Category Archives: Politics, Power, Activism

Happy Belated Labor Day

x-posted at Biz Gov Soc

I have been meaning to comment on labor day, this past Monday all week. There is some kind of irony in Bucknell’s lack of observance of labor day. Do we not think learning and teaching are “work”? Of course some classes of employees are off, but not students nor faculty. I am not whining about wanting a day off, just wondering what the institution is say9ing, or not, in its scheduling choices. Bucknell aside, what are they key “issues” of the day, as C. Wright Mills would have us describe them? What is the state of working for a living in the ol’ US of A? The NY Times provided two interesting views on labor on the day in question. First, Robert Reich, professor (but Micheal Reagan thinks this is a disqualification to speak on matters of bread and butter), former Labor Secretary under Clinton, author, and very funny short man (one of his book titles was Let Me Be Short) tackles the two big issues of the day: the stagnant economy and rising inequality. Reich provides an interesting set of graphs to accompany his points. (Click to enlarge). First, the evidence: productivity is up, incomes are flt, and the wealthiest are wealthier at a faster rate than everyone else. Whether this is a problem or not can be divided into two pieces. First- are there negative effects to rising inequality? Second- can rising inequality understood not as a problem, but as the outcome of a more virtuous process? In this case, the process would be a well-functioning economy that allows individuals to find their own optimal point of rewards in the labor market relative to what they put into it (effort, capital). In other words, a free market will produce inequality as a result of liberating the engines of wealth-seeking. I’ll leave it to a reader to determine whether or not the inequality is a problem. The data are clear and it should be beyond debate that there is increasing inequality. His chart sums up the explanation of why. Wages stagnated starting around 1980, but the great “middle class” of America kept spending thereby creating enough demand to sustain economic growth for the producers of America (and the world). How did they do it? First,WOMEN. The women moved into the workforce in massive numbers. Whether it was to express their autonomy, enact a feminist vision of gender-equality, or to make the ends meet, the raw fact is they entered the economy. AS historians and sociologists have pointed out, this was really a re-entry into labor as the myth of the domestic, lesiure-oriented housewife was a historical anomaly. From hunter-gatherers to pioneer homesteads to early industrial work in homes, women did much, if not most, work. Second, taking on debt. Lots of it. At some point in the recent past, the average US household savings rate was negative. Negative! I remember when I heard this , it was like a punch to the stomach. You can’t sustain that. Blind faith in rising house prices and the slick sales pitches of elements of the mortgage industry played a big part in the bloating of debt. Anyway, that brings our story quite nicely up to the stories of the housing bubble, the role of Wall street in the bubble, and then AIG and the other Wall Street players at the center of the “great recession.” The other article, by Harvard Business school professors (woo hoo! Go Management Scholar), Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, shifts our focus from the buig picture to the small details of everyday work. At their conclusion, they offer this seemingly unobjectionable thought: “Work should ennoble, not kill, the human spirit.” This reminds me of another irony of labor day- shouldn’t we work on labor day? My grade school had school on MLK day so we could learn about him and the history of civil rights in our country. Anyway, digressions aside, what Amabile and Kramer found is disheartening: most professionals are disengaged, frustrated, and disatsified with work. They are unhappy. Using a HUGE amount of data (12,000 diary entries form 238 “professional” employees), they found that 33% were unhappy. What would make them happier? Is it some sort of Enron-like PRC with huge bonuses attached to the best reviewed? No. Is it little rewards and trophies? No. Is it more pay overall? No. Is it getting to lord over a prized working spot over co-workers? No. What is most motivating is making progress on meaningful work. So, Edward Freeman’s “responsibility hypothesis”– that people innately want to take responsibility for their work, finds some empirical evidence. Meanwhile, I am reminded of a clip from a food documentary I saw at our campus theatre the other day: Fresh. Chicken Farmers talk about how it is so hard to find people to “process” chickens (butcher) that they use work crews form a local prison to do it. Can manual labor be as meaningful as the professionals in Amabile and Krmaer’s study long for? Can butchering chickens be experienced as meaningful work? Or would simply paying more (and thereby reversing a little the flow of wealth Reich talks about) do more good? Do my students feel their academic assignments are meaningful work? Do I, as a professor-manager, provide the tools to enable them to be motivated by progress on meaningful work?

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Filed under economics, Political Economy, sociology

Grab-Bag

Here are a bunch of interesting links I have not had time to fully digest.

“Countdown to a Meltdown” an article from 2005 in which James Fallows of The Atlantic lays out how a third party candidate will win the presidency in 2016 after 8 years of ineffective Democratic presidency.  Interesting use of creativity and focusing on larger political and economic trends.

“Revenge of the Ratings Agencies” a NYT op-ed frames the Stnadard & Por’s downgrade as a political act not in terms of a D-R blame game, but as a threatened industry playing hardball.

The law called for exposing rating agencies to civil liability in securities lawsuits if their ratings were inaccurate. It also challenged the oligopoly’s dominance by calling for the Securities and Exchange Commission to explore the feasibility of having an independent organization select rating agencies for asset-backed securities, instead of having the bond issuers select and pay the agencies, as they now do.

“Serving Shareholders and Democracy” is a NYT editorial about how the SEC should force public firms to disclose to shareholders how and how much money they spend on politics.

Last week, a group of legal scholars sent a petition to the S.E.C. urging it to craft rules requiring companies to disclose to shareholders how they use corporate resources for political activities.

Here, the NYT reports on what seems like a very common-sense idea: have natural gas drillers post funds to a special emergency response fund to cover clean up in case of inevitable accidents.  I man need this for class.

Finally, London and riots.  I saw a link somewhere mentioning this academic paper by Ponticelli and Voth, from a research center (the CEPR) that looks at Europe 1919-2009 and finds that in general, cuts in government expenditures lead to more unrest like riots, strikes, and assassinations.  A free copy can be found here.  While this may seem self-evident, it is useful to have it confirmed empirically.  The results also suggest it is not due to cultural factors, demographics, or lots of “bad people.”  What I also noted is that more media coverage did not seem to matter.

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Filed under economics, Political Economy, Politics, Power, Activism, Protest

Political Typology Quizzes Annoy Me

I put this on Facebook.  Then, 40 minutes later, I had this stab at an explanation…

According to this: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz I’m a a “liberal.” And in this one I am “solid liberal” or “post-modern” depending on how I answer. http://people-press.org/typology/quiz/. Why do I find myself arguing with lots of liberals then?

I find myself able to take either side in almost all of these forced choice pars in these things.  They are designed to squeeze people into set categories.  Neither one of them even has “progressive” as a political ideology.  I am not sure it is one, but it is worth thinking about. Off the top of my head, an embrace of pragmatism as an approach to knowledge and action is part of being progressive.  Let’s talk about what can work for this problem and not look to “ideology” to decide how we should approach an issue.

Three examples come to mind.

One, schools and religion.  I don’t think banning any whisper of religion from public schools is the best reading of the establishment clause.  As  I get it, even the supreme court recognizes religious expression as a form of culture.  The bright line is coercion or proselytizing.  However, for many schools or other public entities, it is simpler to ban than to handle the nuance of deciding if a menorah, cross, or whatever is clearly cultural as opposed to endorsement of a religion.  To pull it off, you need to trust officials to use judgement.  So, a pragmatic response is to figure out how to balance trusting judgement with means to redress clear violations of religious freedom and the establishment clause.

Second, educational funding.  I had an interesting discussion the other day with a friend and I mentioned that I would rather have MORE diversity among schools, and if a school choice- voucher system accomplishes that, fine.  Basically, focus public education policy on some broad outcomes and free up schools to differentiate and yes, compete, for families and their students.  Among his concerns was what happens if school officials are given too much autonomy and they enact discrimination or other harms.  He is invoking racial segregation under Jim Crow.  I get it; we don’t want to re-create that, but a system where each family and each school can be distinctive is not the same as forcing some to go to inferior schools.  Smaller schools that can create a sense of difference and cohesion will work better and hence a liberal approach of equalizing inputs through enforced sameness is a mistake.

Third, the tax code.  I believe in progressive taxes.  There are two reasons.  One, the wealthiest should pay more proportionally because their wealth is created and supported by more of government spending- courts, police, military, transportation, disaster relief, education (yes, we pay to educate the workers who create value in firms the wealthiest own).  Two, apart from economic fairness, we believe in social fairness.  Capitalism always exacerbates inequality and therefore it is good to tax progressively to create avenues to reduce inequality.  The periods of the greatest amount of activity to reduce inequality in the US, roughly the 1930s to the 1980s, saw the lowest rates of inequality.  Since the onset of neo-liberal economics in the a980s, roughly, economic growth increased along with gross measures of inequality.   Anyway, this is my case for progressive taxation.

However, that does not mean defending the current status quo tax code (at the federal level).  I’ve not done the math or seen anyone else do it, but I can imagine getting behind a simplified, progressive, LOWER set of tax rates.  The complexity of the tax code sucks up a lot of human capital.  Is it necessary?  Well, yes, for me.  I can’t stand doing income taxes.  What would happen if we had federal marginal rates at 0% (for people at living wage or less), 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25%  No other exemptions or deductions.  This would decouple a dynamic national economy, as well as personal financial decisions like getting a mortgage, from the tax code.

It would also obsolesce a chunk of the accounting profession.  But maybe their human capital could be redirected to tasks that they may like more and may create other economic or social value…

But, as to typology and ideology, I’ve never seen a “liberal” politician discuss anything like this.

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Filed under Political theory, Politics, Power, Activism

Kill this Neologism Now- “Majority-Minority.”

Put this on FB this morning.

Heard news peeps, based on recent census, describing how the US will become a “majority-minority” nation by 2020 or so.  Can we kill that phrase now?  If no single group is more than 50%, it is called pluralism folks.  Or, multiculturalism.  Or anything but majority-minority.

 

Among various problems. it perpetuates some idea that white majority is the natural or desired state of the USA.  Look, when the “white” population falls below 50% it is just not the majority.  OK?  Deal with it.  The term sounds like whities get together at my house on Wednesday while the blacks, browns, yellows, reds, and all other hues get together at Denzel Washington’s.  It is just not that bipolar anymore.  I’m not saying some sort of utopia of “i’d like to sing the world a song” will happen, just that identity, justice, controversy, politics, love and marriage, and schooling will be full of problems and promises in new ways.

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Filed under Politics, Power, Activism, Research, sociology

Torture still not cool.

Short thought:

Even IF the attack on Osama BL had been 100% due to torturing prisoners, it would not mean a vindication of the torture cheerleaders. Why? 1) It is only a colossal failure of the imagination to think that any action is the result of one and only one course of action. There are always other ways. 2) What price can we put on our national integrity? As John McCain said once: it is not about them, it is about us.

Source for McCain (WaPo article 2005):

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Filed under activism, Terrorism, Torture

Natural Capitalism

I am just now picking up Lovins, Hawken,and Lovins Natural Capitalism book.

I am wondering if I could use it in a module on alternative perspectives on capitalism module. I also was wondering what has happened since it was published in 1999.

There is a is a website called natcap.org.

Here I found a more recent edition with a new introduction. http://www.naturaledgeproject.net/NatCap2005.aspx.

What I like best about it is the focus on solutions. I feel like that would mitigate people who dismiss change as naive idealism.

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Filed under Books, Business, Great Companies, management, Political Economy, social innovation

Social Movement Theory and Terrorism

I have been chipping away at an article for awhile now on terrorism as an organizational activity.  Part of my argument is to understand terrorism as at times a social movement.

Part of the fun of this for me is to learn more about social movements which has always been a topic my interests bump up against, but something I never had time to formally study.

Reading Castells (who channel Alain Tourraine, apparently), Tilly, and Giddens, among others, brought the idea of social movements into my sphere of interest.  Then I started reading and reading about the work done by institutional theorists like Haogreeva Rao and others about thinking about consumers as social movements.  For example, his book, Market Rebels, makes the case that markets are at times created by consumers, not firms.

Today, in a fit of retroactive literature scanning, I decided to check what had been said about terrorism and social movement theory.  Two interesting findings.

First, the wikipedia article cites Tilly and Tarrow (separately) defining social movements as inherently a featrue of pluralist, democratic societies.  Moreover, Tilly’s repretoire does not include any violent acts.  This surprised me.  Terrorist organizations seem to operate in such societies and also, with Al Qaeda, at a global level.  Moreover, they are also embedded in or linked to social movements and sets of social movement organizations.  So, if a social movement is a an observable collective effort to resist or adopt social change, then terrorist organizations can be part of that definition, irrespective of their geographic location.

Second, I hopped over to google scholar to see what had been written about social movement theory and terrorism.  Using those search terms, I found one article in Terrorism and Political Violence.  Who knew there was sucha  specialized journal?  C. Gentry’s article is titled: ” THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENT THEORY AND TERRORISM STUDIES: THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP, MEMBERSHIP, IDEOLOGY AND GENDER”.   I am not even sure from the title if it is relevant.  That was the first hit, none of the rest seemed any better. This struck me as very odd and made me wonder if I have stumbled onto a much larger claim than I realized initially:

Terrorist Organizing must be accounted for by social movement theory.

Now, I wonder about how to use my blog.  I have never had anything like an active “readership” as far as i can tell.  I would love to get some answers or responses to what I discuss here.  But how?  Should I email Brayden King or Fabio Rojas at OrgTheory.net and say, “hey, please read this?”

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Filed under activism, organization theory, sociology, Terrorism

Primordial Ooze of Civil Society?

I always liked the phrase “primordial ooze.”  It is fun to say and the ten year old in me sees a bubbling, steaming goo that seems to defy order and good manners.  I also like it because it captures the idea of how the new emerges from the old, how complexity emerges from sets of interactions that are not supposed to add up to the emergent.

Two items from today made me wonder if we are looking at the primordial ooze of civil society.  Let me say here that by civil society I am not entering into some long-standing debate about what is or isn’t civil society.  I am looking for a term that covers the idea of collective or coordinated action of varying degrees of formality that is centered on common ground of like-minded actors.  Also, this common ground must unite people around some sense of a common good or higher purpose.  In short, human organizing motivated by “ruled” by practices that are not of formal state power nor purely economic rationality.  I am not sure if that holds up, but I’ll leave it there for now.

So, item #1.  Egypt, of course.  Like countless others, I am fascinated, hopeful, fearful, and awe struck by the events unfolding first in Tunisia and now more spectacularly in Egypt.  Through the media I have followed (Democracy Now, KCRW’s To The Point, NY time, Huffingtonpost, BBC, Guardian), there are several elements at work.  In no particular order.

* Youthful, technology-enabled activists.

* The Muslim Brotherhood

* Dissident elites (like El Baradei)

* Neighborhood watch patrols

Some of these groups seem loosely organized or rapidly scaling up and out as they absorb the tens or hundreds of thousands of newly mobilized citizens.  I imagine new organizing, new durable networks of trust and cooperation, and new alliances among the other two are a major part of the fluidity and flux.  This (to me) palpable sense of what could be captures the imagery of the primordial ooze of civil society.

Item #2: The Really Free School.  A random facebook message put me on to this (originating in theory.org.uk, home of theory trading cards).  I have not been able to explore it much, but what struck me is the basic ethos: let’s use a common space, the (Shirky-ean) low cost of coordinating, the ability of people to self-organize, and the cultural scripts of sharing knowledge and delighting in serious play.  Though not as fluid or important as Egypt, it also seems to me to get at the origins,at the primordial ooze,  of civil society in its simplicity and open-endedness.

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Filed under activism, Creativity, Hacker ethic, Information and Communication Technology, Networks, participatory technology, Protest, social innovation, sociology, technology

The False Ideology of a Neutral Center

I took the plunge and posted this on facebook:

I am irked by “centrists” like Matt miller on KCRW’s Left Right and Center who think center ALWAYS means that left and right are equivalent in their commitment to ideology over good ideas and therefore the only possible solutions to economy, politics, and government is some sort of “third way.” And they think non-choice is non-ideological.

On a side note, I never know how much politics or “political economy” (the broader interrelated questions of fairness, governance, philosophy, and values) to put on FB. I have often said, and should write more about the double-edged sword of FB- it is based on network growth and inter-connectivity, but the broader a network becomes, the more limited it’s uses. At the extreme, FB will become an on-line version of Lake Wobegone nomrs: to avoid unsettling anyone, only discuss the weather in polite company.

Anyway, Matt Miller, the host and apparent “arbiter” on Left, Right and Center (a great show even if it is made by the communists socialists Nazis at NPR,was on a tear about the need for a new label for “radical centrists.” He made his version of a passionate plea for now being the time for a brave new “third way” politics (was he around during the 1990s when Blair and Giddens did this? and, um, that US president, named, um, Clinton?)

Matt Miller makes some good points, sometimes. But I find he often starts where much of the “mainstream”media seem to: that the excesses of left and right are always there, always misguided, always driven by ideology over facts and therefore the only hope for progress comes in some third way. Even as his OWN SHOW has left and right weaving in and out of agreement on issues like the Fed, China, and Afghanistan, he cannot let go of the animating narrative of his life.

Sometimes the “very” left is simply correct. For example, there is growing wealth and wage inequality in the US, and tax policies have much to do with it. Or, the distortions in health care of the US compared to other comparable societies is due to all the money that flows to the various sectors of the Health-industrial complex. No amount of compromise with the right can make those critiques go away.

Rarely, the “right” is correct. Ron Paul wants to audit the Fed. I am with Bob Scheer on this one. The Fed as it has become run is a distortion of democracy in our economy. I can agree with some critiques of changing or weakening values in US society, although I won’t agree with solutions or causes, probably.

So, I would rather Miller’s idea of a radical center be more of arbiter between right and left than always elevate its (false) sense of being above the messy fray by being aghast at the ideology around it. There is no non-ideological center…

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Filed under activism, Media, Political theory, Politics, Power, Activism

Keep A School in Town- Meeting and Talking Points

If you believe in ‘community-centered schools’ and ‘walkable / bikeable communities’ – This is a ‘last chance’ to advocate Keeping The Schools In Town.  …. At the end of this email is the official meeting announcement. Continue reading

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Filed under activism, lewisburg, Politics, Power, Activism