Mind the Gap: Addressing the Class Dimension in Higher Education

7038952701_bb67cdb2d7_oThe debate in Higher Education (HE) in the UK is slowly starting to recognise that inequality in education is both the cause and consequence of societal elitism. As a result, there is an increasing debate about widening access to academia, and more and more newspaper articles are devoting attention to the few who made it through the Oxbridge close-circle system. 

On the 17th of May 2019 the Reteaching Economics and IIPPE Teaching Political Economy working group organised a workshop on economic pluralism, teaching and research. I was chairing the panel on “Challenges and Opportunities for the Economics Curriculum Around Decolonisation, Gender and Diversity” which included brilliant contributions from Dr Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS), Dr Lucia Pradella (King’s College), Dr Ingrid Kvangraven (University of York) and Ali Al-Jamri (Rethinking Economics, Diversity Campaign Manager). They addressed various political, historical and cultural  issues around neocolonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism and gender segregation in HE at large and in the economic discipline in particular. Considering the potential great complementarity of the topics, I thought it was relevant to bring in the class dimension in the discussion. I noticed that while the marginalization of women and people of color is rightly getting increasing attention, the class dimension is sometimes forgotten. Indeed, although class remains a crucial lens to untangle injustice and exclusion in the HE industry, it isn’t dealt with with as much urgency. Maybe also because it’s a bit less visible. Indeed, last week I was discussing this issue with another ‘academic migrant’ from Southern Europe, and he suggested: “Panels should ask “what do your parents do/did for a living?” during job interviews.

To prepare my presentation, I approached a couple of ‘data intelligence’ offices in UK universities asking for facts about the class dimension of access to higher education in the UK. I was pointed to the Office for Students, which is a new resource that enables us educators, but also students, to look at various key bits of data on the university sector as a whole, and on individual universities. A very useful resource indeed! 

So here is what I found, and the results are pretty discouraging. Read More »

An Alternative Economics Summer Reading List, 2019

pasted image 0.pngThis summer, we take stock of the most interesting economics-related books that have been released over the past year. Every year, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times makes a similar list. However, by his own admission, he only reads within the tradition of his own training in mainstream economics. While his 2019 summer list includes several excellent books, such as The Case for People’s Quantitative Easing by Frances Coppola and The Sex Factor by Victoria Bateman, we are still struck by the strong white-male-mainstream-Western bias in Wolf’s list, with the books almost all written by white (20/21) men (18/21) about topics mostly focused on the US and Europe. 

To complement Wolf’s list, we have put together an Alternative Economics Summer Reading list with authors from across the world, with more varied backgrounds – and writing about more wide-ranging topics, and from a wider variety of critical perspectives. Our alternative list also reflects our belief that issues such as structural racism, imperialism, ideology and the philosophy of science are central to understanding economics. 

It is not that we think that Martin Wolf is in particular responsible for the lack of diversity and monism in our reading decisions: other curators such as the Economist (for example, here) also perpetuate the myth that the books worth reading about economics are mostly those written about the US and Europe, by white men trained trained in mainstream economics. Read More »

Philanthrocapitalism: How to Legitimize the Hegemony of the Rich with a “Good Vibes” Discourse

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Melinda Gates speaking at DFID. Photo: DFID.

Is philanthrocapitalism a vehicle for so-called “development”? In an article recently released in Globalizations (here), Juanjo Mediavilla (University of Valladolid, Spain) and I analysed the phenomenon of philanthrocapitalism as a financing for development (FfD) instrument from the perspective of Critical Development Studies and Discourse Theory. We argue that we are witnessing the deepening of a neoliberal development agenda, where philanthrocapitalism and the elites play a key role. Read More »

Hirschman’s Linkages: Passé in the Age of Global Production Sharing?

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How does economic development happen? After World War II, many development economists rose to prominence, such as Paul Rosenstein-Rodan (the big push), Arthur Lewis (the dual-sector model), Walter Rostow (the linear stages of growth) and Albert Hirschman (unbalanced growth and linkages). Given the continued importance of industrial policy, it is particularly worthwhile to revisit the idea of forward and backward linkages — one of the central tenets of development thinking pioneered by Hirschman.Read More »

The Curious Case of M-Pesa’s Miraculous Poverty Reduction Powers

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M-PESA kiosk outside Kibera centre in Nairobi. Picture credit: Fiona Graham / WorldRemit

By Milford Bateman, Maren Duvendack and Nicholas Loubere

Over the past decade the expansion of digital-financial inclusion through innovations in financial technology (fin-tech) has been identified by the World Bank, the G20, USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other major international institutions, as a key way to promote development and alleviate poverty in the Global South (GPFI, 2016; Häring 2017; World Bank, 2014). Perhaps the most influential and widely reported publication pushing forward this narrative is an article examining M-Pesa written by US-based economists Tavneet Suri and William Jackand published in the prestigious journal Scienceentitled ‘The Long-run Poverty and Gender Impacts of Mobile Money’. M-Pesa is a mobile phone, agent-assisted platform for transferring money from one person to another. It was originally developed with funding from DFID and has quickly become a darling of the digital-financial inclusion movement. In this particular article, the authors make the far-reaching claim that ‘access to the Kenyan mobile money system M-PESA increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households, or 2% of Kenyan households, out of poverty’ (Suri and Jack, 2016: 1288).

Suri and Jack’s article in Science has sent ripples through the global development community and has servedas perhaps was intendedto solidify support for upping the promotion of digital-financial inclusion initiatives across the Global South. Importantly, the article’s claims of unprecedented poverty reduction have been uncritically picked up by all of the international development agencies and microcredit advocacy organisations, as well as by many mainstream economists, so-called ‘social entrepreneurs’, tech investors, and media outlets. Much like microcredit in the 1980s, fin-tech and digital-financial inclusion is now very widely seen as a key—if not the keyto reducing global poverty and promoting local development.

In this post we summarise our recent article entitled ‘Is Fin-tech the New Panacea for Poverty Alleviation and Local Development?’ (Bateman, Duvendack, and Loubere, 2019), which challenges Suri and Jack’s findings, and urges the global development community to take a second, more critical look at their study. We argue that the article contains a worrying number of omissions, errors, inconsistencies, and that it also employs flawed methodologies. Unfortunately, their inevitably flawed conclusions have served to legitimise and strengthen a false narrative of the role that fin-tech can play in poverty alleviation and development, with potentially devastating consequences for the global poor.Read More »

The Green New Deal: Whither Capitalism?

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By Güney Işıkara and Ying Chen

The Green New Deal resolution by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey sparked an immense amount of discussion on all layers of political discourse, national and international. The way Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders and many others phrase the problem in the broader context of social, economic, and environmental grievances caused by capitalism is crucial for setting the terms of debate and struggle. This opens up space the left can use to address such issues in a systematic way rather than being content with symptomal healing. In fact, countless contributions have already been made on theoretical and tactical grounds. In this piece, we build on those contributions, and unpack the dynamics inherent to the capitalist system that would need to be addressed in the ongoing discussions. We also shed light on the limitations of a market-based and growth-centered approach to tackling climate destabilization, while offering other domains of political intervention such as property relations and demarketization of subsistence.Read More »

Rethinking the Failures of Mining Industrialisation in the African Periphery

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The remains of one of SOMINKI’s industrial gold mines (author photo).

The World Bank interpreted the failure of mineral extraction to drive structural transformation in the early decades of African Independence as due to badly managed state-owned enterprises (SOEs), excessive state intervention in the economy, and government corruption. To right these wrongs, since the 1980s, the Bank has loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to the governments of mineral-rich (and mostly low-income) African countries to privatise and liberalise their mining sectors. Spurred on by the most recent commodity super-cycle beginning in the late 1990s, foreign direct investment poured in, and for many low-income African countries today, “the mining sector represents one of the most crucial sources of investment and income in their economies” (Farole and Winkler 2014: 177). A major theoretical assumption underpinning this process has been a belief in the superior expertise and efficiency of experienced transnational corporations (TNCs) compared to corrupt and mismanaged SOEs. In this post, I unpack and question the validity of this assumption, by drawing on some of the findings from my doctoral thesis on mining reindustrialisation in South Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).     Read More »

Why so Hostile? Busting Myths about Heterodox Economics

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By Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Carolina Alves

“Economics is unique among the social sciences in having a single monolithic mainstream, which is either unaware of or actively hostile to alternative approaches.” (John King 2013: 17)

What does heterodox economics mean? Is the label helpful or harmful? Being outside of the mainstream of the Economics discipline, the way we position ourselves may be particularly important. For this reason, many around us shun the use of the term “heterodox” and advise against using it. However, we believe the reluctance to use the term stems in part from misunderstandings of (and sometimes disagreement over) what the term means and perhaps disagreements over strategies for how to change the discipline.

In other words, this is an important debate about both identification and strategy. In this blog, we wish to raise the issue in heterodox and mainstream circles, by busting a few common myths about Heterodox Economics – mostly stemming from the orthodoxy. This is a small part of a larger project on defining heterodox economics.

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