Diary of Knowledge

interdisciplinary surgery by axe and blowtorch rather than scalpel and needle; reading, analysing, summarising and writing; trying to transform information to knowledge

Tag: economy

on politics, contingency and technology

.1) U.S and Europe seems to have some common trends in how they view each other and politics during the ongoing recession. In Europe a majority of the (interviewed) citizens were discontent with the last years of national financial politics. The only countries where people generally trusted how their politicians have handled the Euro crisis were Sweden and Germany. In Sweden 74% were favourable towards the reigning financial politics. Yet, according to the latest polls, Moderaterna are down by 4 percentage points since last year. So are we voting by the wallet or not? Or do we think to be able to get it even better with a Social Democratic government? Or, maybe the most probable conclusion, we shouldn’t care too much about mid-term political polls…

.2) I just started reading “Architecture Depends” by Jeremy Till. Ever since reading this (which is basically the second chapter of the book) I’ve been really interested in his writings. Here I will only comment on one small paragraph of what I’ve read so far.

On p.20 Till describes what still is one of the “criteria” for great architecture, namely autonomy. Great architecture is more than the life that surrounds it, it is untouchable by the taint of everyday life. What this is effectually doing is widening the gap between architects and non-architects. It’s a false division, in place to maintain power structures. Architecture is pure, people contaminate it, and great architecture defies this contamination. If we follow this line of reason, then great architecture is by definition inhuman.

Till is further arguing for this point by pointing out the (symbolical) relation between philosophy and architecture. Philosophy, trying to create the true/untouchable in the immaterial domain; architecture, trying to create the true/untouchable in the material. Till provides with ample examples of this relation.

Another example comes to mind. In “In Defense of Lost Causes” Slavoj Zizek argues that any ethics focusing on humanity itself by definition becomes subjective and thereby relative. The only set of ethics able to become eternal would thus be an inhuman ethics, ethics projected onto something else than humanity. Exactly where Zizek is trying to take this is somewhat unclear. We will have to wait and see. It is however basically the same argument as Till makes, just from the other side.

.3) Robert J Gordon argues that the time of economic growth might be over, that it was just a brief 250 year long period in human history. His argument is that growth is the byproduct of technological advancements, and that most productivity increasing inventions already have been invented. As written on “The Economist”, this might be a simplistic read of the latest decade if inventions. Some objections to Gordons argument:

1) The latest set of IT inventions are not per say productivity increasing, meaning that the benefit from them can not (yet) be counted in GDP per capita increase/year. IT is mainly about efficiency and streamlining, meaning chopping of the parts of production you don’t need rather than expanding production.

2) Cloudcomputing, crowdsourcing, digital layering of reality, 3D-printing and so on and so forth are still fairly new inventions. It might still take at least some more time before we can see their full potential.

3) Some (i.e. Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee) follow Gordon’s argument to some degree, but claiming us to just have reached a new threshold; “autonomous vehicles, effective machine translation and voice recognition, and artificial intelligence are or soon will be deployable realities”.

.4) Google has now designed an online tool for you to create your own online courses.

CONCLUSIONS AND CROSS-FERTILISATION

Slavoj Zizek makes another point in “In Defense for Lost Causes”; we make a difference between what is natural (and thereby non-changeable) and what we can actually effect. For this, we don’t want the representational democracy to actually be a direct consequence of our (common) will, but rather something else. There is a need for discrepancy, for the unknown, for things to be non-fixed and even contingent. By not really being able to effect the outcome (except by ONE vote) we have to perceive it as decided, as “natural”. This is what gives representational democracy its legitimate power. Okay, Zizek is sort of a nut-head. But there is some sort of truth to it, the insecurity before each election, the polls and wagers. This could help to explain the strange relationship Swedes seem to have with our government. We applaud the financial politics during the Euro crisis, but we don’t want to feel responsible for it; we want someone to decide for us, we still want the enlightened despot.

We could add the Jeremy Till paragraph to this. We (as people in general) have an inclination towards the natural/eternal/true, but this perception is to 100% produced by ourselves. We are, basically, fooling ourselves; we want to lift “whatever” out of its dirty and normal context, creating something larger and holier to which we can belong. No matter how you look at it, it is a lie. Question, is it good to lie to ourselves? And can we still create, maintain and love the lie as soon as we know it is a lie?

A quick answer, once again following the reasoning of Zizek. In the end of his rant on Ecology Zizek states that “Love means that you accept a person with all its failures, stupidities, ugly points and nonetheless the person is absolute for you”. Following this train of thought, the only conclusion can be to search for “truth” and to embrace it (contingent as it is). It could here also be noted that lying to yourself might make you happier, but then there is of course the difference between happy and being right.

And to finally comment on the dystopian conclusions drawn by Robert J Gordon. Personally I’m not too interested in “growth”, and it might be true that the last decade of inventions are not as key as previous when it comes to accumulating resources (e.g. comparing the iPad with industrial farming). But IT has the potential of being equally revolutionary. Google’s “make your own online course” is just an example of it. Though probably seen as entertaining/commercial, the very idea of online education actually questions the whole school system; who is teaching whom what? Technology, created by capitalist giant Google, that could actually promote anarchistic ideas of education, where everyone is both teacher and student, on a global scale. I argue this potential to be equally revolutionary to the consequences of industrialised agriculture.

on recession, prostitution and biopower

.1) So even if Swedish economy has recuperated rather well since 2008, the road ahead is bumpy. Swedish economy is at large based on a high export, and state economy inequality (such as caused by the Euro Crisis) has a negative impact on Swedish export and thereby on Swedish economy, employment rate etc. etc.

This follows basic macro-economy; further could be said that this is a classic Capitalist narrative, where nation-wide economy is described as a self-organising, self-controlling entity. I have no objections at large; what is interesting is not the entity on its own, but the two-way inter-dependancy of macro-economy and the parts, us, constituting it.

.2) The gap between wages and profit has widened considerably during the last 30 years. Instead of ending up in the employees’ wallets, it has gone to corporation profit and investments. Richard Murphy argues this to be the main reason for the ongoing recession; quoting Murphy “So that’s it in a nutshell: the recession was caused by not paying people enough for what they did.”

.3) Rental cars in Sierra Leone is provided by a (at least formerly) small scale entrepreneur. Apparently large car rental corporations, as Avis, have not dared to move in to the war-torn country. The concept of the business is security. Whenever the car breaks down a new car is sent to your location. In order to provide security the business has invested in a storehouse of spare parts and its own mechanic.

.4) Prostitution is often regarded as a highly harmful occupation. Suicide rates, drug abuse, child abuse, shortened life expectancy etc. are some of the factors strongly correlating with prostitution. Ole Martin Moen however argues the same to have been true for homosexuality far into the 20th century. People opposed to homosexuality (during e.g. the 20’s) argued the short life expectancy, the amounts of drug abuse and increasing venereal diseases (which all correlated to homosexuality) to be reasons enough to prove it as harmful and should therefor forbidden.

In the case of homosexuality, most issues (e.g. high suicide rates) were derived from the social stigma connected to being gay and not the the sexual orientation itself. Maybe this is true for prostitution as well? Maybe it is not the prostitution itself that is harmful, but the way we relate to it, condemn it, stigmatise it.

I have however one large objection to Moen’s argument. Nowhere in the paper is prostitution discussed as a part of a system. If we believe Moen’s argument to be sound prostitution is not per say harmful for the individual, but is it harmful for the society? Mainly women are prostitutes, mainly men are the buyers (just as in porn (though I have a feeling porn is (very slowly) getting more “equal”)). Legalising prostitution (and making it more socially accepted) might improve the situation for prostitutes, but would it at the same time conserve gender inequalities in society?

.5) Biopower is a term coined by Michel Foucault. Basically, it is power (in its social sense) used to command bodies, thereby being a tool for controlling other people. It is a tool to manage the bodies of the population, in contrast to “Discipline” which is a tool for making people behave. Foucault even describes as a “technology of power”; a (social) invention creating (/manufacturing?) subjugation of bodies.

In it’s most strict sense biopower is related to physical/biological aspects; birth, death, health, sexuality, life. Maybe it can be further expanded to basically include the control of ones body, how we relate to our own and others’ bodies, how we move and act in space. If biopower is a single ordering rule, biopolitics is the network or system of power, the formal and informal legislation of our physical bodies.

Foucault is one of the most often name dropped philosophers in Architecture/Urban Studies. A (sloppy) description as to why: architecture can be described as a knowledge of space, space is used/understood through movement and action, movement/action requires a body. Our relation to space is thus effected by our relation to our own body. Formal and informal regulations (based on legislation/society/social contracts) control how we move and act. By critically examining and redefining these regulations we change our relation to our bodies and thereby our relation to space.

CONCLUSIONS AND CROSS-FERTILISATION

Movement and reliability are key issues, both in terms of economy and politics. Rental services providing the reliability of movement are succeeding; the international market can not provide the reliability of movement of goods for the Swedish industry which thereby is in decline.

The movement of prostitutes has always been an issue for control. One of the main arguments for legalising prostitution is “in order to control it”. Red Light Districts to keep it maintained, STD control and condom-laws for public health etc. More seriously, even with liberal legislation the social stigmatisation of prostitution controls where and how sex is sold and how people involved are able to move or act. For some reason, porn is much more socially accepted, where an actresses can become porn stars.

The connection between biopower/biopolitics and prostitution might be one of the most obvious ones (one of Foucault’s major works is “The History of Sexuality” from 1976).

I’m further curious about how prostitution and economic backlash are related. Is sex a stable market or does lower general wages decrease the amount of money spent on sex? Apparently the recession has “forced” more women into prostitution. The Buckingham Post article describes the women as having no qualms (or enjoying) their occupation. At the same time trafficking and bottom scale (illegal) prostitution increases. Increased risk taking is one way to compete (e.g. moving into more dangerous markets or geographical areas). In car rental services this might be okay, but what happens in the field of prostitution?

Is this what happens with increasing supply (combined with decreasing purchasing power)? Price dumping? Increasing illegal (and poorly controlled) markets? And does biopolitical control (through legalisation) actually make any difference for the emancipation of women or is it simply adding further control mechanisms to an already existing systematic mistreatment and gender inequality?

The issue can further be expanded to deal with the biopolitical tool of (National) borders. One of the most insecure and shady sides of prostitution (and human abuse) is trafficking, directly connected to the immobility for most people over national borders. So in order to come to terms with trafficking, deregulating border control might be more direct and efficient than regulating prostitution.

reanimation III: on bureaucracy, price-gauging, war and elastic cities

.1) James Kirkup argues that part of David Camerons recent problems are due to the inefficient political infrastructure he has set up (or is the critique of the infrastructure just a hidden way to criticise the PM himself?). Slowly many of the important positions in the HQ have been replaced by civic servants, more gray bureaucrats than (conservative) policy advisors.

Maybe there is a need to, conceptually, divide the political structure. Gray bureaucrats are just as important as policy advisors, but they have different key roles to fill. The first is an integral part of any consistent policy execution, the latter the ”think-tank” for creation of the guidelines.
Aseem Inam’s book ”Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises in Megacities” focuses on the importance of functioning (bureaucratic) routines, which would put emphazise on the need for rigid delegating/distributing political systems. The ”apolitical” civil servants might be good for the system as a whole, but bad for Cameron’s government. Is the conundrum mentioned by Kirkup the effect of a mix-up of the two aforementioned categories, or just political secrecy and back-stabbing.

.2) Tim Harford discusses the benefits of more dynamic pricing. Basically it means that prices would be more directly connected to supply/demand, when demand is high and supply is low prices would sky-rocket (and the opposite). While cheap discounts of over-supplied goods are often welcomed, the opposite is seen as unethical. Harford argues that prices increasing with high demand/low supply would increase efficiency.

Personally I have a couple of points of critiques, none of them really dealing with the question at hand (as a concept I have no problem with dynamic pricing/price-gauging) but rather with the concept of the market itself.

Harford argues that with flat-prices (and lottery/queue systems during shortages) ”the goods may not reach the people who want them most”. But capitalism does care about who wants something the most only who has the ability to pay (but this is a minor slip I’d say).

There is a problem in where to draw a line for ”basic rights/necessities” and ”luxury goods”. Dynamic pricing of concert tickets is reasonable, but what about health care? Dynamic pricing further needs ”free (or even perfect) markets” to be justifiable. Now, is there even such a thing as a (practically functioning) perfect market? Are not inherited power structures too big an influence/regulator not to be considered?
And with acceptance of price-gauging, one of the easiest way to increase revenue would be to decrease supply, hastening companies spiral towards monopoly/oligopoly/cartel structures.

.3) American violations continue in Afghanistan. The (media) backlash might however have increased American willingness to negotiate and hand over more power to the Afghan (puppet?) government.

The effects might be mostly symbolical, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. Increasing Afghan command over matter of national security will, hopefully, create less friction with the Afghan people. With less power to the US forces local rebellions/warlords might have a harder time rallying troops against a foreign invasion.
And, hopefully, Afghan forces will be less likely to burn the Koran or massacre villages.

.4) Imagining an elastic city – Diana Limbach Lempel. Informal and flexible structures should be given more space/opportunity in cities. The idea is basically taken from the chaos of (Asian) mega-cities such as Mumbai. What could ”stable” cities in the West learn from this?

There is a fragrance of something quite disgusting in this rhetoric. Entropy and community is, in many places, strictly because of necessity. Stick together or starve. Take space or see it be taken from you. To apply this on (somewhat more fluently) functioning societies is mockery and romanticism. You can not talk about the entropic systems of Mumbai without talking about the poverty, injustice and problems as well.
There is another problem in this (green-movement romanticised) elastic city. There is a narrative of a city functioning as a dynamic organism, growing and shrinking; transforming. But buildings don’t want to move. A heavily shrinking city will mean that work, effort and resources used for construction will be spoiled. There is no escaping this.
Actually, every city to have existed is/was organic by definition (the inhabitants functioning as the mitochondria of a cell). But this makes the metaphor shallow; it needs to be better redefined.

However, this is where the elasticity becomes interesting; not as a substitute to traditional planning, but as the web knitting it together and filling in the gaps. I reject all symbolic connections to ”green organic cities” and their narratives. What is truly great about elasticity is the possibility to directly change and re-create your immediate surrounding and what affects your life.
Informal, bottom-up planning, as well as temporary flexible structures, has the potential to circumvent big scale economical failure. The informal working as a test-site for what should be sedimented and what should not.

(originally written 120415)

reanimation II: on illusions, individual and en masse

.1) Indian scientist showed that a ”weeping cross” could be explained by capilar power and a nearby leaky drain. For this statement he was charged with ”blasphemy”.

.2) Classical psychology experiment from 68’ shows that teachers who believe to have ”good” or promising students actually makes their students better. In 68’ this was shown by the (randomly chosen) student’s enhanced results at IQ-tests.
Main explanations are teacher becoming more enthusiastic about teaching and treating their students with more respect.

.3) UK publication showing most religious (christians?) have more ideals in common with left-wing/liberals than with the right-wing (e.g. acceptance of immigrants, progressive policies, equality, politically active, volunteering, charity work and donations).
Still, the right-wing has claimed the religious group (just as much as the left (due to Marx?) has forsaken it).

.4) Women drinking lightly during pregnancy have kids which less problems than ”absolutists”. The latter is definitely NOT a cause of the first, rather a corralation. I would argue that it has to do with the intelligence and mind of the parent. A woman who can critically analyze scientific/medical advice is probably more intelligent/has a better self-esteem/independant, something that is genetically passed on to the children.

.5) Living conditions in Sweden, with different (social) classes spatially divided, has been in practice since the early 1900’s. Even in some suburbs with mixed social classes, the different building typologies (rental apartment blocks, townhouses, villas) were spatilly segregated.
Christer Björk argues this is due to the ideological idea that identity and meaning most easily is created in homogenous groups.
This can be seen as classical modernism architecture/planning.
According to Jeremy Till (and his, in my opinion excellent, article ”Architecture and Contingency”) this goes even further back; (bluntly put) ordering, establishing and maintaining the hegemonic power structure is the foundation of Architecture.
I’m also interested in neo-liberal arguments.
My speculation: buildings associated with working class people would reduce value (selling price/profit) of upper-class villas; on the opposite, upper-class villas would NOT increase the value of working-class building blocks. If this is true, there is an economical incentive for spatial segregation.

.6) In the Occupied Times, page 12, Jeremy Till argues that scarcity (and by it austerity) is a constructed concept and not a natural one. We are not running out of food, we are simply not distributing it well (overconsumption in north, starvation in south).

Scarcity and Austerity are used as a scare-tactic to keep hegemonic power structures in place (i.e. the capitalist ideology), e.g. how shrinking national budgets are used as an argument for privatization (even though costs are not cut but increased) or food scarcity is used to argue for large scale industrialized farming and genetically modifed plants (even though crop yield is not increased). Till counterposes this with ”natural scarcity”, which (I guess) might be environmental and ecological effects and peak-oil.

I would prefer him to stay consistent. In my eyes, all scarcities are constructed concepts, even those of sustainability. Slavoj Zizek has a great piece on Ecology as Ideology, scarcity and austerity is used in exactly the same way Till mentions, but for the Eco-Ideology instead of a Capitalistic. All issues of scarcity are dependant on our relation and use of resources. If we believe 7 billion people should be able to eat meat, then yes we will have scarcity. If we believe 7 billion people to eat potatoes (and vegetables), not so much scarcity.

Maybe: instead of austerity, we need reformation and reorganization. Or are scare-tactics a necessary tool for transforming society?

CONCLUSIONS AND CROSS-FERTILISATION

Do not underestimate the power of self-deception. If we truly belive something it might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This also goes into social and political (critical) studies. It is far easier to change the illusions than reality, by making people believe in certain constructed concepts, the concepts themselves become reality. Scarcity, austerity, freedome infringements etc. All can be implemented with sufficient illusions.
And maybe that is the crime of the Indian scientist, the crime of destroying illusions.

(originally written 120415)