Notes on a Theory…

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‘Humanitarian Intervention’ is a Claim, Not a Fact

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I was watching MSNBC earlier this evening, where Ari Melber, sitting in for Chris Hayes, was covering the beginnings of what is being called a “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq in response to ISIS which allegedly* is at this point only about delivering food and water. I’ve argued before that the word ‘intervention’ ought to be avoided, for two reasons. First, it implies that one is getting involved in an area of the world, when typically, the actor doing the ‘intervening’ has long been heavily involved. Second, it covers both war making and non-war making activities, and that means obscuring a very important difference. The legal, moral and political questions between say, offering asylum or providing medicine are not at all connected to those related to mass aerial bombing or a ground invasion. But helping people tends to more popular than war, despite what people claim about the public, so elites that prefer more war tend to avoid talking about it explicitly.

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Written by David Kaib

August 7, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Treating All Children Like Human Beings

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Fund Our SchoolsBryce Wilson Stucki has an interesting piece called Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Rethinking ‘Zero Tolerance’ discussing recent efforts to challenge so called “zero tolerance” policies in public schools. Such policies, which grew out of the Drug War and political efforts to get “tough on crime,” have ended up pushing many youths out of school and into the “school to prison pipeline.”  She notes that some places have been moving in a different direction, attempting to enact a less punitive approach to discipline, in particular the adoption of restorative justice.  One example is the Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School (KCAPA) in Philadelphia, “where about 90 percent of students are Latino or black and 100 percent are below the poverty line”. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

July 2, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Radio: Wall Street and the Schoolhouse

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Alexis Goldstein interviewed me on the Disorderly Conduct podcast on my three part series on Wall Street and ed reform. It was my radio debut.

You can listen to the interview here.

[Update: The other guest was Kshama Sawant. You can hear the whole episode here. And you should!]

[Update 2: You can also read the full transcript of my interview.]

And here are the posts. Don’t forget part three – it needs some love.

Wall Street and the School House Part I: The Culture of Smartness

Exploitation, Hard Work and Motivation: Wall Street and the School House Part II

Markets, Efficiency and Choice: Wall Street and the School House Part III

Dan Greene contributed some additional thoughts here:  There’s always another market: Liquidity, Wall Street and Ed Reform

 

Written by David Kaib

June 26, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Criminalization is Pretty Harmful Too

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CelaIt’s a pretty standard thing to see: in an argument about whether we should either decriminalize or legalize some thing, oftentimes the argument revolves around one thing. Is this thing harmful? The best example, although it’s not the only one, is drugs. Obviously, if the argument in favor of criminalizing something is that it’s harmful, than evidence that it is not supports ending legal prohibitions.

Is prison harmful? Is ripping apart families harmful? Is the endemic sexual assault found in prison harmful? What about the risk of violence, or the torture of solitary confinement? Or overcrowding, or lack of medical care? How about the collateral consequences of imprisonment–unemployment, being barred from public housing, food stamps, federal education aid and a whole host of professions or voting? What about the impact on communities where many people are shuffled between prison and the neighborhood? What about the police harassment that comes with hyper-aggressive law enforcement?

Few things we criminalize because they are ‘harmful’ are anywhere close as harmful as prison.

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Written by David Kaib

June 26, 2014 at 7:53 am

What is Oligarchic Inevitability?

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I’ve written here before about an idea I call ‘democratic efficiency‘: the belief that one can infer popular beliefs from institutional outcomes because aggregated individual choices are manifested in an unmediated fashion in politics and policy. That means that whatever the public believes will (absent some interference in the normal functioning of our political system) automatically be translated into policy, because of competitive electoral incentives between he two major parties.  Recent research has provided even more evidence that this is not a useful way to talk about the world.  The piece that has generated the most discussion has been Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (pdf) that tested different explanations for American politics.  While the authors don’t actually come to this conclusion, the general take away has been that this piece demonstrates that the United States is an oligarchy.

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There’s always another market: Liquidity, Wall Street and Ed Reform

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Guest post by Dan Greene

I wanted to chime in and talk about a liquidity, character, and the social mission of these institutions because I think there’s another parallel between Wall Street and ed reform that we can draw out from Karen Ho. She writes:

For Wall Street bankers, one of their key imagined social roles as ‘market doers’ is to create liquidity, to speedily unlock and allocate money (as in the takeover movement) to its ‘best’ use. Through their own immersion in the market, especially the anxious, difficult experiences of constant downsizing and reinvention, their skills and lives—embodying the market and their roles in it—have also become “more liquid.” (244)

Traders justify their high pay not only by their smartness and overwork but by their perceived social benefit: They inject liquidity into illiquid markets or commodities, they make markets where there weren’t markets before. This generates shareholder value but, by a neat trick of historical revision, shareholder value is conflated with economic value more generally. So not only are they justified in theirs risks and bailouts and what not by providing liquidity to businesses who need it, but by a sort of trickle-down cultural intervention where staid institutions are liquidated and become better able to adapt to quickly changing and increasingly global economic conditions. So bigger institutions and different people get modeled on the personal lives of financial elites: constant downsizing and reskilling is prized above all, and rewards are based on bonuses and other deal-related incentives and not on anything related to the underlying asset, let alone anything approaching a long-term investment like a salary or a pension.

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Written by David Kaib

June 16, 2014 at 11:41 am

Markets, Efficiency and Choice: Wall Street and the School House Part III

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This is the last of three posts on Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street and education reform. See also Part I and Part II.

Ho traces the rise of shareholder value beginning in the 1980s as the dominant ethos for business. It became “the central explanation and rationale for corporate restructuring, changing concepts of wealth and inequality, and the state of the America economy.” (122) She argues that the phrase was uttered constantly by her informants, and that “it shaped how they used their ‘smartness’ and explained the purpose of their hard work.” (123)

Shareholder value was premised on the notion that financial analysts knew more about what these firms needed than those with expertise and experience. And it also meant dismissing any concerns for stakeholders other than shareholders. Any money spent on others—whether that was employees or the communities that depended on these businesses—was seen as a waste. This stance justified and encouraged “hyperexploitive labor practices.” (146) The destruction such practices inflict are justified by the idea that it brings about “efficiency.” As one analyst said:

If I’m an employee, then there may be some temporary dislocations in the economy, but long-term, with a higher employment rate because at the end of the day, the most efficient, the most imperative industry should survive. The best operation should survive. (157)

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Written by David Kaib

June 9, 2014 at 5:34 pm

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