Monday, December 20, 2010
While it merited nary a mention in any of the mainstream Western media, social and economic justice proponents have taken note of the recent announcement that Brazil has become the world's first Fair Trade nation. On November 17, President Luis Ignacio "Lula" da Silva, whose tenure ends at the end of this year, signed a decree formally establishing a National System of Fair Trade. At the same time he initiated a national business incubator network to encourage grassroots economic development. The actions continue the evolution begun in 2004 with the establishment within the Ministry of Work and Employment of the National Secretary of Solidarity Economics to liaise with federal government bureaus, local municipalities, and civil society organizations in developing policies and programs that foster economic and political equity and social inclusion in Brazil.
To better understand this event, one must distinguish between the concepts of Fair Trade and solidarity economics. The former is more commonly known to American consumers and entails a specific set of exchange practices. These include: pricing floors, living wages, long-term financing guarantees and purchasing agreements, profit sharing, community reinvestment, and the like, the costs of which account for the extra two bits or so one pays at the local coffeehouse for an "ethically sourced" cup of cappuccino.
Fair Trade is sometimes called alternative trade because it seeks to circumvent prevailing market transactions, especially those espoused under neoliberalism and the process of globalization. For reformers like Joseph Stiglitz, Fair Trade is a viable model for international development in that it advances "trade not aid" as the solution to growing global inequality. Yet Fair Trade has also been criticized as a new form of dependency, tying the livelihoods of Third World producers to the largesse of privileged consumers in the First World.
Solidarity economics encompasses much broader ideas of cooperative exchange. These include: unpaid labor and household provisioning exchanges, bartering systems, production and purchasing collectives, local currencies, gift economies, "freecycling," and regional reciprocity coalitions. Radical interpretations of solidarity economics foresee the end of capitalist economics and politics whereas more moderate views hope to simply negotiate a "humanizing" intervention within the existing market system.
According to a 2006 report by the ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, efforts to promote solidarity economics in Brazil actually date back to the 1970s. These initiatives occurred under the auspices of several mostly faith-based international NGOs that organized rural workers into collectives to make and export handicrafts for sale to an emerging cadre of "conscientious" consumers, initially in Europe and now throughout North America and beyond. These efforts continue today through the government-sponsored Brazil Handicraft Program and associated social entrepreneurs such as EcoArts and Brazilianas Handicraft.
By contrast, Brazilian Fair Trade seeks to develop an internal market for domestically produced goods and services. In this regard it's a potential move toward autarky and ultimately independence from the forces of free-market globalization. (Though at this point the investment is minimal in relation to Brazil's GDP.) The system of university-based incubators, harnessing the intellectual capital of researchers and students and marrying it to popular local knowledge, has the makings of a cultural revolution presumably without the severe dislocation (not to mention the brutality) of the Maoist "sent down" program.
The Fair Trade announcement comes on the heels of the election of Lula's handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, as Brazil's first woman president. Writing in The Nation, Kenneth Rapoza characterizes her election as a refutation of the Washington Consensus that prescribes privatization and so-called open markets as the path to success for lesser-developed countries. Fair Trade Brazil marks yet another step down a road less traveled.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
On her blog FireDogLake, Jane Hamsher lists eight reasons why she believes it's
Bean's name is being floated as a "more mainstream" alternative to Harvard legal scholar Elizabeth Warren who currently services as a special assistant to President Obama and an advisor to Timothy J. Geitner, Secretary of the US Treasury. Warren has thirty years of research experience in consumer finance and has largely been responsible for creating the legislation that is intended to bring the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau into existence.
Here is a clip of Warren being interviewed recently on the Rachel Maddow Show:
Saturday, September 18, 2010
The White House announced yesterday that Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren would be named assistant to the President and special advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury charged with setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In his statement to the press, the President noted of Warren:
She’s a native of Oklahoma. She’s a janitor’s daughter who has become one of the country’s fiercest advocates for the middle class. She has seen financial struggles and foreclosures affect her own family.Long before this crisis hit, she had written eloquently, passionately, forcefully, about the growing financial pressures on working families and the need to put in place stronger consumer protections. And three years ago she came up with an idea for a new independent agency that would have one simple overriding mission: standing up for consumers and middle-class families.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Basically, what happens is someone volunteers to make the main course and others then donate side dishes and such. People pay $5 each to attend and then vote on proposals submitted in advance for using the proceeds from the evening. More than 100 people attended the event last Sunday, which took place above a bakery in the southwest Detroit neighborhood known as Mexicantown. (Pictured right: Voting booths @ Soup. Photo credit: Louis Aguilar via iPhone.)
This is an excellent example of the merging of citizenship and consumption. The proposal selected for funding was a plan to improve a small park located in one of Detroit's rebounding residential communities, Woodbridge, which dates back to the 19th century. Volunteers will use the money to buy materials for repairing playground equipment, upgrading the site, and other clean-up consumables.
Click here to read a more extended post on the evening published on another blog I edit, Motown Review of Art.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Received an announcement through the campus email that one of schools at which I teach, Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, has two Altagracia items for sale. (See my previous post on anti-sweatshop victories for the production facility, which is located in the Domican Republic.) Pictured left is a hoodie (available in Oxford gray and black). A t-shirt is also available. The items are priced in line with other similar merchandise but produced under conditions in which workers receive living-wage compensation. It'll be interesting to see if altruism has any value added in this case. Research published in Labor Studies Journal suggests that there is actually a premium associated with conscientious production and consumption.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
In the early of Air America Radio, a regular guest on the Al Franken Show was a little known Harvard Law School professor who seemed to understand better than anyone I'd ever heard the dire threats to the security of the middle class in Post-Reagan America. That professor is now at the center of hot debate over the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She is of course Elizabeth Warren.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
There has been some recent research that links political consumption of the present day with the anti-slavery movement in Great Britain, starting in the late 1700s and culminating with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. One such study is Adam Hochschild's book Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (2005), detailing the many techniques of what social movement theorists call "resource mobilization" pioneered during effort that continue to be used by today's social justice activists. One such device is the "buycott" campaign of medallions -- "Am I Not A Man and A Brother?" -- designed by Josiah Wedgewood (shown in this blog's inaugural post) that appeared on everything from brooches to music boxes.
Glickman's assertion is that in fact the influence comes from America, then migrated over to England. It has persisted here throughout our nation's history.
One effort that seems particularly relevant for today is the free produce movement, which started as part of the abolitionist effort in the 1790s and lasted until the 1860s. The "free" in this case refers not "to without cost" but "not enslaved." In a precursor to today's Fair Trade, free produce was a "buycott" encouraging conscientious consumers of the day to shop for goods made by those who received wages for their work.
Monday, July 19, 2010
For the most of the modern period, citizenship and consumption have been considered antithetical to one another. From Thorstein Veblen at the turn of the twentieth century, to the culture industry critique of the Frankfurt School later on, and even more recently in the writings of social critics such as Daniel Bell and Christopher Lasch, the propagation of consumerist values has been seen as having a derogatory effect on civic and cultural life.
This can be understood as rooted in large part in the conception of citizenship as public and consumption as private, a reflection of the ideal distinction between polis and oikos that goes back to the ancient Greeks.
But with the postmodern turn, the subjectivities (that is, the social roles and experience personae) of citizen and consumer have moved closer together. Along with the rise of neoliberalism on the one hand, has been the perception increasingly of the citizen as a kind of consumer, an individual user of state services guided by self-interest. With the efflorescence of new social movements and identity construction on the other hand, has come the idea of the consumer as a political agent, leveraging marketplace sovereignty into legislative sovereignty of a sort, the conduct of politics by other means.
This blog intends to investigate the intersection of citizen and consumer, reflecting on the theories behind and current and historical practices of political consumption. In particular, it will look at representations of political consumption in a range of communications media and how they are used to mobilize citizen-consumers into action.
Image above: Josiah Wedgewood, Am I Not A Man and A Brother? (1787). Created as part of the anti-slavery campaign under the British Empire.