Tuesday, September 15, 2009

how can the field of economics so easily overlook the violence that produces winners and losers?

Okay call me a Luddite but I want rap down this idea for a second because I'm kinda incredulous that it isn't discussed more already.

Although the field of economics has been around for a long time, modern economics really began with Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations published in 1776. Since that time modern economists have developed increasingly elaborate mathematical formulas to try to explain the world around us and predict the economic outcomes of certain actions.

But what's astounding about modern economics is how often those elaborate equations turn out to be incorrect in the real world. Paul Krugman did a good job answering the question, "How Did Economists Get it So Wrong?" in his recent NY Times Sunday magazine feature. In spite of over 200 years of economic thought and the most advanced mathematical formulas and computer modeling, most economists failed to see the recent stock market bubble. And often economists fail even the most basic common sense test such as when Edward Prescott (who later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics) argued that unemployment is a deliberate decision by workers to take time off -- thus implying that recessions aren't really recessions, just widespread unpaid staycations for American workers!!!

But here's the point I want to make: isn't "economics" often just the clever mathematical narrative used to justify and hide theft (as a result of violence) on a global scale?

Europe is wealthy. Africa is poor. Africa is poor because Europeans controlled the continent for centuries under the guise of colonialism, drew up national boundaries and stole all the natural resources (often including people) from the region.

Europe is wealthy. Latin America is poor. Latin America is poor because European warships invaded Latin America, stole all of their natural resources and enslaved their people for 500 years.

White Americans tend to be richer than African Americans and Native Americas. White Americans stole the labor of Africa Americans for a century and then stole their labor through other means (Jim Crow) for another century. So too white Americans genocided Native Americans and stole their land and profited from that theft -- thus making White Americans richer than Native Americans.

Nations that win wars are wealthy (United States). Nations that lose wars are poor (Mexico). Unless the winning nation decides it is in its interests to rebuild the defeated nation (As the U.S. did with Europe, Japan). Nations that aren't rebuilt after a war remain poor as fuck for a long time (Afghanistan, most of Africa) regardless of their natural resources.

I mean I suppose we can talk about microeconomics and money supply and currencies flows and all that. But don't we really have to start the conversation with an acknowledgment of:
1. who punked who;
2. how much of that wealth, obtained through violence, is still in our system; and
3. to what degree the winners and losers in our current economic order (individuals, institutions, and nations) are a result of that theft?

More thoughts on the relationship between economics, violence, and the psyche of a nation in my earlier post (here).

Update #1: Naomi Klein has an absolutely brilliant article on race, violence, and wealth in The Guardian (UK) and on her blog.

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