Thursday April 24th, 2014, 3:45 am (EDT)

Review

Book reviews and essays

The Human Costs of Economic Growth

Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Perilous Passage: Mankind and the Global Ascendancy of Capital (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 395 + xxiv pages, hardcover, $76, paper, $34.95.

The great debate of social science for the last two centuries at least has been how to account for the extraordinary economic growth of the modern world. We all know the basic picture. The overwhelming majority of authors have argued that the story is that of the rise of the West. There have been, however, two opposing versions of this narrative. One is the Whig interpretation of history, which argues that it has been a story of steady social, intellectual, and moral progress whose explanation lies in some particular characteristic of the West (often just of England). In this version, the world is reaching its summit of progress today. The second version is Marxism, which has argued that the rise of the West is part of a larger story of steady dialectical and conflictual historical development. In this version, the present West-dominated world order will inevitably be superseded by another phase of historical development, in which capitalism will be replaced by communism… | more |

Why Orthodox Economics Fails

Reviewed: Michael Perelman, Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 238 pages, paperback, $20.00.
Paul Krugman in Development, Geography, and Economic Theory contends that the reason some economic theories are not widely engaged by economists is because they cannot be modeled mathematically. He goes on to highlight many good ideas that cannot be modeled mathematically. Michael Perelman in Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology argues that there is another reason that economists do not accept these theories: some theories are rejected for ideological reasons because in economics, the orthodoxy is the free market. Perelman quotes Francis A. Walker, the first president of the American Economic Association, who said that laissez-faire “was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all” (102). In other words, to be an economist, especially in the post-Soviet era, requires one to agree with the free market—that is, to believe that the market allocates resources efficiently, and that the job of the economist is to get the prices right… | more |

A Nation Built on the Hierarchy of Race A Practical Guide to Beating White Supremacy

Chip Smith, The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism (Fayetteville, NC: Camino Press, 2007), 466 pages, paper $19.95.

In The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism, Chip Smith has written a historical treatise on white racism in the United States. He provides a well researched, detailed account of the cause and effect of white privilege in the United States. The book effectively examines the influence of racial privilege on a broad range of social relations from an international to a personal level. It targets progressive white people who are consciously anti-racist and provides insights for individual self-reflection and organizational change… | more |

The Fire Inside

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 239 pages, paperback, $19.95.… | more |

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. The cover art of Roots of Resistance is powerful and angry. The stark geometric design, formed by swatches of blazing orange and slashes of smoldering earth tones all descending from cosmos into chaos, highlights abstract images of the suffering, enslavement, and death of the Acoma people at the hands of a Spanish punitive expedition in 1599: falling bodies, inverted crosses, dismembered feet—the punishment inflicted on all the male residents of the pueblo over the age of twenty-five. The original 2005 oil painting by Acoma Indian artist and activist Maurus Chino, titled Acoma 1599, Acoma, Beloved Acoma, Ancient of Days, contains more than enough raw energy to illuminate the history it recalls… | more |

A Revolutionary Identity

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra Years (Boston: South End Press, 2005), 304 pages, paperback, $18.00.

Few U.S. revolutionaries of her generation have “lived to tell the tale” like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, to borrow the title of Gabriel García Márquez’s memoirs. Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra Years is the last volume of a trilogy including Red Dirt: Growing up Okie (University of Oklahoma Press, 1992) and Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years (City Lights, 2001). Although influenced by oral traditions in his “native” Colombian Caribbean, García Márquez has little to say about his own political commitments, or Colombian politics more generally. In contrast, influenced by traditions of storytelling native to rural Oklahoma and Native American communities throughout the U.S. West, Dunbar-Ortiz’s latest memoir puts flesh on the bones of the slogan “the personal is political.” The phrase, she notes, was coined within the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and carried into the women’s liberation and antiwar movements.… | more |

Disaster Capitalism: An Offer You Can’t Refuse—Or Can You?

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007), 466 pages, hardcover, $28.00.

At the crossroads of Buenos Aires’s shopping district sits a posh mall called the Galerías Pacífico, a showcase for global brand names and a playground for Argentina’s rich. One day, a film crew descended to the basement. There they found an abandoned torture chamber, its walls still etched with names, dates, and messages from political prisoners disappeared under the military junta. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein goes digging deep into the basements of global capitalism, from the torture labs of Latin America to the oil fields of Iraq, unearthing the bodies and catching the culprits red-handed. In the process, she demolishes one of the great myths of our time: that free markets go hand in hand with free societies, and that globalized free enterprise brings peace and democracy. Instead, as Klein documents in this definitive history, the new world order is the product of three decades of free-market terror, torture, and shock.… | more |

Never Forget the Class—or the Racial—Struggle

Peter Cole, Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 256 pages, hardcover, $40.00.

Peter Cole has offered an excellent historical examination of a poorly explored moment in labor history. His book, Wobblies on the Waterfront, explores the period (1913–22) when Local 8 of the National Industrial Union of Marine Transport Workers (of the Industrial Workers of the World [IWW]) was the preeminent force on the Philadelphia waterfronts.… | more |

The War for Control of the Periphery

Steven Hiatt, ed., with introduction by John Perkins, A Game as Old as Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption (San Francisco: BK Currents, 2007), 310 pages, paper $24.95.

Just before John Perkins, author of the bestselling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, decided it was no longer possible to remain silent about his intimate involvement in the economic warfare waged against the Global South, he sat despondently before the ruins of Ground Zero, totally incapable of visualizing the tragedy: all he could see was a U.S. contractor delivering millions of dollars of weapons to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Perkins understood himself—a former economic advisor for a multinational utilities contractor, similar to Bechtel—and others like him, to be products of a “system that promotes the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever witnessed.” Mainstream commentators addressing Perkins’s book ignored the vivid recounting of his own personal involvement as an economic hit man. This is undoubtedly because Perkins used this experience to emphasize the substantial connections between U.S. intelligence agencies, multinational corporations, and political elites of the Global South, laying bare the true motives of “development.” As an “economic hit man,” Perkins fabricated nearly every economic forecast he was asked to produce—as his bosses clearly expected him to do. This led him to repeatedly attack U.S. economic dogma in Confessions… | more |

Reclaim the Neighborhood, Change the World

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 448 pages, hardcover $27.95.

In 1988, the National Urban League reported, “More blacks have lost jobs through industrial decline than through job discrimination.” For a civil rights organization, this was a remarkable observation. Born in the era of Jim Crow racism, the Urban League championed the aspirations for upward mobility among urban African Americans. When banks refused to lend money to black entrepreneurs or when municipalities failed to service the black community, the Urban League intervened. One of the demands of the Urban League was for public goods to be shared across racial lines. While the organization was not on the frontlines of the civil rights struggle, it would have been a major beneficiary of the movement’s gains. But the tragedy of the civil rights struggle was that its victory came too late, at least thirty years late. Just when the state agreed to remove the discriminatory barriers that restricted nonwhites’ access to public goods, the state form changed. Privatization and an assault on the state’s provision of social welfare meant that it was not capable of providing public goods to the newly enfranchised citizens. At the same time as the state retreated from its social welfare obligations, the industrial sector in the U.S. crumbled in the face of globalization. Industrial jobs, once the backbone of the segregated black communities, vanished… | more |

Nepal’s Geography of Underdevelopment

Baburam Bhattarai, The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis (Delhi: Adroit Publishers, 2003), xx, 540 pages, hardcover, Rs 600 ($14).

Emerging from a middle-peasant family background in Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai excelled at school and then, with a Colombo Plan scholarship in hand, studied architecture and planning in India. By the early to middle 1980s, the theoretical structure of spatial and regional planning studies had changed—in a Marxist direction. Bhattarai wrote his doctoral dissertation at one of the centers of political-theoretical ferment—the Centre for Study of Regional Development, at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi—finishing in 1986. While he was a student, Bhattarai was president of the All India Nepalese Students Association on its founding in 1977. He joined the illegal Communist Party of Nepal (Masal) in the early 1980s. Returning to his native Nepal in 1986, he was the spokesperson of the United National People’s Movement during the 1990 uprising, and from 1991 the Coordinator of the United People’s Front Nepal, the legal front of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre), which in turn gave birth in 1995 to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN[M]). Bhattarai served prominently in the Peoples’ War 1996–2006, and is now de facto second in command of the CPN(M). As of the date of writing preparatory negotiations for Constituent Assembly elections are still taking place, with the fate of the monarchy and the future direction of Nepalese society to be decided in the continuing struggle… | more |

Hippocratic Hypocricy in the War on Terror

Steven H. Miles, M.D., Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror (Random House, 2006), 240 pages, hardcover $23.95.

When he saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib, medical ethicist and practicing physician Steven Miles immediately wondered: Where were the doctors, nurses, and medics while these abuses were happening?… | more |

Venezuela: Who Could Have Imagined?

Michael A. Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 127 pages, paperback, $14.95.

This short work consists of two parts: analytical and programmatic. The analytical emphasis is upon the most important crime of capitalism: namely–its dependence upon alienation/dehumanization… | more |

U.S. Imperialism and the Third World

Carollee Bengelsdorf, Margaret Cerullo, & Yogesh Chandrani, eds., The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 630 pages, paperback $26.50, cloth $69.50.

In his life, Eqbal Ahmad was a venerable icon in many left circles, not least in the United States. This was showcased at the conference organized in 1997 to mark his retirement from Hampshire College. There to honor Professor Ahmad were some of the most eminent radi- cal thinkers and activists from around the world. A list of the confer- ence speakers read like a Who’s Who of the global left… | more |

Road to the Iraq War: Two Views of U.S. Imperialism

Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 286 pages, hardcover, $25.00.
Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Times Books, 2006), 384 pages, hardcover, $27.50.

The evening before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I was giving a talk at our main leftist meeting place in the San Francisco Mission District.…I was stunned when an admired leftist comrade began fervently invoking similarities between the Bush administration and the Roman Empire, analogizing Roman legions and the U.S. military. Others piled on, developing the comparison further, also talking hopefully about the ultimate fall of the Roman Empire. I interrupted the ancient history discussion, asking why not look at U.S. history, especially U.S. imperialism in Latin America as a precedent. Silence met my remark, and the discussion of Rome continued.… | more |

A Marxist Ecological Economics

Paul Burkett, Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy (Boston: Brill, 2006), 355 pages, hardcover, $89.00.

Paul Burkett’s new book, Marxism and Ecological Economics, offers in an outstanding manner evidence of the treasures in Marx’s “Critique of Political Economy” and of the riches of Marxist theory accumulated in more than a hundred years of theoretical reasoning. It is an attempt to bring Marx into the new economic subdiscipline of ecological economics…, and at the same time to reexamine Marxist theory from the perspective of ecological economics.… Burkett’s book aims at correcting…widespread, if not altogether dominant interpretations, which are fundamentally flawed—in both their theoretical understandings of Marxism and their attempts to reduce its influence to certain failed historical experiments.… | more |

Why Hipsters Aren’t All That Hip

Richard Lloyd, Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City (New York: Routledge, 2006), 295 pages, paper $19.95.

Over the past decade, I have gone from being politically unconscious to leaning left. During that period of transition, I was cool. Put differently, I was something of a hipster. Not quintessentially so, but I certainly did, and to some extent still do, have some hipster credentials (I’d flash them here, but the list—mostly of bands I listen to and widely-unknown indie-rock musicians I can count among my friends and acquaintances—would make little sense to the uninitiated). I am now thirty, the age around which most hipsters begin the process of becoming formerly known as hip. From my current perspective, as someone increasingly critical of capitalist social arrangements, I cannot help but wonder: How cool was it to be cool? I’ll try to explain what I mean by that question and then present the answer I take to emerge from Richard Lloyd’s Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City… | more |

The New History of the Weather Underground

Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity(San Francisco: AK Press, 2006), 450 pages, paperback, $20.00.

Despite its many detractors and small numbers, the Weather-man/Weather Underground Organization has emerged in the past ten years as a major topic in the growing history of the 1960s. Many of those who knew the group during its existence—personally or in name only—often wonder why this is so. After all, goes this train of thought, Weatherman/Weather Underground represented all that was wrong with the movement against the war in Vietnam and against racism. The group encouraged violence and represented the epitome of arrogance. What about the rest of us? … | more |

Capitalism Is Rotten to the Core

Immanuel Ness, Immigrants, Unions, and the New U. S. Labor Market (Temple University Press, 2005), 230 pages, cloth $59.50, paper $21.95.
Howard Karger, Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy (Berrett~Koehler Publishing, 2005), 252 pages, cloth $24.95.

The widening and deepening of capitalism, which many economists misname globalization, has had traumatic impacts on workers. Sped up by what has been called neoliberalism (basically, the political program of modern global capital), the growing penetration of capitalist production and consumption relationships around the globe has literally pitched workers from pillar to post. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants and wage workers to abandon their home country and migrate to the United States. Similarly, government austerity and “free market” programs—curbing food and health subsidies to the poor, closing and selling state enterprises, suppression of worker and peasant protests, and the like—in countries like India and China have deprived many workers of what security they had attained and pushed peasants from their land into cities… | more |

The Hidden History of the Americas

Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 480 pages, hardcover $30.00.

Countless, almost perfectly round, forested islands dot the remote, watery plain of the Beni in eastern Bolivia. A millennium ago the islands were linked by causeways, parts of an intricate landscape management system tended by thousands of highly organized workers. These mounds do not have their origins in geo-morphological forces, but originate instead in human logic, in anthro-morphology. For even simple excavation reveals that they are built from broken pottery. Each pile, and there are hundreds, is larger than Monte Testaccio, a hill of broken pots southeast of classical Rome, serving as a garbage dump for the imperial city. Simply extending from the volume of ceramics piled on the Beni suggests that the plain was home to a highly structured society. Beginning three thousand years ago, an Arawak-speaking people created a civilization that, at its height, was populated by a million people walking the causeways wearing “long cotton tunics, [with] heavy ornaments dangling from their waists and necks” (12). The Beni was one of humankind’s greatest works of landscape artistry. Yet it was unknown until recently even by its contemporary inhabitants, the Siriono. For the builders of the mounds and the caretakers of the dikes disappeared just before the Spanish invaders arrived. Its discovery awaited Bill Deneven, a geography graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, who flew over the area in 1961 and was astonished to see great regularities in the landscape that could only be human in origin… | more |

Rebellion of a New Generation

Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow, eds., with preface by Bernardine Dohrn, Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out (New York: Nation Books, 2005), 256 pages, paperback $14.95.

One frequently comes across handwringing articles in the mainstream media decrying the supposed apathy of my generation. Too often these are written by older liberals, nostalgic for their own bygone days of protest (and forgetful of the years of small-scale organizing that led to the social upheaval of those days). Sometimes they are written by young people, who believe themselves alone in their dissent. Ironically, these lamentations never seem to recognize what those of us who are involved in social movements today can see quite clearly: that there is a growing sense among many young people that something is deeply wrong with the society we live in—and more and more, that such knowledge comes with the desire to take a stand… | more |