Saturday, August 9, 2014

Piketty for Progressives

Thomas Riggins

"Introduction" to Capital in the Twenty-First Century-- Part 1

Piketty opens his book by telling us the questions he wants to answer are two diametrically opposed queries stemming from the works of Karl Marx on the one hand and Simon Kuznets on the other. From Marx-- does capitalism inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands ?  From Kuznets -- does the later development of capitalism lead to less inequality and more social harmony between the classes? A third question is what lessons can we learn and apply to our present century from a study of wealth development since the eighteenth century?

Piketty admits that the answers he gives to these questions are "imperfect and incomplete." Now if you write a book whose conclusions are imperfect and incomplete you are inviting a lot critical commentary not only from the Left but  from the Right as well. In this respect the reception of his book has not been disappointing.  He thinks however his research provides a "new" way to understand the inner workings of capitalism. We shall see.

He believes that current bourgeois economic "science" has become so sophisticated  that the "Marxist Apocalypse" can be avoided. This is, however, an article of faith and no argument is advanced to substantiate this claim. He doesn't exactly say what the "Apocalypse" is but I rather think it refers to the collapse of the capitalist system and its replacement with a socialist economic order. Marx did give an argument for this outcome based on his analysis of the inner contradictions of the capitalist system. This analysis is in his work Capital which book Piketty mentions in passing only three times in his own book (according to the index, but I counted more) giving no indication that he read Marx's work.

Piketty admits that if/when capitalism provides a greater return on capital than it does on income and economic growth "then it automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based." This is quite a statement. It assumes we live in democratic societies where a person's social condition is based on merit. This is I think demonstrably false for the politically corrupt oligarchical societies of the West with which Piketty is concerned. Race, ethnicity, family background, wealth, availability of opportunities are the actual factors that determine the social conditions of people living in capitalist democracies not "merit." To say our societies are based on "values" that are plainly non-operative beyond the verbal level is no way to go about understanding reality as if effects most people.

He thinks there are ways democracy can "regain" its power over capitalism. He says "regain" because he thinks these negative features of capitalism were operant in the nineteenth century but were not so dominant in the twentieth (!) but seem "likely" to come into force in the twenty-first century. There are few, if any, people on the Left, I think, who view the twentieth century as a success story for meritocratic democracy (except maybe in a few isolated pockets).

Well, I don't want to jump to conclusions so let’s look more closely at the introduction to his book:

A Debate Without Data?

In this section Piketty points out that previous  theories about wealth and inequality have been based on a narrow set of facts that have been appealed to support many different interpretations. He is going to explain his sources and how he and his associates have expanded the amount of data available to researchers.

He also makes some comments in this section that reveal an interesting set of subtextual assumptions of which progressives  (especially Marxists) should be aware.  For instance, inequality is, he says, visible to many kinds of people and many different theories as to its causes flourish due to inadequate data. He tells us peasants and nobles, capitalists and workers, and bankers and non-bankers  [and we might add “slaves and masters” to the mix as well-tr] all see the world differently. Each group sees different “aspects” of reality and this conditions their outlook on justice and injustice. “Hence there will always be a fundamentally subjective and psychological dimension to inequality, which inevitably gives rise to political conflict that no purportedly scientific analysis can alleviate.”

One of the purposes of Marx’s Capital was to show just what nonsense this is and that class struggle and exploitation have objective roots in external reality and can be scientifically understood. Political conflicts between workers and capitalists (just as slave rebellions and peasant uprisings) are not the result of subjective psychological problems due to feelings of oppression because the “oppressed” group only sees its own “aspect” of reality. They are objective historical facts that can be scientifically studied and remedied by a correct understanding of the relations of production and distribution and the mode of value creation within a given society and Marx presents arguments to support his conclusions rather than just stating them as matters of fact.

All sides are represented in [bourgeois] democracy, Piketty thinks, and since there is no scientific explanation for the resolution of the political problems engendered by the subjective psychological reactions of different groups to their experiences of inequality we can conclude “Democracy will never be supplanted by a republic of experts— and that is a very good thing.” Piketty’s value judgment is, of course, a subjective psychological reaction to his understanding of the nature of inequality.

Piketty does see an important role, however, for the class of “experts” to which he himself belongs. While, he maintains, they cannot provide a solution to the  violent  political conflicts that inequality naturally engenders, they can do research which “will inform democratic debate and focus attention on the right questions.” Piketty says intellectuals such as himself “have the good fortune to have more time than others to devote themselves to study (and even to be paid for it— a signal privilege).” Yes, but who is the paymaster?

Before going into detail on his new methods he wants to present an historical review of how the problems of inequality were dealt with in the past, and so we move on to Part 2 of this review and will resume with the section entitled:

Malthus, Young, and the French Revolution

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Being Considerate (and Scientific Socialism)

Because of the taboo nature of Marxism these days, and its absence, even ridicule in popular press culture, I wanted to ask myself the question: "what are the consequences of the absence of these ideas for the ruling bourgeois class"? We might fairly easily, or at least more commonly, conjecture what effects its absence has on the working class and the oppressed, or on Marxists and communists themselves.

Considering that Marxism is scientific socialism, this amounts to asking what are the consequences of the absence of a science. This latter framing of the question of course assumes that Marxism is scientific, which the bourgeoisie and its fellow travelers obviously deny, along with everything else. But this is the claim of Marxist theory, that it is a scientific theory of socialism, and of society in general and its economic development, and it is a claim that has never been refuted in any serious way.

The answer to the question is not just that the absence of Marxism constitutes a victory for the bourgeoisie, which it does in a small way, in the first place, this is because Marxism is a product itself of bourgeois culture and science, of its own advancement on what went previously. But also the absence and exclusion of Marxism or scientific socialism from the debate leaves a gap in science where only ideology can rule. And this gap and its ideology does not only impact on the class enemies of the bourgeoisie. We have all by now heard of 'blowback', the (mostly) unintended consequences of actions that react back upon the maker of those actions. Well, this would be one form of feedback from the absence of scientific socialism: i.e. the inability to accurately predict the course of future society and to consider how such actions may have effects that rebound (not to mention collateral damage).

I came to thinking about this when I was examining another question, about being considerate to others. In one sense it means having good manners and discretion. We all know what it means to be considerate, it means taking care to account for what other people feel and think in various situations and with regard to your own actions and their consequences; but it also has a less benign sounding application: if a person has the capacity to foretell another person's feelings, and so their actions, better, if they 'can think in other peoples shoes' as Brecht said somewhere, this faculty is obviously quite useful if you have enemies whose behavior, say on a battlefield, needs to be foreseen so you can make the relevant strategic plans.

One aspect of the humanist variant of Marxist theory, that version which the bourgeoisie tends to allow into the academy for the sake of seeming 'balanced', would appear to be very much concerned with caring about people, about the oppressed and the exploited and the underdog, you might say this is its popular cultural position on the 'left' of the so called political spectrum, and you might think that this means it is considerate, and thus able to understand its opponents, to have empathy. However this does not seem to be the case.

Humanism is allied quite strongly with the spiritual side of things, even when ostensibly materialist: the 'human spirit' according to humanism, or 'human nature' will win out in history, to put it crudely, for the sake of humankind. It believes in an essence of humanness, in certain incorruptible qualities or essences.

Marxist humanism inherits this bourgeois philosophy, which was revolutionary once in the struggle against the old aristocracy and the divine rights of kings etc, but now is generally reactionary (though this can still depend on the social circumstances). Putting essences into the human pot, in short, means that this Marxism becomes, peculiarly, and usually (there are always exceptions), insensitive to what is going on materially around it, since it tends to see its principles and ideals everywhere as essences and overlooks the facts, not perhaps the bare facts, but more importantly the subtleties that you might pick up when you are, e.g., a considerate kind of person (this is beside the phenomenon of the probably many cadres of 'Marxism' that are little more than police spy versions and are therefore obviously going to be crude, misinformed, and deliberately put people off the subject in any case).

In western Ukraine recently (May 2014) the far right, including Nazis, have been supported by western political leaders in an uprising against a corrupt leader and parliament. One characteristic that the far right have is a severe lack of consideration for their fellows, and in this case the easterners living in the country, which mirrors the broadly crude attitude of fascists towards the value of human life in general, and their essentialism, which is also a crude form (again) of humanism and their crude ideals (strength, unity based on fear of the alien, chauvinism, absolute identity, sexism, etc). National Socialism has socialism in the name of course but there is actually nothing about it that is socialist, unless you call being fake socialist socialism. It is simply that fascism sometimes simulates the popular radical ideology of socialism (popular i.e. in times of crisis despite the taboo), in order to gain power, just as it has in Ukraine. It is highly likely that in Ukraine people did not even see the struggle against the corrupt capitalist president as a socialistic one (which it was), therefore the Nazi elements of Right Sector and Svoboda came to the fore in the struggle and could channel the anger in the direction it wanted.

It's flaw, however, is that it lacks consideration, and it always fails to 'think in other peoples shoes', a factor which leads it into making strategic mistakes. To it, being crude and unfeeling is a strength, but its strength is its big weakness. The same in a smaller way is true when the bourgeoisie are successful at turning Marxism into a taboo, which they have been. This success rules out a scientific understanding of society and leads to them misunderstanding their own position, it also leads to support for foolish and extreme powers, and to a lack of consideration for their own actions, being blinded already as they are by profit in the short term.

With regard to the Ukraine conflict, almost all the press, including Russia Today, refers to the protesters who are anti the fascist led government in Kiev as 'Pro Russian', and in this we get a simplistic opposition between Pro Europe (or West) and Pro Russian protesters, essentialist labels that are conducive to civil war. It is clear from this that the vested profit interests of the ruling classes on both apparent sides of the struggle see no value in unearthing a deeper level of analysis, for them this crude appearance seems to serve its purpose. And up to a point it does, it tends to lead people away from socialism and into the humanist, and sometimes fascist, mode of thinking about the crisis, the best criticism that is allowed is some economic cynicism on profit motives.

A war on the mainland of central Europe serves to enable emergency measures to combat resistance to austerity measures, diverts moves to socialism into fascism, and generally confuses everything, in this sense it benefits the capitalist, who sees the possibility of extending its free trade area eastwards via the European Union. But it can only do this by exacerbating the situation and using fascist forces, now openly. These fascist forces are not reliable and do not always act as they are meant to, they are even in many cases opposed to their 'masters'. The latter fact does not matter that much to those who can profit from this circumstance and who live far away in secure places and who can move around their capital on the international markets, and this can easily also include the Russian bourgeoisie, who may not have much interest in defending eastern Ukrainian anti-fascists or socialists or those wanting a return to Soviet days even when they are 'Pro Russian'. And it is likely that those who will suffer at first will be the working classes who resist capitalist expansion.

But the flaw in the plan is that these fascist forces do not see liberal democratic capitalism (the most profitable capitalism) as their real friend or as having any future potential for them, so blowback on liberal capitalism becomes inevitable. Certainly there are those who think that they, by virtue of being wealthy, are immune to the effects of such blowback, but this is only as true as anyone, any class or faction, can be immune from the effects of, for example, human induced global warming, there is no guarantee, and in the chaos of war or of weather nobody can really be considered safe, especially in a nuclear armed world.

If we can talk about our species as a species, refer to its chances of survival as a species, we definitely need a scientific way to understand society and its relation to the rest of nature, whether Marxist or not. Us communists believe that Marxism is the current representative of this science, this of course does not mean it will stay current forever, science moves on, but it is built on its achievements, and socialist science is one of these crucial building blocks. The bourgeois lack of theory here is to actively oppose science, any science not just Marxism, that might lay claim to exactitude in social economics. The mantra in the final instance at work here is that you cannot be scientific about society, that such an effort leads to being crude, you must let it stay 'free' and this reflects the 'free market' as the essence of human nature. So in effect we have the championing of ideology over science. This element of backwardness in the bourgeois class is where it will inevitably misunderstand its own progress and take the wrong decisions even on its own survival as a class.

It is also where it becomes inconsiderate. To consider the feelings of others, to have empathy, rather than only (external) sympathy, becomes a taboo for its version of society because it shows a material kind of fellow feeling exists, it refers to that peculiarly neglected area where socialism might grow up from the 'grassroots'. In place of this the bourgeois interests place technical expertise and statistics, polls, questionnaires and surveys, and all the 'democratic' paraphernalia and rituals, overseen by corporations, to divine what 'the people' think, these corporations, all have interests to find in the data exactly what they want to see, and so they do. The 'data' is not scientific, because that is ruled out in any case, it is merely instrumental, technical, and it often points to the fact (in crises) that we 'need' technical governance (which has happened in this present crisis in e.g. Greece and Italy).

What can 'technical' mean if it is not scientific? We know the term voodoo economics; it has to be a kind of number mysticism, it must, in the modern world, resemble the sciences without ever becoming science, it is a kind of conjuring. It is the use of something without its core, without its heart, it is in this sense superficial and inconsiderate. And this is why it comes up, repeatedly, with inconsiderate policies in the real world: such as the ideological attacks on single mothers by rightist Conservative governments in the UK, or indeed it supports fascists, who then attack the weak and the alien. Certainly these targets are also scapegoats and represent other opportunities for the powers, but it is the logical illogical outcome of this instrumental anti scientific attitude and which surfaces at its most extreme in the capitalist crisis.

There are, as we know, many examples of e.g. the U.S. governments supporting fascist forces elsewhere than at home as a foreign policy, e.g. Franco in Spain. The reason on the surface is to counteract 'communism'. But this is only a small excuse for what is really a way to ensure its capitalist business interests are secured and fixed in place abroad, and a stable non democratic regime ensures this best, because an enlightened democratic administration that changes in time might represent a commercial threat (look at the recent machinations in Egypt). Fascism not only represents U.S. interests by this fixing down of authority but it also prevents the potential competitor from possibly advancing to equal terms given its backward ideology. And this is also why the most advanced capitalist bourgeoisie even needs some Marxism at home. Without such authentic internal criticism it stagnates into fascism, and this fascism is simply not so profitable for the largest corporations, and represents a level of risk to their predominance. It is a need, however, that can fail to be recognized and necessitates an enlightened bourgeois faction with a lot of power and influence in culture and which can be 'considerate' in the strategic way. The latter appears to have gone missing in regards to Ukraine, not so urgent an issue for U.S. citizens a long way away perhaps, but for the European it is a dangerous precedent to set so close to home, we have been here before.

by Gary Tedman

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Language of the Ukraine Story

The 'western' press has decided the Ukraine story is about "Pro-Kremlin self appointed eastern separatists" (sometimes 'terrorists') versus a nice Kiev government just trying to get along.

The Guardian etc are unanimous in using certain terms: the east of Ukraine are 'separatists', they are also 'self appointed', in contrast to the west. It would be far more truthful to say that the western Ukraine government, which came to power through violent protests, are the real separatists, since they want separation from Russia which is a close neighbor with historic connections, and that actually Kiev is 'self appointed' in the way they came to power; but this is obviously not the case.

The debate is 'framed' and the terms used are biased already to a particular story.  

E.g. New York Times talking of the east:
"In areas under the separatists' control, there was growing evidence of arbitrary rule by self-appointed local officials, backed up by heavily-armed militias, and of violence being meted out against opponents.
The Guardian:
"but instead a pro-Russian mob took over yet another government building in Horlivka "
"In Kiev, two candidates from a pro-Russian party campaigning for planned May elections were attacked by loyalist crowds."
The BBC:
"In recent weeks, pro-Russian militants have seized administrative buildings in at least a dozen towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.They have occupied public buildings and installed their own officials, in similar tactics to those used to take over the Ukrainian region of Crimea earlier in the year."
The 'mob' versus the 'loyalist crowd'. The 'self appointed' with arbitrary rule, and the militia, of the east.

At the same time the violent uprising in Kiev that led to the ousting of the president and a change in the government is rewritten as merely a 'row': -

"The Kiev government, which took power after Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich fled the capital in a row over whether to strengthen ties with Europe, appeared to have been emboldened by Tuesday's visit of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. 
The revolt has strangely disappeared. Only the later intervention by Russia in Crimea is remembered.

How is this prearranged story arrived at?

We know that similar happens in Russian media of course, but in the west there is the idea that we have a 'free press' and that it makes its own decisions independent of government.

Has it made these decisions and decided to treat protesting eastern Ukrainians with less credibility than the western ones? Why should it do that? It is not credible that they are all made up of Russian special forces who have entered the country.

Class relations are one answer. The western press is independent but owned, and the owners and those who have influence with its editors direct the product, and they are ruling class, the same class as the government.

On the other hand, the unanimity seems more controlled and precise than can be explained by this alone, even down to the exact same terminology used.  The debates seem scripted.

This 'scripting' happens at a variety of sources, but a major one is the nexus of private contacts via the editors of big news media organizations with the secret government security agencies and various non governmental but affiliated 'think tanks' all of which tend to bypass democracy.

Naturally, it is not in the interests of this murky grey area to have such connections publicized, it would eject the idea that western press is free and 'unbiased' and therefore diminish its effectiveness as a tool for persuasion in circumstances where it has, especially, profit interests.

But also the structural way news is filtered through the specialist agencies used, like Reuters, refines and pre-digests the output. And on another level, the choice of the personnel who are to be journalists and reporters is also a filtering process; it is not a democratic matter, of course, but decided by bosses and leaders, in effect dictatorially, since there is little democracy within private corporations.

Additionally, there is a kind of need for people to join with others and relax into the standard ideology rather than to maintain a rebellious critical posture, which after all can be exhausting. This gives to the whole process inertia of its own. This is coupled with social alienation, the social feelings associated with work in capitalism that are always manipulated expertly by the media.

And the context: economically speaking, the more capitalism becomes monopolized by certain successful corporations, the more the media and government plus the clandestine agencies become an adjunct of this monopoly and the more it functions in its interests, which are identified as the equivalent to national interests.
"Admittedly, Ukraine’s debt burden is nowhere near that of Greece, and its maturity profile is not that bad. Also, the immediate disruptions from a restructuring could be large. Yet, aside from the challenge the international community faces in raising enough cash to cover Ukraine's ever-increasing, multiyear financing gap, there is no easy way to lock in existing creditors. As a result, the West faces the prospect of seeing some of its money transferred directly to others, as Ukraine uses the proceeds of new loans to pay off maturing debts."
By 'others' he presumably also means Russia, who is owed gas debts of about 2bn. But Russia also has debts, and to western companies and investors. So in a roundabout way, which we have become used to, such money will eventually go to pay the biggest investors, i.e. normally western ones but in any case private cosmopolitan and transatlantic ones, east and west. Politically an immediate restructuring of Ukraine's debt obligations would be difficult too, as would immediate austerity policy, which is the normal way for it. 

So, strategic expansion via the EU and its future interests conflicts to an extent with its own immediate financial interests. The EU is the bourgeois investor's vehicle for future profit if it continues to expand eastwards, it is the expansion of the US free trade area; it is a kind of new or at least refreshed frontier for capital to exploit.
"On April 17, top diplomats from the U.S., EU, Ukraine, and Russia signed an agreement in Geneva calling for insurgents in eastern Ukraine to leave occupied buildings and lay down their arms." -- Isaac Webb
This is how the Kiev government 'understands' the (already severely tested) Geneva agreement on peace, as one-sided, only applying to the east. Of course they would. But will its erstwhile new creditors back it up? Well, probably only rhetorically. Which means that it is in the interests of the far right elements that Kiev has in its ranks to escalate the situation further.
"There is an illusory hope for the conference in Geneva. Ukraine will be presented there as a pie which will be divided. Everything ... shows the signs of a grand plot, where big geopolitical players resolved their issues at Ukraine's expense. It will be like that this time around too." - Editorial in Glavkom.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences: U.S. Drug "War" Destroys Rain Forests

Thomas Riggins

Rain forests around the world are rapidly disappearing due to illegal logging, the growth of palm oil and other plantations, and clearance for cattle raising and other forms of  commercial agriculture. Now scientists warn of another threat to the rain forests of Central America-- especially those in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and some of their neighbors-- this according to a news report in Science Daily for January 30, 2014 ("Drug trafficking leads to deforestation in Central America").

It seems that the drug war in Mexico, fueled by the misguided anti-drug policies of the United States and the Mexican government (relying on military action and violence instead legalization and reform) has driven the drug gangs deep into the remotest areas of the jungles of Central America-- especially into supposedly protected regions where they are destroying large areas of the virgin forests to build airstrips, roads, and storage facilities to facilitate their drug activities.

They are also constructing "agribusinesses" in order to "launder their drug profits." It is almost impossible to believe that all this activity could be going on under the noses of the United States and its allies in the so-call "war on drugs" and is not being protected due to the graft and corruption of all the parties involved. This has been going on for years according Kendra McSweeney, a scientist at Ohio State University whose research, along with others, was the basis of the Science Daily report. "In response to the crackdown in Mexico," she said, "drug traffickers began moving south into Central America around 2007 to find new routes through remote areas to move their drugs from South America and get them into the United States. When the drug traffickers moved in, they brought ecological devastation with them."

The indigenous Amerindian people who live in the forests suffer as a result of the arrival of the drug dealers who strip the forest for their roads and landing areas for planes. Drug money is used to bribe government officials to turn a blind eye to the drig dealers as well as the deforestation activities. Ranchers, illegal loggers, and land speculators, according to the article, up their activities, at the expense of the forest people, stimulated by the influx of drug money and the dealers desire to launder their profits with "legitimate" businesses.  "Drug policies," McSeeney said, "are conservation policies, whether we realize it or not."

Besides the death and destruction to people, innocent and guilty alike, brought about by U.S. policies, the damage and destruction of the rain forests is a major ecological problem.  McSweeny concluded that "U.S. led militarized interdiction, for example, has succeeded mainly in moving traffickers around, driving them to operate in ever-more remote, biodiverse ecosystems. Reforming drug policies could alleviate some of the pressures on Central America's disappearing forests."

For the reasons revealed in this news article it is ever more important that the failed and useless U. S. "war on drugs" , which has become a " war on people and nature", be curtailed and ended and that rational policies be adopted to deal with the problems of addiction and the social conditions responsible for it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ukraine Positions

Ukraine: The risks of supporting the Maidan protesters is the unleashing of fascism (Svoboda, Right Sektor). If the nationalists can avoid witch-hunts, be inclusive, and leave the far right behind, then that would be positive, but I doubt this can happen, since it would mean abandoning what they are and have fought for. Now rightist identity politics is in power (ostensibly) it usually asserts itself in scapegoating ways rather than reconciliation – the start of this may be the focus on revenge and on Yanukovich, the ousted president.

The deaths that have occurred are sad, tragic, as they always are, but if this is a revolution, then the events have in fact been remarkably peaceful (so far, perhaps), especially given the involvement of the far right as the spearhead..

But it is not really a revolution (so far at least), it is more akin to a coup, with outside interference (EU, USA), in a situation where the masses are fairly passive about politics, due to the particular history of the country.

Historically, Russia has more right to 'interfere' in Ukraine than the EU, and this fact has been trampled on, but we can only support the Russian leaders, who are also only interested in exploiting Ukraine, insofar as they act as defenders of self determination for Ukraine and against sectarianism and terror. In this situation Russia is and would be right to assert itself against the elements of neo-Nazism in the coup and the west.

The peculiar and telling aspect is actually its lack of assertion of such rights and the weakness of the ousted leadership it seemed to be backing.

The latter itself points to corruption and the rule of capitalists in both Ukraine and Russia, they are vying for profit and 'reforms', the Russian bourgeoisie vacillate, not too sure that they would not actually benefit from an even more rightist capitalist neoliberal Ukraine. This is the class dimension of the picture. The Ukrainian 'oligarchs' (big capitalists) think the same, some seeing the EU as a source of new openings and new ways to exploit their working class, others will have ties to Russia.

So we have capitalist powers, including Russia, competing for Ukraine's wealth and strategic position. The hypocrisy of the west's rhetoric can be grasped clearly when you look at Bahrain, with its protests, where the USA has a naval base just as Russia has a naval base in Ukraine (on the Black Sea). The USA did not support the protests in Bahrain for democracy, even allowed the sending in of tanks to quell the popular uprising. The USA has of course far less claims with regard to Bahrain than Russia has to Ukraine, although we must remember Russia also interferes in Syria to support the dictator Assad. All of this is cynical imperialist competition.

Sometimes the western 'soft' Left is confused and confusing about these complications, they stick to Russia like a limpet from the Cold War, and so do the rightists, whose identity politics sees the differences as essential to human nature anyway, so a Ruskie is always a Ruskie and a commie. In fact we have here the two great identity politics opposing in a false dialectic (left v right), and this is always the pincer movement of bourgeois ideology that we see in the mainstream press, because the concept of class is disallowed and they must resort to some other interpretation of global political events. It is an ideological strategy that allows in fascism though, and this is its danger in the present conflict for Europe and the EU, which is edging noticeably towards the far right in its ideology.
Mr Lavrov added that "it is in our interest for Ukraine to be part of the broad European family" but against Russia's interest to "allow the radicals and nationalists who are clearly trying to take centre stage to prevail."

Some useful links:

Description of far right Svoboda party

Nuland phonecall on Ukraine

Left-Gramscian interpretation wuth local knowledge

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bum Rap for the Rapa Nui

Thomas Riggins

A new report in Science News Magazine (1-25-2014) by Bruce Bower details a reevaluation of the view that the Rapa Nuians, the native inhabitants of Easter Island ( Rapa Nui ), were responsible for the collapse of their population and society due to over exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of the rain forest on their island, a view recently popularized by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse (2005).

As Bower reports, the anthropologist Maria Mulrooney has published the results of her studies of the Rapa Nui culture (Journal of Archeological Science, December 2013) based on new radiocarbon dates from archeological sites on the island. She has concluded that after the clear cutting of the forest in the 1500s, to make room for agricultural production, the population of Rapa Nui remained sufficiently vibrant to carry on food production and continue their cultural development.

Exactly when the Rapa Nui arrived on Easter Island is unknown but it was on or before 1200 A.D. or so. Mulrooney maintains they had a thriving culture which was still going strong even after their "discovery" by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday 1722. This would indicate that they had not suffered"collapse" as a result of forest clearance.

Roggeveen reported that the island had about 2000 to 3000 inhabitants he was the first to report on the moai-- the giant statues (erected as religious symbols as part of an ancestor cult) for which the island is famous. They were all in place and standing when he was visiting the island (for less than two weeks). In his short time there he managed to kill a dozen or so natives and so his estimate of the population may be incorrect as many people fled and hid out until after he left.

The Spanish showed up in 1770, claimed the island for King Carlos III, then sailed away. The moai were all standing and the people were still engaged in agriculture. Captain Cook showed up in 1774 and noticed some of the moai had fallen but there was no sign of cultural "collapse."

Bower quotes Mulrooney as saying, "Deforestation did not equal societal failure on Rapi Nui. We should celebrate the remarkable achievements of this island civilization"

Yet the culture did end up almost completely destroyed. After Capitan Cook's visit Europeans visited more regularly in the 19th Century. It has been suggested that Rapa Nui's decline may have been caused by the introduction of European diseases. By the early 1800s most of the moai been toppled and the society had broken up into warring factions.

Peruvian slavers invaded in the 1860s and carried away 1500 of the 2000 or so Rapa Nuians into bondage in the mines of Peru.  By 1878 only 111 natives were still living on the island. 97 per cent of the cultural memory of the people had been lost after contact with the Europeans. The greatest loss may have been that of rongorongo  the native writing system of Rapa Nui and the only writing system created by any Polynesian group. All of those who knew the writing system died in the mines of Peru or from European introduced TB which ravaged the survivors.

Chile annexed the island in 1888. The Rapa Nui were given citizenship in 1966 but they no longer rule on their island. Of the 6000 or so people living on the island today about 3600 are Rapa Nui. The archeologist Carl Lipo is quoted as saying, "The idea of societal collapse on Rapa Nui has long been assumed but there is no scientific basis for it." He is referring to a self induced collapse. Their traditional culture was destroyed, and the people today are trying to reinvigorate it, but it is a bum rap to blame them for the loss of their civilization.

Socialism and Errors

A tentative thesis: 

The Soviet Union towards the end of  WWII made a mistake similar to the one the Paris Communards made who did not raid the Paris central bank (as Marx thought would have been sensible to pay their soldiers, etc), they did not invade Switzerland and confiscate the ill gotten stashes of the European bourgeoisie who evaded the affects of the carnage and continued to play the stock markets. Instead they acted, post war, in an increasingly imperialist fashion, emulating the bourgeois countries, imposing socialism and giving it, therefore, a bad name across Europe. Why leave Switzerland, the bank of the European bourgeoisie and one big bankroller of the Nazis, untouched? It is unfathomable if you are a communist to grasp why any communist would do this. The centre of European capitalism was, and remains, Switzerland. The answer to this question is key.

We are now living, therefore, in the aftermath of a kind of socialist funk, the result of a lack of resolution and theoretical understanding of Marxism. This is why Greece is so fascinating as a case in the crisis. The Cold War policies that made the Allies turn on the local communists who had bravely fought the Nazis meant Greece was facing years of rightist corruption and money lending to support an unpopular capitalism, it led to the reign of the Generals, and then to the joining of the Eurozone and now Greece’s massive debt crisis, all of it still being fuelled by debt.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Democracy and Law

If you have just laws, you have no overwhelming need for elections, the laws and accountability through these laws (i.e. constitutional and general law including employment law) can form the essence of democracy and protect the citizen and provide for an accountable system of government; elections are in contrast something of a lottery, and they can rarely provide a result that really represents the majority interests, although it always holds this promise out to the electors. The law is something that is crafted over time by society to, ostensibly, provide social justice; it is in this sense science at the level of politics. But this science meets with the anti science of current economics, the science that wishes to ignore science and opt for chance; the anarchy of the markets, it sees order and the idea of a 'command economy', an economy guided by humans, to be the enemy. It therefore likes lotteries. Here therefore it has met the rigors of the class struggle. The struggle for just law sits alongside the struggle for more authentic democracy, it is the bedrock of the move to greater accountability.

The fact is that the law in current advanced capitalist societies has failed to represent the majority, and electoral democracy has also failed to defend their interests, and this is the major problem of our times, we have seen protests ranging from Brazil to Egypt via Turkey and Greece. This is a problem that cannot be solved by more and more elections with the same arrangements (as in Egypt is being tried, but at least the recent elections are over a constitution). Certainly, less corruption and more genuine accountability is always to be welcomed if it is at all possible or credible by election, but can this be achieved within most of the present corrupt parliamentary systems in Europe? Specifically Greece, Spain, Italy, the UK, or within the EU state apparatus that sits atop them, there is a democratic deficit.

The law in capitalism supports capitalism, this is obvious, which means it supports a system of wages and exploitation and the anarchy of the markets. Lately this system has bailed out massive corporations and banks, but called for austerity for workers, who are also intended to pay for these bail outs in their taxes. This is patently unjust, but there is no law that can really intervene; at best more obvious fraud may be tackled with ineffective fines and in a very few cases imprisonment of individuals (e.g. Madoff). So the problem of current democracy, even if it was at its best and most representative and accountable, always hits the wall of law which defends capital against its critics. The structures of exploitation are legal, so to abolish them would therefore be illegal, unless the law is changed. Can the law be changed by the elected lawmakers in parliament?

Superficially this is the role of the executive power, but we can readily see that no party or representative is so radical as to suggest the abolition of the employment laws that allow for exploitation, on the contrary, we even, since the onset of the crisis, have witnessed a return to near slavery with the expansion of zero hours contracts in the UK and 'mini-jobs' in Germany. Precarious kinds of labor are rife these days. Electoral democracy has stagnated not because it has the possibility of ever actually functioning perfectly but has merely lately slipped into bad ways, but because we have reached its political limits within the capitalist economy and the laws that maintain it and it maintains. This has been shown to us by the crisis. The crisis has revealed the truth of electoral representative democracy, that it has limits of representation, and so is limited democracy, limited by law and by economics, There will be calls, against this, for a new constitutive power, new law, and new kinds of democracy; we have seen the start of these with the Occupy type movements. But many of these calls avoid looking at the issue of class, and therefore tend to ignore the necessary role of the majority working class in protests, which is likely to lead to fragmentation. Recently more working class protest has broken out in Burgos, Spain, which have so far been successful and have not been shy of this dimension.

Gary Tedman

Friday, December 20, 2013

Waiting for Mangabe or Slavoj Zizek on Mandela's Socialist Failure

Thomas Riggins

This is a reply to Slavoj Zizek's article "Mandela's Socialist Failure" published online in The Stone (a New York Times maintained philosophy blog) on December 6, 2013. In eight pithy paragraphs Zizek endeavors to expose the real legacy of Mandela as opposed to his current "beatification." The Catholic Church used to have someone play the role of Devil's Advocate to denigrate the reputation
of a person nominated to become a saint. Zizek has taken it upon himself to see to it that Mandela's "beatification" does not progress to full fledged "sainthood."

Zizek's mantra is that "Mandela was not Mugabe"-- the "good" as opposed to the "bad" Black African leader. Mandela is seen as "a saintly wise man" and Hollywood even makes movies about him. He was "impersonated" by Morgan Freeman who, Zizek points out also impersonated God! Oh my!-- what are they trying to tell us? Zizek should perhaps be reminded that Morgan Freeman is an outstanding actor (or impersonator if you prefer) and has played many roles-- including a chauffeur. And, Zizek notes, "rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification." Somehow I don't see Fidel Castro as a "politician" in quite the same way as the unprincipled pragmatist Bill Clinton. Nor do I think Fidel and Clinton are "united" in their evaluations of Nelson Mandela-- far from it. According to Zizek, Mandela is hailed for leaving behind "a muti-party democracy with free press and a vibrant [!] economy well-integrated into the global market and immune [!] to hasty Socialist experiments."

But what is the truth about this man's legacy? The Devil's Advocate will reveal  "two
key facts"  that are "obliterated" by all the pro-Mandela beatification activities. Fact One: There is still wide spread poverty and social misery in South Africa and an increase in "insecurity, violence, and crime."  The majority of Black  South Africans
are living "broadly,"  Zizek says, "the same as under apartheid." This fact "counterbalances" any "rise of political and civil rights."  What is the "main change" in South Africa since the time of Mandela according to Zizek? It is a "new black elite" has joined the "old white ruling class"-- not a new constitution giving equal rights to all citizens and allowing all South Africans to live and work together.

Zizek's statements are completely ridiculous. There are deepening economic problems in South Africa today as well as class divisions but Black people and all South Africans no longer have to carry passes, all can vote, people can go to the same beaches and hotels, etc. The millions who mourned the death of Mandela are acutely aware of the problems facing their country and also aware that the repressive, dehumanizing regime of official racism and apartheid is dead. To think that reality has been "obliterated" in the consciousness of South African people by a Mandela sainthood cult is an insulting affront to the citizens of the new South Africa and reeks of a colonial European outlook towards African peoples. So much for "Fact One."

Fact Two: Black South Africans are becoming angry because the memory of the aims of the "old" African National Congress (social justice and a "kind of" socialism are being "obliterated from our memory." Far from being "obliterated" the program of the ANC and its allies in the labor unions and the South African Communist Party are constantly debated and discussed by the people of South Africa and the demands for more radical reforms and more progressive policies can be democratically advanced. Zizek overlooks the fact that there is a real living democracy at the root of the New South Africa and that Nelson Mandela played a major role in its creation. The millions mourning his passing are not mindless masses with "obliterated" memories.

According to Zizek South Africa is just another example of the current left paradigm:
the left comes to power promising a "new world" but then confronts the reality of the international neoliberal capitalist consensus . Imperialism can speedily punish countries trying to embark on the socialist road. In South Africa's case political power was ceded to the ANC on condition that the existing economic system was preserved . It was thought that this prevented a civil war of massive proportions.
This Historic Compromise (called by some a Faustian pact with the old regime) is at the root of the current problems of poverty and mass discontent in the country.

Zizek is sympathetic to Mandela's dilemma -- create a "new world"-- risk a civil war-- or "play the game" and abandon the "socialist perspective." [There is too much focus on Mandela here-- these decisions were made collectively by the leaders of all the major forces in the liberation movement.]  Zizek  asks a question that is still hotly debated today. Given the  constellation of forces facing the ANC et al on the assumption of power "was the move towards socialism a real option?" [Compromise was indeed necessary, but did the ANC concede too much?]

Seemingly inspired by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (a coming of age novel for adolescent libertarians), Zizek looks for "the grain of truth" in the "hymn to money" found in the novel: "Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice-- there is no other." 

Not only is there no "grain of truth" in this "hymn" but when human beings only deal with each other on the basis of money we get all the horrors of blood, whips and guns that humans employ against each other in order to obtain and control more and more money (slavery, colonialism, imperialism, fraud-- you name it). It is not humans per se, of course, who engage in these horrors, but a special class of humans  (capitalists) created by the dominant economic system of monopoly capitalism. 

Not content with uncovering a grain of truth in Randism, Zizek imputes the same idea to Karl Marx-- a most un-Randian leap of fallaciousness. He asks if Marx's ideas about "the universe of commodities" were not similar to what Rand said in her hymn about money. After all Marx said under capitalism "relations between people assume the guise of relations among things."  This is a perfect example of a non sequitur and  I defy anyone to find the similarity between Marx's statements about the fetishism of commodities and Rand's view "that money is the root of all good."

Zizek's confusions continue. He thinks that the relations between people in the "market economy" can appear "as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality." Maybe in the days of Adam Smith but I doubt even then. Donald Trump and his chauffeur hardly are equals or exercise the same amount of freedom. Mitt Romney thought 47 per cent of the American people were social parasites and he is an outstanding representative of the freedom and equally offered by the "market economy."  Most working people know exactly their relations to their bosses and it not only appears to be unequal and unfree (who gets the pink slip and loses unemployment insurance) it is unequal and unfree-- and all of Ayn Rand's baloney will never make it otherwise. 

It is obvious to any aware working person, that the blatant inequality and restrictions on human freedom under the "market economy"  lived and felt by millions of Greek workers, Spanish working people, and others in the EU and throughout the world, that  Zizek's view -- under capitalism "domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such" -- is just nonsense. Such ruminations by a famous philosopher can only give philosophy a bad name.

While Zizek says that Ayn Rand's ideological claim (only the love of money can free people) is ridiculous, he persists in reminding us of the "moment of truth" it contains. The problem, he thinks, is Rand's "underlying premise" which is "that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation" and any alternative is "utopian." Ayn Rand has no such premise. She thinks in simple dichotomies. Unfettered dynamic capitalism and the love of money is GOOD and it is in no way, direct or indirect, involved in any relations of domination and exploitation-- it is the root of GOODNESS. On the other hand any efforts by liberals , socialists, misguided Catholic popes, or anybody else that impinges on this system of goodness is EVIL and a direct source domination and exploitation.

Zizek, however, thinks the "moment of truth" in Ayn Rand's theory of money is that it teaches us "the great lesson of state socialism." Despite Zizek's discovery of the Randian "moment of truth," I don't recommend using Atlas Shrugged as a prolegomena to any future socialism. This is the "truth" that Zizek has discovered.
If you abolish private property (God forbid!) and the market without concretely regulating production then you resuscitate "direct relations of servitude and domination." What does this mean? What "state socialist" country or countries can he be referring to that did not or do not have plans that regulate production? So called "state socialism" was famous for having "central planning" and tried to concretely regulate both production and distribution. As it stands Zizek's lesson is pointless.

He expands on his lesson. If we just abolish the market "without replacing it with a proper form of Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation." This isn't very helpful. Communism doesn't spring full blown from the brow of Lenin the day after the revolution. What does Zizek think is the "proper form" of Communism. He gives us no clue in this article. I fear there is no lesson at all to be learned from Ayn Rand's "moment of truth." Certainly not Zizek's tautology that socialism fails to create communism if it doesn't create the proper form of communism.

Zizek now propounds a "general rule"-- it is really just his way of saying  the more things change the more they stay the same. It goes like this: when the people rise up against "an oppressive half-democratic regime" [what is a "half-democracy"-- people either have democratic rights or they don't] it's "easy" to get large demonstrations underway [I think that's what rising up means] and crowd pleasing slogans are devised (pro democracy, anti-corruption, etc) but after the "revolt succeeds" the people find themselves still oppressed as they were before except in a "new guise." 

This seems to me to be a strange concept of what a "successful" revolt is. Zizek seems to think it is some sort of spontaneous generation of of all things good and great for the people and if doesn't happen overnight, then the revolt has failed. His case studies are of the revolts "in the Middle East in 2011." He doesn't seem to understand that these are ongoing processes. The French Revolution didn't end with chopping off the King's head. The revolts may have been begun in the Middle East in 2011 but they are ongoing processes with ups and downs, advances and set backs and it much to early to decide which have failed and which have succeeded or even what "failure" or "success" will mean in the longue duree.

Zizek plogs along. The people do not succeed because they are prevented from seeing that their exploitation continues in the new guise after the revolution by the "ruling ideology" which blames them for their failure because they don't understand that they are not yet mature enough for full democracy [ and anyway, as Lady Thatcher  put it, 'there is no alternative" to capitalism (TINA)]. Zizek doesn't make sense here because he maintains both that the people don't realize the same old exploitation is going on and that they do realize it but are themselves blamed for it by the "ruling ideology." I think Zizek will find "the people" a bit more sophisticated and not as simple minded as he portrays them.

Zizek now explains how US foreign policy has developed a strategy that redirects the revolutionary energy of a popular revolt into political forms desired  by US imperialism (not a word used by Zizek in this article). The US did this in South Africa after the end of apartheid. If this is the case then the ANC, Mandela, the SACP, and entire liberation movement were puppets of US imperialist foreign policy. While he is at it, Zizek also says the same was done in the Philippines, post Marcos, in Indonesia, post Suharto, "and elsewhere." 

Now US foreign policy is indeed a formidable enemy of the people's of the world but the explanation for the problems of liberation movements in attaining their stated goals after the assumption of power can't simply be explained by saying they are victims of US foreign policy's elaborate "detailed strategy of how to exert damage control." In fact, as Wikileaks has shown, the people in charge of US foreign policy often don't know what they are doing, set in motion ridiculous plans, and often end making a mess out of whatever they had in mind to accomplish.

US foreign policy is by and large incompetent and its agents, diplomats, Congressmen and women, generals, cabinet members, and intelligence professionals can only foam at the mouth and yell "treason" when a young soldier, performing his duty to the Constitution of the the United States, Chelsea Manning, reveals some "secret" wires showing up the blunders and failures of the "professionals" in the state department and others and how they try to mislead the American people.  In any event,  Zizek says the big problem of the liberation movements is in finding a way to counteract US policies. As he puts it-- "how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe." Perhaps a dialectical synthesis. Is  Zizek is waiting for Mangabe?

Finally, Zizek tells us what to do "to remain faithful to Mandela's legacy"-- a legacy he just told us was a failure and capitulation to imperialism. Zizek is just the philosopher of that kind of legacy. One he himself calls of "unfulfilled promises" and one that didn't "really disturb the global order of power."  We must forget the "celebratory crocodile tears" shed for Mandela and his leadership. I think that the people of South Africa and many of the dignitaries  (but not all) at his memorial and funeral would, and should be, outraged to be accused of faking their feelings for Mandela. We must instead concentrate on his failures. He ended his life as a "bitter old man" realizing his hero status "was the mask of a bitter defeat."  How does Zizek know this? He thinks, this is the type of philosopher he is, that "we can safely surmise" this to be the case because "of his doubtless moral and political greatness." What sense is there in saying there is political greatness in being a bitter old defeated man. Is the true founder of democratic South Africa then president F. W. de Klerk who is neither bitter nor considered a failure? Where is the moral greatness in bitterness?

The truth is that Mandela was a realist who made unavoidable compromises to free his people from apartheid, that he and his comrades in the ANC and SACP and the trade union movements forged a revolutionary struggle that toppled one of the most repressive political regimes in the world-- one backed by the post powerful imperialism in the world and its allies. This was not a failure to attain "socialism." Socialism cannot be imposed from above, it must be struggled for by working and oppressed people themselves and Mandela helped found the preconditions for that struggle.

The fact that the mighty of the world came to his memorial is testimony not that he failed "to disturb the global order of power" but that he profoundly shook it and they are eager to co-op his message and be identified with him because they know that all over the world at this very moment millions of oppressed people in both the centers of capitalist power and in the neocolonial fringes are beginning to rise up and demand their rights and that they have much to learn from the tactics of the South African liberation movement. Slavol Zizek's libels notwithstanding,  Nelson Mandela was a great revolutionary leader who freed his people from oppression and inspires masses  around  the world to fight for a better world-- he was the farthest it was possible to be from a "bitter old man."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Women, Fertility and the Rise of Modern Capitalism: Review

Women, Fertility and the Rise of Modern Capitalism: Review

Thomas Riggins

This is a review of the above named article by Alberto Alesina (Harvard Economics Department) which appeared in Science 25 October 2013. It is an interesting article, not least because it is illustrative of Marx's view that bourgeois economics ceased to be a science after the time of David Ricardo and became merely an exercise in apologetics for capitalism but also because it attempts to answer the question "How did the Black Plague change work and family opportunities for women" as relates to the rise of capitalism.

This is a short summary overview of the article in six sections:

1.  Income per capita (total economic output divided by total population) equals the wealth of a nation. The wealth increases only if the the output increases faster than the population. Historically the relation of output and the population was stable, resulting in social immobility. Two revolutions changed this. First, the "Malthusian" [?] revolution due to the Black Death]-- slowed down population growth. Second, the Industrial Revolution increased output. The first revolution was a precondition for the second because it allowed income to go above subsistence level creating a demand for goods and technology that "pulled away" from agriculture creating the conditions for the birth of modern capitalism. An important consequence of all this was the increase in the number of women in the work force. [This section puts forth the thesis of Alesina's article. Now we must see how he fleshes it out.]

2.  The author now states Malthus [1766-1834] made a great discovery--i.e., "population growth is continuously held in check by the resources available to sustain it"-- and this hinders social progress. Two observations here: 1) this common sense self-evident observation was hardly unique to Malthus and is not what he is famous for (which is the preposterous unscientific observation that food supply increases arithmetically and population geometrically); 2) a stable population does not of necessity prevent social progress. The article next informs us that Europe had  stable living standards until struck by the Black Death (bubonic plague) in 1348-1350 when a third of the population or more died. The result of the die off was a labor shortage and a surplus of land to be worked. This caused wages to go up, especially in agriculture,  and opened opportunities for women to work in the fields, giving them less time for child care, thus leading to a rise in the age of marriage and a lowering of the fertility rate and a slowing of future population growth. I am confused about the "rise of wages" because most agricultural workers in the 14th century were bound serfs not wage workers. Craftsmen did make more money and workers in towns and cities a well but the serfs benefited by being able to demand a greater share of the product rather than by "wages" per se, although in some areas a minority of paid agricultural workers did exist. In fact it was an attempt to suppress gains by the serfs and peasants that lead to the peasant wars which broke out after the plague years.

There is no reason to refer to this phenomenon as a "Malthusian" revolution.  In the first place four hundred years separate Malthus from the Black Death and in the second place Malthus is not really entitled to have anything named after him as he was not an original thinker and plagiarized all his major ideas fro earlier writers and put them in the service of the landowning class as opposed to the up and coming bourgeoisie of his day and the working people. Marx points out (Theories of Surplus Value, Vol.2) that Malthus got his ideas mostly from a little known writer on agriculture and economics, James Anderson (1739-1808). Marx wrote, "Malthus used the Andersonian  theory of rent to give his population law, for the first time, both an economic and a real (natural-historical) basis, while the nonsense about geometrical and arithmetical progression borrowed from earlier writers, was a purely imaginary hypothesis (chapter ix, sec. 1)."  Malthus never credited those authors from whom he copied his ideas. That he is still taken seriously by some modern economists is evidence of the ideological rather than scientific role of the
discipline under capitalism.

3. The article also points out that the need for child labor increased due to the shortage of agricultural labor and this implies an incentive for an increase in fertility-- counteracting the decrease in fertility implied by women working in the fields and thus unavailable for child care. Almost all the sentences used by the author to advance his ideas are qualified and speculative: e.g. higher wages "could have" effected fertility and "might have" increased fertility. These factors "may have played out" in different ways in different parts of Europe. A useful theory cannot be
based on "could have" and "may have" speculations. He now wants to ask "why"
wages and fertility "could have" been different in different parts of Europe-- particularly the difference between North Western and South Eastern Europe.

4. His answer is also speculative as he calls it "one possibility." That is,  the (non-existent) "Malthusian" revolution brought about income growth before the Industrial revolution. This is because after the Black Death  fertility in South Eastern Europe returned to pre-plague levels but increased "substantially" in North Western Europe. "Not surprisingly, this part of Europe led the spectacular rise of modern capitalism." The "Not surprisingly"  is begging the question. Growth in fertility was an important factor in the growth of capitalism. Evidence: there was a growth of fertility in North Western Europe and then there was the rise of capitalism. This is evidence of a correlation not a cause.

5. Regardless, the author thinks that the Black Death and the "Malthusian" revolution were only two factors in the rise of capitalism in North Western Europe. He says "one possibility" for another, and the tipping factor, was the Protestant Revolution.

6.  Regarding the Protestant Revolution-- i.e., the Reformation, the author, who mentions Max Weber, credits Lutheranism with introducing the ideas of an accumulation of human capital. The concept of "human capital" is not worked out. Capital accumulation (money for investment in commerce)  however, based on frugality and hard work by  individuals  which implies that one has been chosen as one of God's elect was a feature of Protestantism.  Actually this so called "Protestant Ethic" as a factor in the rise of capitalism was credited by Weber to the influence of Calvinism not Lutheranism (which he took a dim view of). The author suggests  that perhaps the influence of the Reformation on the development of capitalism was not due to the religious doctrine as such but due to the emphasis on economic growth that Protestantism developed. A strange suggestion since Weber's point was that the economic emphasis was a deduction from Calvinist religious principals. Calvinism was based on a doctrine of predestination and economic success was evidence (but not proof} that one was predestined to be one of the elect (who gets to Heaven)-- the more economically and socially successful one was the better the evidence of future salvation.

I must conclude that this article doesn't provide any evidence whatsoever for any of its major contentions. It doesn't even mention the role of the discovery of the New World and the wealth that flooded Europe as a result of the dispossession of the native populations, nor the enclosure movements by which peasants were dispossessed of the commons or driven off their land which was then developed as private property while the dispossessed were forced to become laborers working for others on the pain of imprisonment or death. The article is highly speculative and inspired by discredited  and unscientific notions of a nonexistent "Malthusian" revolution and leaves us as much in the dark after reading it as before as to the actual influence of women and their fertility on the rise of modern capitalism.