Thursday, February 19, 2015

Red Envelopes: Money gifts for Lunar New Year!

As the season of Lunar New Year begins, here are a couple of links to descriptions of the practice of giving cash as gifts wrapped in red envelopes to singles and children. The first is a feature on NPR from last year and talks about the practice of giving red envelopes among Asia migrants.

Show Me the Money In You Lunar New Year Envelope - NPR

The second is a study by students at the University of California, Irvine (located in an area of the country with a large concentration of Asian American communities) on the details of the practice of giving red envelopes. Peisha and Wenjie, feel free to add your comments to these two accounts.

Red Envelopes-Anthropology Department, UCI

How different countries invest their taxes...

An interesting BBC infographic on how different countries use their taxes. Unsurprisingly, the US leads with investment in defense.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is it really different?

This week reading, chapter six of David Graeber’s Debt, was very interesting to me. As many of my classmates have said there are several notions and concepts that he introduces that are worth long and fruitful discussion. Having said that I think that is very important to focus in the general objective of the book, or at least one of it´s main objectives. That is: a history of money as we now it and especially how it relates to debt and credit in one hand and how the myths that answer these questions in modernity, deeply affect our moral and ethical constructions around debt, credit and money. 

Keeping in mind that Graeber is trying to give an innovative and not mainstream answer and not just a new description of "primitive" societies was useful for me to understand the points that he is trying to make.

That is why the most interesting notion that he brings in this chapter is the idea that all of these human economies that were structured around the venerability of human life (at least in the way that a human life is not exchangeable for anything) begin to crumble down when markets began to permeate the social structure of the societies Graeber describes. The author also says that as sacred as it human life was for these cultures, and maybe because of it, specially for the moral or ethical obligation that blood and bride debt brought to them they were perfect victims for the slave trade system that outsiders from market based economies brought.

I would like to finish with a question: Is it really different now? Is the mystification and naturalization of debt as a moral obligation the same?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Political Currency

Reading Truitt and the discussion targeting Vietnamese currency from the very beginning, encouraged the willingness to look at and correlate it with the United States currency as well. Printed in the 1940's and early 1950's, Venerable Ho's money seemed to hold political market value within the currency itself (much like the United States currency). Ho Chi Minh is the portrait on the printed currency previously in Vietnam and much to the thought process, the United States also prints portraits of previous presidents on our paper currency as well. Leaning towards a more political history within the currency itself and the discussion between markets and state could also come into question when the state is printed onto the currency which circulates the market itself.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dreaming of money

This chapter of Dreaming of money mainly talks about how politics can affect the value of money why is this happening. Vietnam did not have a stable currency through out the historical period. The currency is strongly supported for national independence. To illustrate, "The Japanese army transferred the gold reserve of the Bank of Indochina to Japan and then confiscated printing presses if Hanoi in order to print money to meet its fiscal obligations" (25), this is what happened During World War II, Japanese army's occupation of vietnam. When Vietnam was under occupation, the currency was controlled by Japan.
This make me think about Chinese currency and American currency. We live in the time that money has a relatively stable currency but one the currency moves only a little, it means a tons for people like me, who earns money in China but pays tuition in America. The currency is very much related to how to live in certain country since the offered price is different, people's standard wage is different. And what I feel is that under the big picture of Global economic system, the currency will not be changed that easily as indicated in the article but if the currency only changed a little, it can affect on people's life style many times than before.

dreaming of money

In this book, Truitt talks about the money have the huge value of economic, and Vietnam’s people influenced by the economics, politics, culture, and the policy in government. The author mentions that in Song dynasty, Chinese use coins as the exchange bill. Actually, before Song dynasty, in Shang dynasty, China already has the coins made by cooper. Before Shang dynasty, we use shell as bill exchange; we call it “Bei bi”. (it's sounds like 'baby') In the modern society, the coins are mostly made from silver.

In Vietnam, they said they follow Uncle Ho’s lead, and put the face of him on the money. In China, we put chairman Mao’s face on the money 1, 10, 20, 50, and 100 yuan. But in the back, we got different beautiful views in China.We put the great leader's face on the money to encourage people to move forward. After read these chapter about Vietnam's economic, it's really make me think about China's economic system and recently the exchange rate have increase in China,it means China's economic is not doing very well recently.  

Myth of the woman as property

Chapter six of David Graeber’s Debt describes ways in which human economies – those based on the exchange and movement of human beings rather than wealth – function. In particular, he recounts a study by the anthropologist Phillipe Rospabé of “bridewealth” across several continents. Rospabé concluded that the exchange of goods or currency at the time of marriage is not a means of purchasing a wife like one would in the market economy; rather, it was a symbolic gesture indicating that a human life – the future wife – is so valuable that it cannot be compensated for by anything but another human. This then ties back to the Tiv economy, which we have studied in recent weeks through the work of Bohannan and Guyer and also Rospabé. Rospabé challenges Bohannan’s spheres of exchange, in which women and children occupied the highest sphere, by noting that it is impossible within the Tiv economy to convert cattle or brass rods into a value great enough for a wife.

Graeber explains bridewealth and bloodwealth as similar in this, as both recognize the impossibility of compensating for a human life. However, there exists at least a myth of the woman as property in at least Western culture. Does this myth have any grounding in reality, and, if so, where did it originate? If not, why would such a myth exist? In those societies that do/did treat women as property, what value did she hold in society?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Social Meanings and Uses of Money

In Graeber's chapter, Games with Sex and Money, he makes a distinction between Human Economies and Commercial Economies in a bid to distinguish between different kinds of debts. Money “can be seen, in human economies, as first and foremost the acknowledgment of the existence of a debt that cannot be paid” (136). What I liked about the chapter was Graeber's efforts at showing how societies transition form one kind of economic system to the other (i.e from human economies to commercial economies) and how this transition, or replacement, of the human economy system also affects the social structure and social relations. Graeber's assertion that violence plays a major role in the shift to a more commercial economy is something that particularly interested me. Why is it that commercial economies thrive even with all the evidenced problems brought about by violence? And with commercial economies thriving, can it be argued that people being removed violently (and sometimes voluntarily and willing) from their context to further the commercial economies is perhaps the new context? 

Dreaming of Money

In Dreaming of Money in Ho Chi Min City, Truitt elaborates on the many ways in which the economy is affected by politics, and how strongly the changes in government policy in Vietnam have affected the lives of everyday people. One of the overall themes of these chapters seems to be how much national ideologies and political strategies have an impact on people’s economic decisions. Another theme is the level of privacy that people have based on their economic status and value, which are ultimately defined by the government. Truitt also discusses the many ways in which money is perceived by people based on its appearance and its source.
My overall impression was that it is important to understand how money, and what a society defines as currency, cannot be completely standardized. This is because many societies tend to use multiple forms of currency, and the presumed values of these different currencies are constantly changing. As someone who has grown up in the U.S., a country with a relatively stable currency, it is interesting to learn how countries that are going through periods of political and economic instability, are finding ways to cope with drastic fluctuations in prices and inflation. If for some reason the U.S. government had to create a new currency system, how would its citizens, as well as the global economy, react to such a drastic change?

Allison J. Truitt. Dreaming of Money in Ho Chi Minh City. Edition: 2013. Publisher: University of Washington Press.

Games With Sex And Death

While overall I found this chapter of Graeber's particularly interesting, I did find some cases where his definition of "social currencies" can be debated. On page 130 Graeber says that social currencies "are economies systems primarily concerned not with the accumulation of wealth, but with the creation, destruction, and rearranging of human beings". I automatically thought of the Kula Trade after while reading this. There are the social currents in the Kula trade being the bracelets and necklaces, however there is an accumulation of wealth when certain items in the sphere of exchange are held onto for an extended period. There are various possibilities for why this is done, but I didn't feel the primary reason was to create, destroy, or rearrange human beings.

A point Graeber made in this chapter that I appreciate, in terms of challenging the Western perspective on the topic, were how the Tiv view bridewealth. The idea that the Tiv see brideprice as the acknowledgment of a debt that cannot be paid rather than quantifying the worth of a woman, makes this cultural practice feel less foreign to Western marriage practices. The Tiv do not see X dollars = to a wife, which is sometimes how bridewealth is explained when oversimplified. In mainstream American culture, the type of wedding ring that a man gets his wife is suppose to say a lot about his financial status. The same way that bridewealth is used to measure if a man has enough money to take care of someone’s daughter who he wants to marry, a wedding ring is seen as one way to display the financial status of a women's husband. In that particular sense they are similar, because both are used as a man’s way to show he is (financially) well off enough to have a wife.

Games with Sex and Death

In Graeber’s chapter Games with Sex and Death he discusses “human economies” or economies that are deal primarily in the “creation, destruction, and rearrangement of human beings” (Graeber, 130).  In these sorts of economies money, though given at times for a life, is known as an inadequate substitute for a human being.  When a life is taken, a life is owed and this can be collected in a variety of ways.   One example Graeber looks at in depth is that of the Lele, who deal in ‘blood debts’.  In this system they practice pawning, and seek to own as many pawns as possible so that if he (and it is only males who can own pawns) was to incur a blood debt he could pay it off with a pawn and not one of his own family members. Pawns, however, are distinct from slaves in that they still have a context in their community and masters often end up paying for some of their societal debts

I found these economies to be very interesting and the example of the Lele both in depth and intriguing.  I’m not sure I quite understand what the role of pawnship is and how many people actually own pawns and are not pawns themselves.  It seems like becoming a pawn or being born in to being a pawn is more common that having no obligations to anyone.  I also wonder if there is a way to buy oneself out completely?  Though Graeber answers some of this when he tells how young males are often okay with being pawns because it means their masters may pay their own blood-debts.  It seems like being a pawn is not a horrible thing, but it doesn’t sound great, so I guess I’m just confused as to what exactly a pawn does day-to-day? Also I wonder how this operates into their justice system—would they then be super connected if the punishment for murder was a pawning of a family member, and is that the only punishment?

Fear or Blood

Graeber defines Human Economy as reorganizing relations between people, while Rospabe Theory acknowledges these arrangements for reciprocating unpayable life-debt through material means. This is fascinating to consider from roots such as slave trade ports funded from European sugar-tobacco, but rely on locally situated cultures to delegate internal meaning of unpayable debt.

If mutual recognition of these spontaneous forms of debt paid through one set of identities recognized within African communities and yet another in European centers, how does this transition of meaning become materialized into goals like slave labor?

Creation of rules from Aro Confederacy ritual laws or Tiv Society of Witches fictional fines based from inequalities of “strong heart” are seemingly accepted forms of violence that rely on fear and sense of unknowable group obligation. How do you protest against norms that presently threaten life, but are codified by greater organizational structures accepted by neighbors and not fully understood?

When internal local African human economies seem founded on codes that relegate life imbibing means for external European resource ends, where does one exchange end and another fully paid? Underlying physical or mental qualities that merit quantifiable acceptance by both cultures seems reasonable area to focus on like reproduction and self-protection. However, I think both groups leave unknowable sustainability limits of these quantifiable qualities to their overall society consensus, which by my guesstimate are unlikely to distinguish universal meanings of that caliber without some disagreement.

Games With Sex and Death

Most of us sell ourselves as commodities every day, yet it's not quite equivalent to how Grabber describes it historically. Through most of human history, the only way a person could be turned into a commodity was through massive debt and overt violence, but now we commodify ourselves routinely.

Graeber highlights how the first people to be commodified and enslaved are women. Does this history play into the objectification and trafficking of women today? Can a human being be purchased to satisfy one's own needs?

I love how Graber ends the chapter. "If we have become a debt society, it is because the legacy of war, conquest, and slavery has never completely gone away. It's still there, logged in our most intimate conceptions of honor, property, even freedom. It's just that we can no longer see that is it there." 

I disagree with the last sentence, but I say Amen to the statement as a whole.