Thanks, lil. minimum_wage, I hope you don't mind if I post my earlier thoughts on Dr. Harvey, though they are not in response to this video.
To: lil, from: wasoxygen, 97 days ago
Thank you for sharing a link to the RSA video of David Harvey's presentation about capitalism. I have seen some of their videos before and always enjoy them. This one was captivating.
You must have noticed that my schtick on Hubski is to take up the cause of the downtrodden and despised capitalists, who otherwise would have no one to speak for them. I do feel that capitalism and "the rich" are easy targets to blame our problems, even though an even-handed assessment would show that capitalism (and even the rich) deserve the most credit for improving our standard of living and raising people out of poverty.
It was a little hard to take in all the points Harvey makes in a video, as another article points out. Looking for a transcript, I found what appears to be a free, legitimate e-book copy of the gentleman's book, The enigma of capital and the crises of capitalism. I love the way this echoes another favorite title, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (the original is even better: Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle).
The Crises (more than one!) is bumping My Man Jeeves out of the way on my phone's Kindle app. Wodehouse was fun but slow going as I just used him to pass the time while on the metro, and if I am feeling responsible on the metro I will work on Italian instead.
I will record some notes from my memory of the video, just so I don't lose them:
· Mr. Harvey says up front that he is constructing an alternative narrative of our recent economic history, after outlining some other stories. This is a useful exercise, but perhaps distinct from trying to simply understand what happened and why.
· Through most of the narrative I was willingly suspending disbelief and following the story. But then he said one thing that challenged my axioms. It was something about how (first-world) labor got screwed by the top-hat-wearing capitalists, but then he said that wages in the developing world (China, I think he said specifically) were also falling. This strikes me as extremely unlikely. The UN has celebrated a reduction of poverty in recent years, and an Economist article I bookmarked somewhere explained that this is almost entirely due to the growth of industry in China. For my part, I regret when North American workers are unable to follow the upward trajectory that the first world has enjoyed for generations. But if the reason for this is that third world workers are leaving the rice paddy to pursue a better life at the factory, this shift is probably the greatest good for the greatest number.
Here is Dr. Harvey's statement, after the 6:00 mark, in the RSA video lil mentioned:
We have been, since the 1970s, in a phase of what we call wage repression, that wages have remained stagnant, the share of wages in national income right throughout the OECD countries has steadily fallen. It has even steadily fallen in China, of all places. So that there is less and less being paid out in wages.
A search for wages in China was instructive.
· The WSJ describes "rapid increases in wages and signs of resilience in hiring despite slowing growth" but all the dates are after 2010, when the RSA video was posted.
· The China Labor Bulletin says "Wage levels in China have increased continually over the last two decades."
· Trading Economics describes average yearly wages reaching an "all time high of 46769.0 CNY in December of 2012 and a record low of 445.0 CNY in December of 1952" with a handy interactive chart:
Dr. Harvey says the "share of wages in national income" has steadily fallen, not wages. It is harder to verify this exact claim, but I do believe that the audience gets a gloomy impression from his language that is not warranted.
The Economist article tells us that the Chinese economy "has been growing so fast that, even though inequality is rising fast, extreme poverty is disappearing. China pulled 680m people out of misery in 1981-2010, and reduced its extreme-poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to 10% now."
To me, that is great news.
To: lil, from: wasoxygen 65 days ago
In order for me to achieve closure, I am obligated to inform you that I have left off reading Dr. Harvey's book, which you did not ask me to read or even mention to me, nor did you say anything to me directly about the subject. (By which I mean I don't intend the below as any kind of rebuttal or disagreement.)
I don't feel like I was getting much out of the book, though Kindle says I only managed to get through 4% of it so that may not be surprising. I found the tone unpleasant and also suggestive of the idea that the author is more interested in promoting a chosen worldview than describing the world as it is. (This may be consistent with the first point I made about the video, and does not mean that the author is being dishonest. But it does mean that the book might teach me more about Dr. Harvey than it will about the world, and I am more interested in the latter.)
In case I might have occasion to mention these things to someone else another time, I will make some notes here from my reading. I hope you won't mind having your inbox used as a scratch pad; it wouldn't do to put this on a postcard.
In my first highlight Dr. Harvey bemoans the "international institutions and pedlars of credit" which "continue to suck, leech-like, as much of the lifeblood as they can out of all the peoples of the world — no matter how impoverished..." Lenders have been easy targets since before Shakespeare's time, and there are no doubt many who use dishonest and unscrupulous methods to cheat their customers. But credit as an institution is overwhelmingly beneficial. Without it, few of us could afford to buy a home, or even cars.
As for the "impoverished," I would like to know what Dr. Harvey suggests they do when having to choose between, say, feeding their family another day or getting by hungry and debt-free. I wonder if he thinks he knows better than they when they choose to borrow funds. The Grameen Bank book describes the agonizingly poor Bangladeshi people scraping by day to day thanks to loans which let them level out their meager incomes. Even before the bank arrived, people were depending on loans. The bank offered them honest, clear credit, but not necessarily at a lower rate of interest. Nor were the terms especially flexible. Yet it clearly benefitted the borrowers, who returned for more and larger loans.
He describes the housing crisis in the U.S. around 2007 with the result that "many households found themselves owing more on their houses than they were worth" — hinting that "banks" and "Wall Street" were to blame, without mentioning the re-fi bonanza as many people unwisely cashed in on their paper gains by refinancing their mortgages and spending the proceeds.
He uses charts which appear more dramatic than they should because they are not indexed to zero.
In a passage that struck me as particularly ugly, he described the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which changed the rules for immigration to the United States. Wikipedia describes the law thus:
The 1965 act marked a radical break from the immigration policies of the past. The law as it stood then excluded Latin Americans, Asians and Africans and preferred northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern ones. At the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s the law was seen as an embarrassment by, among others, President John F. Kennedy, who called the then-quota-system "nearly intolerable". After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill at the foot of the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic gesture.
Harvey describes it thus:
[The Act] abolished national-origin quotas, allowed US capital access to the global surplus population (before that only Europeans and Caucasians were privileged).
"U.S. captial" — i.e. capitalists — were awarded "access" to the "surplus population." Like a bunch of slobbering dogs going after fresh meat. So
In the late 1960s the French government was subsidizing the import of labour from North Africa, the Germans were hauling in the Turks, the Sweedes were bringing in the Yugoslavs, and the British were drawing upon inhabitants of their past empire.
He makes it sound like the Westerners dusted off the old slave ships to "haul in" the poor savages from the backwaters of the world. When undoubtably in every case there was a line already formed at the border — people were dying in shipwrecks trying to sneak in — and all the government had to do was stop blocking their entry and kicking them out if they managed to get in.
We relatively wealthy Westerners simply let folks in who wanted in, let them work at better jobs than they had at home, with some costs to our local workers but huge benefits to the newcomers, as well as to their home countries, as remittances became a bigger source of income than foreign aid.
I was about through by this point, but he wasn't done. I am not any kind of expert on Marxism, but I would expect that a City University of New York professor would celebrate the expansion of opportunities for women around the world. No, this is another case where "capital also had the option to go where the surplus labour was."
Rural women of the global south were incorporated into the workforce everywhere, from Barbados to Bangladesh, from Ciudad Juarez to Dongguan. The result was an increasing feminisation of the proletariat, the destruction of 'traditional' peasant systems of self-sufficient production and the feminization of poverty worldwide.
Good lord, man! You want that they should be hand churning butter in their huts? Getting beat up by their husbands because they are good for nothing but making babies and cooking? That's the kind of 'traditional system' I thought we all agreed should be destroyed. What's more self-sufficient than a woman getting an income so she is less dependent on others? This is "feminization of poverty"? He adds a complaint about trafficking into "domestic slavery" and prostitution which "surged" as people moved into slums around urban areas. I suspect that the "surge" in misery was a surge in the visibility of misery. Dr. Harvey would like to send them back to the fields to suffer invisibly.
Whew, that's done....