Saturday, January 21, 2012

What are some of the systemic implications of a power analysis of global agriculture?

A recent work called the 'Power in Agriculture Report', commissioned for the 2011 Oxford Farming Conference, and undertaken by the Policy Research Unit at the Scottish Agricultural College, raises a number of interesting systemic insights.

As Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) observes: 'The political power relevant to global agriculture is still concentrated in the hands of the USA, major EU countries and some other economically powerful countries within the G8 coalition' but 'in the coming decades, EU countries may have to confront increased pressure to allow greater access to their markets'.  Competition is 'likely to come from emerging economies – like China, India and Brazil..'

From within Australasia the rhetoric seems to imply that Australia and NZ have more power than this analysis reveals.  This analysis raises significant uestions about  Australia's focus on WTO/GATT arrangements and other policies led by idealogical commitments to economic theory rather than the hard work of 'real politik'.  It also raises questions about whether Australia's pursuit of free trade agreements have been helpful.  In the power index devised by the report's authors Australasia comes in at less than half that of the EU and USA and on a par with Brazil.  Perhaps surprisingly it is also less than the UK.

Power now and in the future is likely to be concentrated in the hands of TransNational Corporations (TNCs) who are moving (really, have already moved) to incorporate emerging nations into their networks of power.  Consider the following findings:
  • four companies account for 75-90% of global grain trade;
  • 10 companies represent over 40% of the global retail market
  • seven companies control virtually all fertiliser supply
  • five companies share 68% of the world's agrochemical market
  • three companies control almost 50% of the proprietary seeds market
 And where are these predominantly based ? The US and EU of course!  The authors did note, however, that: 'in some cases civil society organisations and farmer groups have had a significant impact in countervailing or balancing corporate influences'.

In what is decribed as a 'potentially grim picture' one of the reports conclusions is that: ' population growth, depleting mineral reserves and the impact of climate change will all put increased pressures on natural resource availability and it is clear, as evidenced through the process of ‘land grab’, that control of natural resources will become increasingly important as they become more scarce.'
Where good ideas come from

This YouTube clip from Steven Johnson relates well to what is taught in our recent Open University course (TU812): 'Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction'.  In particular, as my colleague Chris Blackmore says:

"Good stuff here….. links quite well with Donald Schon’s early work on ‘ideas in good currency’ that we include in TU812"

Cyber-systemic conference in Vienna and ASC in Asilomar in July

Note from Ranulph Glanville:

The EMCSR (European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research) conference series was founded in 1972. At the last meeting in 2010, Robert Trappl, who had chaired it since its beginning, retired. The new chair, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, who directs the Bertalanffy Archive in Vienna, has just published the outline program for next spring's conference.

There are changes in how the conference will be run. For instance, round table discussions are welcome. There will be a pre and post doc colloquium. There are new symposia and symposium chairs. And the process for submission and publication is different, with extended abstracts for proposals, and papers written in final form after the conference, for publication.

Please note the symposia (look under programme >> symposia). Apart from symposium E, chaired by Karl Mueller and myself, there are other symposia that cover a wide range of different approaches and areas.

I invite you all to have a look at the programme and, if you find the conference interesting, exciting and/or relevant, to make arrangements to be there. Check out the web site: Vienna is lovely in mid-April.

At the same time, let me advise you of the American Society for Cybernetics' conference, 9 to 13 July, at Asilomar State Park Conference Centre, California, to be held in conjunction with the Bateson Idea Group. This promises to be a richly interesting event, and will remind us that there many sources of today's cybernetics, and many ways forward. This conference is in the week before the ISSS conference at San Jose: we are planing a special, reduced rate for those attending both. The conference web site will be launched in the new year, and will be accessible through the ASC home page,
Economist's critique of economists

Thanks to Roy Madron for drawing this Guardian article by Bernard Harcourt to my attention along with the following text:

"The contention from an economist, a politician, a pundit or columnist opining about what Occupy Wall Street must do to succeed is no longer a fully meaningful sentence because the authors of those sentences themselves have failed.

That seems to be a central message of the Occupy movement: the purported experts are precisely the ones who got us in this situation that so many perceive as intolerable – a condition of continuously increasing inequality where, today, "the 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans." That, I take it, is the guiding Jacobin spirit of this new form of political disobedience, but without the Jacobin leadership. And it is precisely the leaderlessness that accentuates the new syntactic challenges: those who are trying to "steer" Occupy Wall Street in the "right direction" – whether with good or ill will – have already failed miserably and, as a result, there is no authorial grammar to their statements.

Harcourt is the author of  The Illusion of Free Markets and this review shows his position
Professor Bernard Harcourt has recently released a compelling book "The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Social Order." Harcourt, a professor of law and chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago, painstakingly traces the parallel historical trend of increasing punishment during eras of strong free market advocacy.
Harcourt's Illusion presents crucial historical evidence that when nations' focus on freeing their trading and capital markets, there is always a concomitant rise in that nation's imprisonment and incarceration rates. Of course, the rise in incarceration is always of the nation's poor and disempowered.

Harcourt's thesis perfectly situates the failed American War on Drugs. The explosive rise in mass incarceration in the United States over the past 25 years (imprisonment increase of 335% as a result of the War on Drugs) occurred when the presidential administrations of Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. simultaneously worked tirelessly to deregulate the U.S. capital markets. Free market advocacy and deregulation have been occurring at exactly the same time that prison rates and populations have been skyrocketing. Harcourt describes how this is not just an American anomaly, but is a global historical reality.

The question that this historical reality begs is why?
Why during eras of powerful free market advocacy do governments' radically imprison their own citizens?

A great question that no economist seems willing to hear, let alone try to answer. "

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stiglitz on inequality US style

As always Stiglitz is systemically revealing in his concerns and writing.
Richard Wolff's systemic account of the financial meltdown

 Just watch the preview.  With thanks to Roy Madron.

"With breathtaking clarity, renowned University of Massachusetts Economics Professor Richard Wolff breaks down the root causes of today's economic crisis, showing how it was decades in the making and in fact reflects seismic failures within the structures of American-style capitalism itself. Wolff traces the source of the economic crisis to the 1970s, when wages began to stagnate and American workers were forced into a dysfunctional spiral of borrowing and debt that ultimately exploded in the mortgage meltdown. By placing the crisis within this larger historical and systemic frame, Wolff argues convincingly that the proposed government “bailouts,” stimulus packages, and calls for increased market regulation will not be enough to address the real causes of the crisis - in the end suggesting that far more fundamental change will be necessary to avoid future catastrophes. Richly illustrated with motion graphics and charts, this is a superb introduction designed to help ordinary citizens understand, and react to, the unraveling economic crisis."