Why I really ran the Brighton Half Marathon

A big thanks to everyone who sponsored me for the Brighton Half Marathon I ran last Sunday, but a week on and I’m wondering what, exactly, this event had to do with charity.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think the charity I ran for (Water- Aid) is a worthwhile charity, doing good and saving lives, but I’ve got to be honest and admit that I didn’t primarily run this race for charity, I did it for myself, and the charity issue was very much a secondary after thought.

Seriously, I love running, and when I was planning my ‘race-calender’ for early 2012 a few months back, the Brighton half stood out as a conveniently timed, accessible (no changes on the train!), flat course that was perfect for my first half marathon, a step up from the handful of 10ks  I enjoyed in 2011.  I would have run it anyway, but just before I paid my entry fee I decided to double check the charity options – and water aid offered a free place for a minimum sponsorship of £250. Perfect!

Firstly, this fitted in nicely with the module I teach in Global Development – nice synergy, something to get the students interested and make me look like a generally nice guy….

And I did find that being the guy that runs for charity gives you positive social status and an easy focus of conversation at work for a few weeks – A bit like the ‘holiday conversation’ – you get to interact conversationally without having to go into too much depth – and both of you have a generally positive experience – I mean only the most cynical political radicals are suspicious of charity (in retrospect this probably goes some way to explaining why I didn’t actually get to the £500 total I pushed for – too many of the people I asked for cash fall into that category).

I had a great time in the six weeks or so before the event – raising cash for water aid by literally doing nothing else other than sending emails, tweeting and Facebooking, checking my emails telling me ‘Great News, you’ve just been sponsored and then logging onto my ‘Virgin Money Giving’ page to witness the rise and rise of my total donations, and then a few quick exchanges with some old friends.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the positive affirmations of my identity – which can get kind of rare as you approach your 40s. Its nice to be known as someone that hasn’t let himself go – and is capable of posting times that would put most people in their 20s to shame (endurance running’s like that you know). Apparently men my age doing endurance events is something of a social phenomenon. Guilty – But when you look this good – who wouldn’t be.

More – I had a great time at the ‘training event’ laid on by water aid in mid January – free lunch, goodies, and a nice ego boost during the pacing exercise – I especially enjoyed a ‘certain glance’ from the ludicrously attractive woman from studio 57 fronting the even – unfortunately said glance wasn’t suggesting she was interested (she most definitely wasn’t) – but it did say ‘you don’t need to be here you idiot this is for people not used to running’ (well I can never resist a Freebie).

The run day itself was good too – beautiful and sunny – nice atmosphere – good twitter conversations – enough free Lucozade to bathe in and lunch and beer afterwards – spot on!

So at the end of the day ‘I’ may well have raised a few hundred quid for water aid and a couple of dozen people may well not die of malaria as a result, but strictly speaking I’m sure I’ve benefited more – I mean, seriously, money cannot buy the advances in self-actualisation I’ve realised through running this half marathon for charity.

Having said all this – I still rate genuine charitable giving as one the most important acts people can engage in – so thanks to all who donated – for their sake, as well as mine. And if you didn’t sponsor me in the first instance because you are one of those ‘charity cynics’ – how about sponsoring me now for saying it like it is – by clicking here!

Related posts – (forthcoming)

  • Why we run
  • Why did you sponsor me?

 Related Posts

Why do so many people run marathons?

Clone of above and this

 ‘Race for Life’ vs Movember

Sociological insight into ultras

Unecessarily Jargoned abstract about veteran running and ageing discourse – probably because the author doesn’t really have that much to actually say.

 A book – but focussing on women

Top Ten resources for teaching International Development

Part 1

I start off with a few statistical sites and then move onto a few ‘qualitative sites’. 

1. The United Nations International Human Development Indicators - On this page of the UN’s international development site, you can see the HDI country rankings, get a link to the latest Human Development Report (last one published November 2011) and find 8 different visual tools that allow you to compare HDI data in different ways – For more info on what the HDI actually is then click here

2. World Bank Development Indicators – The World Bank produces stacks of data – their country profiles are especially accessible (Haiti’s on the link as an example). If you really want to experience information overload then you can search ‘by topic’ and by ‘indicator’ and get huge amounts of data – in table, map or graph format on literally hundreds of different measurements of development. Finally, the world bank also publish annual development reports and the Atlas of Development - maybe old school to go for books, but very tactile!

3. It might seem a bit cheeky including it as a seperate link – because a lot of info comes from the UN or the World Bank – but Google Public Data is an excellent way of showing students immediate comparisons of changes in a range of economic and social indicators of development in several countries – just search for the relevant indicator – you get fabulous ‘live data’ –  If, for example, you get the lines for ‘DRC’ – then Bangladesh, then the UK, for example, the graph rescales itself, giving an immediate impression of how insigficant the former two’s GNI is compared to the UK’s!

4The CIA World Fact Book - remains one of the most authoritative overviews of ‘265 world entities’ – mostly countries, under the various headings of ‘geography’, ‘people and society’, ‘economy’ and so on. Very accessible, and there is also a version available for your smart phone. I didn’t want to actually include it in its own right – but Wikipedia’s country profiles are pretty much a more accessible version of the CIA world fact book -check out this profile of Nigeria as an example

5. The World Watch Institute’s State of the World Report  – No list of development resources can ignore the issue of ‘sustainable development’ – and the World Watch Institute is devoted to the analysis of global environmental concerns. Its ‘flagship publication – ‘The State of the World’ - ‘remains the most authoritative “go-to” resource for those who understand the importance of nuturing a safe, just, and healthy global environment through policy and action.’

6 The rough guides - Maybe not strictly deserving of being in at number three – but they are very engaging reads! Personally I’ve always loved lounging around, leafing through rough guides, planning journeys – and they’re a great way of giving students a hyperreal, romanticised image of all the countries they’ve never been to and probably, when it comes to most of the countries we look at in global development, will never go to!

7. The Guardian Poverty Matters Blog - Mostly excellent, short snappy posts focussing on a range of development issues – mainly focusses on Africa, health, aid and trade, but then again they are the biggest development issues facing Euro-donors! All students of international development should subscribe to its RSS feed.

8. New Internationalist: People, Ideas and Action for Social Justice – Campaigns for social and environmental justice worldwide, acting as a vehicle for unheard voices. They are non-profit co-operative and are probably most famous for their New Internationalist Magazine – and you may have also seen their ‘no-nonsence guides’ (which are excellent!). They also do an excellent blog (update daily) and have some good audio-visual sources.

9. The World Dev elopment Movement - The World Development Movement ‘ seeks to establish economic justice. This means the right of poor communities to determine their own path out of poverty, and an end to harmful policies which put profit before people and the environment.’

WDM produces research and campaigns on two main issues – climate debt and food speculation and they are not afraid to criticise Corporations, governments and even aid agencies where appropriate!

10. Oxfam – Must be the best known Development charity campaigning around the world to fight global poverty. Oxfam also has some good ‘teacher resources’ for a range of age groups.

A Buddhist inspired critique of Conspicuous Consumption

I hope this actually makes sense – I think I may have overcooked it! May add in a few examples to illustrate what I actually mean laters.

The purpose of this blog post is to outline a Buddhist inspired critique of ‘conspicuous consumption’ – which I define as ‘the act of picking, choosing and purchasing products and services with the intention of other people noticing either the products or the effects of the services purchased’.

As I see it – Conspicuous consumption directly contradicts many Buddhist values, seems to go against every aspect of the Buddha’s noble eightfold path, and encourages a number of negative human emotions. For example, because it is inherently linked to the process of ‘self-expression’ it promotes, in the literal sense of the word, self-ish-ness, it is a practice rooted in ignorance (of the truth of no-I) that essentially involves lying in public about the true nature of self by parading around one’s carefully ‘constructed self’. It also involves attaching oneself to objects, making one’s continued happiness dependent on the continued consumption of these objects, thus promoting a condition of radical unfreedom, while at the same time encouraging us to define the very concept of ‘freedom’ as the ‘freedom to pick and choose objects with which to construct my identity’ rather than seeing freedom as being about seeking ‘release from the necessity of being attached to particular objects which I deem to be significant’. Furthermore, the imperative to ‘identify through consumption’ requires money – and thus conspicuous consumption can, in some cases, encourage individuals to seek a livelihood primarily for its monetary reward rather than its social usefulness. Finally, this ritual demands that others pay attention to the ‘social self’ I am expressing’ – thus entangling others into a web of constant distraction in which we are all expected to pay close attention to the microscopic detail of numerous social selves, rather than simply focusing on ‘what we are actually doing’ – which ultimately works against the Buddhist goal of meditative practice in daily life.

The rest of this post analyses how conspicuous consumption goes against many Buddhist values –

The first problem with conspicuous consumption is that it works to prevent the individual from quietly sitting down and realizing the ‘true nature of self’, which (and to the non-Buddhist this will sound paradoxical) is that there is no inherent, distinct, isolated ‘self’. Conspicuous consumption is the antithesis of this simple, albeit hard to realise truth, as it is a self-expressive act which involves ‘me’ investing time and money in picking and choosing products and services that ‘I’ like in order to consciously construct a ‘social- identity’ – an identity that, ultimately, has no essential nature outside of the effort that I put into constructing it.

Conspicuous Consumption is thus, quite literally, an act which promotes ‘self-ish-ness’ – in the sense that ‘I’ start with the assumption that not only do ‘I’ exist, but that ‘I’ am significant enough to warrant other people’s attention when ‘I’ express myself through the products and services ‘I’ consume –  ‘I’ then return the favour of other people’s attention by noticing and commenting on their consumption habits, the end result being that our ‘society’ consists of people mutually engaged in the reflexive construction and expression of fictitious selves.

A preferred alternative to this farcical world of mutually reinforced ignorance would be a society in which we really do (and, again, somewhat paradoxically) act as individuals and quietly reflect on the ‘truth of non-self’ – which involves the gradual, and difficult to accept realisation that ‘I’ don’t actually exist as an independent identity at all, but rather, at root, ‘I’ am just one with everything else, and, in the grand scheme of things, am simply not that significant.  

The second problem with conspicuous consumption is that it encourages us to seek happiness through attachment, rather than peace of mind through freedom.

The fundamental logic of conspicuous consumption involves linking together a selection of things, and then linking these things to ‘my idea of myself’ – and then consuming this selection of things in a public space, thereby constructing a ‘social identity’. The problem here is that my social identity is dependent upon things outside of myself – it is thus contingent and fragile – and open to the possibility of being destroyed unless I can maintain the continued consumption of those things which ‘I’ deam to be significant. This notion of ‘self identity through conspicuous consumption’ is characterised by a profound sense of unfreedom –because it locks ‘me’ into a cycle of continuous consumption in order to maintain myself. Put another way, identity construction through conspicuous consumption is identity consumption through attachment, which stands in contrasts to the Buddhist notion of seeking happiness through non attachment.

To make matters worse, we fail to see that this ritual of consumption is characterised by ‘unfreedom’ because, in our collective ignorance, we have come to define ‘freedom’ as the ‘freedom to pick and choose a selection of objects in process of identity construction’ – rather than defining freedom as ‘freedom from contingent identity construction through conspicuous consumption’.

A third and, for now final, problem with conspicuous consumption is that it demands attention from others and thus distracts us from the mundanities of daily life.

Think about it – there is an assumption behind the act of conspicuous consumption that other people should pay attention to ‘my social self’ – which in turn means their making the effort to understand the subtle meanings that I give to the products and services which I consume.  

It is usually expected, for example, that people at least acknowledge new items of clothing, or a new haircut, or that ‘I’ve been on another holiday’ – and the closer my relationship to another person – the more attention they are expected to pay to my consumption choices.

The assumption that the fictitious self I have constructed is important enough to warrant input from other people really is the height of selfish arrogance – not only do I distract myself with consideration of how ‘I’ appear to others, but I also expect others to recognise and thereby assist in the perpetuation of this fictitious and insubstantial self-identity. Ultimately, this works to distract the attention of others away from ‘whatever they may be doing’ – away from the calm, meditative practices of daily life that are crucial to developing the kind of sustained concentration necessary for realising true peace of mind.

Of course the conspicuous consumption does not make it impossible for individuals to lead a Buddhist inspired lifestyle in some respects, but its very logic is so antithetical to Buddhist Ontology and the potential to discourage Buddhist ethical practice so huge, that if anyone wants to achieve real happiness, rooted in truth, it is probably best to avoid it altogether.

So to conclude, if you want to develop lasting, stable happiness, or more accurately peace of mind, that is non-contingent, and based on the ‘truth of self’, and if you wish to contribute to the construction of a society which allows others the freedom to do likewise, then don’t waste your time on constructing a fake and insubstantial social identity through conspicuous consumption.

So what – you may ask – is the alternative? Well, for a start, you could just sit there!

Why I’m running a half marathon to raise money for Water Aid

Water Aid works in 23 countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with a total of 606 staff. Its mission is to ‘transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities’

To give you an idea of what water aid does – watch this video

According to this 2010-11 annual review – Last year they spent about £50 million – of which £32 million went to water and sanitation delivery service, £11 million on fundraising and £6 million on governance. You might criticise the £11 million on fundraising, but given that nearly 3/4 of their income comes from donations (the rest mainly from grants – which still need to be chased) – one imagines that without this, they’d have considerably less to work with…

The stats really add up – Last year Water Aid  helped 1.5 million people gain access to clean water, and improved sanitation for 1.6 million people.

I think this type of aid is crucial – the UN recognises the importance of aid for clean water and to improve sanitation – A few facts to further convince you….

Incidentally, I’m raising money for water aid by running a half marathon this coming Sunday – You should sponsor me – £15 saves a life!

 

Economic Globalisation – Optimist, Pessimist and Traditionalist Views

 I teach International Development as the option for A2 Sociology SCLY3 – I’m posting up most of my resources in order to encourage more people to teach it!

Economic Globalisation – The Optimist View

The main evidence for economic globalisation lies in the fact that there is now a single, fully integrated global economy. At one level, there is significant evidence that economic globalisation is bringing increasing prosperity. 

 1.    The growth of world trade[1]

Probably the most obvious evidence of economic globalisation is the increase in exports (and obviously imports) of goods and services, which accelerated rapidly from the 1950s. This has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the GDP and GNPs of those countries that are part of the global trade network[2]. Behind this growth of the global economy lies the spread of capitalism (the ‘free market’) around the world. Even nominally communist countries, such as China and Vietnam have moved away from state control of the economy and now allow capitalist business.

Those countries that are part of the global trade network tend to have higher GDPs – There is an obvious correlation with practically all of the countries that top the GDP league tables also topping the export tables[3]. China, which has one of the fastest growth rates in the world, is set to account for 10% of all global exports this year.

2. The increasing role of transnational corporations (TNCs) in World Trade

Transnational Corporations are companies that operate in more than one country and have no clear national base – they will typically buy raw materials or produce goods in one or more countries in the developing world and then sell most of their products to consumers in the developing world. Examples include Walmart, Shell, Nike, Starbucks and Coke.

Today, 50 of the 100 largest economies in the world are run by TNCs rather than Nation States. They are responsible for three quarters of global trade.  Walmart, the world’s largest company, is Bigger Than Norway. If the retailer’s $416 billion in revenue were gross domestic product, Walmart would be the 25th-largest national economy in the world.

 Global Optimists argue that TNCs bring benefits to countries 

  • They bring in investment in terms of money, resources, technology and expertise, creating jobs often where local companies are unable to do so.
  • TNCs need trained workers and this should raise the aspirations of local people and encourage improvements in education
  • Jobs provide opportunities for women promoting gender equality.
  • Encourage international trade which could increase economic growth, access to overseas markets
  • All of the above means that wealth generated from TNC investment and production should eventually trickle down to the rest of the population.

3.    The International Division of Labour 

Many Sociologists argue that we should look at the world economic system as a whole, in which different countries perform different roles. There are different theories about what the nature of this economic system is – but at its simplest level there is the idea that different countries have particular ‘competitive advantages’ when it comes to providing certain goods and services.

One obvious example is that different countries have different natural resources and different climates and they can produce such things efficiently, so it makes more sense that they specialise in producing and exporting those things and import products that other countries are better at producing. To take an example – it obviously makes sense that Saudi Arabia exports oil and Botswana Diamonds, because they are blessed with these resources, and it also makes sense that Ethiopia exports coffee (which makes up 60% of the value of its exports) while New Zealand breed sheep.

To take the idea further, optimists argue that another resource developing countries have in abundance is cheap labour – so one way they can develop is by allowing Corporations in to set factories that employ people to make clothes, footballs and electronics, for example, which are then exported to the richer countries in the West. Bangladesh, India and China have all done this to great effect.

Finally, the role of the developed countries in this International Division of Labour is to provide ‘high skill’ and ‘high tech’ services – such as space technology, computer software and the development of pharmaceuticals. A crucial part of this is the role western countries play in education – Britain is well known as having some of the best universities in the world. This is shortly to end, however, because of reckless and unnecessary Tory cuts to the HE sector.  

4.    The World Trade Organisation  

A final piece of evidence for economic globalisation, and one of the major institutions behind the process is the WTO. Set up in 1994, The World Trade Organisation establishes world trade rules, the stated goal being to promote fair and free trade across all nations. 153 nation states are WTO members, constituting over 90% of all world trade with a further 31 in the process of joining.

The WTO functions through a number of high-level ministerial conferences with each set of trade negotiations (involving multiple meetings of the various member states’ delegations) often referred to as a trade ‘round’.

Global Optimists argue that the WTO has enabled the global economy to expand massively over the past two decades. The conferences are attended by nearly 3000 delegates from all 153 countries. The WTO has also dealt with nearly 500 trade disputes since 1994, disputes which, without the WTO could end in global trade being restricted.

 

Economic Globalisation –The Pessimist View

 1.    The growth of world trade is also responsible for a range of global problems such as –

  • Environmental decline – Every product produced and shipped requires energy – most of which comes through burning oil and coal. This leads to increased CO2 emissions, which in turn leads to global warming and increased climate problems such as pollution and flooding.
  • Increasing global inequalities – Trade doesn’t benefit everyone equally. There are several people in the United Kingdom, the United States and more obviously in both China and India that are too poor to benefit from the increasing wealth that increasing trade has generated.

2.    Transnational Corporations have too much power and exploit people in the developing world

Bakan (2004) argues that TNCs exercise power without responsibility. They are programmed to exploit and dehumanise for profit. Below are just a few examples of where TNCs have been accused of acting immorally in the pursuit of profit.

Transnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit.

There are numerous case studies of Corporations causing harm in the pursuit of profit – I like to divide these harms up into  five categories (click on the links for previous relevant blog posts)

  1. Corporations exploiting workers
  2. Corporations damaging the environment  
  3. Corporations profiting from the poor through the privatisation of public services
  4. Corporations working against democracy by co-operating with Oppressive regimes
  5. Corporations profiting from war

3. The New International Division of Labour – really benefits the West.

Since the 1970s many TNCs have moved their Industrial manufacturing from the developed west to developing countries. Theorists such as Wallerstein argue that these TNCs now exploit workers, especially women, in the developing world by paying them low wages in order to maximise profit. Goods produced in these semi-peripheral countries are then exported to the west to be consumed by wealthy consumers. Pessimists also argue that the establishment of free trade zones under the auspices of the WTO effectively means that the developing countries have less control over their economy as they compete in a ‘race to the bottom’.

4.    The World Trade Organistaion really works in the interests of Western Governments and Transnational Corporations

The richest countries and corporations are more effective at getting their voices heard. They often set the agenda for debates and issues of the developing countries are not listened to. Many developing countries have walked out of trade talks at the WTO as they have not been listened to.

WTO rules often end up benefitting Western countries and corporations. Free trade often means that developing countries have to open up their boarders to western Transnational Corporations. This has had a detrimental effect on developing countries.

Basically, the WTO puts the rights of corporations to make a profit before the basic human rights of people in the developing world.

The WTO lacks transparency: Many negotiations take place behind closed doors. It has huge power but its members are not democratically elected by the wider population

 

The Traditionalist View of Economic Globalisation

Traditionalists point out that while some parts of the world are truly part of a global system, others left outside. Some examples of this include

  • Most people in most of Sub-Saharan Africa are not tied into global networks of trade and consumption – many are substance farmers who produce and consume food they produce themselves.
  • Most trade is not truly global – It is regional – 70% of UK trade is within Europe, the USA trades mainly with Canada, Mexico and South America and China trades mainly with other Asian countries.
  • Increasing amounts of people in Western Europe prefer the ideal of ‘localised economics’ – consuming things that are produced as close to home as possible in order to reduce the environmental impacts of transporting goods long distances.

 


[1] http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=ny_gnp_mktp_pp_cd&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=global+gnp

[2] http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres10_e/pr598_e.htm

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_exports

Gok Wan challenges the beauty myth?

Episode one of  Gok Wan’s ‘Teen’s The Naked Truth’ focussed on Body Dysmorphia – offering us three tragic tales of teens in anguish over their imperfect bodies.

Gok Wan - Teens the Naked Truth

I want to just focus on two of these cases – two girls  – One a 15 year old who spent several hours a day surfing ‘pro-anorexia sites’ and another 14 year old who had been through anorexia and seemed to now be coming out the other side.

Gok Wan’s approach to dealing with their body anxiety was to firstly, literally, just sit down with them and discuss the fact the ‘beauty myth’ they were trying to obtain was just that – a myth, and that the images they saw on pro-anorexia sites and in fashion magazines were not real.

One girl aspired to be so skinny as to be able to have a gap between her inner thighs when she had her legs closed: Gok simply pointed out that even the skinniest models he knew didn’t have such a gap and that the look had been engineered in photoshop; he took another to a photoshoot to demonstrate how it took 3 hours of make-up and just as long with photoshop to create the ‘glamour look’.

At this point I have to congratualate Gok (although I’m far from putting him in the ‘National Treasure’ category!) for actually putting in the effort to educate teens out of ‘chasing the beauty myth’ and encouraging them to be happy with whatever body shape they’ve got. Recognising that body dysmorphia has social causes is certainly a positive step beyond the BBC’s advice site – which treats body dismorphia as a genetic condition - Simply stating, in answer to the question ‘what causes it’ that ‘The cause of BDD is unclear, but it may be genetic or caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain’ which can be treated through antidepressant medication, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of both. Antipsychotic medication is sometimes used.

However, I would have liked to have seen Gok go further in criticising the ‘beauty industry’ – at one point he was actually face to face with someone who ‘retouched’ images in fashion magazines for a living – someone who actually gets paid to create the ‘beauty myth’ – and it would have been akward, but maybe he could have probed a little? – ‘Here is evidence of a 15 year old whose anorexia seems to have been inspired by the unrealistic photos in your magazine… given the direct social harm your industry contributes to, can you please explain to me, in your view, what justifies the job you do?’ – It would be interesting to hear from the ‘myth creaters’ – On this note – The Illusionists - is a good film to look out for that will hopefully be released relatively shortly.

Also, the programme could have been more informed by statistics – there is considerable evidence that, as Gok said more than once, if you suffer from these body issues, then you are not alone! – Chapter one of the Equality Illussion by Kat Banyard is especially good on this matter – which notes, among other things that…

  • 1.5 million people in the UK have an eating disorder – 90% of them women and girls
  • A survey conducted by Dove of 3000 women found that 90% of them wanted to change some aspect of their body with body weight and shape being the main concern.
  • One in four women has considered plastic surgery.
  • The more mainstream media high shcool students watch,  the more they believe beauty is important according to the American Psychological Association.
  • Some studies have shown that the more a girl monitors her appearance, the less satisfied she will be with her appearance.
  • Two thirds of women report having avoided activities such as going swimming or going to a party because they feel bad about their appearance while 16% of 15 -17 year olds have avoided going to school for the same reason.

Also, it has to be said that the programme oversimplified the issues somewhat – while I am critical of the ‘beauty-myth’ industry – it isn’t as simple as ‘see images of skinny girls’ – ‘become anorexic’! There could have been more recogition of this

Finally, I am not convinced by the ‘individualised therapeutic approach’ to sorting out problems that have social roots – but I will return to this in another blog…

Related Posts

For more info on Gok’s thoughts on the programme – see this Digital Spy interview  interview with Gok Wan

Lucy Jone’s Review in The Telegraph

Ilona Catherine’s Independent Blog

 

Hearing the Learner Voice – an example of best practice

A student left behind this picture after our lesson on ‘non-participant observation’ -I like to think of it as evidence of how ahead of the game we are in ‘hearing the learner voice’ –

To my mind this is clear evidence of how much this student loves Sociology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course there may be other interpretations of the meaning of the picture are possible……. but I’m sticking with mine for now – I’ve ‘heard the learner voice’, ticked the ‘every child matters’ box and learnt that my students really love my lessons… Next stop – national teacher awards for sure.

A Brief History of International Development Aid

I’m in the middle of writing a critique of Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid – mainly because the book uses highly selective evidence to promote neo0liberal ideology – but I will concede that the way Moyo conceptualises the history of development aid from the 1940s is a fairly useful teaching tool for A level Global Development – so here’s a brief summary of the second chapter of the book – (NB I said useful conceptually for A level, I’m not actually implying that her account is factually accurate – thankfully when you’ve got an exam board that lives in a 1980s timewarp, the actual facts aren’t necessarily that important for the exam)

Moyo splits ‘the history of aid’ up into ‘seven phases’ – starting with the earliest days of Bretton Woods in the mid 1940s – which saw the establishment of institutions such as the IMF, then outlines details of the Marshall Plan in the 1950s – but I’m going to start my brief summary with the third phase in the 1960s -which are followed in each successive decade with next four phases.

The 1960s – The decade of Industrialisation

The Kariba DamHere there was a shift to to the development of large scale industrial projects, with funding going directly to governments in African countries and coming primarily from the  USA, but also from European governments.

A good example of this is the Kariba hydroelectric dam that straddles the boarder between Zambia and Zimbabwe – began under British colonial rule in the 1950s and finally completed in 1977 at a cost of $480 million.

While pointing out that records from the 1960s are not perfect, Moyo sites the following stats for country receipts of aid by the mid 1960s –

  • Ghana – $90 million
  • Kenya, Malawi and Zambia – all having recieved an averge of about $315 million

The 1970s – the shift to a poverty focus

This historical period starts with the 1973 Arab embrago on oil, which lead to oil price rises, followed by food price rises and recession across Africa. In 1975, for example, Ghana’s eGDP contracted by 12% and inflaction had risen to more than 100% by 1977.

In practical terms this lead to aid being redirected away from large infrastructure projects and towrds rurual projects in agriculture and rural development and social services – such as innoculation programmes, housing and literacy campaigns. By the end of the 1970s, the proportion of aid allocated to social service had increased from 10% (in the previous decade) to over 50%. Much of this aid came in the form of concessional loans which would need to be paid back.

Moyo also notes that despite the increasing inflows of aid, increasing numbers of people in Africa were falling into poverty.

The 1980s: Neoliberalism, Structural Adjustment and the lost age of development

Moyo begins – By the end of the 1970s, Africa was awash with aid. In total, the continent had ammassed around $36 billion in foreign assistance. This decade saw a shift away from governments giving aid and towards multilateral aid – with the World Bank and the IMF playing a more central role. Also, aid became focussed less on poverty reduction and more focussed on assisting (some may read coercing) developing world governments to adopt free-market policies.

The 1979 oil spike, precipitaed by the Iran-Iraq war lead to more financial problems for Africa as Western financial institutions responded to the corresponding price increases by raising interest rates – which meant that Africa’s debt service payments reached around $8 billion in 1982, while at the same time, worldwide recession meant declining income from exports, meant that in the 1980s, 11 African countries were eventually defaulted on their debts.

The solution to this crisis was to ‘restructure the debt’. Thus the IMF formed the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility – to lend more money to defaulting nations to help them. Of course this in itself did little to actually alleviate Africa’s problems – it was still dependent on concessionary loans from the West.

At the same time as this restructuring – there was also an ideological shift amongst donors – towards ‘neoliberalism’ – and aid now shifted so that when governments received it they had to agree to instigate ‘free-market reforms’ – minimising the role of the state, privatising previously nationalised industries, liberalising trade (less restrictions on private companies and exports/ imports) and reducing the number of government employees.)

Between 1986 and 1996 six African countries – Benin, the CAR, Guineas, Madagascar, Mali and Uganda shed more than 10% of their civil workforce, and overall across Africa, many industries were privatised.

The 1990s – A question of good governance

By the end of the 1980s, emerging-market countries’ debt was at lest $1 trillion — and the cost debt servicing had become so substantial that from 1987-1989 there was a net outflow of money from poor to rich countries of $15 a year.

Having seen the failure of aid in previous decades, donor institutions now laid the blame for Africa’s economic woes at the door of weak political leadership and institutions and there was an increased focus on the need to link aid to the promotion of good governance – in other words, credible institutions, transparent rule of law and freedom from corruption. There was also a growing belief that African countries needed a dose of Western Democracy in order to develop.

Moyo also notes that the increasing link between aid and democratic accountability was aided by that fact that in the 1990s, the cold war was thawing, which meant an end to the US and Russia providing aid to politcally dubious regimes in Africa for military purposes.

Finally, the later part of the 1990s saw the rise of ‘donor fatigue’ – ODA peaked in 1992 at a high of $17 billion and then fell to £12 billion in 1999.

The 2000s – the rise of glamour aid

While I think her overview of the preceding decades of development aid is useful, her casting of ODA in the most recent decade is flippant. She

Bono (pronounced Bohnoh) 'feeding the world'

fails to even mention that aid targetting came to be better informed by the 8 Millennium Development Goals, or the new philanthropy headed up by Bill Gates. Instead Moyo simply casts the 2000s as the era in which a new army of moral campaigners took to our TV screens – most noteably Bono, who not only wrote the forward to Jeffrey Sach’s 2005 ‘End of Poverty’ but also met with world leaders to discuss development issue and campaing for more aid to combat Africa’s problems. The only other substantive example she mentions about aid in the 2000s is the ‘Jubilee debt campaign.

So there you have it – with the exception of the last decade, a useful, if somewhat generalised account of the history of Western Development aid over the last half century.

$40 000/ year – what Apple’s ipod city labourers could be earning

Apple recently reported $13.06 billion in profits on $46.3 billion in sales - and these are just the figures for the last three months alone!
 
This is, of course, thanks to the iphone and ipad – (Apple has sold 183 million iphones since its launch 5 years ago) which together now make up about 70% of the companies revenue.
 
There is mounting evidence that the chinese workers who manufacture apple products aren’t exactly benefitting from that £13 billion profit – in fact, it’s becoming apparent that many of them suffer human rights abuses – To list just a selection of the mounting evidence – (much of which is take from this New York Times Report and this summary from digital journey)
  • 17 Foxconn employees have killed themselves in the past 7 decades
  • Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms
  • Some workers say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk.
  • Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products
  • Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iphone screens.
  • Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions.
  • Finally – A message displayed on a banner above one ‘ipod factory’ reads “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”  

The scary thing about all of the above is that we probably only know about these abuses because the iphone is so high profile – the actual company that manufactures the ipad concerned, its actually a Taiwanese company called Foxconn  

Foxconn's Chengdu plant

Foxconn happens to manufacture a whole load of other well- known brands – including the Kindle, the Xbox, and Playstation 3, and its customers also include other big name phone manufacturers – such as Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung

Foxconn has an annual revenue around $60 billion dollars, employs about 1 million people and has factories in China, India, the Czech Republic, Mexico and Brazil, but the bulk of its manufacturing is based in China where it has 11 factories – the biggest of which is estimated to have between 250 – 400 000 workers in residence. 

Now if we know that Foxconn and Chinese government collude to allow worker-abuse in the manufacture of apple products, my suspicion is that it probably goes on with other products too…!

I started off this post wanting to calculate how much surplus value is being extracted by Apple from its workers, but I quickly realised this is impossible – In order to calculate this accurately we’d have to know precisely what proportion of workers in those Foxconn factories are working exlusively on apple products – rather than making products for all the other companies that Foxconn supplies. This, along with the actual numbers of workers in these factories, are not available.

What I can do, however, is calculate how much apple could afford to give to each worker if we assume that every Foxconn worker works on apple products – and that figure stands at about $13 000 – for the last quarter! – based on

  • $13 000 000 000 – Apple’s profits for one quarter – divided by
  • 1 000 000- the global total of Foxconn employees

If you quadruple that – and reduce it slightly to reflect the fact that last quarter was ‘Christmas quarter’ – you end up with the $40 000 figure at the top of this post. Obviously these stats underemphasise what each worker could be paid out of that profit pool – if you factor in the profits from Foxconn itself and all the other electronics ‘branding companies’ the figure would increase!

To finish, just a final postscript on surpluss value. If you didn’t already hate Apple enough –  if you just look at Apple employees – Apple extracted more than $400 000 from each employee last year…