Celebrating Charles Darwin Day

Tattoo inspired from Darwin’s notebook around July 1837 that showed his first sketch of an evolutionary tree.

Today people around the world celebrates the 204 Anniversary of Charles Darwin birth.  To me this day is special and I celebrate the life and work of this great man by sharing with you the WHY he is history’s most important thinker.

Throughout his life, Darwin’s work resulted in the most enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, ever contributed to the advancement of humanity.  Darwin gave us the research and opened the doors for human inquiry by founding the unifying theory of Biology: Evolution. He was the first to present convincing evidence of it and its major driving force – natural selection.

The general idea of evolution preceded Darwin, and he shied away from making the explicit and incendiary claim that even humans were evolved from other creatures. But his explanation of natural selection as a mechanism that made evolution plausibly able to explain the origin of species without reference to a creator up-ended the contemporary orthodoxy. It set a new course that no subsequent scientific work could ignore. And according to the eminent late evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, “Eliminating God from science made room for strictly scientific explanations of all natural phenomena; it gave rise to positivism; it produced a powerful intellectual and spiritual revolution, the effects of which have lasted to this day.”

Eugene Byrne and Simon Gurr wanted to celebrate Darwin’s lifelong spirit of curiosity and bring the message to kids with their new graphic novel.

Conference: Global History of Agrarian Labor Regimes, 1750 to 2000 (Harvard University)

My interest in Agrarian Labor Regimes was first awaken in my research on Opium trade in India. Since then, more readings have made me realize the complex structures behind the history of agrarian labor in a global context.

If you are also interested in the topic, the *Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH)* at Harvard University is planning a conference for *April 2013* that is focusing on changing labor regimes within global agriculture.

As posted by Blog de la AMHE by Manuel Bautista, they are interested in exploring the diversity of labor regimes, the paths along which they changed, and—most especially—the connections between these changes in different parts of the world. We are interested in work that explores the connected histories of propertied farming, sharecropping, wage labor, slavery, *cultures obligatoires*, and other such forms of labor, and how they have been connected to the spatial and social spread of capitalism.We are seeking proposals from historians, political scientists, economists, sociologists, and anthropologists at all stages of their academic career, including graduate students. We encourage proposals from those in relevant career paths or institutions outside the university. We are particularly interested in forging a global discussion of these topics, and therefore welcome especially contributions from outside North America and Europe.

The conference will try to balance broad comparative papers and revealing case studies. The Weatherhead Initiative on Global History is a newly created center that responds to the growing interest at Harvard in the encompassing study of global history. The Initiative is committed to the systematic scrutiny of developments that have unfolded across national, regional, and continental boundaries as well as to analysis of the interconnections—cultural, economic, ecological and demographic—among world societies. For further information about WIGH as well as the conference, please consult our website at http://wigh.wcfia.harvard.edu.

Proposals should include an abstract of no more than two pages and a brief curriculum vita. Please email your submissions to Jessica Barnard ( jbarnard @ wcfia.harvard.edu ) before *November 30, 2012*. Travel expenses as well as accommodation will be covered.

Holger Droessler hdroessl @ fas.harvard.edu

The role of Ethics, Economic Power and Political Power in Big Corporations

Today in class we had a short discussion on which is the economic and political power of Corporations and Transnational Companies in the Global Political Economy as compared with the power that have states and governments.  Undoubtedly, the scope and array of political activities of  companies is huge and their economic activities are even more diverse.

More so, the power of these corporations to shape culture, politics and media is widely studied and written about in books, journals and documentaries. What is usually not mentioned is that these huge and powerful companies have acquired political power by the use of their profits for the sake of protecting their interests.  These interest and the means used are subject of ethical judgement.s

Generally, the political power to which we usually identify this corporations is that of lobbying.  However, many other ways of achieving global economic and political power are open for corporations by allying with ruling governments, offering loans and investment for countries and/or new cities; but also by the enforcement of specific news agendas and in the Media to inform citizens.

It is of particular interest for me the ethics of the political and economic power that a company has.  The pursuit of profit is the goal of a company by the provision of services to its consumers.  It is profit which fuels a company to continue growing and providing services.  However, this activity of pursuing profit is subject for ethical judgements that historically have been judged by/from immoral philosophical backgrounds. (For further information on what I consider to be Morality or Ethics please visit: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html)

The pursuit of profit is a moral action when undertaken in consistency with the respect of individual rights.  As such, a company should and can influence politicians by lobbying when it considers it necessary for them to increase their profits.  The lobbying that is ethical is that which doesn’t creates privileges but that which eliminates regulations on competition that was previously benefiting special interest groups.

Historically, the role that Corporations and Transnational Companies have had  should be analysed in context when judged about its morality or immorality.  Thousands of pages of research that demonstrate how corporations have used its political power to achieve special privileges can be found everywhere.  The immorality of the actions of many corporate managers has been demonstrated and data on how they have violated human rights can easily be found in newspapers.  But this is not an absolute; just because some (or most) of the companies have violated and abused of their economic and political power it doesn’t make of them to be intrinsically evil or corrupt.

Corporations are not humans.  However, corporations are managed by humans whom depending on their philosophies of life can respect or violate individual rights and disobey the rule of law.  It are only those companies which act ethically which at the end of the day will profit the most and benefit the rest of society in a positive sum game.  Those companies and their managers who are willing to violate rights and act unethically have brought the Global Political Economy into zero sum game results in which only one side of the exchange has benefited.

And here, once again, the enlightment of Ayn Rand comes to play particular interest when identifying which is the difference between economic power and political power.  As well, as what is ethically correct for a company to do or not to do.

Rand wrote that,

What is economic power? It is the power to produce and to trade what one has produced. In a free economy, where no man or group of men can use physical coercion against anyone, economic power can be achieved only by voluntary means: by the voluntary choice and agreement of all those who participate in the process of production and trade. In a free market, all prices, wages, and profits are determined—not by the arbitrary whim of the rich or of the poor, not by anyone’s “greed” or by anyone’s need—but by the law of supply and demand. The mechanism of a free market reflects and sums up all the economic choices and decisions made by all the participants. Men trade their goods or services by mutual consent to mutual advantage, according to their own independent, uncoerced judgment. A man can grow rich only if he is able to offer better values—better products or services, at a lower price—than others are able to offer.

Wealth, in a free market, is achieved by a free, general, “democratic” vote—by the sales and the purchases of every individual who takes part in the economic life of the country. Whenever you buy one product rather than another, you are voting for the success of some manufacturer. And, in this type of voting, every man votes only on those matters which he is qualified to judge: on his own preferences, interests, and needs. No one has the power to decide for others or to substitute hisjudgment for theirs; no one has the power to appoint himself “the voice of the public” and to leave the public voiceless and disfranchised.

Now let me define the difference between economic power and political power: economic power is exercised by means of a positive, by offering men a reward, an incentive, a payment, a value; political power is exercised by means of a negative, by the threat of punishment, injury, imprisonment, destruction. The businessman’s tool is values; the bureaucrat’s tool is fear.

And by this she meant that economic power is always ethical because it pursuits a reward for men everywhere and anytime (in the entire process of designing, production, transportation and distribution of products and services).  And as such that the political power of a company appears when the businessman becomes a bureaucrat or lobbyist that uses the power of government to achieve privileges for himself and his company.

This discussion comes from observing the following table which presents the GDP-PPP of the Top 100 Economies in the World (2009) which was prepared by the World Bank.  Particularly relevant from this table is the fact that among the top 100 economies the authors included also the largest companies in the world in base of their Revenues-PPP (2009).  In position #32 appears Royal Dutch Shell as the largest company of the list with revenues of 458 billion dollars and it is followed by ExxonMobil in position 35 with 426 billion dollars.  These two companies had Revenues-PPP in 2009 which surpassed the size of the GDP-PPP of countries like Venezuela (#48), Greece (#52) and Switzerland (#53).

Even though is not commonly done; I have always studied Global Political Economy by remembering clearly what is ethical human behavior and what is not.  Starting from this point then I try to understand what is or can be the effects of a government’s or corporation’s decisions in real world cases.  Unfortunately, the ruling ethical code among Academics today considers it to be evil to pursue profit, self-interest, individualism and collaboration in order to create positive sum games in global exchange.

Indeed, historical examples are not the best reference for illustrating how we can benefit from an Objectivist ethics perspective when understanding the role of Companies in Global Economy.  However, it is this lack of many examples which should make it easier for us to identify how a Businessman success depends on “his intelligence, his knowledge, his productive ability, his economic judgment—and on the voluntary agreement of all those he deals with: his customers, his suppliers, his employees, his creditors or investors. A bureaucrat’s success depends on his political pull.” (Rand, The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 26, 5. 1971-76).

Now, it is time for me to continue reading history and seeking for those few exemplary examples of ethical businessmen who have given us the best products and services in positive sum games for the entire world.

Discourse: Nationalization, Private Companies and Crony Capitalism

The neoliberal (a.k.a. crony capitalism) ruling of the world during the last 50 years is usually generalized as a “big fish eats small fish” relationship. The story continues, with the big fish in Washington, Brussels and Moscow fed themselves with the riches of the world and profited from globalization.  Meanwhile, the small fish continued breeding and feeding the always hungry lords.  This general discourse is repeated in most if not all the academic papers dealing with postcoloniality and globalization.

The impact of the ideas of these intellectuals is widespread and not easily observable for the ignorant masses.  As such, when you read the newspapers in Latin America or Africa in regard to the “new” nationalizations being undertaken by the “new” socialist/anti-neoliberal governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Greece, Lithuania, and Sri Lanka since 2011 people usually ignores that there is nothing “new” in these actions.

These nationalizations of privately owned assets have been in many of the cases actual renationalizations of companies that were not owned by the principles of free market ideas, but that had been privatized by corrupt social democratic governments 50, 40 or 10 years before and who created new privately owned privileged companies.  As a result of these social democrat and socialist governments many privately owned companies emerged as the bastions of crony capitalism, inefficiency and corruption.  The previous, generally increased as closer the national industries were owned by crony private companies that owned single-crop cultive exports and resource rich regions.

To mention short examples of the previous, recently in Argentina Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF; English: “Treasury Petroleum Fields”) was renationalized (not nationalized) by the government under claims of corruption, inefficiency and negative benefits to their national interests.  In Bolivia, Transportadora de Electricidad (TDE) was nationalized by Evo Morales government.  However, TDE was also a fruit of the neoliberal and crony capitalist deals established in 1952 after a coup d’état that established a military socialist democracy with the party  Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) which allied into a military-nationalist clique that lasted for 50 years.

Privately owned companies produce always more efficient and better products than state-owned companies.  However, privately owned companies that have benefited from government granted privileges for decades not necessarily will produce more and better services and products than state-owned companies.  The previous is something that few of us dare to identify and explain with a non-contradictory historical and philosophical background.  Meanwhile, the great majority of academics influenced by collectivist philosophies will start writing articles and books applauding the “successful” renationalizations and condemning those free-market authors who will write back and fight.

Indeed, there is a difficult road in defending private property and privately owned businesses in the context of countries and regions that lack respect for individual rights and the rule of law.  As such, to defend the private vs collective in those circles it is necessary that first we identify how the societies are currently organized around the collective inefficient systems of social and economic organization.  In the case of Bolivia and Argentina it is necessary for us to identify how these business and societies are not structured and organized around the principles of free market and individual rights.  By understanding and explaining this clearly there will be a chance to change the discourse of discussion from “why is renationalization good?” to “why laissez faire capitalism is better than the privately owned business of crony capitalism?”

Did Empire Matter? Indian Migration in Global Context 1834-1940

Bombay Fort
Image via Wikipedia

Prof. Adam McKeown from Columbia University did an online conference a couple weeks ago (November 08, 2011. University of Pittsburgh. World History Center.).  The title was “Did Empire Matter? Indian Migration in Global Context 1834-1940” as a continuation of the Global Migrations Discussion.  I have uploaded a summary of that lecture’s content and here’s the link to the pdf,

McKeown - Migrations

You can still watch the tape of the online conference in this link: LIVE Conference (taped)

Prof. Adam McKeown, is a leading figure in world-historical interpretation, has shown the value of migration studies in clarifying global patterns. He is author of studies including, Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders /(2008), and he is writing a history of globalization since 1760. He co-directs the International and Global History graduate track at Columbia.

Journal Reco: Globalization and Global History in Toynbee

Image by cesarharada.com via Flickr


This article traces the intellectual history of Arnold J. Toynbee. It centers on early twentieth-century British social thought and its synthesis of idealism and evolution. Toynbee used this framework to interpret imperial and international affairs, and, like his mentors, he focused especially on the unprecedented, progressive possibilities of global integration. With the failure of the Paris Peace Conference, however, Toynbee began to regard globalization as a contradiction between social unity and spiritual disjuncture. A Study of History, his endeavor to bring historical writing into its global present, followed from this opposition, which he sought to explain and hoped to resolve. By the mid 1930s, world events finally overwhelmed Toynbee’s commitment to the old conceptual synthesis. He returned to such thinking after World War II, but his brief declaration of methodological limitations illuminated for historical study the antinomy of the global scale.

Universal history must be construed and denied.

To many world historians today, Arnold J. Toynbee is regarded like an embarrassing uncle at a house party. He gets a requisite introduction by virtue of his place on the family tree, but he is quickly passed over for other friends and relatives. For much of the twentieth century though, Toynbee was perhaps the world’s most read, translated, and discussed living scholar. His output was enormous, hundreds of books, pamphlets, and articles. Of these, scores were translated into thirty different languages. In 1947, Time magazine considered his historical significance to be on par with Marx.2 Among intellectuals, response to his work was de rigueur. Indeed, the critical reaction to Toynbee constitutes a veritable intellectual history of the midcentury: we find, for example, Aron, Frye, Huxley, Kennan, Kracauer, Kroeber, Morgenthau, Mumford, Niebuhr, Ortega y Gasset, Popper, Ricouer, [End Page 747] and Sweezy, as well as a long list of the period’s most important historians, Beard, Braudel, Collingwood, and so on.

A survey of these responses consistently reveals odd contradictions between positions. In recent historical work, for example, Reba Soffer aligns 1930s-era Toynbee with Britain’s “radical right,” while Christopher Brewin describes his politics of the same period as “progressive liberal.”3 In Toynbee’s own time, two of the most sustained attacks came from E. H. Carr and Pieter Geyl, each in a certain way the inverse of the other. Carr translated the Marxist critique of bourgeois moralism into his study of international relations; he assailed Toynbee’s “utopian prescriptions” as so many alibis for British national interest. And as in Marxism, spotlight on the furtive particular in turn revealed a sturdier universal, in this case, what Carr called “the nature of politics.” Geyl, on the other hand, read Toynbee’s “impossibly universalist system” not as façade for a specific concern, but as its disintegration; he deemed Toynbee’s world history as an attempt to “escape” the uniqueness of the West. Toynbee’s “passion for unity,” Geyl wrote, was “fundamentally antagonistic to history, the guardian of the particular.”4 So which was it: the camouflage of self-interest or an ecumenical hallucination? And which was the corrective to Toynbee’s grand failure? Naturalism or historicism? Siegfried Kracauer shook his head: “There is something schizophrenic about Toynbee.”5

One approach toward understanding this contradiction can be found in Karl Löwith‘s brief comments on Toynbee in Meaning in History. All modern temporality, according to Löwith, was an “inconsistent compound” of ancient Greek cyclicality and a Christian theology of history. In addition, the latter’s eschatology endowed the historical process with “universality,” evoking above every smaller narrative the single, imagined identity of “mankind.” With this broad phrasing, Löwith fittingly characterized the two-sidedness of Toynbee’s thinking,[End Page 748] but he left unattended Toynbee’s struggle against a categorical universalism.6 Löwith’s high degree of abstraction offers little to the historiographer assessing world history and the varied circumstances that have contributed to its diverse formulations. My own reading stays considerably closer to the text. For in understanding Toynbee, philosophical generalization, like a quick dismissal, misses the struggles and contradictions in his attempt at world history. These break points help elucidate the history of the field, as well as the history of global thought and twentieth-century intellectual currents more generally. Perhaps too, they present to contemporary world-historical thinking an insight of value, even as Toynbee’s system has long stood in ruins.

The basis for Toynbee’s historical logic, and the source of its core difficulty, derived from a set of ideas which are best described as “evolutionary idealism.” One of the dominant trends in early twentieth-century British social thought, evolutionary idealism sought to combine Darwinian naturalism and teleological purpose, two positions hitherto locked in debate. Writers applied this synthesis to questions of imperial affairs, and it underscored much of the era’s thinking on the globe and its history. From this conceptual framework, Toynbee reckoned that the single most significant feature of his age was world integration, a “unification [that] . . . has caught in its meshes the whole living generation of mankind and all the habitable lands and navigable seas on the face of the Planet.”7 Indeed, Toynbee’s entire career as historian and political analyst can be read as a massive reflection on what came to be called globalization. His earliest such writings fully mirrored the evolutionary idealism of his educators. Yet this outlook faced a serious challenge in the immediate aftermath of World War I. The strains of colonial violence and worldwide turmoil fragmented teleology into a multiplicity of beliefs and interests. Toynbee persistently and loudly emphasized this problem of difference. At the same time, and throughout the interwar years, he remained committed to evolutionary idealism and strained to refashion it for the new, polycentric world. Both his rationale and his method for a history of the globe followed from that effort. The contradictions, however, could not be contained, and by the late 1930s, internal adjustments appeared inadequate. With the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the attendant fiasco at the League of [End Page 749] Nations, Toynbee renounced his previous position. For a brief but significant moment, he neither synthesized nor hybridized the unity of the globe and its diversity of ideals. World integration rendered the universal and the particular into categories at once interdependent and irreconcilable, at once complementary and contradictory. After World War II he returned to the principle of synthesis with ever new and ever unsatisfactory attempts at reconciliation. Across Toynbee’s reception then, as in Carr and Geyl, his key concepts hopelessly chased each other in circles. Yet this indetermination anticipated in a uniquely interrelated way some of the major philosophical and historiographical currents of later years, expressing the irresolvability of postmodernism, the renewed interest in religion, and world history itself.

Read more: Michael Lang. “Globalization and Global History in Toynbee.” Journal of World History 22.4 (2011): 747-783. Project MUSE. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_world_history/v022/22.4.lang.html&gt;.

Where are the world’s biggest Chinese and Indian immigrant communities?

The Economist published a mind-blowing graphic depicting the migration of Chinese and Indian people around the world. The asses that “more Chinese people live outside mainland China than French people live in France, with some to be found in almost every country. Some 22m ethnic Indians are scattered across every continent.” More so, they emphasize that even though Diasporas have been a part of the world for millennia; their size and the ease of staying in touch with those at home are making them matter much more with the emergence of social network online technologies.

World's top 20 destinations for Chinese and Indian migrants

Now, this is once again part o the large “discourse of newness” that embeds great part of current mainstream history.  This is something that has been denied and discussed by Prof. Adam McKeown in the article “Article: Global Migration, 1846–1940” who claims after doing a extensive research of migration from China and India during the 19th Century that the amount of immigrants and the global effect it had is comparable (and at some points superior) to the more known Atlantic migration from Europe to America. I strongly suggest you checking the Article by Prof. McKeown an check also Dr. Dirk Hoerder great book titled: Cultures in Contact in case you are interested in this subject.