Monday, July 26, 2010

the moment of truth in Afghanistan?

This morning saw the biggest leak of classified military files since the Pentagon Papers. In The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, the true extent of the failed military 'strategy' in Afghanistan became apparent. Unreported incidents that have led to the deaths of many hundreds of civilians; 'black' units with instructions to kill or capture Afghan insurgents without any recourse to any kind of judicial process; the increasing use of Reaper drones to hunt and kill by remote control from Nevada; the acquisition by the insurgents of surface-to-air missiles.

Emerging from documents leaked by a 22 year old military intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning, who is now in prison facing court martial, the 'collateral damage' of the conflict has never been starker: French troops strafing a bus full of children in 2008; a US patrol machine-gunning a bus; Polish soldiers mortaring a village wedding party, apparently in reprisal for a previous attack, which constitutes a war crime--in all, the files document 144 unreported incidents. For example: British forces are identified as being involved in 21 unreported incidents resulting in at least 26 deaths; at least 16 children were killed or wounded. This is a brutal war against the Afghan population; no wonder the insurgents are growing stronger by the week. War crimes tend to do that.

Richard Norton-Taylor, writing in The Guardian, said this:

'The logs...provide unprecedented insight,...painting a picture...of brutality, cynicism, fear, panic, false alarms and the killing of a large number of civilians -- many more than of foreign troops or insurgents -- by all sides in the conflict. And, inevitably, "friendly fire". It is a story of deep-seated corruption by senior members of the Afghan police, of black operations by coalition special forces engaged in assassinations of dubious legality, of spies, and of unmanned but armed drones controlled by "pilots", including private contractors, sitting in front of computers thousands of miles away.'

Every citizen concerned about this war should read these files, and decide for themselves:

I have little doubt that these files will make an enormous contribution towards government leaders finally coming to say what the world has said for a long time: that this war is not only unwinnable, but quite fundamentally unjust.

how not to solve an economic crisis

Thirty months ago the contours of the global economic crisis began to become apparent. Twenty-two months ago the developed capitalist countries came exceedingly close to a private sector financial collapse. The causes of the global economic crisis have been laid out, in full, in previous entries to this weblog. What is remarkable, however, is how little has been learnt by global economic policymakers.

Outside of the United States, where the fiscal stimulus designed to offset the worst possibilities of the crisis is gradually winding down but is nonetheless still having an impact, there has been a move to 'fiscal consolidation'. In Europe in particular--Germany, Britain under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, the Netherlands and elsewhere--economic policymakers seem to be blithely unaware of the grievous state of their economies. In an effort to cut government budgetary deficits sooner rather than later, European economies are slashing government spending and raising taxes as their attempt to steer their countries out of the crisis. I have seen economic incompetence amongst policymakers in the developed capitalist countries before: but never on this scale.

Consider: the current driver of global economic growth are the developing capitalist countries, and in particular China, India, Brazil. All of these countries have an economic model predicated upon producing goods and services for the developed capitalist countries that are comparatively cheap because of their lower unit labour costs. For these countries to continue to grow, and pull the world economy along with them, they need to be able to sell their products. Who are supposed to be buying these products? We are: the developed capitalist countries where we live.

However, the withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus and the shift to fiscal consolidation has to make one wonder how we are supposed to buy these products that the developing capitalist countries are supplying to us. As budget cuts hit Germany, Britain and elsewhere, this is a stark question. It is, however, most starkly posed by the most important developed capitalist country of all: the United States.

How are Americans going to buy the products of China, India and Brazil in the current economic climate? Consider these findings of a recent Pew survey on how the recession has affected Americans:

* more than 50% of all American workers have either experienced a period of unemployment, taken a cut in working hours or rates of pay, or have been forced to go part-time since the onset of the crisis
* an average unemployed worker in America has been out of work for almost 6 months
* collapsing share and household prices have destroyed 20% of the wealth of an average American household, making them effectively poorer than they were 35 years ago
* 60% of Americans have either cancelled their holidays or have cut back on their holidays, in a country with the shortest holidays in the developed capitalist countries
* 25% of those between 18 and 29 have had to move back in with their parents
* less than 50% of all American adults believe that their children will have a higher standard of living than theirs, and more than 25% believe that their children will have a lower standard of living

One does not have to be an unreconstructed Keynesian to see that the only way that this crisis will not be borne by those least capable of bearing the costs of the it is to maintain the purchasing power of households that have been hit hardest by the crisis. Chinese, Indian and Brazilian goods need people to buy them: but right now governments in the wealthiest parts of the world seem to be doing everything in their power to ensure that those that would most want to buy goods and services from the developing capitalist countries are not able to do so. Weak consumer demand for wage goods is no way to solve the crisis; it is a recipe for deepening the crisis.

current activities, spring 2010

Spring seems to always see me quite busy, and the spring of 2010 will be no different, even though my teaching responsibilities in the Department of International Development Studies take a holiday. The biggest delight I have this spring is attending the Convocation of the first international development studies cohort at the University that I have seen through from the beginning to the end. Even more pleasing, I will be handing out their diplomas.

The only teaching I will do in the spring will be to act as External Examiner at a PhD defence at Wageningen University in the Netherlands on 16 June, which will require my presence. Of course I will have to maintain my ongoing responsibilities as Chair of the Department of International Development Studies to students, staff and faculty. This will also involve, for the first time, attending the annual meetings of the Canadian Consortium of University Programs in International Development Studies.

In terms of my research, I will be revising the manuscript of my forthcoming book for Fernwood Publishers, Hungry for Change? Farmers, Agrarian Questions and the Global Food Crisis as well as my chapters in the forthcoming textbook An Introduction to Gender and Economics: Foundations, Theories and Policies. I will also be giving a paper at the Second Annual North American Historical Materialism conference in mid-May, while late May sees me at the annual meetings of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development.

Finally, a large amount of my time in the spring will be taken up undertaking some advisory work for the United Nations Development Programme New York, and possibly elsewhere if it is required.

I will find some time, though, to enjoy the new season.

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