Saturday, November 12, 2016

Week 13: Migration, Remmittances, and Relations

This week's readings focus on the economics of migration--both looking at money that migrants send to one another (remittances) and the money that makes money off of migration. Thinking about the stories in the readings, how does money mediate migration? How do remittances mediate/transform/shape relations? How does love, relationships, kinship intertwine with money in these stories?

Shagbark Seed and Mill Field trip

Thanks again to those of you who joined us at the Shagbark Seed and Mill today! Feel free to post your reflections on the trip, especially regarding the various economic practices that our tour guides talked about today.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Week 12: New Money Forms (Mobile Money and Social Relations)

The focus of both sets of readings this week is mobile money as it is used in various parts of the world (Kenya, Afghanistan, India etc). Here I two questions that I'd like us to focus on in class discussions and in the blog posts: (a) How is mobile money similar and/or different to other forms of payment (cash, electronic banking, credit cards)? (b) How is mobile money used and intertwined with social networks and relations?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Week 10: Ghosts in the Shell Game talk

Share your reflections/ thoughts on Max Woodworth's lecture on informal finance and real estate speculation in China.

Week 11: Diverse economies

What kinds of economic activities are categorized under "diverse economies" and/or "collaborative consumption"? Do do these economic activities entail different arrangement of social relations?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Week 9: Poverty Capital

In preparation for the panel discussion, what are some of the challenges that microfinance initiatives present in the arena of international development? How is microfinance supposed to help and where does it fall short of its promisses?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Week 8 Prompt: The Queue, State Socialism and Economies of Redistribution

Now that you've all played the board game "Queue," what are some of the specific institutional advantages, constraints, or simply other forms of economic life that this economic system of redistributions generates? What is valuable in this system? How are social relations entangled/embedded in this system of exchange?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Week 7: Credit, Debt, and Humanity

In "Debt", David Graeber challenges traditional histories of money (the evolution from barter to money to credit). What are some of the contradictions in our thinking about debt/credit that Graeber makes visible in chapters 1 and 11? What is the morality around credit/debt (chapter 1)? What are the alternative histories of credit  arrangements at the time of the rise of capitalism as a dominant economic structure (chapter 11)?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Week 6: Money, Intimacy, and Personal Relations

In Maurer's chapters or Zelizer's article, how are personal relations (whether it is kinship relations, romantic relations, social relations) imbricated with money? How does money structure such relations?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Week 5: Inalienable Possessions and the Density of Objects

What does Annette Weiner define as "inalienable possessions"? What makes different kinds of objects of value more or less "inalienable" or "dense"? How is the value of such objects tied to different social rank, for women and/or men?

Week 4: In and Out of Africa: Reflections

In the ethnographic film In and Out of Africa,  there are multiple views on the value of the African works of art. In this post, discuss how different actors think these objects should be valued. How does the film discuss issues around value, art, and culture?

Monday, September 12, 2016

FORUM Prompt

After reading Mauss's book and Zelizer's and Brownell and Bessnier's articles, what are your thoughts on what counts as a good or bad gift? Further, are gifts ever free? If so or if not, elaborate on the social dynamics of gift exchanges using contemporary examples. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Week 3 Prompt

In the classic book The Gift, Marcel Mauss writes: "In these “total” social phenomena, as we propose to call them, are expressed all at once and at a stroke all sorts of institutions: religious, judicial, and ethical (morale)" (Introduction). Using specific examples from chapters 1 or 2 (if posting for Tue) or 4 (if posting for Thu), discuss how a practice of gift exchange comes to constitute a religion, judicial or ethical social system/phenomenon. 

Gift exchange among the Polynesians.

In describing the exchange and barter among the Polynesians, Mauss reveals a complex exchange regime where not only economically useful goods are exchanged but pleasantries, services and humans during marriages, childbirth, funeral rites and many other occasions. It was also stated that although gifts are theoretically seen as voluntary, it is ultimately compulsory and contractual. There is the obligation to give and the obligation to receive and if any or all of these are neglected, it becomes the grounds for a declaration of war. These forms of obligations justify a line of the 41st stanza of the Havamal, that “Those who mutually exchange presents are friends for the longest time”. Mauss also made mention of the fact that gift exchanges are everywhere and although exchanges can be influenced by factors like rivalry and competition, these factors were missing in Polynesia.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Week 2 Prompt: An Anthropological View of Money

This week's readings provides an introduction to how anthropologists think about money. Thinking in particular about chapter 2 and 3 of "How Would You Like To Pay," what are some of the ways in which anthropologists approach money differently than other disciplines? In other words, how does Maurer help us think anthropologically about money?

Welcome to Economic Anthro 2016!

Hi everyone in ANTH 3500 & ANTH 5500. Welcome to our class blog! You will soon receive an invitation to join as author and commentator. Use this space to post your required blog posts on the readings as well as for sharing news items that you think might be relevant to this course. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and in exploring the world of money, value, and economy together!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Big Short Review

A couple of weeks ago when a couple members of the class went to watch The Big Short, I kept thinking of what I wanted to write on. I'm still not 100% positive on what I'll be writing on, but I know that I've been wanting to write a review of the movie for a long time now. The movie was actually a lot better than I originally thought it would be. It had a lot of humor and a lot of drama combined into one, which makes the movie twenty million times better.

From time to time it would be very difficult to understand exactly what the movie was talking about because it would use terms that I am not familiar with. But the directors tried to break it down by having random celebrities describe what exactly the terms mean. I mean...they tried to but it didn't really work. How is it that even with Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie (the woman in the bubble bath) trying to explain it that it was still difficult to understand?

Overall, what I got from the movie was that the financial crisis happened because certain individuals, mostly with banks, got greedy and thought it would be nice to screw everyone else over. The people that sold the bad loans to people were just as guilty as the people that decided to bet against the housing bubble. All members involved should be just as guilty as everyone else because of the greed involved. The individuals that sold the mortgage loans knew that the people they sold to would not be able to pay them back...especially as they were selling them to people that couldn't afford one house, let alone multiple. They didn't care about the people they were selling to, they just cared about themselves. The individuals betting against the bubble saw the weakness in the bubble and decided to exploit this weakness for themselves, no matter who they screwed over.

In the end, the economy collapsed because of all of the individuals involved in this scheme. Even though the government knew what happened and who played what role in the collapse, these individuals were not arrested and prosecuted. Instead, the government decided to bail the banks out because of the close ties with the politicians involved. Had the government not decided to bail the banks out and had they forced these individuals to pay back all of the money themselves, then we would not have had as bad of a crisis as we originally did.

Shame on the US Government and the big banks that were involved in this crisis!!!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Mushroom at the End of the World

In chapter nine of her ethnography Anna Tsing describes the transformation of Matsutake mushrooms from gifts to commodities back to gifts. This process begins in Oregon with the mushroom pickers. Because the mushrooms are not a producible commodity they are classified as a gift. It is not until the Matsutake mushrooms go through being picked, bought and ultimately sorted and processed by hourly laborers they begin to become commodities. As Tsing says on page 127 "It is only because they have no knowledge or interest in how the mushrooms got there that they are able to purify them as inventory". The connection to the mushroom as a species and independent actor is severed. This process is similar in Japanese and Chinese gathering as well. The relationship between mushroom and picker and the picker and the community plays a vital role in mushroom value in small villages. It is only when processed in the larger towns that mushrooms become a commodity. After being processed and categorized the mushrooms are then shipped to the market (either from Oregon to Japan or the small villages to large cities) where they once again become a gift.  This transformation back into gifts first takes place with the buyer. The author discusses how buyers often describe themselves as matchmakers between the type of mushroom and the customer. However, the Matsutake mushrooms are not for individual consumption (this is actually seen as a taboo). Instead, they are a form of social currency exchange between people with varying relationship types. The mushrooms are exchanged as gifts to people the customer would like to honor. As Tsing claims "Matsutake is then a capitalist commodity that begins and ends its life as a gift. It spends only a few hours as a fully alienated commodity" (Tsing, 128).
     I still do not quite understand how the Tsing can argue that the mushrooms are gifts from the earth. In picking the mushrooms the harvester is transforming the mushroom through the addition of their labor. This does not make the mushroom into a commodity but it certainly is not a gift if you must labor for it. There is something between social relations being labor and labor being labor. The earth is not an cognitive actor therefore it cannot give a gift. The mushrooms are not choosing who to give themselves to. This part of the argument loses me. While being aware of the "earth" is necessary you cannot give a mushroom as a species the same consideration as human beings. They have no conception of social relationships. Is this really what she is saying in Part 2 and Four?

The Relationship Between Humans and Matsutake

The Relationship between Humans and Matsutake
Steven Rhue
Ch 18

They dynamic relation between matsutake mushrooms and humans is a very unique one. Although the mushrooms grow naturally, and appear in random and rather unpredictable manors, they are now very dependent on the unnatural “disturbance” by humans, due to the lost relationship between farmers and forest. Due to the intense industrial and urbanization of Japan, the forest which had been traditionally utilized and “disturbed” by the Japanese people, fell into a state of natural neglect. Without the consistent and balanced interaction, the forests became overgrown with growth and decimated by logging and development. This led not only to the loss of habitat for the matsutake, but a loss of the “old days” as one interview would put it. In a sense, the matsutake is a symbol of that relationship, on where there is a balance of human interference and nature, as well as a strong communal sense. The efforts to revitalize the forest are not only to bring back the matsutake, which is hard to predict if the efforts will succeed, but to re-establish a lost relationship among the community members and their forest. The sales and right to harvest the mushrooms also greatly fund the efforts to continue such projects, allowing the relation to be furthered and spread to the consecutive generation. Few other commodities share such a symbolism and relationship with humans. Often goods which become heavily valued develop a much darker relationship with those that harvest them. Yet the matsutake mushroom acts as an iconic symbol of balance and togetherness, maintaining their economic value as well as holding an equally as strong sentimental value for those that harvest them. 


A Kula ring, as a gift, makes relations and reputations. Through the exchange kula gains value, but only due to their role.  Usually made of necklaces and arm shells, kula’s different type of worthiness disrupts typical economic standards of ‘value’. The difference between value making in kula and normal capitalist standards is substantial enough for many to wish for separate logic for making value. The idea that things and persons are together a gift, creating personal relations because of such, means that ‘things’ do not just have value in use and commodity exchange. Rather, kula has higher value in the social relationships and reputations gained from such a trade.
This idea seems obvious yet I have never gone in depth on how it effects typical standards. Gift giving has been around for quite some time, and gaining credibility is no new feature behind it. But when comparing it to capitalistic ideals, I noticed it would probably change how the whole system is viewed.
Taking it back to the main feature of this book, Matsutake, a type of mushroom, starts and ends its life as a gift. Due to its nature of only growing in only certain conditions and under no human control for recreation, the Matsutake is unpredictable especially compared to corporate rhythm. Business pushes forward as the pulse of progress, “effectively reshaping the world according to its goals and needs” (page 132). On the opposite end the spectrum, Matsutake has no rhythm besides a picker giving to a receiver. If the “economic system is presented to us as a set of abstraction requiring assumptions about participants…” (page 132) then the business world wants nothing to do with kula, as it upsets ‘what is.’
I enjoyed this part in particular: “However, it seems to me that capitalism also has characteristics of a machine, a contraption limited to the sum of its parts… But not just any translation can be accepted into capitalism. The gathering it sponsors is not openended. An army of technicians and managers stand by to remove offending parts…”  What confused me was following this sentence with “This does not mean that the machine has a static form.” When it seems to me this is kinda what she’s trying to prove?

Matsutake: Love and Middlemen

    I am fascinated by the role that matsutake mushrooms play in the world. In Japan they are given as gifts representative of long-term commitment. They are mentioned by Tsing as being involved in business partnerships and families. I noticed that romantic relationships were not mentioned. I wonder if the West has a similar culturally-universal token that represents long-term commitment that is not specific to romantic love (such as wedding bands)?
    Another important note is that the matsutake undergo a strange transition from gift to commodity as they travel overseas. Once they reach the Oregon foragers, they are less commodity again. It is the middle man process that transforms the matsutake. Is it an inherent fact of capitalism that a transportation/middle man process changes the nature of the commodity?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

There is still a controversy around what Albert Einstein apparently said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Though this quote seems dramatic to many people, we do know that the problem of climate change is real. We understand that the extinction of some species, transformation of nature, and more importantly the industrial society (factories, excessive use of oil and gas, and other luxurious commodities bring to us by capitalist society) is one of the primary causes of the climate change. As Anna Tsing says, “Industrial transformation turned out to be a bubble of promise followed by lost livelihoods and damaged landscapes." She highlights a fascinating topic that is very relevant to our biggest problem, climate change, today. She makes an excellent point solely using one product, Matsutake. She describes that how only one commodity can be this powerful to ruin the face of the earth.

What really intrigues me about this reading was Tsing’s approach to ethnography. She mostly focuses on the relationships. She describes how one product can carry so many layers of relationships; the relationship of mushroom with the plant, the plant with land, land with forest, mushroom with human and human with the land. Using the various layers of relationships, she precisely focuses on how these interactions between fungi and trees, between trees and land, trees and forest contribute to changing the landscape that affects the multispecies living in it. She also explicitly states that the earth doesn’t only belong to the human. If they ruin it, they ruin it for other species as well. She demonstrates that knowing about multispecies interactions is a way to understand who we really are.

She refers to mushroom as a “White Gold”. Though she doesn’t explicitly talk about the “Gold Rush”, she speaks of the mass migration for seeking employment. The evolution of Gold Rush is also another story that started by individuals and fell into corporate hands. The evolution started by individuals but, later, it was ruled by corporates, and they got the power to move the mountains through cheap labor. Most people who returned home with no benefit called the evolution myth. However, the myth influenced people in both positive and negative ways. First, it transformed the landscape, which was basically destroying the land and changing the nature in search of gold. Second, it boosted the local economy. What I am trying to say here is that the Gold Rush evolution is another example of what Tsing’s call is “capitalist ruins.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste

The first chapter in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste focused on a critique of modern economists in the frame of the economic crisis of the two thousands. To be honest this reading was very technical and at times I was completely lost in the economics terms and references. Mirowski points to the under-appreciated role of academic economists in the aftermath of the crisis and their confusion and sometimes even mystification about what the reforming actions need to be to stabilize the economy. He compares the 2007 crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930's  and how action was taken to reform the entire banking system to prevent another crisis. Mirowski claims this brainstorming and application of reform has not taken place after the recent crisis. Even economists are seen to refer to the market as an almost mystical being whose reasoning and actions are not something that can be analyzed. Here is where I get confused, he claims a mixing of the neoclassical traditions and the neoliberal economic traditions. How can these traditions be melding together when they are supposedly so separate? Dr. Mirowski illustrates how the entire field of economics is becoming one that is very exclusive and that education taking part in universities is even more exclusive but how does this affect the economic system?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Culture of Hiding Money

The Culture of Hiding Money
Author: Steven Rhue
Article: Ecologies of Investment: Crisis Histories and Brick Futures in Argentina

            We have all heard the stories from the great depression. The rush on the banks, stacks of money becoming worthless, burning money to keep warm, and the many hardships people endured in this country before it was over. For many it left a lasting impact on their view of money and trust in the banks, many of which I have head of being passed down to children and grandchildren. D’Avellas’s article about the economic crisis in Argentinian details similar stories. Rushing to the bank to take out all of your money before it was gone, and huge downturns in the economy as well as the housing market. However, Those same concerns of trust in the banks arose as well. As a result, both the U.S. Great Depression, and the 2001 Argentine economic crisis, the distrust towards banks changed the ways many saved or “stored” their money. D’Avellas article reports people storing and hiding hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, in all sorts of manners throughout their home. I have heard similar stories from friends and family who have known someone who lived through the depression, and of course the legends of money hidden in walls and buried in the back yard. 
            However in Argentina’s case, it’s not such a Legend, it seems very common place, and the idea of hiding so much money you forget where you’ve hidden stacks of it is remarkable. Again, I have also know others in the states to do similar things.They hide money not just to keep it out of the bank, but just for random occasion of needing it. This practice though, stems from the distrust of the bank and the credit they hold for you. However, in the US, and it seems in Argentina, they are still necessary for basic economic function, so one cannot completely hide their money outside of them. This article made me particularly interested in a study of those who keep their money outside of a bank, how they manage it, and how it impacts their lives. We’ve often discussed how you can’t really just keep stacks of cash around and not use credit, but can you? After reading this article I’d be interested to have another class discussion about it, and perhaps know if others have heard of similar stories from their own families or friends. Can you really trust the banks, or do we have to? 

Neoliberal Barter

The Argentinian financial crisis of the early 2000's created situations not unlike those that I am researching for my project. One aspect of the liberalization of the post-Soviet economy was the increased reliance on (already existing) barter economies. In the Russian sense it was the tightening of the military budget that made it impossible to pay contractors, energy companies, and wages in full with cash that created a cycle in which almost everything was payed in barter. Individuals were paid in food, federal taxes owed utilities were paid in oil, and so on but what is interesting in comparison is how in Russia it is very easy to profit in real money from barter whereas, for example in construction, barter in Argentina included contracts that were still related to foreign currencies. In Russia, an oil company let's say, would pay a middle man in oil which he would then transport out of the country making a fortune due to the price difference and deposit some profit in a foreign bank account while, let's say during a drought, would ship back foodstuffs which the Russian company would make a killing off if trading it locally for more oil. In Argentina, presumably because of the extensive use of the U.S. dollar barter was done with basically quasi-bank notes that circulated in a similar way in the sense of paying salaries and taxes but lacked the profitability of the Russian barter economy.

The Big Short

The Big Short showed a very different culture than the last popular financial movie that I watched, The Wolf of Wall Street. The movie followed the separate stories of individuals and offices that foresaw the collapse of the mortgage market well before it happened. Those that foresaw this collapse were not attempting to defraud anyone, or even partake in shady deals they simply went to the banks and bet against them. It was amazing to me that the banks did not look into the situation after being presented with the bets but that really plays into the idea of being "too big to fail." While I am sure that the movie was fictionalized in some ways the culture of the offices/individuals were really based on honesty, the bank worker who went in to Steve Carrel's office was dishonest to the bank but spoke very plainly to the workers of the firm and saw that there was too much to be made to screw them all over.
Another aspect of this movie was that the individuals who worked for the bank/raters were more concerned with their own wealth/commission than that of the company which really came back to bite in the end. This plays into the shortsightedness of those signing the mortgages who did not understand the terms or even have the intention to pay the mortgage back, not unlike some issues with micro-loans in India.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pyramid Schemes: A Story Through Caritas

Ioan Stoica was a business man in Romania that most of the country liked and supported. He was a man that wanted to give back to the poor and homeless, assist in his civic duty to the state and to the city of Cluj, and to do what he could for the people of Romania.

At least that's what he wanted everyone to think at the time.

Stoica was a business man, that part is true. But he was a business man out for himself. He started Caritas knowing that it would eventually harm a lot of people. The state of Romania was already in the process of making all pyramid schemes illegal, yet he still made his company in the heart of one of the biggest cities in Romania. Not only did this affect the city itself, but it affected the entire state and sometimes people from other states, i.e. Germany.

Originally, only those people who lived in Cluj or in Romania could deposit money into Caritas. But this later extended to anyone that was a Romanian citizen or had friends who lived in Romania. These people could travel and make deposits on their own in Cluj or they could send the money and have it deposited. The fact that Caritas was far reaching in Europe, especially outside of Eastern Europe, showed how personable Stoica was to everyone. People trusted him to do what was right. After all, they entrusted him with anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 Romanian leis. This equates to anywhere from $255 to $2,555 USD. That's a large sum of money for many people in Romania.

The people trusted him because they had nowhere else to turn to. They would be turned down by the big banks or the government for services that they truly needed, i.e. a tractor for their farm. This resulted in them having to put in a large sum of money to get it back 8 fold in 3 months. This was a huge gamble that I'm sure not everyone truly understood. They just wanted to live their lives freely without a worry, so they had to trust the one person that would give them what they wanted, Ioan Stoica.

Throughout the history of Caritas, the company wouldn't give back to the people in the order of which they deposited money. They would sometimes give to the politicians much more quickly (sometimes 3 days instead of 3 months) and even more quickly for the people who helped the company start up (sometimes instantly). This would be the one major reason that the company collapsed sooner than it originally planned.

At the fall of the company, Stoica agreed to pay back the exact sum that the first time depositors who had not received money from the company. But this meant that those individuals that continued to invest into the company would receive no money back. In the end, Stoica would be arrested and charged with fraud, fraudulent bankruptcy, and false representation. The people had trusted Stoica with their money and trusted that he could deliver on his promises. These promises were not delivered and the people were angry.

While pyramid schemes initially sound good for people in dire need of money, this story alone shows how quickly fate can change. Some people sold their apartments and houses to entrust such a large sum of money with Stoica with the understanding that they would receive the money back 8 fold, but the people didn't understand the legalities of this company and didn't know that it would end in bankruptcy and eventually legal proceedings.

Too good to be true

The ability of Ioan Stocia to secure "investments" in Caritas relies heavily on the appearance of honesty and virtue kept by himself and the company. Like many who run pyramid schemes an overwhelming charisma masks the age old rule of if its too good to be true than it is probably too good to be true, and like Ben Franklin this appearance was central to his success. Caritas was able to manipulate so many into buying in but interestingly adopted some of the same favoritism that existed within the socialist structure. For instance a receipt was needed for every thousand or so leis that were deposited/withdrawn and therefore limited the amount of transactions per day for the average invester while allowing those with inside connections to bypass the receipt rule and withdraw others money before they were able to. What was interesting to me was how many Romanians reasoned that the money was being made, from shady deals to arms trading the idea of fraud was not present until the collapse of Caritas was imminent. Making money from money was not a part of the socialist manifesto and was a foreign idea to many Romanians. The combination of a good reputation and a foreignness to financial capitalism really allowed Stocia to flourish.
The collapse of Caritas, though like every pyramid scheme inevitable, did seem to be orchestrated by the Romanian government through their interviews on state TV and subsequent investigations. As the payouts rivaled the state budget it would make sense that they wanted Caritas to be shut down. I think that as Caritas grew to be a cult like movement it defiantly rivaled the power of the government and could be a cause for worry. These schemes certainly happen outside the post-communist world but I do not believe they garner such a wide cult like following because mechanisms like community funds are not ingrained in the culture. Where you do see pyramid schemes in the U.S. is in those types of mechanisms like profit sharing schemes as I have learned from watching Stacy Keech on MSNBC's American Greed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Individualized Discourse in a Systemic Problem

     In her article "Regulating Credit" Deborah James discusses the cycle of debt experienced by South Africans. She details the effects and causes of the extremely high level of personal debt in South Africa as well as analyzing the debtors and lenders in relation to race. Of all the concepts in this article I will focus on the idea of the individual responsibility that is assumed in the cases of the debtors loans and repayment. 
     On page five James begins to detail the history of liberalization South Africa. This is the background to the view of individual being a matter of personal responsibility and not a group problem. The individual is seen to be the one taking on loans and therefore the responsibility of repayment is their responsibility as well. This trend continues into the relatively new practice of credit counseling where by an individual will pay a debt counselor to aid them in repaying their dent and the contractual agreements involved. 
     Another layer is added to the debt issue when the reader is able to see that the loans offered by most lenders were often unfair or even illegal in such large amounts that the borrower would almost certainly be unable to pay back with interest. Again, the problem is not seen as a systemic problem however with this argument of illegality not being successful in court. James records a debt counselor explaining this practice saying 

"The person must pay back, and must make an effort to do so. Don’t look at it as ‘They had no right to extend the loan’ – this is beside the point. Instead, I try to encourage people to pay back. Make an effort – it has to be a painful process. Otherwise they won’t learn the lesson. You need to make sacrifices. Forget about movies, eating out 3 times a week. The only way is to pay in as much as I can. This way I get a lot of acceptance from creditors (in court). I try to practice a system that makes sense" (James, 17).

This quote summarizes the problem of a systemic failure being placed on the shoulders of the victims. Reform is seen to be needed on the debtors behalf; they need to learn the lesson. How can financial literacy be learned by a person who is being penalized so harshly for past debts? The issue of debt and financials in general needs to be viewed as a systemic issue but in order to do so the discourse used to describe finances in a neo-liberal world needs to become caught up with the times. Instead of discussing debt as one would have two hundred years ago in an economy without modern "finance" the discussion of debt needs to look at individuals as part of a greater problem. A failure of financial education and awareness to all. Only then will the system be reformed. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Regulating credit: tackling the redistributiveness of neoliberalism - DEBORAH JAMES

Runaway liberalization and belated regulation

"Ostensibly ‘to open up the market for small borrowers’, previously excluded from opportunities to start small enterprises because of their inability to borrow money from the big banks, existing legislation restricting the interest rate was removed in 1992. Removing the restriction would enable lenders – in theory equally small – to run viable businesses catering to the needs of such borrowers, thus creating opportunities for both." (James, 2013)

I think that the article, staring by its title, is a very good review and critique, through the South African case of how microfinance has become an extended neoliberal practice that intentionally targets the working class and the poor with the objective of bringing them into the financial market and creating channels for earning profit from them, even though it is with the rhetorical construction of providing them with tools for improving their lives.

With that said I think that James provides a very interesting and telling insight into the mechanics of these microfinance endeavours. First she describes the historical development of this institutions in a society deeply shaped by the Apartheid system and its racial and ethnic discriminatory organization and how sometimes the unexpected consequences of good-intentioned policies can be worst than the problem they are trying to fix. Second, the description and analysis of the both sides of the struggle when came to new regulation painted a very good picture of the scenario that in my opinion repeats itself everywhere when the public-private happens; and finally third, the author humanizes both those historical moments and the public debate through testimonies and quotes from people involved in the microfinance arena and by doing so she comes full circle in her analysis that began in the state sanctioned assassination of workers protesting predatory lending.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Practice of Arbitrage

While most of the language in the article written by Hirokazu Miyazaki was difficult to understand, it was an intriguing article to follow since she looked at specific traders who lost their jobs due to the Japanese economic disaster in 1996, which was perpetrated by the government. This was a period called the "Big Bang" for the Japanese economy due to the formation of banks within the country. The selling of private Japanese trading firms and replacing them with American trading firms resulted in the loss of many jobs in Japan.

The leading term throughout the entire article was the word "arbitrage." While the article doesn't fully explain what the term actually means, it describes instances of taking advantage of the differences in prices in two or more markets. This concept was used by all of the traders throughout the article and some of the experience it more than others. One of the traders, Taka, explained that golf courses were extremely expensive and exclusive, meaning that it was mostly the rich that could enjoy the golf courses. He suggested that someone buy the golf courses, sell the membership to everyone, and turn it around and make a profit. This was a great example of using arbitrage because it helped me to understand the term a little better.

All in all, the article was hard to read for someone that has never taken an economics class. I found myself turning to Google to find out what words or phrases meant. But Miyazaki did help everyone to understand the collapse of the economy in Japan using these specific traders' lives to tell this story.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Privatization in China

While reading some of the articles on Generating Capitalism, I would continuously read articles that made little to no sense to me at all. The authors would drone on using text that could only be understood by individuals fluent in "economics." However, I finally read an article that I could easily understand, and one that interested me a lot. This article discussed the differences between a company being private and public in China.

When we think of privatization in the United States, we think of companies that have no ties to the government and are not ran by the government. They are completely ran by individuals that are out for their own interests, or are supposed to be seeking the interests of their clients. This is not so in China, and purportedly in other cultures throughout the world. In China, the privatization of a company does not mean that they are completely independent of the government. In fact, they still have close ties to the government and have bureaus or departments that oversee the company. Yet the owners of these companies don't seem to mind this as much as we would here in the US. This shows a major difference between our cultures and our economies because US business owners don't want government oversight but Chinese business owners don't find it bothersome.

Another point that drove home to me was the fact that individuals who buy stock in the company, don't really have a say in the running of the company. In effect, they only own part of the company on the side, but don't have voting rights for the way that the company acts. This is different in the way American stocks are sometimes used. If an individual owns a large portion of a company's stock, they would have voting rights and a say in how the company is ran because the company fears losing money (the stock) if they upset a stockholder. The use of stock in the US as a way of keeping people happy contrasts greatly to the Chinese stock, but it seems that both cultures are relatively happy with their arrangements.

Overall, this article did teach me to not think that all economic terms used in the US are universal. It is easy to see that these terms can be used in a variety of ways depending on the cultural implications for each individual country.

Salvage as Capital

In Salvage Accumulation Anna Tsing starts by asking how it is that "capitalism is at once so generative, flexible, and creative, and, simultaneously, so effective at doing certain things, such as making rich people richer." This question made me think of the early days of capitalism when supply chains offered capitalists the opportunity to take advantage of work done outside the "factory" and "translate" non-capitalist processes into profit. The spice trade was one such instance where a "salvage" good was traded as capital and used to make even more capital in the form of actual wealth. Even factories, as Tsing notes, were basically using "salvage" capital to create real wealth for labor "could not be made by capitalists." Agriculture and other natural resources are examples of non capitalistic processes turned into capital but what separates these from capitalist processes. If you think in terms of one definition that capitalism is making money from money then a woman's assumed knowledge of sewing or mushrooms picked in the American Northwest are certainly not capitalist processes. The women and pickers do not seek to create value with their actions, nor does the dinosaur that dies and becomes coal but the rich individual who seeks to become richer will take these processes and quickly convert them into value to become richer. How capitalism can be both "generative, flexible, and creative, and, simultaneously, so effective at doing certain things, such as [make] rich people richer" is because the generatively, flexibility, and creativity of capitalism only cater to those who have the means of turning"salvage" into capital. The factory worker and the sewer can only create "salvage" and have no way of converting it without previously converting the "salvage" of others for in capitalism it takes money to make money.