February 18, 2008


Caption: Fuzzy roosters discuss the social construction of reality.

Every once in a while, El Cabrero teaches an off-campus evening sociology class for my alma mater. I have several reasons for doing this, not least of which is the privilege of getting a university library card so I can find obscure books with which to regale you, Gentle Reader.

As is usually discussed in most any such class, there are several different ways of approaching the study of society. It's common practice although somewhat problematic to break down theoretical approaches into three main orientations: functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist.

Functionalist approaches can run from the ridiculous to the sublime but generally focus on how various activities or institutions affect the overall social structure. One of the best functionalist theorists was the late great Robert Merton, who was featured here a while back.

Conflict theory is pretty much what it sounds like. It tends to focus on inequalities of power, wealth and privilege between groups and how these are fought over or rationalized or some combination thereof.

The branch that I find to be increasingly interesting in my old age is the symbolic interactionist approach, which studies the way people create and interpret meanings through communication. Symbols can include anything from language to clothing to sacred images. For some reason, this approach developed primarily in the United States.

More on this tomorrow.

POVERTY and the political will to do something about it is the subject of this Paul Krugman column.

PLAY ON. the NY Times Magazine has a huge article about it which takes it pretty seriously.

CHRONICLES OF PHILANTHROPY. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on recent "charitable" efforts to plug Ayn Rand's ideology.

AFTER NAFTA. Thousands of Mexicans are organizing against the aftershocks of the North American Free Trade Agreement. As Jim Hightower pointed out recently, people who get angry over immigration to this country might want to consider that one reason for it is that many Mexicans have lost jobs or seen living standards fall since its passage in 1994. According to Hightower, 19 million more Mexicans live in poverty today than when NAFTA was passed.

FULL COURT PRESS. The WV Supreme Court story just keeps getting better and better. Justice Larry Starcher, who has been publicly critical of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, announced Friday that he would recuse himself from a case involving Massey. If you recall, Justice Spike Maynard recused himself after pictures surfaced of Blankenship and him vacationing in Monaco after the court agreed to hear the case. Starcher has urged Justice Brent Benjamin to recuse himself as well. A political unknown, Benjamin was elected to the court in 2004 with the help of millions of Blankenship's money. No wonder WV's court debacle was the inspiration for John Grisham's latest novel.



Anonymous said...

Here's a letter I sent to the Charleston Gazette yesterday (with some typos corrected):

From: Bob Baker
To: gazette@wvgazette.com
Sent: Sunday, February 17, 2008 8:34 PM
Subject: Ayn Rand -- Milton Friedman Connection

I read the article by Rick Wilson in the Perspective section of the Sunday Charleston Gazette-Mail (2/17/08) with interest. I, too, was very surprised by BB&T's efforts to promote the views of Ayn Rand. However, Mr. Wilson did not go far enough. Perhaps the primary proponent of Ayn Rand's atheistic philosophy in the economic world is the celebrated Milton Friedman and the Chicago University School of Economics. Milton Friedman, like Ayn Rand, promoted the virtue of selfishness, and espoused economic views based upon the Randian approach. It is he that former Federal Reserve head, Alan Greenspan, believed provided the direction the United States should take in economic affairs; that of unfettered capitalism.
In a recent book that has been on both the New York Times business bestseller list (November, 2007) and the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list (mid-January, 2008), the journalist Naomi Klein exposes the effects on the world of the Ayn Randian - Milton Friedman school of thought. Her book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The economic approach of Milton Friedman, as promoted by "The Chicago Boys" (the cadre of foreign economists trained at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and his economics department), has resulted in the death of many thousands and the impoverishment of many more in all parts of the world.
Ms. Klein shows how economic war against the poor has been waged for more than 50 years at the behest of Milton Friedman. His ideas were behind the massacre of democracy in Chile in 1973 that was perpetrated by the dictator Augosto Pinochet. There they came down hard on the poor after Pinochet's coup overturned the democratically elected Allende government. Earlier, the Chicago Boys together with the CIA were involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala. It was Friedman trained economists who served the governments of Argentina and other Latin American countries when they were "disappearing" opponents of military regimes. Similarly, the Friedman perspective has come in where ever there have been disasters, to take away the liberties of the citizens, whether it be Poland, Russia, China or New Orleans. The goal is always to privatize service (with a concomitant gross enriching of the private industries that take on the job -- think Halliburton in Iraq).
The Chicago Boys do not see Marxism as their enemy. Rather, they see the liberals who rely on Keynesian economics in the United States, the social democrats in Europe, and the developmentalists in the Third World. The goal of this Randian - Friedman perspective is to increase the disparity between the rich and the poor; an idea that will ultimately be the downfall of the US and the World if allowed to continue. It is a cancer on our society, and BB&T ought to be ashamed, as should the colleges and universities that allow their good names to be bought.

Robert S. Baker
102 Ruby Lane
Beckley, WV 25801
Telephone: 304-237-3752

PS -- I realize this is somewhat long for a letter, but would ask that you consider publishing it anyway, perhaps as an op-ed response (even though I agree with Rick Wilson in his article at http://www.wvgazette.com/Opinion/Op-EdCommentaries/200802160167 ).

Mike said...

First, great letter Bob!. Second, it is not surprising that Alan Greenspan, the executor of Ayn Rand's will, did so little to protect consumer interest during his very long tenure at the Federal Reserve. He was making the economy safe for bankers, lenders, etc.

El Cabrero said...

Great letter--thanks for doing that! I just finished the Shock Doctrine a while back. It looks like some people are trying to apply it here.