Feminist Economics Syllabus

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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.

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

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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.

Continue reading

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.

Business & Peace: The End of the Zero-Sum Game

Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and Talia Hagerty at the recent Peace Metrics conference in D.C.
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I’ve been trying to debunk the “zero-sum game” since I first heard of it. Last month I had the opportunity to write a blog post for the United States Institute of Peace’s International Network for Economics and Conflict, and one of the points I came to was that the zero-sum game rests on conflict. If we’re fighting, the pie is limited; but if not, we can grow it for everyone. Find the full post below, originally published here.

The international movement to end apartheid in South Africa is a valuable example of the success of nonviolent social change. Activists regularly cite the success of the divestment campaign, boycotts, and other domestic acts of protest within South Africa as proof of the efficacy of these tactics. But, it turns out, there is actually more to this story. Not only did the private sector in South Africa react to activist pressure, but, as Yale doctoral candidate Tumi Makgetla demonstrates, business leaders took a proactive role in the peace process and contributed to both the critical mass and the practical resources needed for change. While we are accustomed to the narrative of social activism pitted against the joint-enemy of big business and unjust government, the case of South Africa shows that business can be a collaborative actor in social justice – and can be better off because of it.

Earlier this month graduate students from around the world gathered at the Kogod School of Business at American University (AU) to present groundbreaking work on business, economics, and peacebuilding in a conference, co-hosted with the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), entitled Peace Metrics, Peace Economics, and the Role of Business. IEP founder Steve Killelea opened the weekend by recognizing the student presenters for our participation in the first-ever conference of graduate student work on peace economics. The role of business in building peace has often seemed unclear, if existent at all. Kogod professor Jennifer Oetzel reiterated the challenge of private sector engagement in peacebuilding by noting that business schools are not currently training professionals for this role in the countries in which they operate. But examples given over the course of the weekend demonstrated that some businesses are increasingly and effectively engaged in peacebuilding.

Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and Talia Hagerty at the recent Peace Metrics conference in D.C.

Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and Talia Hagerty at the recent Peace Metrics conference in D.C.

Unfortunately, we are more familiar with the ways business negatively impacts peacefulness. Misty Seemans, an AU student, raised the example of Shell’s alleged abetting of human rights abuses in Nigeria; Elizabeth Armstrong from the University of St. Andrews discussed ways in which businesses in Colombia may prove counterproductive to the peace process there; and, to include illicit businesses, I spoke about the ways drug trafficking organizations in México use violence in their business models. Additonally, Jonathan Kolieb, a doctoral student from the University of Melbourne, noted in his presentation on international regulation that any institution that shapes behavior is a regulator, and so in this sense economic elites and/or violent actors may be acting as market regulators by maintaining the unpeaceful status quo. However, we also learned that business actors in South Africa, the Philippines, the Caucasus, Lebanon, and Kenya specifically, and in the technology sector globally, have aided peace, and that possibilities exist for businesses in Colombia and Mexico to do so as well.

The key questions, of course, are why is business important in peacebuilding and how can businesses engage in this process? In an environment of political instability, international sanctions, and domestic acts of protest, the private sector in South Africa had a strong incentive to work for peace. As activists know from this case, this shift in incentives was crucial to ending apartheid. Businesses faced considerable risks in getting involved, but other social actors demonstrated that the risks of the status quo were greater. Today, civil society organizations like IEP are working to show that our present violence is costing us – in lives and wellbeing, but also in economic growth. IEP estimates that between 15 and 20 percent of the U.S. GDP is spent on violence or its containment.

Robert Schlehuber, of Operation Respect and the AU School of International Service, challenged us to find the private sector’s place using the framework of collective impact theory. Successful collective impact relies, among other things, on infrastructural support – coordination, logistics, and resources from a central source. Given that the private sector excels at leadership, publicity, resource management, logistics, and communication, infrastructural support can be one ideal role for businesses in building peace. This support is the success Makgetla identified in South Africa and what Armstrong sees as possible in Colombia. South African firms engaged in and convened a number of peacebuilding initiatives, including engagement with black unions for labor reform, negotiations support, technical support, behind-the-scenes shuttle diplomacy, and the involvement of international actors. Businesses were able to share power with political and labor leaders in a positive-sum – rather than zero-sum – way. In situations of oppression, injustice, and violence, we find ourselves fighting over every slice of the socio-economic pie. But when we work together for peace, the whole pie grows.

Some Thoughts on “The Market”

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Posts have been few and far between lately because I’m writing my masters thesis. It is all-consuming. But as I work, not everything that I write down can go in the final paper. Like this bit of editorializing… So I thought I would share it here. Your thoughts?

Market Failures and Externalities, Civil Society, and the State

To speak of market failures and externalities is to speak from an incorrect premise on the nature of ‘the market.’ This premise, which assumes that ‘the market’ will always lead to the best social outcome, denies the human element in this decentralized system. Perhaps because it is decentralized, and in theory not directed by any one corruptible or fallible individual (or small group), we do not see it as susceptible to the same human qualities that we control for in government or even in corporate management. However, the market in actuality is the sum of our economic activity. We, humans, are the market. Continue reading

Legality and justice: Hate speech, property defacement, or freedom of expression?

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So, this controversial video is going around the internet, in which a woman is arrested for spraying pink paint over an NYC subway ad that reads “In a war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

While Mona is spraying the ad, another woman, Pamela, attempts to physically prevent her from painting over it and at one point uses her camera equipment to try and shove her away from the ad.

I originally read of the incident on Political Fail Blog, via a Facebook post. Today, I read over a long Facebook comment thread between my classmates that inspired me to write about the incident. A lot came up in this thread, but I’d like to explore an issue that I think of often: does legality equal justice? How about legitimacy? This ad was legally sanctioned by a NYC judge; defacing a subway ad is illegal. But many people find the ad offensive, and onlookers as well as internet commentators applaud Mona’s action. So who’s right, and what does the whole incident mean for social justice?

Two Facebook posters noted that breaking the law, and doing so with graffiti, are historically accepted and even successful means of activism. Mona contends that her action is “freedom of expression, just as [the ad] is freedom of expression.” But nonetheless, one is legal and the other isn’t. I contend that legality is as fallible as the humans who created it, and therefore does not automatically equal justice or legitimacy. Now, in the interest of a peaceful and orderly coexistence, I am not suggesting we all treat the entire governing structure as illegitimate whenever we don’t like it and just do whatever the hell we please. But I will assert that it is our responsibility as citizens to think critically about the law, to discuss when it does and does not appropriately protect our freedoms, and, when we determine it is unjust, to use our full range of means to have it changed. In this case, our freedom to express religious and cultural opinions is juxtaposed with our desire to live free from hate speech. Mona implied they were both rights, and exercised her right to the later.

When legality sides with injustice there are a number of historically accepted and successful tactics available to activists, including the similar but distinct civil disobedience, noncooperation, and nonviolent direct action (NVDA).

Civil disobedience involves directly breaking a law that the activists finds to be unjust. Ex: Entering a public space, such as a school, that your are legally excluded from based on your race, gender, sexual identity, etc.

Noncooperation involves not cooperating with a law or norm in order to draw attention to a cause and/or express opposition to injustice. Ex: Staging a sit-in that disrupts normal activity. While a demonstration may be illegal, it is often directed at a different legal or normal injustice, such as marriage inequality.

NVDA includes a wide range of tactics that are often noncooperative and civilly disobedient, and also intended to put direct pressure on actors who uphold unjust laws or norms. Ex: Blocking the entrance to the NY Stock Exchange to prevent the ringing of the opening bell. While possibly illegal and definitely noncooperative, this action also directly disrupts and pressures actors at the major corporations on Wall Street to change their actions or experience further disruptions.

I would label this NVDA, in that Mona was taking direct action against a practice she finds unjust. It could also be said that she was engaging in civil disobedience by breaking a law she felt is unjust: the law that says one can buy hate speech in the NYC subway for $6k. (Also at issue: $ = speech?) And for those who have said that, no matter how offensive the ad, she shouldn’t have defaced it: that’s the point. Mona, like many activists before her, refused to cooperate with the social norm and the legality that says this hate speech is acceptable while her pink spray paint is not. All of these tactics are indeed accepted and historically successful means for bringing about social change. In fact, statistically, nonviolent tactics are twice as successful. (An interesting discussion is whether or not property defacement constitutes violence, especially public property.) What’s my point here? If Pam can rightfully buy that add for $6k why can’t Mona rightfully spray paint over it?