the potential rewards of capturing the centre become ever more valuable. Capital is not withdrawing from Africa, but instead, the processes of extraction are becoming more obvious as the economic basis of societies are under severe strain. ...
At a recent launch of The Oxford Companion to the Economics of Africa in Accra, the editors of the esteemed volume were at odds over how to assess the consequences of three decades of "Washington Consensus" neoliberal economic policies. ... [T]he only point they agreed on was the fact that they have resulted in growing inequalities and increasing poverty throughout Africa.
What we are witnessing now is, in part, the blowback from years of neoliberalism and military interventions in places such as Somalia and Libya. This blowback is revealing the shallowness of the "Third Wave" democratisation processes in Africa that the US political science establishment was so keen to ride. ...
[N]neoliberal policies [have] destroyed existing local markets while highly sinister elements flourished. ...
[M]aterial processes of extraction impact political processes. [Demonstrated by the scholarly work of Catherine Boone, Mahmood Mamdani, and Chris Allen].  ... [They have shown that ] peasant-based economies have integrative tendencies. Hegemony is more firmly rooted in land-tenure patterns and cultural institutions of labour mobilisation (ie: unpaid family labour, or working for the chief or marabout). These patterns stem from various alliances and forms of indirect-rule set in place between colonial governments and "strong men". Alternately, extractive industries around valuable commodities have greater tendency toward disintegration.
Agriculture across the region is in crisis. ...
Reforms of the 1990s battered the agricultural sector throughout Africa. Deborah Bryceson at the University of Glasgow notes how these reforms greatly expanded the productivity gap between small-scale and large-scale production. ...
Africa is experiencing the most grotesque contradictions of Europe's financial crisis. The immediate consequences in the south have been a drop in aid funding, while at the same time, the world's wealthiest are hoarding gold. ...
As declining peasant production, increased war and climate change fuel dislocation, there are fewer aid organisations to fill in the gaps for people to meet bare necessities. These people are the easiest to recruit into armies and gangs of banditry and piracy. ...
There is no doubt that many of the earth's resources are being used to create unnecessary products for high-consumption lifestyles in much of the world. The problem, however, is that ...  [c]apitalist societies are producing simply for the sake of production, not need.The current crisis of capitalism is that there is "surplus liquidity". In other words, the rich have so much wealth they have exhausted places to store it. If it is not invested its value depreciates. This is what has led to land grabbing and investment in grain futures markets. This is why we see record amounts being spent on art ... [and] why we see car companies pushing zero per cent financing. While workers are having their jobs and wages cut and governments are enforcing austerity, companies have never held so much cash. As one author reports: "Globally, companies are sitting on more than $5 trillion." This is a classic case of "over-production". When investors cannot sell more cars and condos, they turn to purchasing gold and minerals. 

Toby Leon Moorsom teaches at Queen's University in Canada and is an editor of Nokoko Journal of African Studies.
Source: Al Jazeera

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mann and Ornstein: It's even worse than you thought: Republicans are the problem

Paul Rosenberg, in an article in Al Jazeera, has taken note of what happens when noted commentators criticize the Republican party:  They get shut out.

He is referring to the latest book by Thomas E Mann and Norman J Ornstein, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism..  Rosenberg's point is that the GOP seems to think it is OK to make extreme remarks like Allan West's slanderous claim that 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party are card carrying Communists.  Yes, he said it, and it was crazy but his colleagues are not willing to correct him.  Mann and Ornstein are saying that the extremism is not balanced on both sides:  The Republicans have become willing to tolerate dangerously cruel extremism:  In fact, that was the title of their summary of the book in an short piece in the Washington Post:   "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem".  Finally someone is calling a spade a spade.

As Rosenberg points out the Democrats are in no way lily white, but the Republicans have outdone themselves in their silence when one of their own says cruel, unjust, and slanderous things about the other party.  I keep wondering how long the many good people who have always been loyal Republicans will be willing to put up with this.  The Party deserves better, but there are some extreme voices who are doing the Party no good by what they say.

Have a look at Rosenberg's interesting critique.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Investigative Journalism Demonstrates Its Importance Just As It May be Fading

There are many signs that investigative journalism -- the kind that reveals the ways that the truth is being manipulated,  uncovering graft in government and cheating in business -- is in decline in this country.  So it is sad when a venerable newspaper shows signs of nearing-collapse.  And the sadness is all the more pungent when such signs appear where the need for that kind of reporting seems especially severe -- as in Louisiana.  Charles M Blow in today's New York Times gives us a sense of how much has been hidden in that state by pointing out what the New Orleans Times-Picayune has revealed about the Louisiana prison system and how it works.  By all means read his article on how legal regulations can be manipulated in self-serving ways that abuse other human beings, especially the weak and vulnerable.  

 Here is the first sentence in Blow's article:

Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.”
The statistics tell a tragic story about Louisiana, which has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison in this country, and about the United States, which has the highest percentage of prison inmates in the world.  Here are Blow's statistics:  Out of 100,000 residents Louisiana has 1,619 incarcerated; the United States has 730; Russia has 525; Rwanda has 450; Iran has 333; China has 122; Afghanistan has 62.

Shame on Louisiana. Shame on the U.S.

And let us pause to regret that, if the Times-Picayune instance indicates a trend (for they are scaling back to three days a week), this kind of reporting may be lost.  If truly there is a decline in such reporting, it will be a loss for democracy, which cannot survive if the light of investigative reporting cannot be shed on unseemly behavior, and it will be a loss for us as individuals who want to have access to the truth -- at least the most reliable information -- of what is happening in the world.  Justice Louis D. Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Already we have the sense that we live in fields of lies, crafted stories that masque the truth.  What else are we being led to believe that veil the underside of the human condition?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Friday Times Editorial by Najam Sethi

I have long admired Najam Sethi for some of the ways he has exposed the confused situation in Pakistan.  Here is one that just came out.

Editorial: Chew on this by Najam Sethi

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

TAPI is Still Alive

Those of us who look for ways the advance of technology is transforming the world by reducing the cost and time of getting something accomplished are frequently faced with a kind of contrary reality, namely, that politics often intrudes into the ways technical relations could develop.  If there is any part of the world where this has been true for a good while it is Central Asia.  But I still think it’s worth watching what’s going on there because the demand for Central Asian resources will surely force the world’s great powers to find a way to establish secure and lasting ways of accessing and developing those resources.  Today Reuters is reporting that there is talk again about getting the Turkmenistan-Afghanistani-Pakistan-India pipeline in motion.

Some things in this article worth taking note of:
  • Turkmenistan's state gas company Turkmengaz signed gas sales and purchase agreements with Pakistan's Inter State Gas Systems and Indian state-run utility GAIL.
  • Turkmenistan is keen to free itself from reliance on gas exports to Russia.
  • The proposed 1,735-km (1,085-mile) pipeline could carry 1 trillion cubic meters of gas over a 30-year period, or 33 billion cubic meters a year.
  • Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh field is believed to be the world's second largest gas field, with reserves of between 13.1 trillion and 21.2 trillion cubic meters.
  • India’s need for gas is desperate.  Over the period of 2028 to 2035, Indian gas demand will triple to around 190 bcm.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Technological change drives the system.

The long term implications of technological innovations are huge, and the social implications seem these days to become operative virtually as soon as the technology becomes available.  China is today's example.  Note what is happening to change China:  cell phones.  From an article on the BBC [5/22/12] by John Sudworth.

·        80 million new subscribers have come online in China every year for the past decade.
·        This year, China will overtake America as the world's biggest smartphone market.
·        In China an estimated 40% of those connecting to the web now do so solely via a mobile phone.

Sudworth describes some of the social implications of these developments already.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Deficit Outlook and Fiscal Irresponsibility

Voting publics have short memories.  This is why politicians can create "histories" the way they want and scarcely anyone will notice how they have fudged.  Just now, this year, we will hear many stories about what has gone wrong with our country and in particular, at least as the Republicans tell it, how the current leadership has been profligate in spending.  I discovered a statement by Peter Peterson, a "life-long Republican," on the problem he saw in our country in 2004, and the prescience of his critique of his own party eight years ago.  It bears reading again, to grasp what the situation in this country looked like then, and how misleading could be the political rhetoric we will be subjected to for the next several months.
Deficits and dysfunction [Peter Peterson] Among the bedrock principles that the Republican Party has stood for since its origins in the 1850's is the principle of fiscal stewardship -- the idea that government should invest in posterity and safeguard future generations from unsustainable liabilities. ... Over the last quarter century, however, the Grand Old Party has abandoned these original convictions. Without ever renouncing stewardship itself -- indeed, while talking incessantly about legacies, endowments, family values and leaving ''no child behind'' -- the G.O.P. leadership has by degrees come to embrace the very different notion that deficit spending is a sort of fiscal wonder drug.  ... Since 2001, the fiscal strategizing of the party has ascended to a new level of fiscal irresponsibility. For the first time ever, a Republican leadership in complete control of our national government is advocating a huge and virtually endless policy of debt creation. The numbers are simply breathtaking. When President George W. Bush entered office, the 10-year budget balance was officially projected to be a surplus of $5.6 trillion -- a vast boon to future generations that Republican leaders ''firmly promised'' would be committed to their benefit by, for example, prefinancing the future cost of Social Security. Those promises were quickly forgotten. A large tax cut and continued spending growth, combined with a recession, the shock of 9/11 and the bursting of the stock-market bubble, pulled that surplus down to a mere $1 trillion by the end of 2002. Unfazed by this turnaround, the Bush administration proposed a second tax-cut package in 2003 in the face of huge new fiscal demands, including a war in Iraq and an urgent ''homeland security'' agenda. By midyear, prudent forecasters pegged the 10-year fiscal projection at a deficit of well over $4 trillion. So there you have it: in just two years there was a $10 trillion swing in the deficit outlook.