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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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1. Briefly outline and explain Harris' critiques of ‘normal science' and ‘depoliticisation' in poverty studies.

Normal science is the act of making general, universally applicable statements based on empirical observation. Harris argues that it might not be possible to make universal, general laws about humans and human nature, like it is in the natural sciences, because the subject in social sciences changes constantly, depending on context (7). Events rarely have a single cause, and so it is not possible to rationalise poverty in those terms. Poverty studies are politicised because political institutions fund the research, which must be “relevant to policy” (8). These systems do not address the underlying political power structures that cause poverty but rather individual failures of the lack of welfare systems, and this is regarded as depoliticisation because it doesn't attack capitalism nor other political aspects of society. The main critique lies in the skewed interpretation of data that normal science and depoliticisation presents, like the exclusivity of studies. For example,  only registered households in Vietnam were surveyed for poverty, ignoring that there is a large migrant demographic too.

2. In your view, are the proposals outlined by Harris in sections 5 and 6 sufficient for addressing the issues of depoliticisation and scientism in poverty studies?

He proposes to focus on the dynamics of capitalism and analyse the “social processes, structures and relationships that give rise to poverty” (10), using case studies. For example, he wants to look at how the development of capitalism influenced rural communities. In my view, his proposals are valuable and necessary, but should probably be combined with more traditional measurements of poverty. I agree that it is important to address that poverty is more than numbers, and that political power structures are a big factor. This does move away from depoliticisation since it directly targets the political system and often research will recommend structural reforms. However, I think a degree of normal science needs to be present in order to justify the research.

3. What is Hickel's critique of the Gini coefficient? How does he propose to measure global inequality instead?

His critique lies in the fact that the Gini Coefficient only measures relative inequality, not absolute inequality, and he argues that it might be worth measuring both. Using a relative Gini coefficient, inequality has decreased from 1988 to 2008 from 0.72 to 0.71. Using absolute, it has increased from 0.57 to 0.72 in roughly the same time period. He blames the debt system, SAPs, free trade, tax evasion and power asymmetries for the growing inequality, which has tripled since 1960 in absolute terms. He believes using absolute terms to look at inequality, and to look at it regionally rather than extremes will show the scale of divergence between countries over time.

Week 4 Questions

1. According to Singer (1972 [2009]), what are the main justifications of our moral obligations to others?

He has three main premises:

♣ Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad

♣ If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so

♣ By donating to aid agencies, can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important. (15)

♣ Conclusion: therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

This reasoning is the logical foundation on which his more emotional allegory of the drowning child is based. Basically, he is re-postulating the ‘golden rule' (16) which demands that you should ‘do unto other as you would have them do unto you'. He develops the argument so far as to claim that ANY money spent on something unnecessary and not on aid is then doing something wrong – you should keep giving until you only have just enough money to support yourself and your children. (18)

2. What are Wenar's (2011) key criticisms of “the Singer solution”?

Resource diversion: aid given is often absorbed by corruption, or mismanagement means it doesn't arrive at its intended recipients. Further, in armed conflict, the militias in question can take advantage of aid. (113)

Economic effects (114): The aid given can be misdirected – less than 23% of food-insecure families in Ethiopia received food aid, and in many cases food aid given is not appropriate to their diets. Further, it is resold on the local markets, depressing the local food prices and creating a cycle of dependence.

Weakened governance (115): When NGO's provide most services to the poor, the poor become disenfranchised with their government and do not care to pressure them to become more accountable or democratic. At the same time, the government will not improve its policy towards the poor, since the NGOs do the work anyway.

Overall, he claims that in some cases, aid will harm the poor more than it will help the poor, even if the net outcome is positive. It is therefore hard to determine what the effects of aid are, reliably. (117)

His main criticism of Singer is that his moral argument only focuses on one negative aspect – that of giving something up if it is less worth that a life. But Wenar argues that giving aid may worsen people's lives, and Singer does not account for this (127). BUT Wenar does not think it means we should do nothing. He encourages alternative ways of helping.

3. Which of the 10 capabilities does Nussbaum (2011) define as architectonic? Discuss briefly how they relate to two of the other eight capabilities.

Affiliation: A) being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction; to be able to imagine the situation of another. (protecting this capability means protecting institutions that constitute and nourish such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedom of assembly and political speech) B) Having the social bases of self-respect and non-humiliation; being able to be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This entails provisions of non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, religion, national origin.

Practical reason: Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's life (this entails protection for the liberty of conscience and religious observance) (34)

It relates to number 2, bodily health, because although an individual may be well-nourished, they need to have the dignity and right to plan their health and nutrition (39)

It also relates to number 10, control over one's environment, because political participation is not possible without affiliation or critical reflection which is part of practical reason.

Module 2: Should markets be constrained or unleashed?

Week 7 Questions


According to Friedman and Friedman (1980), what are the three functions performed by prices? Briefly explain their interrelationship.

• First they transmit information

o When demand for a product increases, this information is transmitted all the way up the production line, until it reaches the primary producers, who can demand higher prices for their resources. They will also need to hire more workers to produce more, and thus the wages go up. Producers only need to know 2 pieces of information, namely that someone will pay more for their product (indicated by current price) and that the high price will last long enough for it to be worth meeting this demand (indicated by price offered for future delivery). The price transmission can go the other way. If the first link in the chain is disrupted somehow, each subsequent link knows to produce less or to get a higher price for the smaller amount of products which will reach the consumer in form of higher prices. Relative prices are what is important (18)

• Second, they provide incentive to adopt the most cost-effective way of production, and therefore resources go to the most highly-valued products.

o Higher prices for goods will incentivize producers to produce more, even if it comes at a higher cost (getting wood in less accessible places, paying higher wages) (18). As wages go up, more people are also interested in getting that type of job.

• Third, they determine who gets how much of the product – the distribution of income (page 14)

o Income is the difference between what you get from selling your goods or service and what you spend producing them. Both our choices and chance play a role in how we use our resources and how much income we get (22)

• They are interrelated because transmitting information about the value of a product will incentivise the producers to produce more, and also determine their income, thus incentivising even more.

1. Dani Rodrik describes how, in the natural sciences, models develop \'vertically\'. In contrast, economic models develop ‘horizontally'. What does he mean by this? 

In science, new models or theories replace the older ones because they can better explain a phenomenon. Thus, there is a vertical succession of models. In economics, a new theory does not replace any other theory, but adds to the variety of models that can be used in different contexts – this is thus a horizontal expansion.

3. Do you agree with Rodrik's thesis that economic models, as ‘simplified abstractions' of reality, are useful for explaining empirical phenomena? Why or why not?

To some extent, yes. It can highlight one aspect of empirical phenomena, but it cannot give the whole picture, which he admits as well, so they can be used only in partiality. They can point you in the correct direction to find the answer you are looking for. The benefit is that different models can be applied to the same situation but in different contexts and give you different insights.

Week 8 Questions

1. According to Zelizer (2012), in what sense are market transactions ‘relational'?

“Negotiated interpersonal transactions” (149) implies that economic transactions are inherently social activities. Therefore, in all economic spheres, people are cultivating, repairing, negotiating social relations and these must be studied to understand the overlap between economics and sociology. Her approach focuses on the ‘creative effort people make establishing, maintaining, negotiating, transforming and terminating interpersonal relations' (149). Things like gender, race or age are factors which come to affect the conditions in which you are participating in and understanding an economic transaction (151). Monetary distinctions are part of relational transactions (the type and quantity) (156-7).

2. What are the aims of the fair trade movement, as described by Sheller (2013), Wilson (2011) and Leissle (2012)? How does it seek to intervene in global markets?

Wilson: Wilson claims at least one Fair Trade company (Divine) is engaging in racialized, neo-colonial advertising, when they equate a black producer to her product. It may be intended to be empowering, but Wilson does not believe it can be separated from history of colonialism (328).

Leissle: The way the advertising images can intervene in the global markets is to invite consumers to buy the product by presenting the African women as beneficiaries of the purchase. The images highlight African women's role in luxury consumption and industrial production (123) and their position as ‘cosmopolitan participants in transnational trade exchanges' (127).

Scheller: ‘fair prices for their produce, better terms of trade, access to markets, and credit,' is what Fair Trade aims to do, officially. Scheller links the ethical social movement to the awareness of globalization and interdependency. (304)

3. In ‘Skinning the Banana Trade', Sheller (2013) argues that the ‘contemporary discourse of ‘free trade' must be examined in the light of the history of the Caribbean's relation to European and American consumers'.  Do you agree?  Explain your answer. 

I believe that free trade should be examined in any case, and not just in light of the Caribbean's relation to Western consumers, because it is always healthy to re-evaluate, locate faults and try to improve current approaches. However, the case study provided (trade war over bananas) does provide impetus to re-evaluate because it showcased the dependency of many Caribbean countries on Western consumers. When livelihoods and thereby lives are at risk, it is necessary to critically approach the impact the West has on the less powerful, from an ethical standpoint. I don\'t believe that it is morally acceptable to submit the lives of the less powerful to the moods and political bickering of the powerful, and thereby the Caribbean issue provides a good context to reconsider the contemporary discourse of free trade.  

Week 9 Questions

2. What are the reasons given in Lodge and Wegrich (2012) for the failure of regulation?

Market-failures require regulation, because:

• Public goods are enjoyed by all, but market mechanisms do not work in this case, and therefore many people will ‘free-ride'

• Externalities, both positive and negative, are not accounted for in the product or service prices, which regulation could do.

• Consumers suffer from information asymmetry – they cannot make informed choices, which regulation can help with to their benefit

• Regulation helps price volatility

• Regulating scarce resources can ensure that there is more fair access to them.

• Regulating services can ensure continuity of access to those who may not otherwise have access to basic services.

• However, this assumes cost-free, neutral and efficient government intervention.

Problems of regulation, there are 4 positions:

• The regulators had a conflict of interest with what they were regulating.

• There will always be unintended and unforeseen consequences which regulators will fail to regulate.

• Regulatees do not want to be regulated, and will find ways around it.

• Regulation is poorly designed, and hard to change.

• Moreover, regulation is part of political and corporate power games,

2. Explain what Lodge and Wegrich mean by: ‘regulation is about competing values' (2012:25).

Lodge and Wegrich wish to draw attention to the fact that economic justifications for regulation are not inherent, precisely because markets are not natural, but historically shaped. Social solidarity can provide fundamental, moral justification because regulating, for example, universal goods is in the welfare interest of the citizen. But since there are competing views on what social solidarity should constitute (i.e. what kind of society is desirable), the regulation is subsequently in competition too.

3. How does the ‘epistemic argument' for the Harm Principle (Sunstein 2014:7) justify individual free choice? Do you think paternalistic interventions are justifiable? Why or why not?

The epistemic argument for the Harm principle justifies free choice because Mill argues that the individual is best suited to know what he wants and what is best for him. When outsiders such as the government attempt to intervene, they will come up with generalisations which cannot apply to everyone. Therefore, individuals should be allowed to choose what they wish, even if their choice bears with it a large risk of harm.

Choice architecture that is detrimental to humans justifies paternalistic interventions, although I think maternalistic is perhaps a better word, in that the interventions seek to protect us. For example, much food advertising will claim that a product is fat-free, but fail to inform the consumer that the fat has been substituted with sugar, essentially making it equally or more unhealthy. Consumers fall for these marketing tricks all the time, and do not have the time or energy to educate themselves on it. In cases like this, it is for the best that the government intervenes.  

Week 10 Questions

1. How do Erin and Harris (2003) justify their defence of a market in human organs? How does their argument differ from that of Janet Radcliffe-Richards (2008)? 

Erin and Harris: People die prematurely because they need a transplant. Many expert organization have endorsed creating a legal, regulated organ market. Live organs have higher chance of successfully being integrated into the receiving body, and there is relatively low risk to the donor. By confining markets to geopolitical areas and giving administrative duties to an agency, there is little risk of exploitation.

Radcliffe-Richards: Only hope for people who have renal failure is through donations, and people who need money are willing to sell, so naturally a market will arise. If you don't have a legal market, you cannot protect the people involved.

2. Why does Satz (2010: 200) argue that, ‘the existence of kidney markets might make some poor people worse off than they would otherwise be'?

While there are many ways in which a kidney market can make people worse off (economic incentive to do something risky to one's health), Satz brings something new to the table when she considers that a kidney market would worsen the poor people's situation, because their organs can be considered as collateral. If they are unwilling to donate a kidney, they will not be considered for a loan, and therefore worse off. If they cannot live without the loan, they will have to offer their organs as collateral and be worse off in that sense too.

3. Do you agree with Dickenson (2008: 156) that it is \'hopelessly inadequate... to simply view the body as an individual\'s private capital\'? Give reasons for your answer, drawing on Dickenson and any of the other week 10 readings.

Yes I do agree. This is partly because of the lucrative dealings that constitute the organ markets as Dickinson describes, but also because I believe in the integrity of the body. If one is fully informed and is not donating out of coercion or financial need, I can support organ donation, but organs should not be seen as private capital. As Satz mentions, there may be an intrinsic motivation in donating an organ (to save a family member), but when organs are commodified, this is typically changed. The body and its contents should be sacred because they are vital to your own vitality, and thus should not be considered private capital.

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