Political Economy

At the Weave we believe that politics and economics have always gone hand in hand. Political economy is about structures of power and how these structures shape the conditions within which all of us live our lives. This section of the Weave is devoted to analysis and discussion of current issues that reveal the dynamics of power, from the local to the global and everywhere in between.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948 the United States signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document represents an international effort to define the relationship of nation-states to their citizenries; that is, to set a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” Among these are articles related to “economic human rights,” as specified in Articles 23, 25, and 26 (cited below):

Berlusconi on illegal immigration: exceptions for "bringing" beautiful women

The problem of illegal immigration into Italy from Albania often involves enslavement and prostitution, links with organized crime, and of course poverty. This week, in a meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Berisha, Berlusconi declares that while the problem is certainly serious, "we'll make an exception for those who bring beautiful women". Unspeakable, on so many levels. Again.

Addressing Causes not Consequences

Urban poverty has ravaged many neighborhoods in PhiladelphiaUrban poverty is a structural problem, not a personal one. And a city’s failing schools, violent crime, and poor health indices are all consequences of poverty, not causes. This much Karen Heller of the Philadelphia Inquirer got right. Her column last week was a much needed invective against attempts to treat the symptoms of poverty but not the disease itself.

Unfortunately the medicine she prescribed to poverty-stricken Philadelphia couldn’t fight a cold. Her recommendation: Improve parenting. The logic is as follows: If kids stop having kids, and parents work harder to improve their families, then students will not only go to school but also get better grades, and there will be fewer hoodlums roaming the streets looking for trouble.

If only I had a dollar for every time I heard poor families get blamed for perpetuating poverty!

Touring the 'Hood

Mural of L.A. Gang ToursOn January 16th L.A. Gang Tours made its first trip through the ganglands of South-Central Los Angeles with a busload of tourists seeking insights into the netherworlds of America’s most notorious street gangs. Yesterday, February 20th, the company took its second sold-out tour of the “‘hood.” Given the success of the first two trips, and the likelihood that the third scheduled for March 6th will follow suit, it is probably as good a time as ever to consider the advantages and disadvantages of this business as a strategy to alleviate poverty in the low-income, crime-riddled inner city of Los Angeles, California. While I understand why critics see L.A. Gang Tours as an effort to glorify gang violence, drug wars, and the poverty that underlies them, I contend that the good outweighs the bad. That is, the company is creating economic opportunities where there previously were none, and are converting profits into educational and entrepreneurial programs to improve the inner city communities that they tour. 

History as an Underreported Story (Part III)

If only poverty were fun.When I began this blog I knew very little about urban poverty. In fact that was the challenge. It was one thing to experience poverty growing up; quite another to treat it as an intellectual, academic problem. And I promised myself to learn the issue, study it, and keep a web log to chart my journey. The idea was that others could learn with me, perhaps teach me along the way.  

With that said I’ve tried to answer two questions. First, what are people currently saying about poverty in the news? Second, what have historians said about poverty throughout American history? In the blog I’ve mainly addressed the first question, because America needs change more than it needs a poverty historiography. Poverty is a problem for millions of Americans in the *present*. By reporting on current issues I feel we can transform our awareness into informed decisions about how we organize and mobilize, what solutions we propose, and who we entrust with our votes when poverty-related policies hang in the balance.

Comic Relief: When Italy's best opposition is a stand-up comedian

 Browsing the net for English-language reporting on Italy under Berlusconi, I found this 8-minute piece by the New York Times. Italy's most effective opposition these days are a gaggle of independent journalists and some brilliant stand-up comedians. Controversial comedian-environmental activist-former accountant Beppe Grillo is a very good example of the latter, and his citizen journalism blog is the most read in Italy, and according to the NYT, the tenth most read in the world.

Holy Moly in Burlesqueoni Land

 

Lieberman "How's it going with Turkey?" Netanyahu "If only they were like the Italians..."

Not that anyone seriously credits Italian foreign policy these days, but Berlusconi’s words during his recent visit to Israel must have been music to the Israeli government’s ears.

Yuppie Food Stamps

My first credit card was an MBNA card.Do you remember your first credit card? I remember mine. It was a grey, black, and red MBNA Master Card with a $1,000 limit. It felt like gold in my wallet…

 I got it way back in ’97, when Guess jeans were in and every dude in the ‘hood had to have the beef’n’broccoli Timbs. I was sixteen with no job and no sense – so your boy put his Master Card to work. In no time I was in debt. Deep in debt. I bought whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. New discman. New beeper. New cds. A nice little necklace for my high school sweetheart. Dates at the movies, the ice skating rink, the steakhouse. Truth be told,  it was one of the best months of my life.

Italy and Iran: Democracy and Protest In the "I" of the beholder

Last summer the world looked on as millions of people took to the streets of Tehran (and other cities) to protest against the blatant abuse of an election, a crucial democratic instrument. What grabbed the headlines was the scale of the protest, and the way in which the resistance forced the political leadership of the opposition to, well, oppose the result,and in particular the way people power could combine with new technologies. The media focused on the use of mobile phones, of Facebook and Twitter to organize‘from below’, hackers joining in with the US DoS' actions. The crucial element was the sheer size of protests, particularly early on: hundreds of thousands if not millions of people taking to the streets to protest all across the country. The regime attempted to counter as best it could: shutting down mobile phone networks, slowing down the internet as well as the ‘usual’ methods of bussing in supporters and using batons and even bullets against the massive outpouring of disgust with a regime left with no credibility in their eyes. The struggle was a momentous one, and the casual observer should not make the mistake it was fruitless simply because Ahmadinejad was eventually allowed to remain President. 

History as an Underreported Story (Part II)

I admit, I love history.To my mind journalists too often eschew the past in their reports. In so doing the current issues and events that they write about enter the public domain as if they had no antecedents, no context within which they developed—no historical contingency. 

I feel the problem acutely when I write about urban poverty. I often try to raise awareness of the struggles of the poor in America’s cities. So I comment on food, clothing, and shelter, as well as employment and the cultural representations of the poor in the news. Rarely, however, do I bring up the history of poverty in America; not one of my posts has been about how the poor have gotten to where they are today. I’m not even sure that I’d even know where to begin…