Friday, December 3, 2010
Good theory is theory that is proven to be correct in its predictions for future phenomena. Karl Marx’ DAS CAPITAL (1867) discovered the long term laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production. Here is what Karl Marx predicted in the 19th century, which has come true in the 20th and 21st century:
• Stepped up technological progress
• Accelerated increase in the productivity and intensity of labor
• Spread of capitalism through every part of the world
• Growing concentration and centralization of capital
• Transformation of the great majority of economically active people into sellers of labor power
• Declining rate of profit
• Increased rate of surplus value
• Periodically recurrent recessions
• Inevitable class struggle between Capital and Labor
• Increasingly revolutionary attempts to overthrow capitalism
(list taken from Ernest Mandel's Introduction to Capital, Vol 1, London: Penguin Classic, 1990).
While many said that Marxism had died an ignominious death after the fall of the USSR in 1992, in fact, there has been a resurgence of socialist ideals in Latin American governments today. Developing countries in most recent years, are rejecting the ideals of privatization and unfettered capitalism, because of resultant high poverty rates. Instead, countries like India are contemplating the need for more welfare state programs. Russia has returned to many of its socialist programs, after a failed experiment in complete privatization. The world may be turning towards a ‘mixed economy’, in which entrepreneurship and socialist policies share the same stage.
DAS CAPITAL Vol 1, AN OUTLINE
Most mainstream economists focus on the circulation of money. Marx starts by examining ‘the commodity’ as an elementary form of capitalist wealth. For Marx, commodity production is the basic and fundamental feature of capitalism. Everything becomes a commodity. Labor power itself is a commodity under capitalism. Capitalism is the pursuit of capital or wealth, using privately owned means of production.
Marx exposes the dual nature of the commodity, its use-value and exchange-value. He tells us that all forms of production hinge on human energy and material obtained from nature. In pre-capitalist societies, items are produced primarily for their use-value. In capitalism, they are produced primarily for their exchange value and ability to yield a profit. Thus an item must be sold at more than it cost. Marx calls this difference - between the cost and sale price of a commodity - ‘surplus value’. This surplus value is derived from labor power, i.e. the more a worker can produce, the more a capitalist can sell. The capitalist must maximize the amount of surplus value from the labor power of the worker. Volume 1 of Capital centers around this ‘secret’ of surplus value. Labor power produces new exchange value larger than the costs of labor power . This is surplus value. As a result, the capitalist must keep wages at the lowest possible minimum. Today, in the US , if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be set at $20 per hour, not $7.00 approx.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
There is some disagreement about which countries belong to the Middle East. Naming countries and regions is a political act, subject to controversy and dispute. So for example, the Scottish people don’t in general, adhere to the concept of the “United Kingdom”, because that infers the non-independence of Scotland. Persia is deemed to be a colonial term, and therefore this country was named Iran after the 1979 Iranian revolution. Most of the Middle East was carved into countries in the European style, after the World War I conquest of the Ottoman Empire by England, France and Russia.
For the purposes of my classes, the Middle East is composed of the following countries:
• Iran (named as such since the Islamic revolution of 1979. It used to be called Persia)
• Palestinian Territories (there has never been a state called Palestine)
• Saudi Arabia
• United Arab Emirates
• The Arabian Gulf. This stretch of sea used to be called the Persian Gulf, which is deemed now to be a colonial term used by Europeans.
(Of ten, Egypt and Yemen are said to be part of Africa, but it is quite common to refer to Egypt for example, as a country in the Middle East.)
The Middle East is home to numerous ethnic groups, including Arabs, Turks, Persians, Jews, Kurds, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriacs, Armenians, Azeris, Circassians, Greeks and Georgians.
The two principle Islamic denominations in the Middle East are the Shia and the Sunni. The split arose after Muhammed’s death over the issue of his descendants and therefore, who should properly lead the Islamic faith. The Sunni are more secular, and believe in the split between faith and politics. The Shia (principle country, Iran) believe that the state and religious leadership should be intertwined.
HOW DID THE ‘MIDDLE EAST’ GET NAMED?
It's a relatively modern term, popularized by Alfred Mahan in early 1900s, an American imperialist.
“Writing for London's National Review [in 1902], Mahan used the new term in calling for the British to strengthen their naval power in the Persian Gulf.
'As scholar Roderic Davison explains, Mahan’s Middle East "was an indeterminate area guarding a part of the sea route from Suez to Singapore.’ The new coinage played off the terms Near East and Far East,"already in use. “
Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, http://www.unc.edu/mideast/where/mahan-1902.shtml
Monday, September 27, 2010
In my INTL 5665 Fall 2010 class, I asked student Carolyn to comment. She wrote that “I concur with your contention that it would be both inappropriate and erroneous to characterize HUM as a movement towards 'self-determination' and 'independence'." She then discusses what might be characterized as a political group promoting independence. "The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JFLK) of the greater Kashmir polity proceeds from a predominantly secular stance purporting to embrace all religions in its quest for self-determination. In contrast, HUM religious ideology strives to disseminate ... political Islam across the Line of Control not only Kashmir's secession from India and accession to Pakistan."
She compared HUM to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE which "(like the JFLK) represent a legitimate drive for self-determination in response to the pogroms carried out by the Sinhalese government. Karen Parker noted that the Tamils demonstrated all five elements essential for self-determination… [Karen Parker is an international human rights lawyer who represents the LTTE at the UN. The LTTE, defeated in 2009, is often cited as the first modern group to use suicide bombing tactics, PW].
Carolyn wrote that "HUM’s drive is towards Kashmiri unification with Pakistan and the global jihad, rather than the establishment of an autonomous state.
HUM appears to an uncanny ability to strike at the Achilles heel of the Kashmir separatist movement, gaining a foothold from which to propagate its militant Islamic agenda. Pakistan has shown a marked incongruity in its purported efforts against terrorists. Pakistan’s ambidextrous policies are typified by its “clampdown on extremist groups and freezing of terrorist assets” (global security.org) on one hand, and the training of jihadists (by the ISI arm of its military).
I believe there is a growing international consensus that there is indeed a strong element of state sponsorship."
In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "chastised Pakistan for not making enough effort to seize senior al-Qaeda leaders who she said were hiding in the lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan" (Hussein, 2009). The UK Prime Minister David Cameron has accused the Pakistani government of exporting terror (Watt, 2009).
Another student pinpoints the aspirations of the Kashmiri pan- Islamists: “ In a 2000 article for the World Affairs journal, Kashmiri academic Riyaz Punjabi summarized the view of the Indian government with regard to the insurgency. He concluded that ‘Kashmir’s cultural identity is threatened by pan-Islamists seeking to create a modern-day caliphate stretching from Kashmir to Central Asia….Punjabi says the character of Kashmiri militancy has changed over the years from homegrown non-sectarian nationalism to foreign pan-Islamism…’”
It is noted that Kashmiris have a long-standing affiliation with Sufi mysticism, a more esoteric and peaceful branch of Islam.
REFERENCES: • Chadda, Maya, Building Democracy in South Asia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Boulder, Co: Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc, 2000.
Hussein, Zaid, "Hillary Clinton says Pakistan does not really want to stop al-Qaeda" Sunday Times (UK), October 31, 2009,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6896956.ece
Watt, Nicolas. "Pakistan Must Not Be Allowed to Promote Export of Terror, Says David Cameron | World News | Guardian.co.uk." Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | Guardian.co.uk. Guardian.co.uk, 28 July 2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/28/pakistan-promote-terror-david-cameron
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
DARFUR: THE OIL FACTOR
For maps of oil fields and consortia in Sudan, see:
In Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond (2007) authors Don Cheadle and John Prendergast note that: “ Barack Obama wrote that there are three reasons why Americans should care about human suffering in Africa and anywhere else: 1) preventing and suppressing genocide is a moral imperative, Americans have made a promise and commitment to “Save Darfur”, and eradicating genocide will make Americans safer. He asks, “What does it take to make the world listen and respond?” “IT TAKES A NUMBER OF IMPORTANT TOOLS, INCLUDING DIPLOMACY, FINANCIAL RESOURCES, AND EFFECTIVE SECURITY FORCES (xiii).”
Note that President Obama didn’t name the United Nations Security Council as the deciding body. But…the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) focuses on the UNSC as the appropriate leader to conduct military humanitarian interventions.
Regarding the countervailing presence of China in the Sudan, what then has been the role of the Great Powers, and how has that affected the wars in Sudan? Tess provides historical context. Recall that the British colonial policy of ruling the north and south of Sudan under separate administrations, had exacerbated a longstanding conflict between Arab Africans in the North and Christian and Animinist Africans in the South. Sudan gained its independence in 1954. The conflict between North and South continued as a civil war until 1972. It was in the 1970s that oil was discovered in great quantities in the Sudan, mainly in the South (see maps).
Here is a brief chronology of Sudan-Great Power relations from 1972:
1974. Chevron’s Sudan Oil discovery project begins.
1979. Jafaar Nimelry, Sudan’s then head of state, breaks ties with USSR.
1979. Chevron discovers big oil reserves in Abu Jabra, south of Sudan.
1983. A second civil war begins between North and South. This time, Chevron is targeted, attacked, suspends its project in 1984, and sells off its oil concessions in 1999. Between 1983 and the peace agreement signed in January 2005, Sudan's civil war took nearly two million lives and left millions more displaced.
1999. China begins to develop oil fields abandoned by Chevron in 1983. Since then, China National Petroleum Company has become Sudan’s largest investor – at least $15 billion overall. CNPC built a pipeline from Sudan to the Red Sea, where oil is imported to China. 8% of China’s oil comes from S Sudan.
2004. A US alliance is made with “President for Life” Idriss Deby, in neighboring Chad. He is a corrupt despot. He joins the “War on Terror” and is supplied with US funds and military training. Deby launches an attack to aid Darfur militants fighting the Sudanese government.
2004. The Save Darfur Coalition was founded at the "Darfur Emergency Summit in New York City" on July 14, 2004. The Coalition began when the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and American Jewish World Service organized this event at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan featuring Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel (Wikipedia). The term ‘genocide’ is used to describe the civil war in the Sudan.
2004. A UN mission led by an Italian judge disputes using the term ‘genocide’. He refers to grave human rights abuses, and war crimes. Calls for a war crime trials instead.
2005. Sudan reports that it found oil in Southern Darfur, with a potential of pumping 500,000 barrels a day.
2005. Sudanese government officials say that the US put pressure on Sudan to limit its ties with China.
2005. Counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and Sudan begins. General Salah Abdallah Gosh, the head of Sudanese intelligence is flown to the United States in 2005 in the course of this cooperation
2005. The BBC Corporation, UK, reports that a leader of the rebel movement against Khartoum, John Garang, has died. An obituary by the BBC notes the following “He studied at Grinnell College, Iowa, and later returned to the US for military training at Fort Benning, Georgia…He varied from Marxism to drawing support from Christian fundamentalists in the US.”
2006. Unhappy with his small share of oil profits, Deby of Chad creates his own oil company (SHT) and demands a 60 % share of Chevron’s profits.
2006. China appears in Chad, offers interest free loans and grants, and becomes a client of Chad’s oil industry.
2007. Chevron (Condoleeza Rice used to be on its Board) enters Chad, on its border with West Sudan (Darfur). With Exxon-Mobil, it completes a $3.7 million pipeline from Chad to the Atlantic Ocean and transits to the US.
2008. Chad continues its military support of militants fighting the Khartoum government.
2008. The International Criminal Court indicts Sudan's president on charges of genocide and war crimes . But the majority of African nations refuse to abide by the judgment, saying that it spoke to Western double standards .
2009. The Council on Foreign Relations notes ‘positive developments’:" CFR Senior Fellow John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, says the new, more comprehensive approach to Sudan is 'a positive development,' and disagrees with critics of the policy who argue that it offers engagement without requiring that the Sudanese government meet existing benchmarks. '[T]he first law of diplomacy is that you talk to people," Campbell says. "You have to talk to people, and you have to talk to people all the time. And so I think that engagement at this stage is the way to go.'
Campbell also notes the changes in the nature of the violence in Darfur of late. 'It looks much more like low-intensity warfare with a heavy dose of criminal activity," he says. "This is somewhat different from the more blatant state-sponsored terrorism that was going on more than a year ago.' Still, he says, the United States should look for signs that Khartoum is working to extricate itself from the continuing violence there, especially by cooperating with UN and African Union peacekeeping forces.
The new policy offers the Sudanese government, which 'has willy-nilly become a pariah state,' a new opportunity to reform its standing in the world 'by living up to agreements to which it has already been a party,' Campbell says.” The US has accepted the election of Bashar and sent a junior aid to his inauguration in May 2010. This appears to undermine the argument that humanitarian disasters don’t happen under an elected government. The US appears to be supporting independence in the South, with a referendum coming up this January. At least 80 per cent and perhaps as much as 95 per cent of the region's known oil reserves are in the South,where the population is expected to vote for independence. Where would that leave China’s relationship with Khartoum? In 2007 the Chinese government stopped blocking UN Security Council resolutions calling for the deployment of peacekeepers in Darfur. China has said it would support the will of the people in the South. However, a North-South split could produce more bloodshed. The North is expected to resist such a split.
My understanding is that the US was, and maybe still is, sending financial aid to support the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed on January 9, 2005, by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan (GOS). In my mind, this means that the US is funding the GOS, but I could be wrong and I don’t have hard figures. See a US government report: http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/countries/sudan/docs/sudan_strategy.pdf.
Accusations have appeared on the Internet that the US is funding a covert war against the Sudanese government for example: http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-264THE%20WINTER%20OF%20BASHIRS%20DISCONTENT.pdf.
PS to Stephan: I promised you actual figures of US funds going to the Bashir government. Funds have gone to the Peace agreement, as cited above, but I couldn’t find hard figures.
NATION BUILDING AND R2P. WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
Some students focused on nation building in this course. A distinction needs to be made between the concepts of nation building and R2P type interventions. Conceptually, they are different. This course looks at R2P, with nation building as possible context, but not always.
How does one make a conceptual link between American operations to aid the development of democratic institutions, and humanitarian disasters? If you have chosen this theme in your final paper, cite examples of how the two work together – or not.
Do you believe, for example, that humanitarian disasters don't happen in democracies? This brings up the question of the difference between poverty and a humanitarian disaster. It's a fine line, which we tackle in Week 8. For example, India suffers from widespread poverty, and yet it is a democracy. Rwanda is a democracy now, but still suffers enormously from the 90s humanitarian disaster. Nation building may follow a UN war and sanctions, which in themselves cause humanitarian disasters. Half of million Iraqi children died as a result of UN sanctions, according to UNICEF, from 1990 to 2003.
By the way, I've joined an excellent organization, called Women to Women, and will be helping a woman in Rwanda, to get on her feet. It’s only $30 a month, and I highly recommend it.
Stephen Baran had several comments that introduced new ideas into the course. He wrote
‘The African Union needs to be empowered to act much more efficiently, effectively, and credibly; they do not currently. They require training, resources, and guidance beyond what they currently possess. I don't think the global PR campaign is what it could be either; there is power in information which could be better leveraged.’ It’s true that the ICISS downplays the role of regional organizations in implementing 2P, and emphasizes the leadership role of the UNSC.
Stefan wrote that “Indeed, perversity seems to be the refuge of those who choose not to act but are unwilling to do so in front of a judgmental public for purely self-interested reasons. 'Based on Powers’ case work, however, it seems that where and when the U.S. made clear its intentions to prevent hostility, it succeeded in minimizing damages to the victims. The true perversity is that the legacy of inaction by the United States is often primary in perpetrators’ calculus that they may act with impunity within their own borders and without (Serbia/Bosnia).'
Here he describes the realpolitik of the perpetrators, in terms of how they take on board potential US and international reaction.
THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT INDICTMENT OF al-Bashir
The ICC has recently released a second international warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s arrest, this time adding the crime of genocide to his list of offenses. Bashir already faces previous charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, all of which he has denied.
In fact, only 1 or 2 African countries support the decision of the ICC. The others consider it illegal intervention in another country's domestic affairs The AU will send its troops (if funded) but draws the line when it comes to arresting leaders.
AU forces are underfunded, which is why they 'have failed to materialize'. Personally, I think AU should be funded by the UN. They've done the most to broker an agreement.
The Sudanese media often alleges that international intervention was part of a Zionist conspiracy.
It's interesting to note that the major US organizations promoting R2P in Sudan, have links to Israel. See for example:
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Political economists like Robert Gilpin take into account several theories of US capitalism that he says are ignored by neoclassical economists. For example, he discusses the core-dependency theory.
This ‘core-dependency’ theory was originated by Immanuel Wallerstein, in The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, New York: Academic Press, 1976.
The core is the advanced industrialized countries, a major source of capital and investment. The periphery is primarily a source of raw materials, food and labor. “Historically, the core has power over the periphery because a rupture of their ties would be more costly to the latter than the former” (Gilpin, 143).
The fact is, as Wallerstein points out, if it weren’t for the rich resources and cheap labor of the pre-capitalist world, Anglo-European capitalism could not have been developed. This remains the case today.
Economists tend to mention the ‘intellectual labor’ of scientists and engineers as necessary to modern technological development. They ignore the manual labor by millions of people involved in the extrication of resources.
Let’s take the case of coltan, which has become indispensable in the functioning of the Western business world. This is a primary resource used in the manufacturing of cell phones, computer chips and other technological devices. Coltan is found in 3 billion-year-old soils, like those in the Rift Valley region of middle Africa, western Australia and central Asia.
“ Columbite-tantalite - coltan for short – is one of the world's most sought-after materials. Refine coltan and you get a highly heat-resistant metal powder called tantalum. It sells for $100 a pound, and it's becoming increasingly vital to modern life. For the high-tech industry, tantalum is magic dust, a key component in everything from mobile phones made by Nokia (NOK) and Ericsson and computer chips from Intel (INTC) to Sony (SNE) stereos and VCRs.”
Essick, Kristi, “Guns, Money and Cell Phones”, The Industry Standard Magazine
June 11 2001, http://www.globalissues.org/article/442/guns-money-and-cell-phones
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a main source of coltan. It is suffering through a terrible civil war, in which local militia and Western corporations are involved. Approximately 40,000 are dying a month from war-related causes; thousands of women are being raped.
"'There is a direct link between human rights abuses and the exploitation of resources in areas in the DRC occupied by Rwanda and Uganda,'" says Suliman Baldo, a senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch, a New York-based nongovernmental organization that tracks human-rights abuses worldwide.” (Essick, op cit).
How are multinational corporations involved in this crisis? While not directly engaged in fighting or even mining, a U.N. report states that companies trading minerals are "the engine of the conflict in the DRC" (cited on http://www.thecongocause.org/mining.htm). Companies sell coltan to processing companies, which in turn sell to tantalum capacitor manufacturers - whose clients are high-tech companies such as Ericsson, Intel and Nokia.
These companies deny acquiring coltan from either side in the civil war raging in the DRC. But, like the provenance of diamonds, there is no independent monitoring to prove this. What is clear, is that we in the West and elsewhere around the globe, are dependent on coltan as a resource. Sectors of the DRC have become dependent on the cash provided by coltan sales. This is not, however, a chicken and egg question of what came first. We know that multinational corporation approached countries in Africa for coltan first.
Pre-coltan days, people in the DRC were mainly farmers and peasants. Now many, including children, are mining coltan under horrendous conditions, and unpaid, under conditions of virtual slavery.
In the present day international division of labor (euphemistically called 'globalization'), manual work involved in the extrication of raw resources is done by people in the ‘developing world’ and in dependency regions within the 'developed' world (such as coal mines in Virginia, USA). The intellectual work is done in the ‘advanced, developed world.’ The US’ manufacturing base has been replaced by the service sector (banking, hospitality, tourism etc).
This is because the labor costs of mass manufacturing are much lower in the developing world.
Take a look at the labels in your clothing. Here you will see a smorgasbord of developing countries that have made your clothes, and most of your other ‘stuff’. This is because of low labor costs. We in the developed world are actually dependent on this labor for most everything we own!
How did this come about? Political economists like Robert Gilpin vaguely ascribe the inequality between rich and poor countries to lack of education in poor countries. But this is not an accident. The ‘free trade’ model imposed on poor countries, has resulted in the deterioration of educational systems in those countries. Developing economies have switched from subsistence farming to cash crops subject to the risky environment of the global market. Many poor countries were forced to beg for loans in the 20th century from the IMF. Loans were given with strings attached: all health, education and welfare services had to be privatized.
The result has been a degradation of social life in loan-receiving countries, who are also saddled with huge interest bearing debts. In short, privatization/globalization has increased inequality,
In the last decade, this unfortunate state of affairs has been referred to as 'neocolonialism.' The adverse consequences of the core-dependency relationship is widely recognized by the IMF and other international institutions. See these 1999 remarks which critique 'globalization':
Birdsall, Nancy, “Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Globalization and the Developing Countries:The Inequality Risk”, 1999.
Friday, June 18, 2010
"People who express anti-globalization views would ask—how does minimizing economic insecurity change capitalism?"
This question is central to the debate between economic and political human rights. Originally, the UN Declaration of Human Rights was enacted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, and it mentioned both sets of rights. Political rights protect the freedom of assembly, speech and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention and other oppressive actions by the state. Economic rights are states’ obligation to feed, shelter and provide medical care:
Article 25: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."
These entitlements are paid through taxes, which means that the wealthier segments of society shift their wealth to the poorer sections of society. This idea undermines the 'free market' philosophy of capitalism. The US only partially accepts health and welfare obligations. Therefore, the UNDHR was split into 2 Covenants: the Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Only the US and three other countries have not ratified the latter.
The US arguments for the non-ratification of the Covenant on E, S and C rights are as follows:
• A massive shift of wealth subsidizing one section of the society by another, undermines the principles of a free market.
• If a section of a society is allowed to enrich itself, the wealth will ‘trickle down’ naturally to subordinate sectors, thus enriching everyone.
• The states that have fulfilled, or tried to, economic rights were command economies that were repressive and anti capitalist (ie, the USSR).
• Today, economic rights are considered by the US to be ‘aspirational ‘(lex ferenda -- what the law should be). Political rights are considered by the US as more rooted in the world that actually exists (lex lata: the law that exists). Therefore most states are out of compliance with the Covenant on E,S and C rights, according to the US, and it makes no sense to ratify. Inclusion of economic rights has led the US not to ratify Covenants on the rights of women and the child.
Critics argue that low-taxed inheritances, tax breaks for the wealthy, and other policies that privilege the rich, are subsidies for the rich or ‘corporate welfare’ which also undermine the principle of the free market. The accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few has failed to trickle down to the rest of us.
"Capitalism is simply an idea about how certain human endeavors and behaviors should be conducted." This statement points to the social construction of capitalism in a specific historical and geographical context.
What is that idea? How do we define capitalism?
Adding an ‘ism’ to the word ‘capital’, indicates a movement or organization (as in Buddhism).
The definition of capitalism from the Financial Dictionary:
"An economic system based on a free market, open competition, profit motive and private ownership of the means of production. Capitalism encourages private investment and business, compared to a government-controlled economy. Investors in these private companies (i.e. shareholders) also own the firms and are known as capitalists."
In fact, no state has a completely free market. Corruption, no-bid contracts, subsidies for the wealthy, trade protection (e.g, the US protects certain types of textiles, also steel) exist most places. So, we could say that the Financial Dictionary's definition of capitalism is ‘aspirational’…the way capitalism should be.
Personally, I like short definitions. I define capitalism as ‘the pursuit of capital’, i.e. profit. Today, the US is a debtor nation running at a loss ($13 trillion debt, see http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/). Can it be said to be capitalist any more, since INCOME PLUS ASSETS MINUS LIABILITIES=NEGATIVE CAPITAL OR DEBT?
'statements assume that human nature is a fixed variable,'
It’s interesting how much political economic theory rests on definitions of human nature in European and N American philosophy. The rise of capitalism happened at the same time that definitions of human nature were being turned on their head. The God-centered, earth-centric and stable universe of feudalism defined humans as each having an immutable, divinely ordered function. You were either a king or a serf, knight or a priest or merchant. Women were subordinated to men. With the collapse of feudalism and the rise of the mercantile class, came the discovery that the universe was a much more chaotic place: the rise of the solar centric view. Essentially, humans began to be viewed from the 17th century on, as a mass of atoms with no spiritual purpose, a state of nature in which each possesses a selfish instinct for survival which engenders competition and conflict. Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century English philosopher, popularized this view by advocating a strong ruler that could bring order to chaos (The Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, 1651).
The idea that humans are irredeemably and naturally competitive, greedy and aggressive, and that these are overriding factors, is now disputed. Anthropologists for example point out that for millions of years of human existence before the rise of ‘civilization’ 5000 years ago, hunter-gatherer societies led cooperative and peaceful lives. This, anthropologists claim, is the reason why humans have survived as a species. It is thought that the threats to survival today (nuclear, environmental degradation etc) are the result of the competitive view of human nature, which emphasizes hyper-masculine traits, territoriality and resource wars as norms. Authors such as the scientist Fritjof Capra (The Turning Point, 1991), believe that humans are moving towards another evolutionary phase, which is more cooperative, woman-centered and ecologically conscious.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
'all things that have a monetary or exchange value'. So it's an aggregate term. Water and oil cannot be by themselves 'all things', although definitely should be factors in measuring wealth. Students who noted this, are on the right track.
So, according to Keynes and his GDP, wealth is quantifiable, and you saw that the most popular measure of wealth is Gross National Product or Gross Domestic Product (see my Political Economy glossary for definitions.)
But...there is emerging a new definition of wealth that is NOT quantifiable. Clean air, clean water, good health, happiness, wellbeing...these are qualitative factors. It is now increasingly understood that these qualitative factors are indicators of economic well being. Health IS wealth (as my grandmother used to say!) For example, in the US, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to die earlier than others who are wealthier. It actually is more complicated than that. You see, there are societies that are poor in terms of currency but also long living. This might be because they have clean air, plenty of foraging and agricultural food, etc, most of which does not have exchange value. A friend of mine lives on an obscure Philippino island relatively untouched by civilization. People live off the land, the economy is barely run on money,there are small marketplaces, they are happy and live about as long as we do in the West.
Feminist economists (see my Pol Econ glossary) critique the GDP/GNP. They tend to look at unpaid services, like child caretaking, and argue that they are invisibilized, but should be part of accounting wealth.
In case you think all this talk is far fetched, be aware that tucked inside the 2010 health bill, on p 562 no less, is a provision requiring Congress to help finance and oversee the creation of a 'key national indicators' system, a sort of report card to show improvement, or not, in areas of health, education and the environment. This is called the State of the US, and will be run by the National Academy of Sciences; indicators will also include crime, energy, infrastructure, housing. What is not clear, is which indicators would enhance the GDP. Should they account for happiness or carbon emissions? Accounting wealth is a philosophical exercise. One economist, Amartya Sen, who teaches at Harvard, has created the Human Development Index; you might want to research his indicators.
The criticism of the GDP is as follows: just taking a national average of the GDP per person gives a skewed picture. For example, just a small minority of extremely rich people, can artificially increase the average GDP per person. So this explains why the US has a very high aggregate GDP, but 40 million Americans live under the poverty line. The US' child mortality rate is the same as Cuba's. Yet the US is ranked as high income country, and Cuba is ranked as a middle income country.
Monday, April 19, 2010
We live in a world of cons and Ponzi schemes: your health insurance, Social Security, government bonds, bank accounts, unemployment benefits are Ponzis on a much larger scale than Madoff ‘s empire.
In these ‘legal' Ponzi schemes, younger participants' money is by law donated to older participants. These donations are masqueraded as our ‘taxes', ‘ insurance payments' , and the like. Purportedly adjusted for inflation, instead our returns diminish annually. This is why most of us will receive a pitiful $100 a week social security from the government despite putting in 40 years of taxes into the system. Newer investors face price hikes. It's why health insurance has increased by 20 percent in the last few months in the US.
Investment companies like Goldman Sachs invent financial instruments like ‘ credit default swaps’ to favor certain clients and rip off others. Big finance is big fraud (see this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/18/goldman-sachs-regulators-civil-charges).
Banks are run on a Ponzi scheme too. By law, they only carry 30% of their assets in cash. That's called fractional banking . If you want to liquify your bank assets, the bank releases cash from newer customers' deposits. But if there is a run on the banks, you're out of luck. Banks' government insurance money , estimated at $8 trillion in December of 2008, does not equal the total amount of money in banks.
What else can we learn from Bernie Madoff? Consider this:
Bernie operated on the ‘power of no.' Initially, if you asked to invest with his company, he'd say no, it's closed to you. You didn't have to be fleeced. But investors reacted as if they'd been refused entry into an exclusive golf club , and insisted on being part of the world of Madoff.
So Madoff didn't force investors to enter into his Ponzi scheme. Yet, the great American public has no such choice : it is forced to pay into a national insurance program and an insecure banking system that yields less and less returns for the middle and working classes. Income tax was never constitutionally amended; in other words, it’s imposed illegally.
Bernie knew who his investors were. The list has been made public, and it includes some big names of the great and good. Whereas, the great American public has not a clue whose toxic assets they are paying off in the big trillion dollar bailout. The world public is vulnerable, as President Obama and UK Prime Minister Brown recently pointed out, to shadow banking systems, where there is no monitoring or regulation or transparency.
Madoff admitted his losses . A shadow banking system doesn't have to. The above ground banking system is equally deceptive. When report time comes, hide losses by shuffling them through offshore accounts and other banks. The US government shuffles off losses by going into extraordinary debt.
Madoff didn't have the power to print new money, which the government does when unsustainable financing crashes. Today, we talk in trillions of dollars, unheard of five years ago. More paper money leads to more inflation.
He didn't do what the Federal Reserve did, take money out of circulation by imposing higher interest rates, and then call that a ‘credit crunch.' The Federal Reserve is not a government institution yet is allowed to release or withdraw money supply at will. The US government pays interest to the Federal Reserve to print the dollar. Greenbacks anyone? (government-printed, interest-free dollars).
Madoff didn't apply for corporate welfare, and ask the taxpaying public to buy off his toxic assets like the big corporate boys .
Madoff “only “ defrauded on a reported $50 billion, whereas Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin is accused of defrauding Citibank shareholders of more than $122 billion, also described as a Ponzi scheme. Top brass of the US military are being investigated for billions of dollars in ‘missing contracts'.
Madoff holds up a mirror to our economy's shortcomings.
He reminds us once again of the Golden Rule: ‘if it's too good to be true, then it is.”
He reminds us that if you gamble on your wealth, the casino always wins hands down.
Madoff helped to create the largest on-screen stock exchange, NASDAQ, reminding us that today, money is just digits typed on a computer keyboard.
He spilled the beans about the greedy, vicious world of trading and its so-called guardian, the Securities and Exchange Commission. See his priceless ‘confession' on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab1NTIlO-FM&NR=1.
Madoff's demise provides us with a cautionary tale of social responsibility: your money is an extension of yourself. Know where it is going, who and what benefits or is destroyed by your investments.
Madoff was an equal opportunity swindler. Like banks and corporations, it didn't matter to him if his investors owned a sweatshop, sold lethal weapons or ran charities. Should you be concerned who your co-investors are?
One of his ‘victims' was actor John Malkovitch. That's karma for ya, John, for threatening to kill journalist Robert Fisk because you didn't like his reporting on the Middle East. (“I'd like to shoot Fisk , ” Malkovitch told the Cambridge Union in 2002).
On a personal note, I like Bernie because his baseball cap makes him look kinda cute for a ‘father knows best' type of guy. A LOJM (little old jewish man) wearing a bulletproof vest and ankle tag – how gangsta cool is that?
Of course, if Bernie looks charming it's because all conmen are charmers, including heads of state, CEOs , the IMF and anyone else who are now promoting the current ‘global, one world solution' to the crisis.
Why would you trust the people that got us into this mess, to get us out of it?
Finally, before his arrest, Bernie took the time to sign over his houses and jewelry to his wife.
Always thinking of his family.
WHAT A MENSCH!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
And, how would one define ‘a high level of culture’ or, what would be a ‘low level’ ?Or, would you agree with another definition which equates civilization with modernity?
Who is called 'civilized' ? This introduces value judgments bound by political motivations and ideology. For example, the Romans said that the Gauls were barbaric. In fact, historians have discovered the Gauls had advanced cultures. Why then did the Romans call them barbaric and justified their conquest in order to ‘civilize’ them? Because, archeologists now say, the Gauls had hundreds of gold mines, and the Romans wanted the gold for themselves.
Remember the categories, class/ethnicity/gender. It makes the notion of a homogeneous society problematic . For example, most Americans consider their society ‘civilized’ in the sense that there is democracy (political rights) and running water, electricity and food (economic rights) available to all. I live 100 miles from the Navajo Nation, a huge area that encompasses bits of Arizona and New Mexico, but not a nation by any means. It receives charity from the US government and isn’t allowed to raise taxes. 50% of the ‘rez’ (local word for the reservation) live without electricity, they are still burning coal! The water is often polluted from uranium mines. There are no hospitals. Native Americans have the lowest life expectancy than any US demographic.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
"If the Government were to ask us to go about without any clothing, should we do so? If I were a passive resister, I would say to them that I would have nothing to do with their law. But we have so forgotten ourselves and become so compliant that we do not mind any degrading law."
There is no question that airport scanners that undress us and our children, are degrading instruments. Scanners are also carcinogenic. I was pleased that two women refused to go through the scanners at a UK airport yesterday, March 2 2010, and forfeited their tickets.
The chances of being hijacked or being blown up by a terrorist in an airplane are something like a million to one. We are much more likely to be killed in a car accident, or by cancers, and other leading causes of death in the West.
I advocate passive resistance by refusing to fly from airports that degrade my humanity and invade my privacy and that of vulnerable children. If this means no airplane travel, so be it. Our bodies belong to us -- this is a fundamental right called 'habeas corpus'.
Monday, February 8, 2010
But it can be understood from the perspective of the global balance of power.
Muslim Kosovans were engaged in a battle for independence from socialist Yugoslavia.
According to research done by student Marija Greenlee (Spring 2010), on October 1, 1999, US Congressman Engel made one of the strongest cases linking images of Serbian atrocities on CNN to the need for military action:
“We read about it in the paper today on the front page, that there were several massacres, that bodies were found of innocent civilians, men, women and children, as the Serbian police forces and military units continue their campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo…Mr. Speaker, it is time for action. We need to have immediate NATO air strikes on Serbian positions in Kosovo.” (Bahador 2006).
By why NATO? Why not coordinate with the UN Security Council? This is what the US did in 1990, to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
Five days after NATO bombed socialist Serbia, accused of atrocities against Muslim Kosovans, the US Congress adopted the SILK ROAD STRATEGY ACT. This was to break Russia’s monopoly over pipeline routes in Central Asia and define American business interests in the region. Bombing and destabilizing Serbia was possibly an undeclared part of a strategy to create a corridor of power for America and her allies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. This explains why Russia and China were not included in the humanitarian intervention to rescue Muslim Kosovans, and NATO was used instead, bypassing potential trouble at the UN Security Council.
In one of my lectures, I state that , “THE TRANS-BALKAN PIPELINE (AMBO) WILL PASS VERY NEAR KOSOVO, PUMPING CASPIAN OIL FROM THE BULGARIAN PORT OF VLORA, FOR TRANSPORTATION TO EUROPE AND THE US”.
Marija Greenlee wrote in her Spring 2010 paper: “This critical oil pipeline [AMBO], currently under construction and set to operate in 2011 will link up pipeline corridors between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is the hub of the world’s largest unexplored oil reserves. Coincidentally, Camp Bondsteel, America’s largest US military base since Vietnam has been built in Kosovo.” The US took over 1000 acres of farmland in SE Kosovo at Uresevic, near the Macedonian Border, for the construction of Camp Bondsteel, the biggest such project since the war in Vietnam.
Marija also draws our attention to the newly discovered petroleum reserves in neighboring Albania, which is located on the Adriatic Sea.
According to Marija’s research, Kosovo is a place of religious history and national pride for Serbs. In an area that has become known as the Field of Blackbirds, thousands of Serbian “warrior saints” stood their ground in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje, only to be slaughtered by the invading Ottoman Turks. And Kosovo is the historical seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church
Here are some casualty estimates, note (as always in these types of estimates) the discrepancies:
1. Kosovo (1998-99)
o Ethnic cleansing by Yugoslavs, before the war
29 April 1999 AP: 2,000 (in 1998)
Ploughshares 2000: 1-2,000 (1998)
o Ethnic cleansing during the war
18 July 1999 Baltimore Sun (NY Times News Service): 10,000 Albanians killed during 3-month campaign
5 July 1999 AP: 10,000
4 July 1999 Toronto Star: 10,000
9 Nov. 1999 Washington Times: 9,269
Ploughshares 2000: 2,500-10,000
o NATO Bombing (1999)
9 Feb. 2000 Slate, civilian deaths [http://slate.msn.com/code/Explainer/Explainer.asp?Show=2/9/2000&idMessage=4570]
Human Rights Watch: ca. 500; or specifically 488-527 ("confidently")
Serb propaganda: 1,200-5,000 ("stubbornly")
HRW: 500 civ. [http://www.hrw.org/press/2000/02/nato207.htm]
14 June 1999 Time: 5,000 military + 1,200 civilian = 6,200
4 Dec. 2001 WSJ: 500, citing Wm Arkin [http://wsjclassroomedition.com/tj_120401_casu.htm]
5 July 1999 AP: 1,200 civilians, citing Yugoslav state-run media
Ploughshares 2000: 500 civilians
11 July 1999 Washington Post
Official Serbian figures: 576 Serb military "casualties" (probably deaths)
NATO estimates: 5,000 to 10,000 Serb soldiers dead
Author's estimate: 1,600 civilians and 1,000 military "casualties"
Source: Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/20centry.htm, accessed February 7, 2010.
As usual, pictures are worth a thousand words. See where Kosovo is located in the context of proposed pipeline routes.
For a map of proposed pipelines in the region, by US, China, Russia
Compare to a map of Kosovo and the region:
Bahador, Babak. "The CNN Effect on Western Policy Before the Kosovo Intervention" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Le Centre Sheraton Hotel, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Mar 17, 2004, http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p72684_index.html
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Updated August 2, 2011
What are perspectives from international relations theories that we can apply to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti?
Haiti is a model of a country which has been impacted by colonialism and postcolonialism. Realist Thomas Weiss writes about Somalia in the 19th century period of colonization: "CONSUMER GOODS WERE INTRODUCED INTO THE LOCAL MARKET, WITH ACCOMPANYING MONETIZATION AND OTHER CHANGES IN THE ECONOMY" (Weiss, 2005, p. 58). This happened to Haiti in the mid 1990s, when the International Monetary Fund loaned money to Haiti with strings: it had to accept low cost food imports, which in turn, led to the collapse of its agricultural economy. Allowing US imports of rice, part of the conditions of Structural Adjustment Loans (SALs) devastated local rice production. As student Robert Pampel (INTL 5400, Summer 2011) points out, an oil embargo imposed by the US and UN on Haiti after the first ouster of President Aristide, caused Haitians to turn to forests for fuel, which eroded the soil and caused flooding. A US-aid program to replace the indigenous Creole pig, considered to be diseased, turned disastrous. Rural farmers fled to the impoverished cities, where housing constructions were not built to be earthquake proof.
As Robert Pampel points out, SAPs do not work in a country that lacks governmental infrastructure: "SAPs were enforced on countries with little consideration for their infrastructure and ability to implement structural adjustments. This is one reason why middle-income developing countries like Brazil and Thailand had success implementing SAPs, while many lower-income developing countries with little to no infrastructure struggled."
NGOs in Haiti are tasked to act as state substitutes, but while some have proved very useful in food distribution, trash goes unpicked up, roads are not repaired, and a disaster response program is not institutionalized.
The liberal view is stated here:" RESCUING OTHERS WILL ALWAYS BE ONEROUS, BUT IF WE DENY THE MORAL DUTY AND LEGAL RIGHT TO DO SO, WE DENY NOT ONLY THE CENTRALITY OF JUSTICE IN POLITICAL AFFAIRS, BUT ALSO THE COMMON HUMANITY THAT BINDS US ALL (Teson in Holzgrefe and Keohane, p. 129). The cry from Haiti has been answered by billions of people around the world, including a massive relief effort led by the US government. There was no forced intervention, no violation of national sovereignty, in the strict legal sense.
But Haiti was already dependent on outside powers, as the realist Weiss points out was the case of Somalia during the 1990s. In the case of Somalia, according to Weiss, "MILITARY, ECONOMIC, AND FOOD AID PERPETUATED A POLITICAL SYSTEM THAT WAS NOT SELF-SUSTAINING, NOR DID IT FULFILL THE BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF A SOVEREIGN GOVERNMENT (Weiss, 2005, p. 59).
The anti-imperialist Bricmont asks us to imagine "A WORLD IN WHICH CONGO, CUBA, VIETNAM, BRAZIL, CHILE, IRAQ, AND MANY OTHER COUNTRIES WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DEVELOP WITHOUT CONSTANT INTERFERENCE FROM THE WEST" (Bricmont, 2006, p.38). But now, China and Russia are shaping the economies of the poorer countries around the world. Here is a review of how I see Great Power rivalries in the Caribbean:
Before the Haitian earthquake struck, global power tensions in this part of the world had been escalating.
The western hemisphere (slice the earth in half length-ways and Haiti and the Americas are on the western side) is dubbed the US’s backyard. But N American policymakers fear their traditional influence is waning. US foreign policymakers are concerned with drug and terrorist sanctions in the area, as well as strategic resources – such as oil.
US oil imports from the Caribbean account for 15% of total oil imports to the US.
Russia and China have both recently staked a claim in the Caribbean.
In July 2009, Russia and Cuba signed a deal to jointly explore crude oil reserves off the Cuban coast. A meeting in Moscow in January 2009 renewed the pact, which had collapsed after the Cold War. While no mention was made of a military alliance, agreements were signed to cooperate in agriculture, manufacturing, science and tourism. In December 2009, a contingent of Russia’s North Sea Fleet docked in Havana after conducting exercises with Venezuela’s navy.
In September 2009, China sent Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) Wu Banggou to the Bahamas with 150 Chinese officials and business leaders. A number of economic deals were signed, including a multimillion dollar loan to help build a highway to Nassau’s international airport. This marked another step in the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and the Bahamas since1997.
Iran is another player. In 2008, St Vincent and the Grenadines established diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and secured a commitment to assist in the construction of the US$200 million international airport. On January 21, 2010, the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, arrived in Tehran to renew ties with the Islamic world.
Half a year earlier, on May 1, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid bare US concerns, saying that “the Obama Administration is working to improve deteriorating US relations with a number of Latin American nations to counter growing Iranian, Chinese and Russian influence in the Western Hemisphere” (Associated Press, May 1, 2009). The Obama presidency however has welcomed China's bid to become an observer at the Organization of American States and a donor member of the Inter-American Development Bank. This is in line with a long term US policy of both collaborating with, and remaining wary of , ‘competitor peer’ major powers.
At a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization the following month, Brazil, Russia, India and China - or BRIC as the fast-growing countries are collectively coined - held their first summit. The BRIC leaders called for a ‘multipolar world order’, which in diplomatic language constitutes a challenge to US global dominance.
US’ wariness of BRIC is illustrated by policies on the military front. Washington is building its potential for nuclear and non-nuclear strikes in Latin America and the Caribbean. The US Southern Command’s 4th Fleet was recently reconstituted and patrols up and down the Latin American coastline. Part of its mission is humanitarian – dealing with hurricanes, for example. The other part of the mission has to do with national strategy. Forty percent of US trade and fifty percent of US oil imports come from this area.
Latin America leaders, however, are turning down requests for a US armed presence. For example, President Rafael Correa has asked US troops to leave their base in the port of Manta in Ecuador.
One principal reason for resistance against US military presence is the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (also known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco) which came into force in 1969. It obligates Latin American parties not to acquire or possess nuclear weapons, nor to permit the storage or deployment of nuclear weapons on their territories by other countries.
Back in Haiti, the people still urgently need help; the death toll was past 300,000.
Let us hope Haiti’s needs inspire global cooperation, not competition.
Bricmont, Jean, Humanitarian Imperialism, Using Human Rights to Sell War, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006.
Teson, Ferdinando in Holzgrefe, JL Ed and Keohane, Robert, Humanitarian Intervention, Ethical, Legal and Political Dilemmas, Cambridge University Press, 2003
Weiss, Thomas G, Military-Civilian Interactions, Humanitarian Crisis and the Responsibility to Protect, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.
Friday, January 22, 2010
In the New Testament, Jesus chased the money lenders out of the temple. Shylock, a money lender in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice was reviled by his fellow citizens. Anti-semitism arose probably as the result of laws that only allowed Jews to be moneylenders in Europe. "Miser", "hoarding wealth" and other terms denoted the negative meaning of capital accumulation.
Today, of course, the accumulation of vast riches is applauded, as can be seen by the 'stardom' of such businessmen as Donald Trump. The legitimizing of usury in Europe by Christian religious leaders helped to develop the economic model of capitalism. How? Without bank loans, there can be no investment. Without interest on debt, there can be no bank loans. Bank loans and debt are crucial to continuing investments. Also, the stocks and shares developed in the 17th Century had one very important component: the forgiveness of debts made by investors. Yes, that’s right. Although we hold poor countries to the fire for debt repayment, if you invest in a company and it fails, you are not liable for debt. This frees capital to invest elsewhere.
Today, many capitalist countries are in fact debtor nations. I like to say we live in ‘debtism’ not capitalism because capital=profit minus debt.
I recommend the book The Web of Debt.
A student wrote on the topic of Sharia banking for her final paper in a previous semester. Here is an excerpt. Capital letters indicate referenced information (not blogged here.)
December 19, 2009
The Qur’an FORBIDS THE CHARGING OF INTEREST IN EXCHANGE FOR A LOAN, OR “RIBA” . The reason for this, according to the Qur’an, is BECAUSE IT HARMS THE HUMANE AIMS OF ISLAM TOWARDS MERCY, SOLIDARITY AND COOPERATION .
This is a founding principle that has shaped Islamic banking. The first ever Islamic savings bank was modeled on “profit sharing” which WAS STARTED IN THE EGYPTIAN TOWN OF MIT GHAMR IN 1963 . The Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna’s goal was TO PENETRATE THE WESTERN FINANCE SYSTEM, CORRUPTING IT FROM WITHIN IN HOPES OF CREATING A PARALLEL SYSTEM TO RE-ESTABLISH A GLOBAL ISLAMIC EMPIRE GOVERNED BY ISLAMIC LAW (SHARIA).
Islamic banking policy states that money should be used productively and investment activities should be dealt with in partnerships so that risks and rewards are shared by creditor and debtor alike. Also, according to sharia, excess capital (i.e. profits) ought to be put back into the community in the form of zakat (alms). This includes stocks, real estate investments, insurances, and currency swaps that are sharia-compliant (called sukuks). There are limits, though; SHARIA LAW PROHIBIT INVESTING IN CERTAIN INDUSTRIES OR PRODUCTS, INCLUDING ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, PORK, AND PORNOGRAPHY. THE QUR’AN ALSO FORBIDS USURY (as aforementioned), SO FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS ARE STRUCTURED TO RELY ON INCOME IN THE FORM OF RENTS OR PROFITS FROM THE LOAN, TECHNICALLY NOT INTEREST. SUKUKS … ARE A TYPE OF ISLAMIC BOND BACKED BY OWNERSHIP OF A TANGIBLE ASSET THAT PRODUCES A FINANCIAL RESULT. Another popular instrument is the murabaha, ESSENTIALLY COST-PLUS FINANCING, WHICH INVOLVES THE SALE AND REPURCHASE OF A COMMODITY TO FUND A LOAN . Scholars must review banking products and cases to make sure that they adhere to the Qur’an. BUT DEFINITIONS OF WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE CAN VARY GREATLY, NOT ONLY FROM REGION TO REGION BUT FROM BANK TO BANK… AS EACH BANK HAS ITS OWN BOARD OF SCHOLARS .
After initial success in the late 1970s and 1980s, which was largely fueled by oil revenues, Islamic banking suffered serious setbacks. There were failures in Islamic banking integration in such countries as Egypt, Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan, and several banks went bankrupt after having over-leveraged their funds, which coincidentally violated the sharia tenet of avoiding excessive risk-taking. So new products were developed and banks branched out; that’s when sukuks came into the picture, among others. But since then, some have estimated that the SECTOR HAS EXPANDED AT A BRISK PACE OF BETWEEN 15% AND 25% ANNUALLY IN THE PAST DECADE… in fact, THERE ARE CURRENTLY (as of 2006) 250 ISLAMIC MUTUAL FUNDS WITH $300BN WORTH OF ASSETS UNDER MANAGEMENT AND 300 IFIs HOLDING OVER $250BN DEPOSITS…FURTHERMORE, $200BN IN ASSETS ARE MANAGED BY DEDICATED MUSLIM “WINDOWS” OR SUBSIDIARIES OF CONVENTIONAL BANKS .