How Much Is Peace Actually Worth?

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An excerpt from my recent publication on Pacific Standard:

Economists are not new to the study of war. Many in the U.S. have argued that war is good for the economy, and those in Washington have seemed eager to believe them. Indeed, war is an ideal economics topic. It’s very expensive, and the numbers involved—money spent, weapons used, casualties—can be easily counted and crunched.

There is, however, a more challenging topic that has recently caught the eye of economists: peace.

In the last decade, researchers and economists from all over the world have made great gains in the nascent field of peace economics. They’re finding that violence and war are terrible for the economy, but also that we can use economics to prevent them.

. . .

Read more at www.PSMag.com.

Visit the Center for Theory of Change, Tuesday 3/18 in NYC

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A few weeks ago, Theory of Change was discovered by the Center for Theory of Change, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting quality standards and best practice for the development and implementation of the Theory of Change model, especially in international development, sustainability, education, human rights and social change. I’m really glad to be in touch with the folks there, as developing and sharing knowledge about how we can most effectively change the world is a particular passion of mine.

So, I’m pleased to share an opportunity for those of you in New York City to meet the team at CTOC and join them on the evening of Tuesday, March 18th for the launch of a new Corelab report, “9 Ways to Change the World?: Theories of change for engaging people on global issues.” If you’re in the city, check out the event details below. (If you’re not, you can still access the report and the great learning from both orgs online.)

I won’t be able to make it – I’ll be over at the Yes Lab that evening – but if you get out to the event, let me know how it went, who you met, and what you learned!

Corelab and the Center for Theory of Change  are delighted to invite you to the:

Launch of 9 Ways to Change the World

A Corelab Briefing on Theories of Change for Engaging People on Global Issues

When: Tuesday 18th March
Time: 6:30-8:30 EST
Where: CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave,  6th floor, Room 6304.01
New York  10016

Featuring
May Miller-Dawkins, Head of Research at Corelab and Author of 9 Ways to Change the World
Peggy Hicks, Director of Global Advocacy, Human Rights Watch
Jose Luis Diaz, Head of Amnesty International’s New York Office
Hannah Weitzer, Program Manager, Global Nomads Group

Join us for the launch and an evening of discussion and debate about theories of change to engage people on global issues.

RSVP now (to reserve your spot) to:  Zabi Rahat of Center for Theory of Change

azrahat@theoryofchange.org
212-817-8763
Hosted by Actknowledge

Download and Review the Briefing Here

Feminist Economics Syllabus

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Talia Lynn Hagerty:

A brilliant resource from the Lady Economists blog. It can seem hard to find alternative perspectives in economics (although there are many if you look closely…) and so here’s a whole list on feminist economics.

Originally posted on Lady Economist:

16501553-abstract-word-cloud-for-feminist-economics-with-related-tags-and-terms Feminist economics is a thing, which some non-economists are incredulous about when I tell them that is what I do. I’ve written about it a little bit on Lady Economist, but it’s always worth expanding on. Many economists might also write it off as fringe or not serious enough, but this is a whole other can of worms. When I describe it to people, I usually say that it is twofold. First, feminist economics seeks to understand the way in which gender shapes the economy and people’s economic experiences. A classic example of this would be the study of the gender wage gap . And second, feminist economics also explores the way in which gendered thinking influences the study and methodology of economics itself. Economics tends to be very masculine, not only the proportion of men in the field , but also in the way “good” economic theory is judged…

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It’s Time to Talk About the TPP

The map from the U.S. Congressional Research Service shows the countries involved in the TPP and their trade balances with the U.S.
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Today is an international day of action to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free-trade deal, in the works for over a year, that is being negotiated by national representatives and over 600 corporate lobbyists but the text of which has not been shared with the American people. In 40+ cities in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, activists will publicly make known their opposition to this trade agreement. But a great many more of us are at our desks today, or at home with our kids, and will be relying on our news organizations and our politicians to tell us the pros and cons of the TPP.

The trouble is, the TPP isn’t being discussed in Congress, President Obama didn’t mention it in his State of the Union Address, and it’s getting very little mainstream media coverage. For two reasons: first, the negotiations are being held in secret (although a number of drafts have been leaked); second, the Obama administration has requested “fast track” authorization to conclude the deal, meaning that he could sign the agreement without giving Congress any opportunity to debate its contents.

Over 50 organizations serving different missions – from environmental groups to farmers to open internet activists – have come out against fast track, and 151 Democrats in the U.S. House have pledged to vote against it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he doesn’t support it, and so likely won’t be calling a Senate vote on it any time soon, and even the Wall Street Journal reports that both Democrats and Republicans object to giving the President such unilateral power in an area the Constitution delegates to Congress.

At a moment when our executive is known to be spying on us and our neighbors and has launched more drone strikes and authorized more deportations than any prior president, we would do well to remember the checks and balances that have previously served us.

Opponents of the TPP itself site a number of objections. In general, opponents of free-trade agreements argue that they disproportionately harm the middle and working classes, such as the Mexican agricultural workers and U.S. manufacturing laborers who lost their jobs in the wake of NAFTA. Environmental groups say the TPP harms the planet in several ways, and Doctors Without Borders is concerned that the TPP will further prevent those in developing countries from accessing critical medicines. But possibly most troubling in the post-Citizens United, corporations-are-people world is the way the agreement privileges corporations over actual people and the planet and alters the mandate of our governments.

“The investment portion of the TPP creates something called ‘investor-state dispute settlement.’ What this means is that foreign investors are allowed to sue governments over lost prospective profits. A corporation can sue a country if it feels that nation’s regulations — environmental, worker protection — might impede its ability to make a profit,” writes journalist Andy Douglas.

The trade that would be governed by the TPP represents approximately one-third of all global trade and 40% of the gross world product, NRDC’s Jake Schmidt told National Geographic. That’s not nothing. We can’t afford to ignore the effects of 40% of the world’s economic activity. In a world where the 85 richest people have the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest, where “climate change is a fact“, where we’re running out of oil, and fish, and water, we are in no position to be so cavalier.

So we need to talk about the TPP. It’s time to debate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the rest of our trade agreements, out in the open. President Obama gave a very moving, and relatively progressive, State of the Union address this week, but I think we should be concerned when he asks for unilateral power to enact something so massive but doesn’t bother trying to convince us it’s a good idea.

The piece of legislation that would enact fast track authorization is officially called the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, and you can track it here. (This so-called bipartisan bill currently has only two Republican sponsors; President Obama has not been able to find a member of his own party willing to co-sponsor.)

I realize that our current Congress has been called the least-productive in history, and they’re grating our nerves and wasting our money with government shut-downs and endless arguments about why we shouldn’t have health care or reproductive rights. But they remain our representatives, sent to Washington to do a job as outlined by our Constitution. Let’s hold them accountable to doing that job, and let’s not allow an over-powered Executive take it away from them. Call your representatives in the House and Senate and ask them to publicly oppose the Trade Priorities Act of 2014. And don’t be afraid to remind them that 2014 is an election year. It’s time for our elected officials to demand Congressional debate and talk about the TPP in Washington, or to talk about it at home.

“Mexico’s Moment” – for peace?

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The need for a radical re-visioning of Mexico’s security and peacebuilding strategy is increasing.

Mexico has made the news quite a bit recently. On the one hand, 2013/2014 is being called Mexico’s Moment. Economic reforms are being praised by the international community, Mexico’s S&P credit rating has been raised, and M is the first letter of the next BRICs: the MINTs. On the other hand, while homicide rates appear to have dropped in 2013, vigilantism is increasing – a development that implies a more complex conflict rather than progress toward peace.

In the southwestern state of Michoacan, groups of farmers (and other citizens) have been organizing and arming themselves for more than a year. These fuerzas autodefensas, or self-defense groups, are fighting to protect themselves and their families from the organized crime group Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, who they say have extorted them and brought unspeakable violence to their communities. And it is true that Mexicans across the country need protection: since 2006, the drug war in Mexico has claimed some 70,000 lives.

Meanwhile, this past Monday night in New York City, the Americas Society/Council of the Americas hosted a panel discussion entitled “Mexico in 2014: Political and Economic Outlook.” Panelists Lisa Schineller of Standard & Poor’s, Gerardo Rodriguez of Blackrock, and Gustavo Flores-Macias of Cornell University praised Mexico’s recent labor, tax, telecommunications, and especially energy reforms. The group predicted that these structural changes to the economy may result in “a short-term storm,” as certain interest groups felt inflationary pains (Flores-Macias), but that in the medium to long term economic growth and foreign investment would be significantly stimulated. Schineller noted that the government will have to focus on messaging to the population; she stated that although “the financial markets know it, the economists know it,” the government would need to communicate why these reforms will be good for the people.

The event emphasis was on the economy, with recognition that President Peña Nieto’s administration has focused on economic reforms in it’s first year. But security was discussed as well. Flores-Macias pointed out that “economic performance and violence and crime are related.” Violence imposes an opportunity cost, as an economy may continue to grow amidst violence (a la Colombia) but it is necessary to ask “what growth could happen in the absence of violence.” Indeed, violence always has some negative impact on the economy, as resources are destroyed and efforts are diverted from production to protection, as is the case in Michoacan.

Flores-Macias went on to say that it is time for a new approach to peace and security in Mexico. He noted that the Nieto administration has generally followed the same strategy as the Calderón administration, despite talk of some minor changes, but that militarization increases violence: in states where the military has been deployed to address drug-trade related violence, many indicators of crime and violence rise, including but not only those related to clashes between criminal and military organizations. In response to the question of whether vigilantism is likely to spread, Flores-Macias noted that there are other states with similar grievances and levels of violence as Michoacan, and that the outcome largely depends on whether the federal government is permissive of vigilante groups. Earlier in the day on Monday the Associated Press reported that the Mexican government had reached an agreement to formalize and legalize the groups under the Rural Defense Corp.

Vigilante leader Hipolito Mora told AP that many of the fighters will eventually join police forces under the agreement with the government. Undoubtedly, Mexico needs all hands on deck in building the legitimacy of rule-of-law. But it is much easier to pick up arms than to put them down. The lines of conflict in Mexico has so far been blurry; solidifying them will not make reconciliation easier. And history in Latin America (or anywhere, really) doesn’t suggest that arming civilian groups is a path to peace. Once weapons are disseminated, they tend to be used.

In settings of economic underdevelopment, armed organizations of any kind – government or otherwise – tend to compete with each other for legitimacy and loyalty. Non-state organizations that have provided jobs, schools, donations to the church, social safety nets, and even bribes can leverage significant social and political capital – making them difficult to defeat or disband. And so while vigilante groups may really be brave men at their last wits acting to protect their families, their trajectory can be complex. In his coverage of the situation, Alfredo Corchado rightly questions the sources of funding for the Michoacan groups, especially as their capacity increases, and cites Latin American experts who fear these young groups represent the beginnings of protracted conflict, much like other paramilitary organizations throughout the hemisphere.

I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Mr. Flores-Macias if expects Mexico’s economic reforms to impact the crime and violence, in addition to the impacts of crime and violence on the economics. I’ll put the question to you in the comments. At Monday night’s event Rodriguez noted that no country has ever gotten rich without addressing its institutions. If Neito is committed to the success of his economic reforms, he will have to confront the twin issues of transparency and corruption, and doing so will likely improve the prospects for peace. Similarly, economic growth has the potential to create legal, formal jobs and pull people out of the illicit economy. But Flores-Macias also noted that 20 years after NAFTA (and possibly on the eve of the TPP), wages in Mexico are lower than in China. When the formal economy has little to offer – and recent labor reforms increased flexibility for firms but not security for workers – people often turn to the informal economy. The informal sector makes up approximately one third of Mexico’s economy and includes at least 14 million people.

For foreign investors, it looks like morning in Mexico. But in this moment of reform, is Mexico missing an opportunity? The federal government continues to formalize a policy of meeting violence with violence and is opening the economy in a way that pleases elite analysts and investors. What does that mean for the nation’s farmers, teachers, day laborers, and young people – what some might call interest groups? There is indeed a connection between economics and peace, and as of now it is unclear if it is being fully leveraged.

Business Insider published this series of photographs of the fuerzas autodefensas, illuminating the intensity of their struggle.

ICYMI, #economicviolence

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Last Friday, the complicated term #economicviolence began trending on Twitter in the U.S. after Andy Smith, Suey Park, and Prison Culture initiated a tweet chat. People shared personal experiences, and the statistics that represent those stories in aggregate.

Of course, before long, tweets along the lines of “get a job,” and “get a dictionary” began to appear. Accordingly, as my job is to deal with the issues and ideas of economic violence, I want to discuss a few definitions. (And that’s not to say others aren’t already articulating these ideas well. I just hope to add to the chorus.)

Violence is a notoriously difficult thing to define. It seems straightforward at first – we can all immediately picture a fight, a war, murder, or rape.

And yet there is a lot of harm and pain in the world that is seemingly difficult to classify. For example, too many of us are familiar with the way language can be violent, even in the absence of physical contact between two people. Whether property damage is violence is a classic question, especially among activists.

There is also a great deal of clearly preventable injury and death that does not appear to come directly from an individual – the death of a child from hunger or from a disease easily cured in a richer part of the world; the illness suffered by a homeless person in a city full of vacant and foreclosed homes.

Or there is clear violence, but from an amorphous source, such as war waged by The United States. (Who, exactly, is The United States?)

And for all forms of harm – either directly inflicted or of a source more difficult to identify – there are the cultural norms that make us comfortable with its use. We may believe capital punishment or a “just” war are necessary evils, but they are violent nonetheless.

These different kinds of harm are known as direct violence, structural violence, and cultural violence.

Direct violence refers to observable incidences of self-directed, interpersonal, or collective violence, including physical, verbal, or psychological acts and acts that inhibit or insult our basic needs and/or physical persons.

Structural violence refers to the systemic ways in which a given social structure or social institution harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs.

And cultural violence is the ways in which aspects of our culture – art, media, political and economic narratives – legitimize the use of direct and structural violence.

Economic violence can be, and is, all three.

On paper, we’ve changed the rules (in the U.S.) so that neither direct nor structural economic violence should remain. Women and Americans of color – responsible for the vast majority of the unpaid and underpaid labor that made the wealth of white men possible over the course of several centuries – are now legally allowed to participate in the economic rule making (via voting) and cannot be officially barred from the spaces of power and privilege (university classes, board rooms, golf courses, etc.). But as groups, we  still work from a structural disadvantage.

Personally, my family’s story looks like the American dream. You could attribute the lack of harm, illness, and injury in my life to my hard work and that of my parents and grandparents. But my race, citizenship, and class privilege have meant I’ve had help: I’ve gotten a loan when I needed it, been given the benefit of the doubt in a court room, been able to take unpaid internships, and have had access to professional networks that I did not build. It is a fact that not all Americans can say the same, and that they do experience harm and hardship in their lives because our culture and social structure do not make these benefits available to all.

In the post-financial crisis economy, the difference between economic privilege and not is homelessness, hunger, imprisonment, illness, and increased exposure to direct violence. Economic privilege affords safety: safe working conditions, safe neighborhoods, cab rides late at night, somewhere to go for help, and the assumption of legitimacy when we need to call on police.

Violence is a complicated element of humanity, and the injury or harm one person experiences may not look like direct violence at the individual level. But when we step back, for a broad view of the structure and the culture, and we see that the same harm is repeatedly inflicted upon individuals from the same groups, it becomes clear that violence is in fact taking place. In part, we find it to be violence because our culture and social structure are our own creation. We make the rules, and we can make them differently.

Predictably, it didn’t take long for the #economicviolence hashtag to fill with anger (and misconceptions) about communism and socialism. I’m partially motivated to present this larger framework around economic violence because I think that responding to a concern about harm inflicted upon people by the current economic system with hyperbole about alternative economic structures really misses the point.

Shortly before Howard Zinn passed away, I was fortunate enough to hear him speak. He shared that, in his experience, when the average person is asked if everyone should have access to health care and education, they say yes. When asked if the poor should be provided with homes or if corporations should be given the opportunity to build high rises and earn more profits, people say that the poor should be given homes. He gave several examples and concluded by noting that we may call these things socialism, but by and large, when asked about the realities without the vocabulary, this economy that provides for all is the one we want to live in.

I am not aware of anyone in the United States advocating for a USSR-style centrally planned economy – that the government should tell us how many shoes and light bulbs and toilets will be produced and when and where and by whom. Where the market works, we’re happy to work it. But the economy is our own creation, and if we seek to create it in a nonviolent way that reduces harms and supports the health and happiness of our neighbors, that isn’t something to argue about. That’s something to build together.