Archive for the 'Economics' Category

Transnational Theory and the State

In her new book on globalization, “labor brokerage”, and Filipina/o migrant workers Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez (you can gain access to her current lectures at UC Davis here) offers a critique of current scholarship on globalization (and hence postcolonial and transnational theory).  Especially in the field of Filipina/o studies where a huge focus has been on ignoring the roles of nation states and class structures under the current flows of global capitalism and American imperialism.

Philippine international migration is emblematic of globalization.  In describing the increasing mobility of labor, it is often Filipina and Filipino migrants that scholars refer to as a primary example of this phenomenon.  To suggest that the Philippine state is crucial to an understanding of Philippine international migration, as I do here, therefore, it to make an important intervention in the scholarship on international migration.  Much of the scholarship on international migration of late has tended to reify capital flows from “above” to undersand global labor flows or, in opposition to this scholarship, has examined globalization, specifically immigrant transnationalism from “below.”  My research shows that the state plays a central role in both these processes, but just as importantly my research shows how the state links and mediates between these two processes through a case study of Philippine migration.  I argue that the state is fundamental to globalization, just as importantly global processes constitute the state (143-4).


Rodriguez, Robyn Magalit.  2010.  Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World.  Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press

Neoliberal Globalization and the Bangsamoro Struggle in Mindanao

Soldiers from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Dr. Kenneth E. Bauzon writes that while the Moro National Liberation Front created a semi-autonomous region in the Philippines due to peace negotiations they were soon subsumed by the devastating effects of global capital. An effect that they had failed to perceive due to low theoretical grounding in political economy. Much of the programs and investment implemented by the U.S., U.S. affiliated organizations, and the G-7 countries, have been heavily geared toward counter-insurgency operations in order to undercut local autonomy and groups that fight against global capital investments.

Whether the government is determined to fully implement the rules of neoliberalism as in the case of privatization, or is unwilling or unable to enforce existing laws that appear to stand in the way of monopolistic tendencies as in the above-cited laws, the ultimate outcome of either scenario is the emergence of the Philippine state as the final arbiter in behalf of the forces of neoliberal globalization, enacting and enforcing laws that facilitate their penetration into the domestic economy, and easing their control and domination over the country’s valued resources…It is under this set of conditions that makes the Philippine state a distinctly neoliberal state through its active share in the promotion of the market economy on a global scale quite distinct from the prevalent conception of the state over a hundred years ago governed by the principle of laissez fair and seemed quite disinterested in the economic affairs of society or seemed all too happy to get out of the way of business.

Further implications may be discerned concerning the future of the Bangsamoro struggle as represented currently by the [Moro Islamic Liberation Front].  With its history of uttering rhetoric for independence spliced with religious verses, on one hand, and accommodation and negotiations, on the other, it seems that we are bound to experience a similar scenario in which the [Republic of the Philippines], with its greater resources, would simply wear down the MILF both at the negotiating table and the battlefield.  Negotiations have been the government’s way of dangling promises that it knows could not be kept and in pushing the adversary into a corner from which it could not escape.  Thus, the dizzying series of talks, delays, further talks and further delays constitute not much more than a fancy footwork in a dance for pure entertainment but leading to nowhere (Bauzon, 67-69).


Bauzon Kenneth E.  2008.  Ruminations on the Bangsamoro Struggle and Neoliberal Globalization.  In The Moro Reader: History and Contemporary Struggles of the Bangsamoro People, ed. Bobby M Tuazon, 59-71.  Quezon City, Philippines: CenPEG Publications.

Postcolonial Hybridity and Economics

Eiman O. Zein-Elabdin and S. Charusheela argue for a melding of postcolonial theory and economics in order to smash the disciplinary dividing walls that currently separate them as disciplines:

The strength of postcolonial theory lies in its emphasis on the problems of cultural hegemony/subalternity and identity formation, which has generated a number of key concepts that provide potentially rich applications in the realm of economy.  The contributions in this volume show that the notions of orientalism, ambivalence, and transmigrancy can all be productively deployed in a critique of Economics.  Even the beleaguered concept of hybridity – if understood as an indication of advanced cultural mixing and instability, instead of being dismissed as a playful, perhaps even politically irresponsible, celebration of migrancy and transnationalism – can provide a powerful resource for troubling the homogenizing epistemology of economics.  A concrete example of the significance of taking on board such insights can be given by the case of post-development literature which could benefit tremendously from the more complex theoretical rendering of culture and contemporary life, and the nonessentialist understanding of subalternity offered by postcolonial theory.

Economics, on the other hand, regardless of all its ailments, affords the central concern with understanding the organization of material life.  However, this organization cannot be assumed a priori as a manifestation of a universal economic truth.  Postcolonial sensibility is antithetical to the common epistemological urge in Economics to strip all social/cultural phenomena down to a calculable quantum, and, in effect, occlude heterogeneity.  But, several perspectives in Economics – their modernist limitations notwithstanding – offer important insights for catachrestic postcolonial appropriation.  For example, building on the Veblenian institutionalist emphasis on culture and path dependence, a non-modernist position can argue for an economic approach that theorizes postcolonial societies as contemporary cultural constructions, with coeval modes of being and provisioning, rather than ‘less developed’ or ‘pre-modern,’ without disputing either the instrumental value of technological improvement or instrumental valuing as an aspect of human behavior.  Placing the valuation of instrumental value itself within cultural context opens up more space for truly substantive economic analysis.  Similarly, the Marxian preoccupation with exploitation and class continues to have tremendous relevance although it can no longer be sustained within the theoretical framework of classical Marxism.  A postcolonial reappropriation may dispose of these elements and reconceptualize class relations on the basis of their specific, indeterminate contemporary formations, with no presumption of a particular historical trajectory (8-9).

It would be interesting for the editors to expound on “classical Marxism” and what that means as well as why a class analysis “can no longer be sustained within” its theoretical framework.  Especially because they are arguing for sustaining the theoretical framework(s) of postcolonial theory(ies) by having it subsume (but not displace) contemporary economic theory.  Through this line of thinking one could also argue for a Marxism(s) that is essentially sustained but through complementing and subsuming parts of postcolonial and contemporary economic theories.  This leads to continuous fluidity between all theories which lead to more than just the sustaining of (simply) postcolonial theory.


Zein-Elabdin, Eiman O. and S. Charusheela.  2004.  Introduction: Economics and postcolonial thought.  In Postcolonialism Meets Economics.  Eds. Eiman O. Zein-Elabdin and S. Charusheela, 1-18.  New York: Routledge.

Negri & Hardt on Lenin and “Empire”

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt‘s concept of “Empire” is “in contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers…Empire manages hybrid identities, flesible hierarchies, and plurarl exchanges through modulating networks of communication” (xii-xiii).  While I’m not convinced, one of its most important turns in their argument happens here:

Lenin recognized finally that, although imperialism and the monopoly phase were indeed expressions of the global expansion of capital, the imperialist practices and the colonial administrations through which they were often pursed had come to be obstacles to the further development of capital.  He emphasized the fact, noted by many critics of imperialism, that competition, essential for the functioning and expansion of capital, declines necessarily in the imperialist phase in proportion to the growth of monopolies.  Imperialism, with its trade exclusive and protective tariffs, its national and colonial territories, is continually posing and reinforcing fixed boundaries, blocking or channeling economic, social, and cultural flows…Luxemburg argues in economic terms, imperialism rests heavily on these fixed boundaries and the distinction between inside and outside.  Imperialism actually creates a straightjacket for capital–or, more precisely, at a certain point the boundaries created by imperialist practices obstruct capitalist development and the full realization of its world market.  Capital must eventually overcome imperialism and destroy the barriers between inside and outside.

It would be an exaggeration to say that, on the basis of these intuitions, Lenin’s analysis of imperialism and its crisis leads directly to the theory of Empire.  It is true, nonetheless, that his revolutionary standpoint revealed the fundamental node of capitalist development…either world communist revolution or Empire and there is a profound analogy between the two choices (Negri and Hardt, 233-234).

I would still argue that we live in a time of imperialism and that, while it could be true that we are in Empire (or that we are headed toward Empire), the increasing militarization of the world by the U.S. and its continued use of “hard” and “soft” power to further extract more variable capital is a counterpoint to this.  However, it could be noted that this over stretch of U.S. power is due to it trying to stem the “tide of Empire.”  I’m assuming Multitude has an answer to these questions.


Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri.  2000.  Empire.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Marx’s Contribution to Political Economy

Lego Marx (photo by Dunechaser).

Ken C. Kawashima writes:

One of the abiding insights made by Marx in Capital is that in the colonies of capitalist nation-states the illusions of the capitalist law of supply and demand of labor are shattered.  In the home country, the great beauty of capitalist production consists in being able to reproduce the wage worker by periodically setting him free, i.e., firing him, and producing a surplus population that stands in relative exteriority to capitalist production as the precondition for the commodification of labor power.  Periodically treating labor power as a disposable commodity is thus the way capitalist production can ensure that its most indispensable commodity–labor power–is always already there when capitalist production experiences so-called labor shortages during times of industrial expansion.  It is this reproductive mechanism that allows for the smug deceitfulness of the political economist, not to mention the Japanese colonial policy maker, to think, and to formalize into naturalized axioms of economic movement, that owners of labor power–who are in fact compelled to enter into a relation of dependence with the wage form–can enter into a free contract between sellers and buyers, between owners of the commodity labor power, on one side, and owners of capital, on the other.  In the colonies, however, “this beautiful illusion is torn aside” because the conditions for the appearance of owners of labor power on the stage of the capitalist market do not originally exist there.  The dependence on wages must therefore be “created by artificial means,” and until that happens, the law of supply and demand of labor is torn aside.  In this way, this artificial and historical process in the colonies represents that which originally took place in the home country, but which has long since been repressed and disavowed there.  The political and economic unconsciousness of the home country dwells in the artificial processes in the colonies (Kawashima, 25).


Ken C. Kawashima.  The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan.  Durham, USA: Duke University Press, 2009.

Review of “Latin America and Global Capitalism”

Serra Pelada gold mine, Brazil (Photo by Sebastiao Salgado).

Jeffery R. Webber, of University of Regina, reviews the book Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective by William I. Robinson in the October edition of the Monthly Review:

In chapter two, one of the most powerful and persuasive, Robinson charts the crisis of developmental capitalism, or import-substitution industrialization, in the 1960s and 1970s, and then shifts to neoliberalism, or export-led development, in the 1980s and 1990s across Latin America. Drawing on the historical materialist categories of proletarianization and primitive accumulation, he examines the contours of the new economic model through a focused exploration of nontraditional exports and services. He offers a penetrating look at the cut flowers industry in Ecuador and Colombia, the explosive growth of the fruits and wines sector in Chile, soy production in Argentina and the rest of the Southern Cone, and winter fruits and vegetable production in Central America. He demonstrates how there has been an “accelerated replacement of noncapitalist by capitalist forms of agricultural development” and a “concomitant displacement of the peasantry and its conversion into a rural proletariat. This has occurred along with an increase in rural to urban and transnational migration”; promotion of “flexible…work in the new agro-export platforms”; a move to “predominance of female workers in these platforms”; and “the articulation of local agricultural systems…to global agricultural and industrial food production and distribution chains.”

The main weakness in this otherwise compelling portrait of the political economy of the Latin American countryside today is the one-sided structural power allotted to capital. Opportunities for increases in agricultural workers’ bargaining power under certain conditions, such as those examined by Ben Selwyn in his important study of export grape production in North East Brazil, are elided.

Keynes and Long-Term Economic Stagnation


In his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, written in 1936, economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) stated:

[T]he actual phenomena of the economic system are coloured by certain special characteristics of the propensity to consume, the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital and the rate of interests, about which we can safely generalise from experience, but which are not logically necessary.

In particular, it is an outstanding characteristic of the economic system in which we live that, whilst it is subject to severe fluctuations in respect of output and employment, it is not violently unstable.  Indeed it seems capable of remaining in a chronic condition of sub-normal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency either towards recovery or complete collapse.  Moreover, the evidence indicates that full, or even approximately full, employment is of rare and short-lived occurrence.  Fluctuations may start briskly but seem to wear themselves out before they have proceeded to great extremes, and an intermediate situation which is neither desperate nor satisfactory is our normal lot…The same thing is true of prices, which, in response to an initiating cause of disturbance, seem to be able to find a level at which they can remain, for the time being, moderately stable. (Keynes, 249-250)


Keynes, John Maynard.  The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1964.

Quoted from John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, “Monopoly-Finnance Capital and the Paradox of Accumulaiton,” Monthly Review 61, no. 5 (Oct. 2009): 1-20. (accessed November 2, 2009)


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