Friday, June 05, 2015

The Placebo Effect and Psychotherapy

What the power of positive thinking may have begun to lose by the late 1990s in terms of political stridency, it gained in terms of biomedical responsibility. More than anything else, this respectability was gained through the increasingly firm identification of positive thinking with the placebo effect. Between 1997 and 2000, there appeared no fewer than five academic books on the placebo effect (one of which I edited)…. The main argument offered by the new literature was that the placebo effect was important above all for what it taught us about self-healing. It was not just a trick; it produced real (physiologically discernible) effects….—Anne Harrington

The placebo effect depends on the art of deception (perhaps even ‘self-deception,’ as suggested in what follows). It’s certainly possible that psychotherapy, in part, relies on this, or at least an analogous process, as Jon Elster argues in Sour Grapes (1983):

“How are we to reconcile the facts—or rather impressions—that (i) there is a great deal of successful therapy, (ii) therapists believe that a good theory is essential for success and (iii) very little of the variance in therapeutic success is explained by the therapist’s choice of one theory rather than another? [I don’t think this necessarily means that ‘anything goes,’ but that’s an argument for another day.] Often the theory tells the therapist to bring about some intermediate state (analogous to the buried treasure [from La Fontaine’s fable of the laborer and his children]) as an indispensable stepping stone to the final goal of mental health (corresponding to wealth in the fable). In psychoanalysis, for instance, it is argued that the intermediate state of insight or ‘Bewusstwerden’ is required for the final goal of ‘Ichwerden’ to be realized. My suggestion is that in therapy the final goal is not realized instrumentally through the intermediate state, but as a by-product of the attempt to bring about that state. Moreover, there may be several, different intermediate states that, if pursued seriously, can lead to this outcome. Crudely put: the therapist must believe in some theory for the therapeutic activity to seem worth while, and it will not be successful unless he thinks it worth while. Therapist and patient are accomplices in a mutually beneficial folie à deux.”

So, should a psychotherapist be persuaded by the above account, can he or she remain a therapist? In other words, would this newly won knowledge undermine her attempt to practice therapy, given that she can no longer believe the “right theory” is indispensable to therapeutic success? (See chapter 8, ‘Psychotherapy—The Purest Placebo?,’ in Evans below for an extended discussion of some of the relevant issues.)

We might compare this to an earlier story told by Elster in which a therapist attempts to bring about sleep for an insomniac. Elster describes a technique in which the patient is given instructions for the following night to “note very carefully, every five minutes, all the symptoms of insomnia, such as dizziness, headaches, a dry throat. This, the therapist says, is essential if he is to be able to come up with suggestions for overcoming the insomnia. The patient, naively and obediently, does as instructed, and promptly falls asleep. Sleep has come, but as a by-product—and in this context is it essentially a by-product, since the effect would have been spoiled had the therapist told the patient about the point of the instructions.”

One thing Elster does not discuss, however, is that this “technique” does not seem repeatable: it’s a one-shot strategy, at least with a clever or even halfway intelligent patient, who will soon discover the “real” purpose of the therapist’s instructions.

References & Further Reading:
  • Benedetti, Fabrizio. Placebo Effects. New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014.  
  • Brown, Walter A. The Placebo Effect in Clinical Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 
  • Elster, Jon. Sour Grapes: studies in the subversion of rationality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983: II. “States that are essentially by-products”: 43-108.   
  • Evans, Dylan. Placebo: Mind over Matter in Modern Medicine. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Gillett, Grant R. Bioethics in the Clinic: Hippocratic Reflections. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
  • Gillett, Grant R. The Mind and Its Discontents. New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2009.
  • Harrington, Ann. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008. 
  • Harrington, Anne, ed. The Placebo Effect: An Interdisciplinary Exploration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Kolber, Adam J. “A Limited Defense of Clinical Placebo Deception,” Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 26, 2007; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-87.
  • Miller, Franklin G., et al., eds. The Placebo: A Reader. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.  
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Meaning, Medicine and the ‘Placebo Effect.’ Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A poem in the spirit of Memorial Day

During the War

When my brother came home from war
he carried his left arm in a black sling
but assured us most of it was still there.
Spring was late, the trees forgot to leaf out.

I stood in a long line waiting for bread.
The woman behind me said it was shameless,
someone as strong as I still home, still intact
while her Michael was burning to death.

Yes, she could feel the fire, could smell
his pain all the way from Tarawa–
or was it Midway?–and he so young,
younger than I, who was only fourteen,

taller, more handsome in his white uniform
turning slowly gray the way unprimed wood
grays slowly in the grate when the flames
sputter and die. “I think I’m going mad,”

she said when I turned to face her. She placed
both hands on my shoulders, kissed each eyelid,
hugged me to her breasts and whispered wetly
in my bad ear words I’d never heard before.

When I got home my brother ate the bread
carefully one slice at a time until
nothing was left but a blank plate. “Did you see her,”
he asked, “the woman in hell, Michael’s wife?”

That afternoon I walked the crowded streets
looking for something I couldn’t name,
something familiar, a face or a voice or less,
but not these shards of ash that fell from heaven.

—Philip Levine (2007)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Joining the Fight Against Inequality

The following provocative policy proposals are found in Anthony B. Atkinson’s book, Inequality: what can be done? (Harvard University Press, 2015): 303-304.

1. The direction of technological change should be an explicit concern of policy-makers, encouraging innovation in a form that increases the employability of workers, emphasizing the human dimension of service provision.
2. Public policy should aim at a proper balance of power among stakeholders, and to this end should (a) introduce an explicitly distributional dimension into competition policy, (b) ensure a legal framework that allows trade unions to represent workers on level terms, and (c) establish, where it does not already exist, a Social and Economic Council involving the social partners and other nongovernmental bodies.
3. The government should adopt an explicit target for preventing and reducing unemployment and underpin this ambition by offering guaranteed public employment at the minimum wage to those who seek it.
4. There should be a national pay policy, consisting of two elements: a statutory minimum wage set at a living wage, and a code of practice for pay above the minimum, agreed as part of a ‘national conversation’ involving the Social and Economic Council.
5. The government should offer via national savings bond a guaranteed positive real rate of interest on savings, with a maximum holding per person.
6. There should be a capital endowment (minimum inheritance) paid to all at adulthood.
7. A public Investment Authority should be created, operating a sovereign wealth fund with the aim of building up the net worth of the state by holding investments in companies and property.
8. We should return to a more progressive rate structure for the personal income tax, up to a top rate of 65 percent, accompanied by a broadening of the tax base.
9. The government should introduce into the personal income tax an Earned Income Discount, limited to the first band of earnings.
10. Receipts of inheritance and gifts inter vivos should be taxed under a progressive lifetime capital receipts tax.
11. There should be a proportional, or progressive, property tax based on up-to-date assessments.
12. Child Benefit should be paid for all children at a substantial rate and should be taxed as income.
13. A participation income should be introduced at a national level, complementing existing social protection, with prospect of an EU-wide child basic income.
14. (alternative to 13.) There should be a renewal of social insurance, raising the level of benefits and extending their coverage.
15. Rich countries should raise their target for Official Development Assistance to 1 per cent of Gross National Income. 
“The proposals are set out in a way that should apply quite widely to different countries, even if some are specifically designed with the UK in mind….”
Alongside the above proposals, Atkinson proffers some specific “ideas to pursue,” such as a minimum tax on corporations and a “thoroughgoing review of the access of households to the credit market for borrowing not secured on housing.” 

Among other things, these titles should help us assess Atkinson’s proposals vis-à-vis an understanding of the comparative differences between, capitalism and socialism):
  • Ackerman, Bruce, Anne Alstott, Philippe van Parijs, et al. Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Cornerstones for an Egalitarian Capitalism. London: Verso, 2006. 
  • Bardhan, Pranab, Samuel Bowles and Michael Wallerstein, eds. Globalization and Egalitarian Distribution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press/New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. 
  • Chang, Ja-joon. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011. 
  • Crocker, David A. Ethics of Global Development: Agency, Capability, and Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 
  • Dasgupta, Partha. An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Drèze, Jean, Amartya Sen and Athar Hussain, eds. The Political Economy of Hunger. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1995. 
  • Elster, Jon and Karl Ove Moene, eds. Alternatives to Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.  
  • Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Oxford, UK: Polity, 1990. 
  • Goodin, Robert E. Reasons for Welfare: The Political Theory of the Welfare State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988. 
  • Goodin, Robert E., et al. The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 
  • Harrington, Michael. Socialism: Past and Future. New York: Arcade/Little, Brown & Co., 1989. 
  • Harvey, David. Limits to Capital. London: Verso, 2006 ed. (first ed., 1982). 
  • Harvey, David. Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism: New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 
  • Luntley, Michael. The Meaning of Socialism. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1990. 
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011. 
  • O’Connor, James. The Fiscal Crisis of the State. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973. 
  • Offe, Claus. Contradictions of the Welfare State. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984. 
  • Offe, Claus. Disorganized Capitalism: Contemporary Transformations of Work and Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985. 
  • Piketty, Thomas (trans. Arthur Goldhammer). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014. 
  • Prashad, Vijay. The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. London: Verso, 2012. 
  • Przeworski, Adam. Capitalism and Social Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985. 
  • Robertson, James. Future Work: Jobs, self-employment and leisure after the industrial age. New York: Universe Books, 1985. 
  • Schweickart, David. Against Capitalism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996. 
  • Schweickart, David. After Capitalism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 
  • Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. 
  • Shaikh, Anwar. Globalization and the Myths of Free Trade: History, Theory and Empirical Evidence. New York: Routledge, 2013. 
  • Therborn, Göran. The Killing Fields of Inequality. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013. 
  • Van Parijs, Philippe, ed. Arguing for Basic Income. London: Verso, 1992. 
  • White, Stuart. The Civic Minimum: On the Rights and Obligations of Economic Citizenship. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 
  • Widerquist, Karl. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 
  • Wolff, Richard D. Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2010. 
  • Wolff, Richard. Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2012. 
  • Wolff, Richard D. and Stephen A. Resnick. Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.
  • Wright, Erik Olin. Envisioning Real Utopias. London: Verso, 2010. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Malcom X: May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965

“…[T]oward the end of his life [Malcolm X] argued that blacks should put aside religious and philosophical differences and recognize they had a common oppressor. Antiblack racism, he argued, negatively affects all blacks, regardless of faith or party affiliation, and thus blacks should unify to resist racial oppression on nonsectarian and non-ideological grounds. Although he continued to believe in the necessity of autonomous black institutions, he did come to relax his opposition to alliance with progressive whites.

Malcolm X’s ideas of internal colonization, black communal self-determination, skepticism toward the black elite and the Democratic Party, and racially autonomous political organizations influenced a generation of black activists and have had a significant impact on the contemporary political culture of African Americans. As Manning Marable remarked, ‘Dead at the age of 39, Malcolm quickly became the fountainhead of the modern renaissance of black nationalism in the late 1960s.’ Indeed, shortly after his assassination in 1965, many of Malcolm X’s ideas were developed and promoted by several black leaders under the slogan ‘Black Power,’ a phrase popularized by Stokely Carmichael.”—Tommie Shelby. 

With analytical acuity, Shelby proceeds to examine the “philosophical content and social-theoretic underpinnings” of Black Power nationalism so as to ascertain its contributions to, and thus its contemporary relevance for, a “pragmatic black solidarity” in which “there must be room…for disagreement over the precise content of political action and policy initiatives.” On this account, neither black self-determination nor black nationalism preclude the extension of “solidarity to other racially stigmatized groups and even to committed nonracist whites.” And the ideal of black self-determination, “at least with respect to blacks in America, requires a sharply delimited trans-institutional and decentralized form of black political solidarity.” Shelby insists that “black political solidarity must be noncorporatist,” meaning “[n]o black party, association, or institution can legitimately claim to speak for black people as a whole. Instead, there should be multiple and independent black organizations and advocacy groups that take up particular issues that affect black interests.” This political solidarity nonetheless has principled grounding insofar as it entails joint commitment to particular values and goals, “understood as the faithful adherence to certain political principles, including antiracism, equal educational and employment opportunity, and tolerance for group differences and individuality, and to emancipatory goals, such as achieving substantial racial equality—especially in employment, education, and wealth—and ending ghetto poverty.” Finally, pragmatic black nationalism “is a form of black solidarity that aims, ultimately, to transcend itself.” Please see Shelby’s We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (2005).

Suggested Reading:
  • Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary. Ney York: Pathfinder Press, 1967.  
  • Breitman, George, ed. Malcolm X Speaks. New York: Grove Press, 1966. 
  • Breitman, George, ed. By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews, and a Letter by Malcolm X. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.  
  • Carson, Clayborne. Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1991. 
  • Clark, Steve, ed. Malcolm X Talks to Young People: Speeches in the United States, Britain, and Africa. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991 ed. (1965). 
  • Cone, James H. Martin & Malcom & America: A Dream or A Nightmare. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991. 
  • DeCaro Jr., Louis A. On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press, 1996.  
  • Dyson, Michael Eric. Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.  
  • Epps, Archie. The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard. New York: William Morrow, 1968. Goldman, Peter. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
  • Johnson, Cedric. Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.  
  • Karim, Imam Benjamin, ed. The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X. New York: Merlin House/Monthly Review Press, 1971.   
  • Malcolm X (with the assistance of Alex Haley) The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
  • Malcolm X. Malcolm X on Afro-American History. New York: Merit Publishers, 1967.  
  • Malcolm X (Bruce Perry, ed.) Malcolm X: The Last Speeches. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1989. 
  • Malcolm X (Clark, Steve, ed.) February 1965: The Final Speeches. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1992. 
  • Marable, Manning. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. New York: Viking, 2011. 
  • Shelby, Tommie. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.  
  • Terrill, Robert E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Malcolm X. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.  
  • Wolfenstein, Eugene Victor. The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution. London: Free Association Books, 1989.  
  • Wood, Joe, ed. Malcolm X: In Our Own Image. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1992. 
Image of painting by Trevor Jenkins 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Sullied Science & Political Economy of Post-Industrial Agriculture (Or: ‘Toward Agroecology & Food Justice’) — A Basic Bibliography

The title of this compilation is a mouthful, but its content can be chewed with leisure and is easily digestible. I hope it also proves both nutritious and a gustatory delight.

The Sullied Science & Political Economy of Post-Industrial Agriculture (Or: ‘Toward Agroecology & Food Justice’) — A Basic Bibliography

Monday, May 11, 2015

Building Blocks of Segregation & Deprivation in Baltimore

Two important and complementary pieces addressing long-standing housing segregation and the dominant model of urban redevelopment projects that emerged from the 1960s and 1970s: First, “The Building Blocks of Deprivation” by Daniel Pasciuti and Isaac Jilbert at Jacobin and, next, Richard Rothstein of the Economics Policy Institute explains why and how “Baltimore, not at all uniquely, has experienced a century of public policy designed, consciously so, to segregate and impoverish its black population,” in his essay, “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation.”

Images (including more inspiring photos) found here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Arguing for Basic Income

I had forgotten Robert Goodin’s elegant argument (Goodin himself describes it as ‘undeniably cheeky’) in favor of basic income schemes, having read it over twenty years ago. It runs as follows: “[S]chemes paying everyone an unconditional basic income are less presumptuous than more conditional programs of support [i.e., the two-tiered system—social insurance and social assistance—that characterizes our social security policies generally]. Not only are they less prying and intrusive, less demeaning and debasing…. [t]hey also make fewer assumptions and presumptions about those whom they are aiding. That in turn makes schemes of basic income support more efficient, in one important sense than more conditional schemes of support. [….] [Most conspicuously, basic income schemes are] less prone to sociological error and less vulnerable to social change than are alternative models of social security provision. [….] Efficiency as such is of no independent moral importance to us. So at root the reason we should cherish the target of efficiency of basic income strategies is simply that that guarantees we will, through them, be able to relieve human suffering as best as we can.”—Robert E. Goodin, “Basic Income,” in Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1995): 228-243, reproducing material from “Toward a Minimally Presumptuous Social Welfare Policy,” in Arguing for Basic Income, ed. Philippe Van Parijs (Verso: 1992): 195-214. 

Further Reading:

  • Ackerman, Bruce, Anne Alstott, Philippe van Parijs, et al. Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Cornerstones for an Egalitarian Capitalism. London: Verso, 2006. 
  • Birnbaum, Simon. Basic Income Reconsidered: Social Justice, Liberalism, and the Demands of Equality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.  
  • Groot, L.F.M. Basic Income, Unemployment and Compensatory Justice. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2010. 
  • Iyer, Raghavan. “An Unfinished Dream,” in Iyer’s Parapolitics: Toward the City of Man. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979: 299-331. As Iyer writes, It is hardly surprising that the utopian proposal of ensuring a guaranteed annual income to every adult should be a recurring topic of controversy since [Edward] Bellamy wrote Looking Backward in 1888. Whether or not this proposal is politically feasible at present, it would be worthwhile to consider some of the drastic implications of the proposal for social theory and contemporary values, and for a daring vision of the future. [....] The unprecedented divorce of basic income from work, and of involuntary work from survival, would have significant repercussions on the level of income distribution, attitudes to work, social differentiation, social stratification, occupational ranking, and even the definition of success and failure.” This essay is indispensable for clear and courageous thinking about the notion of a Guaranteed Basic Income.
  • Robertson, James. Future Work: Jobs, self-employment and leisure after the industrial age. New York: Universe Books, 1985. An early argument for a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) based on the fact that structural (i.e., chronic and then permanent) unemployment in affluent, post-industrial societies, in others words, the likelihood that conventional full employment will never be restored, means there are too many people without a basic subsistence income, their basic needs no longer met by the traditional provision of social security in welfare-state capitalist societies. Robertson argues that the GBI “will lead to a liberation of work, helping to remove the existing divisions between people who are employed and people who are unemployed, between people of working age and people who are retired, and between men and women’s work.
  • Sheahen, Allan. Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 
  • Van Parijs, Philippe, et al. What’s Wrong With a Free Lunch? Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001. 
  • White, Stuart. The Civic Minimum: On the Rights and Obligations of Economic Citizenship. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 
  • White, Stuart, “Social Minimum,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Widerquist, Karl. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 
  • Widerquist, Karl and Michael W. Howard, eds. Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend: Examining its Suitability as a Model (Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 
See too the posts on this topic the past several years at Crooked Timber.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Boxing: sweet science & brutal agon

A select bibliography, “On Boxing — Sweet Science & Brutal Agon,” is posted over at the U.S. Intellectual History blog. A downloadable version is found here.* A post from the archives highlights several dimensions of the sport. 

* The downloadable version is now considerably longer than the first draft at the U.S.IH blog.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Happy May Day! (International Workers' Day)

In many parts of the world today is May Day, the true “Labor Day.” International Workers’ Day, or May Day, despite its origins in the U.S., is not celebrated in this country. But it is still a holiday in many countries around the world.

The auspicious nature of this date goes back to celebratory spring festivals and is still an excuse for Morris dancing: in the words of Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, I won’t be part of your revolution!” Eric Hobsbawm writes that

“From the start the occasion attracted and absorbed ritual and symbolic elements, notably that of a quasi-religious or numinous celebration (‘Maifeier’), a holiday in both sense of the word. […] Red flags, the only universal symbols of the [socialist labor] movement, were present from the start, but so, in several countries, were flowers: the carnation in Austria, the red (paper) rose in Germany, sweet briar and poppy in France, and the may, symbol of renewal, increasingly infiltrated, and from the mid-1990s replaced by the lily-of-the-valley, whose associations were unpolitical. Little is known about this language of flowers which, to judge by the May Day poems in socialist literature also, was spontaneously associated with the occasion. It certainly struck the key-note of May Day, a time of renewal, growth, hope and joy (we recall the girl with the flowering branch of may associated in popular memory with 1891 May Day shootings at Fourmies). Equally, May Day played a major part in the development of the new socialist iconography of the 1890s in which, is spite of the expected emphasis on struggle, the note of hope, confidence and the approach of a brighter future—often expressed in metaphors of plant growth—prevailed.” — Eric Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914,” in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition (1983).

Writing in the midst of the devastation of the 1877 railroad strikes, a St. Louis newspaper noted: ‘The country was in a feverish state of excitement from Boston to San Francisco, from the Lakes to the Gulf.’ That feverish state would recur repeatedly over the next two decades. Between 1877 and 1898 working people undertook a series of fierce battles with their economic and political antagonists. Craft unionists, Knights of Labor, Farmers’ Alliance members, Populists, socialists, and anarchists struggled for a more egalitarian society and a more just economic system. As masses of working people shook their collective fist at the growing visibility of unbridled privilege, industrial capitalists dug in their heels in an organized defense of their wealth and power.

These struggles peaked twice: first in 1886, in an eruption of activism, organizing, and confrontation that came to be known as the Great Upheaval; and second in the 1890s, when Populism and the Homestead and Pullman strikes linked farmers and workers together in a loose coalition of resistance. At root, these epic confrontations of the 1880s and 1890s were working people’s forthright responses to the unprecedented economic and political changes wrought by the new industrial order.” — American Social History Project, Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. Two: From the Gilded Age to the Present (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992): 109-110.

“An ancient holiday marked by celebrations in praise of spring and by symbolic evocations of fertility, this day perhaps inevitably became revolutionary holiday of the nineteenth-century workers’ movement. As in British artist Walter Crane’s famous May Day drawings (much reprinted in the U.S. Socialist press), the vision of socialism seemed to speak at once to the natural yearnings of emancipation from the winter season and from the wintery epoch of class society.

In May 1886 several hundred thousand American workers marched into international labor history when they demonstrated for the eight-hour day. An unusual and informal alliance between the fledgling AFL [American Federation of Labor], local assemblies of the Knights of Labor, and disparate tendencies within the anarchist movement ignited a pent-up demand for shorter working hours. The social and labor ferment that crested in 1885-86 also marked the maturing of the Knights of Labor into the first meaningful national labor organization in the United States. The leadership of the Knights, however, envisioned the eight-hour day as an educational, political, and evolutionary achievement rather than an agitational and revolutionary one. On the other hand, the infant AFL, soon to molt from the impotent Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, tied its star to the militant eight-hour actions. The third grouping in the labor triad comprised that section of the anarchists, mainly European immigrants, who emphasized trade union work as a vehicle to social revolution.

The uneasy and unsettled coalition targeted May 1, 1886, as the day of industrial reckoning. In Boston, Milwaukee, New York City, Pittsburgh, and especially Chicago, tens of thousands of workers rallied and struck for ‘eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, eight hours for what we will.’ The nation’s newspapers warned that the spirit of the Paris Commune was loose in the land and pointed to specific personalities among the anarchists to prove the point. [….]

Whether the May day would have been a one-time workers’ holiday or ‘forever be remembered,’ in the words of Samuel Gompers, ‘as a second Declaration of Independence,’ is a moot point. The events of a few days later projected it into an international framework and seared the conscience of labor activists ever since. A rally by striking lumbermen near the scene of a labor conflict at the McCormick-Harvester works in suburban Chicago led to a clash with scabs at the famous farm-implement company. Chicago police, already seasoned in labor brutality, mortally wounded several demonstrators.

The Chicago anarchists, who only a few days earlier had organized the peaceful eight-hour parade locally, called for a protest demonstration against the killings. The following night, on May 4, a thousand rallied at Haymarket Square in the city. The mayor of Chicago listened warily in the crowd until a thunderstorm sent His Honor and most of the throng home for the evening. Inexplicably, a large contingent of police seemingly waited for the mayor’s departure to forcibly disperse the remaining 200 demonstrators. As the officers rallied into the depleted group, a bomb was thrown into their ranks. Dozens of policemen were injured and eventually seven died, although some may have perished from their comrades’ panicked shooting. That response led to widespread but undocumented wounding of many nameless protesters.

The media’s failed predictions of violent upheaval for the May Day rallies three days earlier was now easily transferred to the ‘Haymarket Affair.’ The forces of law and order understood that the carnage at Haymarket, regardless of who threw the missile, could discredit the labor movement and eradicated its more radical European appendages through a nascent Red Scare. The ensuing show trial in Chicago blessed the miscegenation of May Day and the Haymarket bombing in the popular mind.

The concept of May Day had meanwhile spread rapidly to the international workers’ movement, one of American labor’s (and radicals’) most important innovations. In 1889 the International Socialist Congress in Paris, with full knowledge of the American precedent, designated May 1 as an eight-hour holiday for workers of the world.” [….] — Scott Molloy, in Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, eds. Encyclopedia of the American Left (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990).

Further Reading:
  • Avrich, Paul. The Haymarket Tragedy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.
    • Foner, Philip S. May Day: A Short History of the International Workers’ Holiday 1886-1986. New York: International Publishers, 1986.  
    • Green, James. Death in the Haymarket.... New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. 
    • Hobsbawm, Eric. “The Transformation of Labour Rituals,” in Eric Hobsbawm, Workers: Worlds of Labor. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984: 66-82. 
    • Hobsbawm, Eric and Terence Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984. 
    • Roediger, David and Franklin Rosemont, eds. Haymarket Scrapbook. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr, 1986. 
    Image: The May Day poster from the Soviet Union is in the style of Russian Constructivism.  

    Tuesday, April 21, 2015

    The Non-Aligned Movement and the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Collective Withdrawal?


    At the Arms Control Law blog, Dan Joyner proposes “a walkout from the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] en masse by the members of the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement]”:

    [….] “The original idea of the NPT from the superpowers’ perspective, was to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons from spreading outside the five that had already tested at the time. This clearly didn’t work out well. At least five other states have manufactured nuclear weapons since 1968 (I’m counting South Africa), and four of these still have them. And I think one would be hard pressed to show that the NPT itself has actually proven to be a meaningful independent variable in stopping any country from developing nuclear weapons when they wanted to do so. This is going to be a difficult experiment without a control case, of course. But I think the ‘proliferation success stories’ that are usually pointed to, including South Africa and Brazil, would probably have happened in much the same way they did without the NPT in place, but rather simply with an international norm having been expressed in General Assembly resolutions and elsewhere against nuclear weapons proliferation. These success stories, as well as the failure stories (e.g. North Korea), have occurred mostly due to factors outside of any direct influence of the NPT itself. They have occurred because of the particular political, historical, and economic circumstances of the state(s) involved, combined with a general international norm against nuclear proliferation, which as I said earlier could have been accomplished without the conclusion of the NPT. [….]

    I would say the current climate of international trade in nuclear materials and technologies doesn’t betray any sort of real meaningful effect of the Article IV right and obligation on supplier states. Nuclear supplier states trade with whomever they want to trade.  And if they don’t want to trade with a state, or allow their private parties to trade with that state, they simply won’t, with very little regard for the Article IV(2) obligation that they are presumably under. Trade in nuclear materials and technologies is, again, all about politics and economics. And again, I think that in the absence of the NPT, the landscape of international trade in nuclear technologies would look very much the same as it does now.

    And what about Article VI? Well I think it’s pretty clear that no nuclear weapons possessing state has ever been significantly influenced by the obligation in Article VI to move towards disarmament in good faith [rather, they’re engaged in modernizing their nuclear arsenals]. After more than 45 years the nuclear weapons states do just exactly what they want to do with regard to nuclear disarmament [that is, engaging in what has been termed ‘symbolic reductions’] and no more. All of the changes that have been made would, I think, have been made in the absence of the NPT. The Cold War ramp up, the efforts of arms control during and after it, cuts over the past 25 years – none of these would have been any different had the NPT not been in place I suspect.

    So if the NPT has failed in the ways I have described, why does every diplomat, from Russia to Nigeria, still pay lip service to the NPT as the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime, and speak of it in hallowed terms? For the nuclear weapons states I think it’s clear why. They still benefit from having a treaty that allows them and no one else to have nuclear weapons, and that doesn’t seriously constrain them in any way. A treaty they can use as a normative cudgel against their enemies, but which carries very few costs for them and their friends.

    But what about for developing non-nuclear weapon states? What do they get out of NPT membership? Again, the concessions they wanted out of the NPT have not been granted to them in the systematic and meaningful way they were promised in the NPT. They get nuclear supplies if and when they are on good enough political terms with supplier states. If not, they don’t. And 45+ years of waiting for the nuclear weapon states to disarm has yielded not one disarmed state among the NWS – and in fact it has produced a net addition of four more nuclear armed states outside of the treaty.

    And yet in return for these promised but undelivered benefits, NNWS continue to submit to IAEA safeguards on their nuclear facilities, and to hypocritical critiques by nuclear weapon states of their failure to live up to their NPT and IAEA commitments. So I ask again, what are they getting out of NPT membership?” [….]

    My bibliography, Nuclear Weapons: Development, Detonation, Deterrence, and Disarmament, is here

    [In photo, from left to right: Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Kwama Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein of Egypt, Sukharno of Indonesia, and Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia.]

    Coin, Currency, Capitalism, and Contract

    The Jurisdynamics Network is pleased to have received two new books from Oxford University Press. As it happens, both authors teach law at Harvard.

    Christine Desan, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism traces the history of coin and currency from its origins to its place in the contemporary world's economic architecture. From Oxford's cover notes:

    Making MoneyMoney travels the modern world in disguise. It looks like a convention of human exchange — a commodity like gold or a medium like language. But its history reveals that money is a very different matter. It is an institution engineered by political communities to mark and mobilize resources. As societies change the way they create money, they change the market itself — along with the rules that structure it, the politics and ideas that shape it, and the benefits that flow from it.

    One particularly dramatic transformation in money's design brought capitalism to England. For centuries, the English government monopolized money's creation. The Crown sold people coin for a fee in exchange for silver and gold. "Commodity money" was a fragile and difficult medium; the first half of the book considers the kinds of exchange and credit it invited, as well as the politics it engendered. Capitalism arrived when the English reinvented money at the end of the 17th century. When it established the Bank of England, the government shared its monopoly over money creation for the first time with private investors, institutionalizing their self-interest as the pump that would produce the money supply. The second half of the book considers the monetary revolution that brought unprecedented possibilities and problems. The invention of circulating public debt, the breakdown of commodity money, the rise of commercial bank currency, and the coalescence of ideological commitments that came to be identified with the Gold Standard - all contributed to the abundant and unstable medium that is modern money. All flowed as well from a collision between the individual incentives and public claims at the heart of the system. The drama had constitutional dimension: money, as its history reveals, is a mode of governance in a material world. That character undermines claims in economics about money's neutrality. The monetary design innovated in England would later spread, producing the global architecture of modern money.

    Meanwhile, Oxford has also issued a new edition of a classic first published in 1982, Charles Fried, Contract as Promise: A Theory of Contractual Obligation (2d ed. 2015). Once again, an adaptation of Oxford's cover notes follows:

    Fried, Contract as PromiseContract as Promise is a study of the philosophical foundations of contract law in which Professor Fried effectively answers some of the most common assumptions about contract law and strongly proposes a moral basis for it while defending the classical theory of contract. This book provides two purposes regarding the complex legal institution of the contract. The first is the theoretical purpose to demonstrate how contract law can be traced to and is determined by a small number of basic moral principles. At the theory level the author shows that contract law does have an underlying, and unifying structure. The second is a pedagogic purpose to provide for students the underlying structure of contract law. At this level of doctrinal exposition the author shows that structure can be referred to moral principles. Together the two purposes support each other in an effective and comprehensive study of contract law.

    The second edition retains the original text. In addition to a new preface, the second edition includes a substantial new essay entitled Contract as Promise in the Light of Subsequent Scholarship — Especially Law and Economics, which serves as a retrospective of the last three decades and a response to present and future work in the field.

    The Jurisdynamics Network appreciates Oxford's generosity and is pleased to inform readers of Ratio Juris of these new titles.

    Thursday, April 09, 2015

    Making Sense of Human Dignity

     Charles White, “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep,” 1956

    “The roots of the cosmopolitanism I am defending are liberal: and they are responsive to liberalism’s insistence on human dignity. It has never been easy to say what this entails, and indeed, it seems to me that exploring what it might mean is liberalism’s historic project.”—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity (Princeton University Press, 2005): 267. 

    Whether or not the notion that the international legal human rights system is grounded in and serves to affirm the inherent dignity of humans is a central feature of the system, it is surely at least a desideratum for a justification of the system that it can make sense of this notion given its prominence. [….] [T]he relevant notion of dignity can be understood to include two aspects. First, there is the idea that certain conditions of living are beneath the dignity of the sort of being that humans are. [….] Let us call this first aspect of dignity the well-being threshold aspect.

    The second aspect of dignity is the interpersonal comparative aspect, the idea that treating people with dignity also requires a public affirmation of the basic equal status of all and, again, that if they are not treated in this way they suffer an injury or wrong. [….] The well-being threshold aspect of dignity concerns whether one is doing well enough for a being of the sort one is; it makes no reference to how one is treated vis-à-vis others. The interpersonal comparative aspect has to do with whether one is being treated as an inferior relative to other people. The point is that one’s dignity can be respected in the well-being threshold aspect and yet may be compromised in the interpersonal comparative aspect.”—Allen Buchanan, The Heart of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 2013): 99-100.

    Recommended Reading: 
    • Capps, Patrick. Human Dignity and the Foundations of International Law. Portland, OR: Hart Publishing, 2010.  
    • Daly, Erin. Dignity Rights: Courts, Constitutions, and the Worth of the Human Person. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 
    • Düwell, Marcus, et al., eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Human Dignity: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 
    • Kateb, George. Human Dignity. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. 
    • Luban, David J. “Human Rights Pragmatism and Human Dignity,” (December 28, 2013), forthcoming in Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights (Massimo Renzo, Rowan Cruft, and Matthew Liao, eds., OUP). At SSRN: 
    • McCrudden, Christopher, ed. Understanding Human Dignity. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014.
    • Rosen, Michael. Dignity: Its History and Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.  
    • Waldron, Jeremy (et al.) Dignity, Rank and Rights (Berkeley Tanner Lectures, 2009). New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.