The Global Development Crisis

A third of workers, internationally, earn less than $2 a day.

The World Bank sets the poverty line at $1.25 a day, and on that basis asserts that poverty is declining.  But is that right? Where did that figure come from?  The New Economics Foundation estimates that it should be set at $5 a day, and others suggest $10.  Rejecting the idea that ‘the poor’ need to rely on benign assistance, and that the market provides the answer, Dr, Ben Selwyn puts forward the view that the capital/labour relationship is the reason most of the world’s workers are poor, and advocates labour-centred development – where ‘the poor’ (the global labouring classes), and their own collective actions and struggles constitute the basis of an alternative form of non-elitist, bottom-up human development. 

The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew

Astrophysicist Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice of the Humanities. Creative Writing, Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) talks in this interview about the Big Bang (apparently it wasn’t like an explosion), and how the universe created time and space when it started to expand.  He also takes us on a trip around multiverses, the many universes that science predicts exist, but which may be very different indeed from our own universe. But while it is possible that science may soon explain everything in the physical world, will it ever, he muses, be able to explain the feeling of being in love?  Alan Lightman is an astrophysicist and also a poet and novelist. His best selling novel,  Einstein’s Dreams, about the young Albert Einstein working on his theory of relativity but troubled by dreams explores human beings’ relationship to time. It has been translated into thirty languages.

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want

How good are we at understanding each other? Other people are complicated,  so when we try to guess what they’re thinking we often get it wrong.  Even with our partners!  Research suggests that partners are hardly any better (and sometimes worse) at guessing what each other believe or feel than a stranger. In this wide ranging conversation with Professor Nicholas Epley from Booth School of Business at Chicago University, Craig finds out about empathy, anthropomorphism, hubris and egocentricity. As David Foster Wallace said, in Infinite Jest, “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realise how seldom they do.” This book is a fascinating exploration of what scientists have learned about our ability to understand the most complicated puzzle on the planet—other people—and the surprising mistakes we so routinely make.

U.S. Foreign Policy in Perspective

David Sylvan, Professor of International Relations, and Former Head of the Political Science Department at Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, explains in this interview that much of US foreign policy (as even the CIA would concede, says Professor Sylvan) revolves around acquiring clients, maintaining clients and engaging in hostile policies against enemies deemed to threaten them.  It is a peculiarly American form of imperialism. Ranging over examples from US support for a monarchy in Saudi Arabia, its support for the coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile (when Henry Kissinger said, ‘I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people’), its role in persuading Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines to step down, and its support for the military in Egypt, Professor Sylvan paints a picture of a US  foreign policy based on maintaining the status quo in its client states. Change is almost always seen as threatening.

Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism

To ensure their future food security, rich countries are buying up land in poor countries. Ah, that’s China, you may think!  But as author Stefano Liberti explains, China is a minor player in this land grab – the truth is much more complex.  Our pension funds, European corporations, and countries like Saudi Arabia are all getting in on the act. The food crisis of 2007/8, resulting from poor harvests and propelled by the movement of capital into corn, soya beans, rice and wheat, was the tipping point. Since then, the race to acquire land in the southern hemisphere has become  ever more intense.  Stefano calls it the new colonialism. But it is not without contradictions. Many African countries are very keen to get this investment and send trade missions to rich countries to ‘sell’ their land. 

Walkable Cities

The financial and ecological costs of driving, and the time we waste sitting in traffic jams, is leading many people to think about a more ‘walkable’ city.  The man who has thought and written most widely on this is city planner and architectural designer Jeff Speck. In rural, tribal societies with no technology, people move on average at three miles per hour because they are walking everywhere.  In most developed countries, if you add up the costs of driving a car, the time you spend earning that money and the time you spend in traffic, it has been estimated that we, too, move at about 3 miles per hour! We have learned that we have a smaller carbon footprint and a healthier population if we live in walkable cities. City centres are changing fast and they are increasingly seen as desirable places to live. But the city councils and planners keep wanting to build more roads.

Behind the Shock Machine

“I began to see some of the high profile, very dramatic experiments in social psychology of the 1950s and 60s, as what they were – metaphors. We invest them with a truth and authority that often goes way beyond what we’ve demonstrated in the lab” says Gina Perry.

The particular experiments she is taking a fresh look at in her book, Behind the Shock Machine, are the Milgram experiments, conducted at Yale University in 1963, which suggested that 65% of people would give fatal electric shocks to complete strangers if asked to do so by an authority figure.  These experiments have been used to ‘explain’ the behaviour of Nazis in the holocaust. Stanley Milgram’s findings are shocking, but are they valid?  That is the central question Perry seeks to address.

Understanding Modern Warfare

Since the end of the Cold War, American military superiority has been an undeniable fact.  But this superpower dominance is not the norm in world affairs.  With the rise of China as a ‘peer rival’ of the US, are we seeing a return to a more contested ‘business as usual’ ? And if we are, what are the implications? In this interview, Craig speaks to Dr Ian Speller, co author of Understanding Modern Warfare  about various developments in naval capability, and in particular the naval aspects of China’s resurgence.  China is expanding its navy, and although Washington sees this as a threat, the Chinese themselves say any developing country would want to build up its sea power (given that historically threats to China have come from the seas).

 

Heretic's Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money

It is now quite a few years since the collapse of Lehman Bros and the start of the financial crisis that collapse precipitated.  Though most of us grow more and more cynical and angry about the financial system, how many of us really understand it? Brett Scott is well placed to lead us on an exploration of radical approaches to global finance, shareholder activism..  An anthropologist and former whizz kid broker, his  Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money offers the reader a framework for approaching the financial system based on hacking, activist entrepreneurialism, DIY and open source culture. This is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to begin to understand the financial system in order to change it.