Monday, February 23, 2015

displaying dollars and hidden wealth

I found it is interesting that people would display the green bills, which is dollars, to express their social power. This happened in reform-era Ho Chi Minh City. It reminds me of China in 1980s, Chinese people would exchange some dollars into their saving account. It is said that saving some dollars is the safest way to avoid currency devaluation. But, several years later, Chinese people started to buy gold and keep it at home instead of dollars. I think it is similar as Vietnam. dollars is the currency in America but the representative of the safety of personal property in Vietnam or China. Also, it is interesting that the gold shops would open until later after the other shops are closed without making itself very outstanding. Hiding their personal wealth is totally different from displaying the dollars.

unequal development

According to Hann and Hart’s book, they discuss about “Unequal Development” in chapter six. They mention the rich countries are referred to ‘sustainable development’. It’s true that sustainable development use environmental materials to develop economic. But every country needs to experience the industrialization. That period of time is not possible to process sustainable development because they need to use industrial factories to develop their product.
The main problems is the polarization become obviously, the rich countries have less people but enjoy the mass of resources, the poor countries have population problems but still need to worry about the food and safety. There is still have long time that every countries can enjoy the modern economic, every countries become equal.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On the Informal Economy

From Hann and Hart's chapter 'Unequal Development', of particular interest to me is the section on The Informal Economy. With the informal economy said to be at about "70-90 percent of the African national economies", and differentiating between the legal and illegal forms of capitalism (Hann and Hart 116), I agree with the author that harnessing from, or integrating the informal economy has the potential to raise the living standards of people. Given that the so-called black market has continued to grow alongside globalization and economic liberalization, I think it can it be assumed that it is not a phase of development through which 'third-world' go through in a bid to reach development. Because of the economic opportunities that the informal sector offers, and given the structural failures(especially corruption at the governmental level of some countries in the developing world), to remedy the negative effects of informal economic activityI  believe that it goes beyond just policy changes in a country. Oft-times, as has been evidenced by past experiences with the international organizations such as the World Bank, third world countries have little say, in negotiating the terms of agreements. In a world where terms of trade are controlled by superpower countries, the markets continually favor the interests of the 'first-world'. I think that the plight of the 'third-world' is deep-rooted in our current economic system and in nations modeling, and aspiring towards Western economic systems.

Arbitrary Use of Money & The Political Realm

"It is the ruler's stamp, not the intrinsic value of the monetary medium that confers value"

The above quote caused me to reflect on how arbitrary the circulation of currency is. Value accumulates within a specific social context and the acceptability of its use (utility). The colonial era in Vietnam exemplified this concept with how other countries would come in with the goal of re-ordering hierarchy; as seen in the Japanese with seizing the gold mines of Indochina and issuing out paper piastres to increase inflation therefore reinforcing Japan's own monetary national value and with the French ban of silver trade in the Indochina region so that the piastre had to be tailored to a gold standard. The use of political control to ensure the devaluing of a nation's economic independence is evident.

I am compelled to question how such arbitrary and unstable meanings of value can hold legitimacy for any matter of time. The use of force comes into play as the French could confiscate and ban other forms of money, making theirs the only acceptable form. The people in this case can hardly rebel as they find employment through French-controlled operations where they are by law issued less money than European counterparts. It is no wonder the Global South struggles to survive above the poverty line as the historical happenstances of their independence is tainted by power struggles to keep indigenous peoples in a perpetual state of inferiority.

This is why Ho Chi Minh's monetary revolutionary policies were effective for a time because the value of money is recognized when a person / regime of power is issuing it / enforcing its legitimacy. By providing a strong nationalist, independence-driven movement, the people found that they had a choice to use Vietnamese issued currency to trade for Vietnamese products, as Vietnamese people will accept what is Vietnamese. It was exactly the type of warfare needed in the country to counteract widespread issues of power and legitimacy. They served as a challenge to the mechanisms of colonialism to bring power back to the people.

Sustainable development and the Montreal Protocol

At the end of the "Unequal Development" chapter of Economic Anthropology, Hann and Hart critique the modern day development framework of "sustainable development" as a thinly-veiled extension of the colonial mentality that protects rich countries. They then back this with an example of how rich countries are working to limit the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by developing countries because "the poor cannot become like the rich since there is not enough of everything to go around" (p119).

I'd like to counter their critique and say that sustainable development as a framework is not necessarily bad but rather becomes detrimental when the burden for sustainability is placed on developing countries instead of the ones who can afford more costly changes. For example, Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (adopted by UN member countries in 1987) includes provisions to help developing countries fund the necessary changes to their economies and proposed an altered timeline for compliance. That way, developing countries could focus on strengthening their economies and then comply with the environmental guidelines at a later date. Rich countries, on the other hand, were pressured to comply earlier.

And it worked: the Montreal Protocol is touted as one of the great environment success stories. Sustainable development does not (or maybe should not?) necessarily entail that the sustainability component happens simultaneously with the development. Environmental damage has been wrought by those countries that for the most part are in power today, and developing countries should be given the same chance that they were.

Physical Money in Vietnam

Allison Truitt discusses in Dreaming of Money in Ho Chi Minh City the transformative appearance and symbolism attached to national currency in Vietnam.  She points out the strong themes of nationalism and sovereignty present after 1945 with images related to militarization and power in defense.  These correlated with the recent revolution in Vietnam.  In the late fifties, newly circulating coins and notes depicted advances in industry.  It seems that, in order to maintain the currency’s legitimacy, its material form must be cutting edge and up-to-date.  Progress and an idealistic image of Vietnam had to be represented by the currency. I found it interesting that the National Bank would burn old notes that were “unfit for circulation” and replace them with new ones.  Such high importance was placed on the physical appearance of the money because of its representation of sovereignty.  Ngo Dinh Diem stated that the currency was “the real independence of the country.”

Hann and Hart Unequal Development

This chapter of Economic Anthropology discusses the issue of unequal development, and the difficulty developing nations possess of climbing out of their position.In the beginning of the chapter, the term development is described as richer countries helping poorer countries get richer. This is a nice sentiment, however, Hann and Hart quickly dismantle this notion by first explaining the history of colonialism in areas such as Africa, as well as the rise of capitalism. A more serious reality about the current situation can be found in the conclusion were they mention how the poor are unable to become the rich as there is simply not enough to go around. This idea would more likely support the notion that current efforts by developed nations to facilitate growth in developing nations is largely ineffective and rather the emphasis is more to maintain the status quo of inequality.

The case example of Africa illustrates how colonialism first worked to weaken and disenfranchise nearly an entire continent, but then globalized capitalism worked to keep those countries in their place. One of the mechanisms mentioned was an insistence on paying back debts to developed countries which prevents developing from accruing any of their own wealth to grow and build on.

For discussion, I would like to ask if it seems the efforts being made by developed countries seem to be genuine? What reasons may there then be for the problems with growth in those areas?Could it be possible for poorer countries to join the richer countries level of economic stability, or like Hann and Hart suggest, is there just not enough to go around?


In The making of Vietnamese Currency, they kind of had me thinking about how currency is a base of political power.  I did not realize it before but now that i think about it all currencies basically are the same in that aspect.  In the american dollar we have photos of all the presidents that we had, and all the power that came with it.  Different parts of the world like the Bahamian coins, do no show their leaders on all of there monetary currencies.  They have pinapples and fish on their coins to show what the nation specializes in.  Yes, their paper money has rulers or presidents on it.  But it just comes to show us that the U.S. is basically set in its political ways.  This book is probably the most interesting to me because i collect coins and other sorts of monetary currencies.

Vietnamese Currency and Michelle Obama's Dresses

In the chapter about the making of Vietnamese money, the authors wrote about how certain currencies were seen as representations certain regimes. A government's ability to coin money gives it legitimacy and the specific silver coins the article talked about were a tangible symbol of the revolution in Vietnam. This idea reminded me of the discussion we had in class about Michelle Obama's dresses.
The fact that the Vietnamese currency had more than just monetary meaning meant that it was part of a moral economy. In the same way that two dollar bills are technically worth one dollar, but also have a collector's value, those coins have some value outside of their stated value. First ladies' dresses can serve as a sort of currency, even if it is just the moral currency and the prestige the first lady and, by extension, the presidency demands--because it's almost certain that those dresses will never be exchanged in a market economy setting. I think that that comparison tells a lot about how governments use moral economy as well as market economy to maintain their legitimacy and sovereignty.
In relation to the United States' economic standing on the world stage, tangible representations of our government, like the first lady' dresses or the White House itself, give us the political and economic capital to impose our ideas about how development is achieved on other countries in the form of structural adjustments (Hann and Hart 103)


In chapter 6 “Unequal Development” in Economic Anthropology, Hann and Hart critique the concept of development in the modern world, and the role of anthropologists in the goal of understanding different economies and protecting the rights of people in developing nations. The chapter outlines the various ways in which development can be defined, as well as how the term is used by wealthier nations to justify their domination of the developing world and to mask the history of exploitation. This is especially relevant in countries that were once colonized by European nations, many of which are home to the poorest citizens of the world.

The concept of inequality is prevalent in the ideology of development, in that it is inherently necessary for some countries to be significantly poorer than others, in order for the wealthiest nations to justify their role as providers and role models. In this chapter, they discuss how “Victorian evolutionism” (Hann and Hart, p. 101), the idea that the nations which conquered the rest of the world were inherently superior and more deserving of success, continues to justify the imposition of Western economic practices around the world. This makes sense, because it seems rather condescending to assume that certain nations are incapable of economic prosperity without the help of those wealthier nations. Obviously, the wealthy nations who claim to be helping are the same ones who caused such catastrophic inequalities in the first place.

Judging by what we have learned from this chapter, and the various examples of how attempts at aiding development in less prosperous countries have failed, is it even possible to reduce the vast economic inequality that exists today? In Chapter 6, Hann and Hart explain the dangers of an increasingly globalized economy: “Becoming closer and more unequal at the same time is an explosive combination” (Hann and Hart, p. 104). Despite this danger, it seems that increased inclusion and commerce amongst all nations is the only way to create economic prosperity throughout the world. Increased commerce will only be effective though, if it is coupled with the assurance of social equality and protection of human rights.


Chris Han and Keith Hart. Economic Anthropology. Publisher: Polity Press. 2011.

Ruling Economic Value

U.S dollars as means of circulation and self-value is tried by Truitt as representing sense of Vietnamese national identity by integration in global monetary market system. I found understanding this interpretation of dollar value as analogous with Vietnam’s personal synergistic design. Commercial transactions used already placed local forms of exchange to emphasize differences from artifact like state-allocated system statements and ‘real/true’ value. Keeping dollars for Ho Chi Minh notes with printing from mulberry tree blocks or remembrance of national unification by previous exchange rates is one example where money seems to shape Vietnamese identity by collusion with larger political and contextualizing local community.

In reference with Truitt’s notion of pricing as elegantly described of balancing point of supply-demand which cleave into Vietnamese societal norms, I wonder how this application of pricing can attempt to explain forms of exchange as defining macroeconomic value.

Does international trading policies contain separate methods of validating currencies by IMF or WB as reference points for legitimizing their own culture of exchange value by defining guidelines for trade? When do international criterion for exchange across global networks become statements of artifact or ‘real’ value? Bretton Woods and BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) convention come to mind as transitions of global culture by disputes in new standards of pricing. Is there forms of normalizing standards of rules which comply with efficient trade agreements, but still remain culturally sensitive to biases in currency exchange? Are there international standards that are sensitive to deteriorating forms of cultural exchange which rid them from biased systems for 'real/true' value?

Hann and Hart: Unequal Development

This chapter of Hann and Hart looks at the term ‘development’, explores formal/informal economies within a state, and gives a general history of the 20th Century’s global economic moves to develop countries (particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America).  The authors argue that while ‘development’ has several meanings across different disciplines, lately, the definition has been “the commitment of the rich countries to help poor countries become richer” (Hann and Hart, 102).  A large section of the chapter focuses on the anthropology of development in Africa with its primary focus on West Africa.  Right now I’m in a History of Africa from 1850 class and we’re learning about the economic colonial practices of Europeans between 1850-1950(ish) and I couldn’t help but continue to draw parallels as a common reason European Imperial powers gave for colonizing Africa was to civilize, educate, improve their lives/economies, etc.  These incredibly harmful actions by “developed” countries onto “undeveloped” countries is something that seems to be a presumptuous and ever-present narrative in history.

 I agreed with most of the chapter but I have questions on the attitudes circulating about “development” now.  The chapter mostly went up to the 1990s with once sort of anecdotal piece about carbon emissions in 2009.  I’d like to know the trends now and the actions of the IMF and the World Bank towards those countries.

(also I'm sorry if this has a really weird format-- blogger is doing something weird and I don't know how to make it change)

Permanent Economic Wealth Gap?

It is clear that throughout history, there has been some sort of economic gap between the wealthy and the poor. While so called advances have been made to close this gap, it seems as if it's only getting larger. In Derrick Bell's, "Faces at the Bottom of the Well," he suggests that racism is permanent. Similarly, is the economic gap in which Hann and Hart describe permanent?