Thursday, June 27, 2013


Obviously, wars will result in collateral damage…but the question is,  how to distinguish  collateral damage from  a war crime?
Collateral damage is damage to humans, animals and other things different to  the intended target.
A war crime is an action carried out during the conduct of a war that violates accepted international rules of war.
What are ‘accepted international rules of war’?
The Geneva Conventions are the principle rules. The first Geneva Convention was developed in 1864.  It called on the warring parties to respect the right of medical personnel assisting soldiers in the field.   The 1949 Conventions, which are the current rules, were a response to the atrocities of WW2.  The  four conventions protect combatants in the field, combatants at sea, prisoners of war and civilians.   The protection for civilians  includes the provision of humanitarian aid to noncombatants and wounded combatants.
But this is a vague proposition…’protecting’ civilians, to use no more force than is ‘necessary’,   raises the question of ‘how many’ civilians should be protected (and how)?  One theory is that the difference between collateral damage and a war crime might break down into differences in political values. What your personal values are…determines definitions. This is just a theory, without a hard data set to substantiate it, but it's  a good starting point for discussion.
Those on the left-liberal side of the political spectrum, would have a strict definition of a war crime to include ANY type of collateral damage, if it was foreseeable. This would include deaths of innocents under economic sanctions as well as in wartime. Often it is argued on the liberal side, that the ends are not justified by the means.
Those more in the middle of the political spectrum, would allow for a moderate amount of foreseeable civilian deaths and damage, as long as it was not perceived of as excessive. But what is ‘excessive’ is left up to personal opinion. One person may think that 20 innocent deaths are excessive, others would put it at 200. Again, there are not set rules anywhere to make that determination.
Those on the right side of the political spectrum, denounce anyone who is close to an attack as either being used by the designated enemy as a shield, or in collusion with them, thus justifying an indeterminate number of innocent deaths.
One thing is clear. This as students pointed out this week, is an issue of morality. There is a profound lack of consensus on the morality of war and this is reflected in the vagueness we see in international law regarding collateral damage.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


The North American economist Milton Friedman said n 2004 that because China is improving its civil rights, this means that that its political rights will improve. If political rights improve, he argues, then economic growth and success will follow. 

How to define 'economic growth' or 'economic success' in a class on political-economy?
The mainstream way (the way of the mainstream mass media like CBS or CNN) is to define economic growth through GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT ,or GDP, and working age population.  GDP growth is what PricewaterhouseCoopers bases its conclusions when it refers to the success of emerging economies.

"The world's largest tax advisory, audit and consultancy services provider, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has suggested that the emerging markets like India and China is fast becoming the hub of global economic activity with China likely to outpace the US by 2025. " Vietnam is also considered an emerging economy."

Will this economic growth be hampered by lack of political freedoms?  On the contrary, there is an argument to be made that a state like China which controls the 'commanding heights' of an economy without a focus on Western style freedoms, is giving it a lead over Western democratic economies. It is noted that China did not suffer as much from the 2008 economic crisis as countries such as US, Iceland, Greece, Italy and Spain -- all Western style democracies.

The report by PricewaterhouseCoopers does not mention political freedoms as a factor of economic growth. This is what the report says:

"The key to achieving the growth potential, indicated by the report titled The World in 2050: beyond the BRICs, will be establishing and maintaining a macroeconomic, legal and public policy environment conducive to trade, investment, increased education levels and hence economic growth." [BRICs=Brazil, Russia, India, China]. 

China's success is down to a strong state sector and strong state-directed investments, according to experts. China owns its own money supply and sets its own interest rates. The US does not. It has to borrow its money supply at interest from the private banks of the Federal Reserve (a set of private banks. The Fed, despite its name, is NOT  a government agency). 

China's annual average GDP growth since launching its economic reforms in 1978 has been 9.9%. By contrast, in the last four years, the US economy has grown by 1.2%.


Who are the winners and losers resulting from China's GDP growth?
Growth by GDP isn't the whole story, as a student pointed out in my INTL 5400 class this week. 

"Gini studies suggests that China may now be one of the most economically unequal countries on Earth, and the most unequal outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Compared to World Bank data, China ranks as the world’s fifth most unequal, tied with Botswana. It performs a little better alongside CIA data, which would rank China as the world’s seventh most unequal, between Haiti and the Central African Republic. These comparisons are imperfect, since the Chinese university study may not have used the same measurements as the World Bank or CIA studies, but a rough way of demonstrating the severity of China’s growing class problem."
Study: Income inequality skyrockets in China, now among world’s highest By Max Fisher, Published: December 11, 2012

Political revolutions are spurred by economic distress more than any other issue.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed."

This week a student wrote in my INTL 5400 International Political Economy class:  'So, according to Malthus, value is found not in a resource, but rather in its absence." The scarcity theory relates to the supply and demand theory, in which prices are raised when demand exceeds supply.
Are we really living in a world of scarcity?
Mahatma Ghandhi  said that "The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed."
According to the UN, 870 million people today don't have enough to eat. Is that because there isn't enough food, or is there something wrong with the food production/distribution system worldwide?
Global average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has risen dramatically in recent years. It is now at $11,500 per person ( GDP is defined as a purchasing power parity basis divided by population. Yet, 15% of the planet are facing hunger. There is a massive global income gap between wealthy countries and developing countries. Sub-Sahara Africa is considered amongst the poorest of regions.
The dominant agricultural production model also wastes an astounding amount of food. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), over a third of all food produced gets lost in present production and consumption systems.