Economics

Symposium on the Contributions of Business to Economics

ddhope_49_2In the most recent issue of History of Political Economy, “Symposium on the Contributions of Business to Economics,” edited by Robert Van Horn and Edward Nik-khah, contributors examine how business has influenced economic policy, how businesses have actively participated in constructing economic doctrines, and how businesspersons used, engaged with, challenged, and steered economists in economic policy.

The issue focuses on the contributions of business to economics and brings together contributors from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Editors and contributors examine the historiographical challenges of determining who is an economist and who is a businessperson. These essays shed light on how the relationship between business and economics has evolved and suggest directions for future historical work.

“Symposium of the Contributions of Business to Economics” includes articles on topics such as:

  • mercantilism
  • political economy
  • epistemology
  • international trade
  • business consulting
  • science and democracy

and much more.

Browse the table of contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

Remembering Craufurd Goodwin

goodwin-cropped.jpgWe are saddened to learn that Craufurd Goodwin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Economics and the founding editor of History of Political Economy, passed away last week.

He is remembered at Duke University Press for being an incredibly vibrant and larger-than-life person. Goodwin’s editorial term for the journal lasted from 1969 through 2010 and he was a great publishing partner with the Press for many years.

From Duke Today:

“Craufurd was one of a small group of people who started the field of the history of economic thought,” said Paul Dudenhefer, assistant director of the Duke EcoTeach writing program who worked with Goodwin for more than 15 years. “It used to be done as part of economics in general. Through the founding of the journal, he helped make it its own subfield. He institutionalized the subfield of the history of economics.”

Among colleagues, Goodwin made the environment interesting. Dudenhefer said Goodwin “was always eager to talk about the fascinating things he was reading and writing about. Working with him was extremely educational and entertaining. He made me laugh every day.”

A past president and distinguished fellow of the History of Economics Society, Goodwin was instrumental in the construction of the professional community of historians of economics.

Our sincerest condolences go out to Craufurd Goodwin’s family, friends, and colleagues, as well as the Duke community.

Labor and Empire

ddlab_13_3_4In the most recent issue of Labor, “Land and Empire,” edited by Leon Fink and Julie Greene, contributors consider the question: “Who built the US empire?” By taking us into the world of working class people across North and South America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, the essays in this double issue recount a history of empire building focused on the interconnections between capitalist and state expansionism.

Topics include labor and resistance in the US Army during the Civil War, Imperial politics of Filipino labor, Puerto Rican laborers in the Dominican Republic, and the decolonization of Korean labor under US occupation, among others.

From the introduction:

The articles in this double issue of Labor thus emerge from and reflect an exciting field of historical research and intellectual engagement, including new directions in transnational and imperial history and renewed engagement in both of these fields by labor historians. Together they demonstrate the inextricable connections between the history of US empire and the history of labor. The articles reveal dynamics in the logic of US empire that would not be visible in a top-down historical methodology. Furthermore, they demonstrate that what we think of as “US labor history” involved working people and sites of labor around the world. They challenge us not only to make global processes and interactions relevant to our narratives and interpretations of labor and working-class history but, more particularly, to realize the significance of imperial and colonial power relations in shaping that broader labor history. Five major themes weave through the essays as they engage with the labor history of empire. They draw our attention to the unfree labor of military service and its central role in building North American and US empire; struggles over citizenship in the unequal territories of the United States; the complex role of colonial and postcolonial subjects as migrant laborers; the labor tensions involved in US occupations; and labor migration as central to the logic of empire.

Read the full introduction, made freely available.

National Coffee Day

Today is National Coffee Day—the perfect opportunity to say “thank you” to the foamy friend that renders us functional in our day-to-day lives. But this drink has a complex and conflict-filled history, and modern coffee production is a world of its own. Check out some of our scholarship on the brewed beverage.

978-0-8223-5150-4In From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive, Paige West tracks coffee as it moves from producers in Papua New Guinea to consumers around the world. This vivid ethnography illuminates the social lives of the people who produce, process, distribute, market, and consume coffee.

Julia Landweber examines coffee’s adoption into French culture and diet in “This Marvelous Bean,” published in French Historical Studies (volume 38, issue 2). She explores how coffee, initially mistrusted by the French for its bitterness, health risks, and associations with the Ottoman Empire, became a beloved beverage and attracted a burgeoning culture of consumers interested in exotic novelties.

978-0-8223-3766-9Historians trace the paths of many of Latin America’s most important exports—coffee, bananas, rubber, sugar, and more—in From Silver to Cocaine. Each contributor follows a specific commodity from its inception, through its development and transport, to its final destination in the hands of consumers.

Charles W. Bergquist’s influential 1986 book Coffee and Conflict in Colombia, 1886-1910, had several important consequences for the study of Latin American history and the study of Colombia. Bergquist’s analysis of this transitional period left a mark on all subsequent studies in Latin American affairs. His examination of the growth of the coffee industry and the Thousand Days’ War is a major contribution to the field.

978-0-8223-2218-4In “That a Poor Man Be Industrious,” a chapter of Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State, Aldo Lauria-Santiago examines the experience of a late-1800s ladino peasant community in El Salvador with land tenure, coffee production, and regional politics. The community’s experience with the pressures and opportunities of an expanding coffee economy provides insight into El Salvador’s ladino peasantry.

Nancy Um’s “Foreign Doctors at the Imam’s Court,” published in Genre (volume 49, issue 2), sheds light on an overlooked phenomenon: early modern medical diplomacy to Qasimi Yemen during the “Coffee Era,” in which foreign merchants flocked to the southern Arabian Peninsula with the interest of procuring coffee, a commodity that was then still difficult to purchase elsewhere.

In “Territories of Desire,” published in Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (volume 12, issue 2), Aymon Kreil contrasts the intimacy of coffee shops in Egypt, as locales where men gather to chat about sex, with the intimacy of conversations within the family. Although research often focuses on family as the realm of intimacy, Kreil argues the importance of considering alternate contexts.

Donald J. Trump and the Spirit of Proletarian Luxury

Donald J. Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidential election raises worrying issues concerning the spirit of our times. In today’s guest post, John Armitage and Joanne Roberts, co-editors of the recent special issue of Cultural Politics on “The Spirit of Luxury,” reflect on Trump’s promotion of “the spirit of proletarian luxury.”

ddcup_12_1Donald J. Trump is a highly successful businessman with a net worth, according to Forbes, of $4.5 billion. As the owner, chairman, and president of The Trump Organization, he caters to the desires of the super-rich through the construction and operation of luxury real estate developments, hotels, golf courses, and retail outlets. Indeed, the success of his company relies on the super-rich: a demographic group imbued with “the spirit of haute luxury,” characterized by values of refinement, sophistication and discretion.

In the race for the Republican nomination, Trump is wooing mainly white working-class Republicans, many of whom are still reeling from the impact of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and who feel betrayed by the extant political classes. Trump, then, offers something fresh, as a face from beyond the realm of politics, yet simultaneously familiar, as a television celebrity. However, we contend that Trump is trading down in terms of the groups that he is seeking to attract. In the process, he is adopting crude, unsophisticated, and sometimes indiscreet language and behaviors. Consequently, Trump offers himself up as a symbol of seemingly attainable success: in Trump’s world, everyone can achieve prosperity displayed through luxury penthouse suites, mansions, aircraft, cars and a whole host of other luxury goods and services. Moreover, Trump presents the prospect of upward social mobility through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the process of promoting the contemporary manifestation of the American Dream, Trump thus advances the spirit of luxury. But he does so in ways that reach beyond the super-rich. Certainly, for us, Trump cultivates what we call “the spirit of proletarian luxury” – the brash, “bling,” even vulgar, type of luxury that satisfies the need to display success through conspicuous consumption.

Given his own great wealth, Trump has deep pockets with which to finance his campaign. However, the indirect cost, in terms of the erosion of support from his super-rich clients, is proving to be high. The results of a recent survey by BAV Consulting/Young & Rubicam, reported in Politico, suggests that the Trump brand is losing its luster among high income consumers. From the perspective of Trump as a luxury brand, therefore, we argue that the brand is being democratized such that its diversification into national politics is making it more accessible to a wider, yet, crucially, less affluent, group of followers. Nevertheless, as a luxury brand, Trump must be aspirational and inaccessible to the less well-off; otherwise it loses its symbolic value as a luxury among the super-rich.

While the Trump luxury brand may be losing ground among the super-rich, Trump’s own personal popularity has soared among those with lower incomes. By appealing to a mass electorate, then, Trump portrays himself as the personification of the American Dream, of the new spirit of proletarian luxury that is within everyone’s reach.

New Books in March

It is already March and Spring is on its way, but even more exciting are the new books coming out this month. And we have plenty of them!

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Diana Taylor’s Performance explores the multiple and overlapping meanings of performance, showing how it can convey everything from artistic, economic, and sexual performance, to providing ways of understanding how race, gender, identity, and power are performed.

In Indian Given María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo provides a sweeping historical and comparative analysis of racial ideologies in Mexico and the United States from 1550 to the present to show how indigenous peoples provided the condition of possibility for the emergence of each nation.

In The Official World Mark Seltzer analyzes the suspense fiction, films, and performance art of Patricia Highsmith, Tom McCarthy, Cormac McCarthy, J.G. Ballard, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and others to demonstrate that the modern world continuously establishes itself through the staging of its own conditions.feminist bookstore

Kristen Hogan traces The Feminist Bookstore Movement‘s rise and fall, showing how the women at the heart of the movement developed theories and practices of lesbian antiracism and feminist accountability that continue to resonate today.

Drawing on an eclectic range of texts and figures, from the Greek Cynics to Tori Amos, Nick Salvato’s Obstruction finds that embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, and digressiveness can paradoxically enable alternative modes of intellectual production.

A celebratory new edition to Jane Lazarre’s Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness, in which she, a white Jewish mother, describes her experience being married to an African American man and raising two sons as she learns, from family experience, teaching, and her studies, about the realities of racism in America.

In Cold War Anthropology, David H. Price offers a provocative account of the profound influence that the American security state has had on the field of anthropology since the Second World War by mapping  out the intricate connections between academia and the intelligence community.

diaspora and trustIn Memorializing Pearl Harbor Geoffrey M. White examines the challenge of representing history at the site of the attack that brought America into World War II, showing that the memorial to the Pearl Harbor bombing is a site in which many histories are continually performed, validated, and challenged.

In Diaspora and Trust Adrian H. Hearn proposes a new paradigm for economic development in Mexico and Cuba that is predicated on the development of trust among the state, society, and each nation’s resident Chinese diaspora communities, lest they get left behind in the twenty-first century economy.

In Sexual States Jyoti Puri uses the example of the recent efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in India to show how the regulation of sexuality is fundamentally tied to the creation and enduring existence of the Indian state.

the geographiesAntoinette Burton’s Africa in the Indian Imagination challenges nostalgic narratives of the Afro-Asian solidarity that emerged from the 1955 Bandung conference by showing how postcolonial Indian identity was based on the subordination of Africans and blackness.

In The Geographies of Social Movements Ulrich Oslender examines the activism of black communities in the lowland rain forest of Colombia’s Pacific coast to show how the mutually constituting relationships between residents and their environment informs the political process.

In Domesticating Organ Transplant Megan Crowley-Matoka examines the iconic power of kidney transplantation in Mexico, where the procedure is inexorably linked to the imaginings of individual and national identity, national pride, and the role of women in creating the Mexican state.

motherless tounge
In The Sublime Perversion of Capital Gavin Walker examines the Japanese debate about capitalism between the 1920s and 1950s, using it as a “prehistory” to consider current problems of uneven economic development and contemporary topics in Marxist theory and historiography.

In Motherless Tongues Vicente L. Rafael examines the vexed relationship between language and history as seen through the work of translation in the context of empire, revolution, and academic scholarship in the Philippines, the United States, and beyond.

In Tourist Distractions Youngmin Choe uses Korean hallyu cinema as a lens to examine the importance of tourist films and film tourism in creating transnational bonds throughout East Asia and how they help Korea negotiate its twentieth-century history with the neoliberal present.

Ricardo D. Salvatore’s Disciplinary Conquest rewrites the history of Latin American studies by tracing its roots back to the first half of the twentieth century, showing how its ties to U.S. business and foreign policy interests helped build an informal empire that supported U.S. economic, technological, and cultural hegemony throughout the hemisphere.

 

Hurricane Katrina: 10 Years Later

This week marks the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In remembrance, we take a look at the books and journal articles we’ve published on that historic event.

Adams cover image, 5449-9

Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith is an ethnographic account of long-term recovery in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is also a sobering exploration of the privatization of vital social services under market-driven governance. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, public agencies subcontracted disaster relief to private companies that turned the humanitarian work of recovery into lucrative business. These enterprises profited from the very suffering that they failed to ameliorate, producing a second-order disaster that exacerbated inequalities based on race and class and leaving residents to rebuild almost entirely on their own.

Filled with the often desperate voices of residents who returned to New Orleans, Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith describes the human toll of disaster capitalism and the affect economy it has produced. While for-profit companies delayed delivery of federal resources to returning residents, faith-based and nonprofit groups stepped in to rebuild, compelled by the moral pull of charity and the emotional rewards of volunteer labor. Adams traces the success of charity efforts, even while noting an irony of neoliberalism, which encourages the very same for-profit companies to exploit these charities as another market opportunity. In so doing, the companies profit not once but twice on disaster.

Thomas cover image, 5728-5Most of the narratives packaged for New Orleans’s many tourists cultivate a desire for black culture—jazz, cuisine, dance—while simultaneously targeting black people and their communities as sources and sites of political, social, and natural disaster. In Desire and Disaster in New Orleans: Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory, the Americanist and New Orleans native Lynnell L. Thomas delves into the relationship between tourism, cultural production, and racial politics. She carefully interprets the racial narratives embedded in tourism websites, travel guides, business periodicals, and newspapers; the thoughts of tour guides and owners; and the stories told on bus and walking tours as they were conducted both before and after Katrina. She describes how, with varying degrees of success, African American tour guides, tour owners, and tourism industry officials have used their own black heritage tours and tourism-focused businesses to challenge exclusionary tourist representations. Taking readers from the Lower Ninth Ward to the White House, Thomas highlights the ways that popular culture and public policy converge to create a mythology of racial harmony that masks a long history of racial inequality and structural inequity.

ddmnr_84The most recent issue of the minnesota review includes a special section entitled, “Katrina Ten Years Later.” This cluster of essays focuses on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina including the measures that could have been taken to prevent the massive devastation caused by it and the immediate and long-term responses by the government, private industry, and civil society.

Contributors to the section ask how Katrina left a permanent mark on the Gulf South and the larger national imaginary, whether we’ve learned any lessons, and what actions and policies we’ve adopted to mitigate against future disasters. Gaurav Desai argues: “Haunting though the images may be, the flooded homes and emergency rescues from rooftops were not the only impact Katrina had—it altered fundamental social contracts in cities such as New Orleans, from public education to public housing. It also awakened a new activism focused on issues ranging from calls for better levee protection to addressing the loss of wetlands in coastal communities.” Topics include real estate in post-Katrina New Orleans, ghost music in the Ninth Ward, organization and individualization in urban recovery, and Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans.

A forthcoming issue of Public Culture, “Climate Change and the Future of Cities: Mitigation, Adaptation, and Social Change on an Urban Planet,” volume 28 and issue 2, addresses climate change in urban areas. Contributors hypothesize that the best techniques for safeguarding cities and critical infrastructure systems from the threats related to climate change have multiple benefits, strengthening networks that promote health and prosperity during ordinary times as well as mitigating damage during disasters. Sign up for electronic table-of-contents alerts for Public Culture to be notified when the issue is available in Spring 2016.

Further reading on Hurricane Katrina from Duke University Press journals:

ddpcult_21_2“‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp… with… a Whole Lot of Bitches Jumpin’ Ship’: Navigating Black Politics in the Wake of Katrina,” by Michael Ralph in Public Culture, volume 21 and issue 2.

Rebuilding the Past: Health Care Reform in Post-Katrina Louisiana,” by Mary A. Clark in Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, volume 35 and issue 5.

World History according to Katrina,” by Wai Chee Dimock in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, volume 19 and issue 2.

Recent Titles on Entrepreneurship

ddsaq_114_3The most recent issue of SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly, “On Entrepreneurship: Immaterial Labor and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century,” volume 114, issue 3, edited by Imre Szeman and Dan Harvey, addresses the gap in contemporary cultural research on enterprise and the entrepreneur. Contributors to this issue interrogate the ways in which the idea of entrepreneurship and the figure of the entrepreneurial subject functions politically, economically, and aesthetically. This issue continues the investigation from a cultural studies, humanities, and social science perspective first introduced by Foucualt’s preliminary work in the 1970s. Topics include the entrepreneurial university, entrepreneurial journalism, cultural labor and class composition, objectivization of the self in social media, decommodification, and the birth of the ontopreneur. Browse the table of contents and read the introduction to the issue.

Freeman cover image, 5803-9Entrepreneurial Selves: Neoliberal Respectability and the Making of a Caribbean Middle Class is an ethnography of neoliberalism. Bridging political economy and affect studies, Carla Freeman turns a spotlight on the entrepreneur, a figure saluted across the globe as the very embodiment of neoliberalism. Steeped in more than a decade of ethnography on the emergent entrepreneurial middle class of Barbados, she finds dramatic reworkings of selfhood, intimacy, labor, and life amid the rumbling effects of political-economic restructuring. She shows us that the déjà vu of neoliberalism, the global hailing of entrepreneurial flexibility and its concomitant project of self-making, can only be grasped through the thickness of cultural specificity where its costs and pleasures are unevenly felt. Freeman theorizes postcolonial neoliberalism by reimagining the Caribbean cultural model of ‘reputation-respectability.’ This remarkable book will allow readers to see how the material social practices formerly associated with resistance to capitalism (reputation) are being mobilized in ways that sustain neoliberal precepts and, in so doing, re-map class, race, and gender through a new emotional economy.

Shipley cover image, 5366-9Jesse Weaver Shipley’s recent book, Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music is an  ethnography of hiplife, a popular Ghanaian music genre. Hiplife mixes hip-hop beatmaking and rap with highlife music, proverbial speech, and Akan storytelling. In the 1990s, young Ghanaian musicians were drawn to hip-hop’s dual ethos of black masculine empowerment and capitalist success. They made their underground sound mainstream by infusing carefree bravado with traditional respectful oratory and familiar Ghanaian rhythms. Living the Hiplife is an ethnographic account of hiplife in Ghana and its diaspora, based on extensive research among artists and audiences in Accra, Ghana’s capital city; New York; and London. Jesse Weaver Shipley examines the production, consumption, and circulation of hiplife music, culture, and fashion in relation to broader cultural and political shifts in neoliberalizing Ghana.

Shipley shows how young hiplife musicians produce and transform different kinds of value—aesthetic, moral, linguistic, economic—using music to gain social status and wealth, and to become respectable public figures. In this entrepreneurial age, youth use celebrity as a form of currency, aligning music-making with self-making and aesthetic pleasure with business success. Registering both the globalization of electronic, digital media and the changing nature of African diasporic relations to Africa, hiplife links collective Pan-Africanist visions with individualist aspiration, highlighting the potential and limits of social mobility for African youth.

New Studies Assess Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) after the Passage of the Affordable Care Act

JHP404_coverproof1-1Assessing Accountable Care Organizations: Cost, Quality, and Market Power,” a special issue of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law (volume 40, issue 4), is an in-depth look at accountable care organizations (ACOs): networks of hospitals, physicians, or other health care providers that share financial and medical responsibility for the coordinated care of a patient.

Now numbering over 700 throughout the United States, ACOs were rare prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Their increased presence has sparked a debate about issues important to patients, providers, and taxpayers throughout the nation. “Integrated health delivery systems and accountable care organizations are becoming ubiquitous in our health care system,” Richard Scheffler, special issue co-editor, states. “They potentially could bend the cost curve and improve the quality of care, but they also present a threat to the competitiveness of health care markets.”

Contributors to this issue analyze the current landscape of ACOs from a national and state perspective and assess whether ACOs meet the expectations of patients for lowering costs, increasing the quality of health care, and impacting population health. The authors also identify the current status of ACO accountability and enforcement with insight into antitrust laws.

The issue also includes a Point-Counterpoint section in which Laurence Seidman (University of Delaware) and Harold Pollack (University of Chicago) debate the merits of a Medicare for All reform.

Much of the work in this issue was supported through the Nicholas C. Petris Center with funding from the California Attorney General’s office.

For more information about the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, published by Duke University Press, please visit dukeupress.edu/jhppl. For more information about the special issue, please contact Colleen Grogan, journal editor and special issue co-editor (cgrogan[at]uchicago[dot]edu) and Richard Scheffler, special issue co-editor (rscheff[at]berkeley[dot]edu).

Q&A with James Ferguson

Ferguson S15 author photoJames Ferguson is Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. His new book Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution is based on his 2009 Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture at the University of Rochester. He examines the rise of social welfare programs in southern Africa in which states give cash payments to their low income citizens. These programs, Ferguson argues, offer new opportunities for political mobilization and inspire new ways to think about issues of production, distribution, markets, labor and unemployment.

What was your inspiration to begin this research?

I first started thinking about these issues (already back in the 1990s) out of my Ferguson_cvr_front_REVdissatisfaction in trying to square the usual academic narratives about “neoliberalism” with what I was observing in southern Africa. All the social theory suggested that “free market” capitalism was rampant across the globe, while “the welfare state” was everywhere in retreat or worse. Yet what I saw – in South Africa, Namibia, and several other places – was a steady expansion of schemes of social protection, featuring the payment of old age pensions and child support grants to increasingly large proportions of the population. I began to realize that there was something fundamentally wrong with our most influential critical narratives about contemporary capitalism. Indeed, once I started looking, I realized that is was not only in southern Africa that new sorts of “social” states were challenging those narratives, but that the same was happening across much of the global South. So I wanted to take up the challenge of theorizing these strange new sorts of welfare states, and trying to assess their political significance.

I also became interested in the fact that new thinking seemed to be emerging in and around these new welfare states in ways that suggested to me possibilities for new sorts of politics. In particular, I became interested in campaigns for what is called “basic income” (a small universal payment to be paid to all citizens, in the form of a “basic income grant” [BIG]) in South Africa and Namibia. In the book I reflect on the significance of some of these new ways of thinking about social payments, and try to think about how they may be coming to be linked to new sorts of political claims.

You say you want to understand cash transfers and other forms of social protection as part of a “politics of distribution.” What do you mean by that?

The story I tell about cash transfers is set against a backdrop within which the role played by wage labor has, especially for the poorest segments of society, declined markedly. This is especially true in southern Africa, of course (the real rate of unemployment in South Africa is often reckoned at around 40%, and it is much higher in some neighboring countries). But it is not only a southern African story. All over the world, people are leaving the countryside for the city, but while our old narratives suggested they would be swallowed up into an expanding proletariat, in fact they are often not able to find stable wage labor of any kind, and end up hanging around in this thing we call the “informal economy.” In this context, I try to point out the increasingly important role played by new sorts of distrubutive claims. Social payments are key here (more than 30% of all South Africans today receive a monthly social grant from the state). But the wider point is that this is just one sort of distributive claim among others. All around the world, people are making direct claims to resources based on things other than labor – things like humanitarian or emergency assistance, medical need, compensation for environmental stewardship, claims based on indigeneity or national ownership of resources, and so on. This is what I mean by a politics of distribution.

Why do you think the whole issue of distribution has tended to be neglected and (as you put it) denigrated?

I start here with the old “Give a man a fish” cliché, with its common-sensical idea that while distribution only treats a superficial symptom (the man is hungry), creating new forms of production (“teaching a man to fish”) creates a “real”, “structural” change that is of lasting value. But of course knowing how to fish doesn’t guarantee you an income – as I show, southern Africa is in fact swarming with unemployed fishermen. In fact, I suggest that the real “underlying cause” of the deprivation of those with only their labor to sell is not their own failures of preparation (not knowing how to fish), but simply that they have been abruptly cut out of a distributive deal that used to include them. In such a view, getting cut back in to the distributive deal is not treating the “symptom” but goes, in fact, to the very root of the matter: the lack of any distributive entitlement is the underlying cause. And there is no reason to treat distributive arrangements as any less “real” (or any less “structural”, for that matter) than productive arrangements.

It’s also clear that the belittling of distribution is linked to a kind of gender politics, in which women and children may require direct distribution, but a man must “fish” (i.e., labor) for himself. So the valorization of production over distribution is also the valorization of the masculine over the feminine, which helps make visible why the politics of welfare is always bound up with such nasty sorts of misogyny. Insisting on a politics of distribution here can be a quite fundamental theoretical move, one that questions the masculinist and productionist common sense that lies behind both our received ideas of the “real” and the “structural” and our political privileging of the figure of the wage laborer, the proletarian.

The book highlights the importance of distribution, not only in social programs, but in a whole range of livelihood strategies pursued by the poor. How do you understand these, and what do you mean by “distributive labor”?

We often tend to suppose that most people, most of the time, derive their income by working for wages and salaries. I think it’s very important to realize that that is simply not the case – certainly in southern Africa, and to a surprising extent not even in a place like the United States. Huge numbers of people (not only children and the elderly but also massive numbers of so-called “working age” people) are not in the labor market at all, but find other ways of “getting by.” We sometimes talk about the “informal economy” here, but I argue that that term often obscures more than it clarifies. Instead, I’m interested in making more visible all the livelihoods that depend not on selling either one’s labor or its products, but on making distributive claims on the resources or income streams of others. Social assistance is one important way this happens, but it exists in the context of a great many other, vernacular kinds of distributive flows.

I speak of “distributive labor” here to emphasize that being able to make such distributive claims on others doesn’t happen all by itself. On the contrary, it is the result of long and difficult work, as social relationships are carefully tended, social obligations met (or not), long geographic distances bridged, funerals attended – all of which has to happen before one can make a claim on the wealth or earning power of a patron, an ally or a kinsman. In southern Africa, people have been doing this sort of thing for generations, in the context of migrant labor and remittances. Today, labor plays a diminished role, but the old networks and practices of distribution continue to be extremely important, even as the sources of income have sometimes themselves shifted in ways that leave recipients of social grants, rather than workers, as those who are expected to share their incomes with needy others.

Why are some people so threatened by the idea of cash transfers? What about the idea that they promote “dependency”?

In any discussion of social protection today, there is a special alarm reserved for the “problem of dependency.” This is especially the case if we are talking (as we are in the campaigns for “basic income”, for instance) about grants that might be paid not just to older people or to women caring for children, but to what are called “working age” men.  But in the book, I contest the whole idea that “dependency” is some sort of terrible problem. First of all, we’re all dependent on others for crucially important aspects of our lives and livelihoods. Indeed, in some ways wage laborers are especially dependent on others – most of all, on the persons or institutions that employ them, as they find out as soon as mines or factories close, or dips in the business cycle throw them unceremoniously into the street. What is more, the poor in particular are always highly dependent on others – in fact, it is only via relations of dependence that they are able to survive. In this respect, dependence is not the problem, it is the solution. Now what does the payment of small cash grants do to this situation? It does not somehow introduce “dependency” into a world that had been innocent of it. The relations of dependence have been there all along. And it’s not as if these small transfers of funds enable people to sit back and do nothing – they’re generally very small, and are a very long way from providing a comfortable living by themselves. In fact, what the research shows is that rather than making people passive, small amounts of cash enable a surprising range of activities that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. With respect to the question of dependence, those receiving these small cash grants are enabled (thanks to the possibility of these activities) to participate in a more active and equal way in the circuits of mutual dependence that keep poor communities going. But in the end, I think the terror of “dependency” is not really about the actual effects of grants on the behavior of the poor at all. It’s more to do with the inherited prejudices of an earlier era (when poor communities whose labor was badly needed by capitalist enterprises were kept on the brink of starvation as an “incentive” to work) and a kind of gender panic over the idea that men (and not just women and children) might be acknowledged as dependent.

Don’t these systems that deliver small cash payments to the poor in fact help prevent more systemic demands for change? Aren’t they ultimately rather conservative in this sense?

 In fact, I don’t think this is at all clear. It is an old Marxist argument, of course – that social assistance is basically just a way of buying off the poor with crumbs from the table, thereby securing their quiescence. But advocates for universal cash schemes like the Basic Income Grant (BIG) make a strong counter-argument. Turning those excluded from the world of wage labor into people who can make direct material claims on the state is in fact, they say, a way of activating and energizing them politically. The old Left, after all, used to call these people “the Lumpenproletariat” and saw no progressive role for them at all. Treating them instead as real citizens with legitimate material claims on the society, the argument goes, can in fact open up new kinds of political mobilization. Ultimately, I think this has to be an empirical question. But it would be a big mistake to suppose that we already know what the political implications will ultimately be of the expansion of cash transfers to so many poor people all over the world.

You trace the emergence of ways of thinking in which social payments appear not as a gift or “assistance”, but as what you call “a rightful share.” What does this mean?

 This idea of a rightful share grows out of the politics of natural resources in the context of highly unequal societies. In southern African countries that have both substantial mineral wealth, and a recent history of national liberation from settler-colonial rule (I am thinking of South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe), the question arises of who really owns, or ought to own, this wealth. The old socialist idea that “the people” must own the wealth has historically tended to be collapsed into the idea of state ownership – but of course we’ve learned that having the state own everything doesn’t always turn out so well for “the people” in whose name they claim to rule. So it’s been very interesting to see this idea of popular rights to national wealth (whose diamonds are they, really?) starting to be linked not to state nationalization of industries, but to more specific distributive claims, such as the idea that mineral wealth that belongs to “the nation” should be used to fund a universal basic income payment for all.

I am also struck by the way that claims to “a rightful share” can harness the moral power of a language of right to claims that are not easily contained within neoliberal “rights talk”. In the book, I tell the story of a man attending a housing rights workshop. At the end of a day of long harangues about constitutional rights, what rights citizens have, how to educate oneself about one’s rights, and so on, he gets up and says: “But there’s been some mistake. I don’t want the right to a house.” What?! How can this be? He doesn’t want the right to a house? Finally, he explains: “I want a house.” It is this sort of demand – not the right to a house, but the house itself; not a claim to be acknowledged as a formally equal rights-holder, but a demand to receive a material share of the nation’s wealth – that I find so interesting. And I think it is possible to see in some of these new developments an emergent new politics.

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