Podcast • March 24, 2011
Mark Blyth, the know-it-all professor with the Sean Connery delivery, is back in the pub tonight, and not a moment to soon. When the political economy of energy is screaming red-alert, from Japan melting to ...
Mark Blyth, the know-it-all professor with the Sean Connery delivery, is back in the pub tonight, and not a moment to soon. When the political economy of energy is screaming red-alert, from Japan melting to Libya’s oilfield civil war, cheerful chatter from a certified political economist can sound like music. Let’s just forget that Mark Blyth, on our last round, told us that austerity would be our nightmare in 2011. And let’s remember it was Mark Blyth’s friend Nassim Nicholas Taleb who cautioned us almost a year ago that we seem to have entered the Age of the Black Swan — a black swan (think: BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico) being an unimaginable event with big consequences and its own impervious mythology of cause and effect. The social service of black swans is to remind us that fragility is a main mark of global systems. In conversation at the Watson Institute, Mark Blyth is generously scooping himself from an article he and Mr. Taleb have co-authored for the magazine Foreign Affairs.
Let’s not get too bent out of shape about it, because complex systems, when they’re tightly coupled, are Black-Swan prone. And if all the volatility in the mix gets packed and shoved under the carpet, so to speak, then they become prone to these explosions. We also have a remarkable capacity to bounce back. Let’s think about what happened with Japan. You had the Trifecta from hell: first you have an earthquake at 9.0, so let’s follow up with a tsunami, and then a nuclear accident. What happens? Global stock markets fall off a cliff. A week later, they’re back. And the Japanese look like they might actually just pull this off. Why? Because they are a very technologically advanced society. Because they’ve got more experience with nuclear energy than anyone else. And because we got lucky. Let’s face facts, it could have been a lot worse. Now what is the lesson that we’re going to take from that? Being humans we’ll probably learn too much, which is to say, “Well, that shows that nuclear power is safe.” No it’s not. We got a sixty year track record. We’ve been lucky so far, but that doesn’t mean we’re not turkeys looking for Thanksgiving once again.
So we become more tightly coupled, there will be more Black Swan events, but our capacity to bounce back is always there… But you don’t want to get in a position whereby what you’re saying is don’t touch anything ever, don’t try anything ever, because it will end up creating some kind of downstream consequence you can’t calculate. Some of those consequences might be good.
Let me give you an example of this. A long time ago, back in the nineteenth century–before they had a fully formed notion of how diseases were transmitted through bacteria and viruses, etc.–there was a theory of disease that said it traveled on the wind, it was smell. And it was the stench that really made you sick. Hence why the Victorians were always running out to get “good air” and go out into the countryside and all that sort of stuff. Now, they were completely wrong. But one of the things that they did, because they were obsessed with smell, was to build sewers. Now that was exactly the right thing to do, had you had the proper theory of disease. So on the wrong theory, they got the smell and literally got the shit off the streets and put it all underground. And in doing so, they made the biggest advance in public health ever, for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes, nonlinearities work out in a really good way.
Mark Blyth in conversation with Chris Lydon at Brown University, March 22, 2011.
Podcast • February 14, 2008
Jeffrey Sachs had the wit to foresee the doom in his own economic remedies for Bolivia in the mid-1980s. The crisis then was hyper-inflation. “If you’re bold,” he remembers telling Bolivians in power, “you could ...
Jeffrey Sachs had the wit to foresee the doom in his own economic remedies for Bolivia in the mid-1980s. The crisis then was hyper-inflation. “If you’re bold,” he remembers telling Bolivians in power, “you could turn a poor, land-locked, hyper-inflated country into a poor, land-locked country with stable prices.” The problem that free markets, free trade and foreign direct investment didn’t solve over the next twenty years was majority poverty in a pigmentocracy, as Sachs put it on Open Source two years ago. Bolivia was “a society of division, a society of conquest,” in which the 10-percent elite of white skin and European blood had never been impelled to invest in the impoverished Indian masses.
Julia Buxton, Bradford University
With a bit of a vengeance, Julia Buxton here picks up the history of the unraveling of the so-called “Washington consensus” of free-market cures for Latin economies. Inequality in fact widened in most of Latin America under the investment rules of the 1990s. The rules had to change “because the model wasn’t working,” she says. But it was homegrown politics — “this constituency of resistance,” as Julia Buxton calls it — that drove the undoing of policy: in Venezuela (which elected Hugo Chavez president in 1998), Bolivia (where the neo-socialist and “cocalero” Evo Morales won election in 2005) and Ecuador (where Rafael Correa took power in 2006). Venezuela remains for Professor Buxton the world model of the post-Washington development reality: the regeneration of community politics and economic development go ever hand-in-hand; and the Washington connection is discounted, if not unplugged.
Julia Buxton teaches at Bradford University in the U.K. She writes on openDemocracy. And she cleared the air at Brown’s “Changes in the Andes” conference with a PowerPoint stemwinder that triggered this conversation.
Podcast • February 13, 2008
You’re focused on living standards. We’re focused on well-being. That’s the difference between the indigenous vision and the modern Western vision. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, in conversation with Thomas Ponniah Evo Morales, the provocative ...
You’re focused on living standards. We’re focused on well-being. That’s the difference between the indigenous vision and the modern Western vision.
Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, in conversation with Thomas Ponniah
Evo Morales, the provocative “populist” president of Bolivia, is coming to Brown at the end of February, a visit of some moment: the first US campus stop by the first Latin American leader of “indigenous” stock and identity. A two-day conference at the Watson Institute this week on Changes in the Andes (emphasis on Venezula and Ecuador as well as Bolivia) is the start of our Open Source cramming and cranking regimen on “el cambio.”
Here’s the key note so far: get Hugo Chavez out of your head, or your craw. Set aside “petro-nationalism.” Discount most of the routine labels about “left-wing” and “populist” politics. Think: culture… from low-power community-radio conversation to El Sistema, the mass education of young symphony players in Venezuela over the past 30 years — now crowned in the global glory of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.
Think: indigenous… and focus not so much the political empowerment finally of the suppressed majority in the Andes; listen rather for the implications of a pre-Columban consciousness that is surely different from our own with respect to health and science, God and nature, the experience and meaning of life.
Different but maybe not that different. This first conversation in a series approaching the Morales Moment at Brown engages two young scholars who’ve exercised what Simon Schama calls “the archives of the feet” around Latin America. Sujatha Fernandes is a sociologist at the City University of New York, who cut her teeth on the contemporary pop cultures of Cuba. Thomas Ponniah lectures at Harvard on globalization. It was Dr. Ponniah who stopped me short with the thought that perhaps the first way to begin thinking about the “change” in Latin America is to consider the dominant word in the 2008 presidential campaign all around us. In the States, he observed, “the meaning of ‘change’ is that after seven years of cynicism, the public wants renewal… In Latin America, it takes on the totality of the human experience.”