Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Updated July 24, 2015

The human nature question is, I believe, absolutely pivotal to the study of politics and economics. Very often, I hear my students say that competitiveness and aggression combined with profit making, are driven by biological urges. But biological studies are positing another scenario.

There is an 'altruistic gene' according to biologists:

"...researchers discovered that people with either of two of the variations of the COMT gene (called the Val/Val and Val/Met variations) donated twice as much money to the charity as people with the other variation (called Met/Met), regardless of their gender. In fact, more than 20 percent of the people with the altruistic variations donated all of their money.

In the general population, the number of people with the altruistic variations of the COMT gene varies by ethnicity, says study author Christian Montag, a psychologist at the University of Bonn. Among Caucasians, the ethnicity of all the participants in this particular study, roughly 75 percent carry one of the two altruistic variations: 25 percent carry the val/val, 50 percent carry the val/met, and 25 percent carry the met/met variant.

While researchers have had evidence for years that altruistic behavior is at least partly influenced by genetics, that evidence has come mainly from studies of twins reporting how altruistic they are, which have found that people with identical genetic material show similar patterns of altruism. This is the first study to link altruism to a specific gene.

Psychologist Sebastian Markett, a study co-author also at the University of Bonn, says the results show how a single genetic mutation can have a large effect on our behavior. But he believes science still has much to learn about the genetics of altruism.

'There must be more genes which influence altruistic behavior whose association has not been discovered yet,” he says. “Our future objective will be to identify all of those genes and how they interact with each other to eventually put a pretty complicated puzzle together—with the goal to understand who we are and why we are how we are.'"

But...the richer you get, the more selfish you are! See this

"Lower-class” individuals—i.e., folks without much money or education—demonstrate more compassion and empathy than their wealthy counterparts, according to a series of psychological studies".

Read more: http://moneyland.time.com/2011/08/12/study-the-rich-really-are-more-selfish/#ixzz1yFoStV91

A new book, WEALTH SECRETS OF THE 1 % by economist Sam Wilkin, posits the very wealthy are more likely to skirt the law by using certain mechanisms that. "involve 'some sort of scheme for defeating the forces of market competition'. Many involve legal manoeuvrings or the exercising of political influence.I haven't read the book so I can't say what methodology Wilkin used to arrive at this conclusion.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


The prompt this week read: Which international relations theories are evident in the ideas expressed by Gertner, Laduke, Waring, Pinky, Marx (as explained by David Harvey and "Spark Notes"), and President Eisenhower?

The readings reflect different interpretations of political economy, which can be defined as “THE STUDY OF POLITICAL DISTRIBUTIONS OF POWER AS MANIFESTED BY ECONOMIC ACTIVITY.”


Up until the global economic crisis of 2007-8, the dominant theories of political economy were

 a) Realism/strategic hegemony. This focuses on the role of the state in the economy, as a matter of national security. Pinky and President Eisenhower address this theory, implicitly. Pinky is more critical of arms spending, from a normative point of view.

 b) Liberalism. This theory advocates a market free from government intervention. President Eisenhower advocates a strong defense of the nation, but  takes a more liberal perspective, in warning against centralization of elite power through arms spending (the military-industrial complex).

 But, advocates of both theories failed to predict coming events accurately. Famously, Queen Elisabeth, in the UK, asked an assembly of UK economists in 2009 why none of them had foreseen the looming economic crisis prior to 2008.

 Solutions to the crisis have been both realist and liberal in nature. The governments of the US and UK for example, have released more money into the economy, a form of government intervention, while encouraging fiscal austerity and supply side reform as advocated by liberalism or neoliberalism.

Fiscal austerity=budget cuts, especially of social services. No increase of taxes on the wealthy sector.

 Supply-side reform=De-regulation or liberalization means the opening up of markets to greater competition. It advocates the growth of financial products such as derivatives, the gambling on future prices.

 Critics say that these solutions are neither innovative or likely to succeed in the long term, because they replicate the same policies that have brought about the crisis in the first place.

One such critic is Adair Turner, a prominent UK economic policymaker. He says that the crises poses fundamental questions about our economic situation. Many of his ideas are reflected in the readings in Week 1, INTL 5400.

Some of his  principle questions are:

 1) Does the conventional emphasis on maximizing GDP make sense?

 2) Should we reconstruct the way in which economics is taught and practised?

 3) Should economics be a moral and not a natural science?

 Constructivism is the theory that allows for the introduction of moral and ethical norms into considerations of politics and economics.

 In Week 1, we are introduced to a number of norms in the context of political economy: Laduke from an indigenous Native American point of view, Waring from a feminist point of view, Marx from the point of view of labor power, without which, he argues, it would be impossible to create profit, or surplus value. Finally, Gertner critiques the Gross Domestic Product as negating moral concerns. He discusses  non-monetized standards, such as the Human Development Index (HDI) which introduce norms such as human good health and environmental sustainability, into the measurement of economic activity.