Regimes Rule Everything Around Me: Different Theoretical Approaches

In the era of globalization, the international system operates by a plethora of worldwide regimes that regulate a gamut of interstate activity, ranging from security concerns to economic partnerships. From the 20th century to the present, states have become increasingly beholden to an abundance of international rules and institutions. It is difficult to conceive of an arena of global intercourse free from regimes, where states are not obligated to follow agreed-upon prescriptions and practices. While many scholars accept that such regimes provide much-needed guidance in the anarchic international system, there is a great deal of disagreement between liberal institutionalists, realists and social constructivists as to how international regimes form, evolve and perform. After reviewing the different theoretical assessments of regimes, I call for greater theoretical refinement to these distinct frameworks in order to more fully address and explain persistent questions surrounding international regimes.

Krasner (1982) defines regimes as “sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations” (p. 186). A classic example is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was founded on an commitment between nations to the norms and principles of free trade and the removal of tariffs and other trade barriers. As the GATT evolved into the World Trade Organization (WTO), its members developed and amended its rules and systems to realize this commitment, especially as new members from the developing world pushed for new terms that reflected their place in the global economy. Krasner distinguishes between “structuralists” (realists) who see the causal variable behind regime formation as political power, with hegemonic countries using their substantial influence or coerce other nations to support a regime supportive of their interests, and “modified structuralists” or liberal institutionalists, who portray regimes as voluntary agreements that permit members to cooperate and realize mutual interests rather than engage in cutthroat competition.

Krasner (1985) supplies evidence of the realist approach to regimes in his analysis of growing demands by developing countries in the 1970s and 1980s for economic regime reform on the basis that the status quo was exploitative and unfair to less developed economies. The validity of such claims aside, Krasner argues that the developing countries are unlikely to succeed unless the global balance of power moved against the United States and its Western allies. From the realist perspective, the regimes promoted by the U.S. stem from hegemonic interest rather a desire to guarantee optimal outcomes for all member states via free and fair collaboration. Scholars have adopted similar stances with many other regimes. Chorev and Babb (2009) claim the U.S. has used global financial institutions to intrude into the decision-making of developing nations to force them to adopt neoliberal economic policies. Similarly, Kuziemko and Werker (2006) find that the U.S. has used its control over UNICEF to greatly increase foreign aid to countries that rotate onto the United Nations Security Council, especially in years where important diplomatic events occur. In essence, the realist perspective holds that regimes serve as a means by which hegemonic countries, through hook or crook, impose their world order.

Of course, this begs the question as to why such subordinate states would continue to adhere to regimes counter to their interests. While Shanks, et al (1996) found that, between 1981 and 1992, most of the international organizations that emerged during that decade were dominated by wealthy Western countries seeking to expand their economic activity, it was regional organizations limited to geographic location rather than universal ones that had tended to die off in that period. This is noteworthy as poorer states would be more likely to exercise influence and find common cause in small, regional groupings than indiscriminate ones open to hegemonic dominance. One potential explanation lies in game theory and the desire of actors to coordinate strategies, even if it means a possible suboptimal outcome. For example, Italy’s first preference would be for a place on the U.N. Security Council, but since it is more likely that its regional economic rival Germany would benefit from a new spot thanks to support from its allies, Italy instead advocates for a common European Union seat on the Council. To return to the developing world and trade with the West, even though it is unlikely that terms more favorable to less developed economies will be realized as long as the balance of power remains with the U.S. and the other industrialized Western nations, it is far better to trade with the West under disadvantageous terms and lobby for reform than to adopt economic isolation and be denied the chance that some sort of mutually acceptable compromise could be reached. Hence, they accept an undesirable status quo.

In contrast, liberal institutionalists perceive international regimes not as grudging compromises but rather as rational agreements that curb the excesses of anarchy. In the anarchic international system, there is nothing stopping states from selling weapons to dictators, disrupting trade with protectionist policies or polluting the planet in various ways for the sake of outcompeting rival nations. States may be inclined to cooperate rather than compete to avoid such undesired behavior, but they are faced with the prisoner’s dilemma: like two partners in crime separated for interrogation by the authorities, states know that their best interest is to work together, but since there is no assurance they will not be betrayed, it is rational to defect first than risk being the victim of defection. Liberal institutionalists acknowledge that hegemonic countries sometimes are required to enforce certain rules via their power, citing the “free rider” problem found in the social movements literature that predicts some actors will not contribute to the sustaining of a movement because they know someone else will do so (Olson 1965). Yet liberal institutionalists also argue that, once collaboration is consolidated, states will follow the rules of cooperation even without a hegemonic enforcer because they have learned that cooperation is better than unrestrained competition. Accordingly, consolidated regimes will survive even after the removal of a hegemonic power from the equation, and even should a state defect, it can expect that it will be treated in a reciprocal manner – that is, it too will be subject to intense competition, leading to suboptimal results (Keohane 1984). Regimes essentially promote themselves through learned behavior.

When it comes to formulating regimes, liberal institutionalists argue that states shape them according to their interests. Koremenos, et al (2001) build on the “folk theorem” of rational cooperation arising from repeated interaction, asserting that states design institutions around structural constraints derived from past choices (path dependence) and subsequently modify those institutions over time as they encounter requirements to do so. They note that the effective regimes that tend to get reproduced provide “select incentives” to member states to encourage rule adherence, thus preventing the “free rider” problem from persisting as an issue. Overall, institutional designs that demonstrate themselves to be efficient are later emulated when states construct new regimes. In terms of their outcomes, Haftel (2007) finds that regimes are effective in mitigating violent conflict and promoting peaceful resolutions through a combination of economic interdependence and regular meetings among state elites, as such relations decreases ambiguity and uncertainty between states. As much of the literature on economics and security suggests, states can employ their position in economic regimes to send signals to adversaries about their resolve and their intentions, reducing the need for direct aggression.

A critique lobbed at liberal institutionalists is that their glowing diagnoses of international regimes emerge from the luxury of hindsight; institutional designs that survive and thrive must have been formulated rationally, while those that struggle and fail must be underpinned by irrationality. Social constructivists such as Wendt (2001) challenge the assumption that the expected consequences of institutional design necessarily match the real outcomes. States, he argues, design regimes not according to their instrumental function alone, but also factor in considerations of normative appropriateness. Rather than operating according to egotistic self-interest as the liberal institutionalists posit, states follow their own internalized values. For example, while it might make logical sense for liberal states like Great Britain to seek further integration into the common market of the European Union, normative values of sovereignty and nationalism lead to widespread skepticism and even hostility toward such steps, even if the adoption of the euro would not make Britain an iota “less British.” Furthermore, certain regime types and institutional designs will empower certain actors who, in turn, will wield influence in the establishment of future designs; indeed, referring back to Shanks, et al (1996), much of the growth in institutions during the 1981 to 1992 period were due to emanations, second-order institutional organizations that emerged from prior ones. Moreover, Wendt notes, what designers of regimes may intend from the start is not necessarily what remains the guiding force behind the institution moving forward. On both points we can refer back to the GATT/WTO as a useful example. The GATT began as a project of the great powers in the postwar period with the goal of fostering greater free trade. As such, a great deal of power was vested into the leading economic powerhouses of the industrialized West. When the GATT transformed into the WTO, it was those countries given agenda-setting power that largely determined the principles and rules of the WTO. Yet the inclusion of developing countries in the expanded regime meant that intentions had changed; the principles and rules now had to account to the interests of the poor, developing countries as well. Thus the current WTO, much larger than the GATT but also subject to more disputes and seemingly endless rounds of negotiations, is far different in character and function than its founders likely intended.

While it is difficult to conclude which of the above approaches to regimes and their formation is fully satisfying in isolation, it certainly does seem as though the liberal institutionalist is perhaps the least compelling. Wendt’s criticism that much of what is termed “rationally designed” is neither very rational nor freely designed is quite valid, and it makes sense that scholars should afford attention to particular contexts – both for differing norms as well as disparate historical contingencies – to grasp how regimes are formed and how they operate. For example, one may be inclined to agree with Haftel about the peace-promoting effect of institutional arrangements by considering the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the purely macro level, but closer analysis suggests that the postwar peace in Europe owes itself to the regional integration of economies and institutions, whereas the lack of conflict among the ASEAN states can be attributed to long-standing norms of respecting sovereignty and non-interventionism stemming from postcolonial sentiment and non-alignment during the Cold War (Acharya 2009). Yet social constructivism does not afford as much causal significance to political power as it probably should; while states do factor in the propriety of their actions into their calculations, historical evidence abounds of states employing the appearance of legitimacy and benevolence to mask actions rooted in greed and desire for profit. Examples range from the “white man’s burden” of the colonial period to the “humanitarian interventions” of the modern era that are all too often thin justifications for violating the sovereignty of other nations in order to further the interests of a hegemonic aggressor. There is merit to the notion that there is cultural relativity when it comes to values, yet it is probable that the famous realist norm of “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must” is a guiding principle when it comes to the actual exercise of state power.

There are scholars who do call for a nuanced approach to the study of regimes and evaluation of their performance. Gutner and Thompson (2010) advocate for analyses of institutional processes as well as outcomes, and discuss how performance may be traced to internal or external actors. This echoes the work of Mahoney and Thelen (2010), who argue that institutional change is often gradual, with vested interests acting as external veto players to reform while internal actors have varying degrees of discretion to implement their change. To understand how change occurs or fails, it is critical to understand the relative position of such actors. For example, how did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) evolve from a global financial stabilizer to a tool of the Washington Consensus, attaching neoliberal policy prescriptions as loan conditions to developing countries? Was this due to “mission creep,” as economists like Joseph Stiglitz argue, with free market fundamentalists overzealously promoting such a direction from within the IMF? Or was this due instead to the sort of “mission push” claimed by Naomi Klein, with the U.S. using its commanding influence in the IMF to subject nations to “shock therapy” in order to penetrate their markets? A comprehensive framework that affords equal attention to the relative power of internal and external actors permits scholars to factor in the internal ideologies of regimes, the role of political power in promoting or hindering actions, and how particular historical moments may result in different dynamics and outcomes in a particular epoch.

Although there seems to be agreements between scholars on the need for international regimes in an anarchic world, little else about regimes seems to broker much accord. Despite this cacophony, we should not reject all extant theories of regimes, their origins and their performance, but instead refine perspectives to find an nuanced, comprehensive theoretical framework that serves us well. By being particular rather than parsimonious, we may succeed in moving scholarship forward.

Works Cited

  1. Acharya, Amitav (2009). Whose Ideas Matter? Agency and Power in Asian Regionalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  2. Chorev, Nitsan and Sarah Babb (2009). “The Crisis of Neoliberalism and the Future of International Institutions: A Comparison of the IMF and the WTO.” Theory and Society 38(5): 459-484.
  3. Gutner, Tamar and Alexander Thomspon (2010). “The Politics of IO Performance: A Framework.” Review of International Organizations 5(3): 227-248.
  4. Haftel, Yoram (2007). Designing for Peace: Regional Integration Arrangements, Institutional Variation, and Militarized Interstate Disputes. International Organization 61(1): 217-237.
  5. Keohane, Robert (1984). After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  6. Koremenos, Barbara, Charles Lipson and Duncan Snidal (2001). “The Rational Design of International Institutions.” International Organization 55(4): 761-799.
  7. Krasner, Stephen (1982). “Structural Causes and Regime Outcomes: Regimes as Intervening Variables.” International Organization 36(2): 185-205.
  8. Krasner, Stephen (1985). Structural Conflict: The Third World Against Global Liberalism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  9. Kuziemko, Ilyana and Eric Werker (2006). “How Much is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the United Nations.” Journal of Political Economy 114(5): 905-930.
  10. Mahoney, James and Kathleen Thelen (2010). “A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change.” In J. Mahoney and K. Thelen (eds.), Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  11. Olson, Mancur (1965). The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  12. Shanks, Cheryl, Harold Jacobson and Jeffrey Kaplan (1996). “Inertia and Change in the Constellation of International Governmental Organizations, 1981-1992.” International Organization 50(4): 593-627.
  13. Wendt, Alexander (2001). “Driving with the Rearview Mirror: On the Rational Science of Institutional Design.” International Organization 55(4): 761-799.
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The Capitalist Peace, Dependency Theory, and Imperialism

We are living in an age of capitalist peace, at least according to some scholars. It may seem unlikely that capitalism, which even its most ardent defenders admit is based on stratification, would foster peaceful relations between people, but there is no shortage of scholarly pieces devoted to the analysis of how trade and interstate conflict interact. While surveying several works on this topic, from the sanguine to the skeptical, it becomes clear that there are aspects of the theory, ranging from the arrangement of the international economic order to the drive of capital accumulation, that are missing from studies that could potentially greatly benefit from their conclusion. Although dependency theory and imperialism are no longer popular in academia as they once were, they do offer perspectives that would serve to make academic studies of the “capitalist peace” more critical and more robust.

More than two centuries after Kant advanced it, the validity of the claim that liberal states are pacific in their relations with other liberal state continues to attract scholarly interest. One of the key arguments articulated in its defense is that liberal states prefer peace as it fosters trade, and as states become integrated into the global marketplace, the costs of conflict are outweighed by the profits of peace. Oneal and Russett (1997) declared this assertion correct after performing a rigorous analysis of data from the post-WWII period320px-McDonalds_Times_Square that illustrated a “separate peace” between liberal states during the Cold War built around shared democratic values and economic interdependence. In a later study, Lupu and Traag (2013) extend this argument further, arguing that indirect trade between members of joint trade communities is as instrumental as direct economic linkages in discouraging conflict, as war generates negative externalities for the trade partners of combatants in addition to the combatants themselves. As trading communities tend to be geographically clustered, they see the influence of indirect trade dependence as the driving factor behind increased regional security agreements in the era of globalization. Trade, from the perspective of these authors, acts as the classical liberals said it would: bringing states together in a “harmony of interests,” where the clarity of gains from tranquility and cooperation would logically overtake and supplant the primal desire of “winner take all.”

What is missing from the above accounts is a consideration of the historical conditions that shaped the “separate peace” enjoyed by liberal states during the postwar era. For example, there was a conscious attempt by the triumphant Allies not to repeat the “Carthaginian peace” of the Treaty of Versailles, which had led to economic collapse and 171px-Europe_Plan_Marshall._Poster_1947a surge in radical politics. Instead, the wealth and might of the United States was directed toward rebuilding the infrastructure of the defeated Axis nations while simultaneously reshaping their politics to be amenable to the support and expansion of U.S. hegemonic power, both in Western Europe and East Asia. The peace that followed was less an organic development and more a purposive political project to shore up support for Washington while also countering the communist critique of capitalism broadcasting from Moscow. To extrapolate from the experiences of the great powers a natural, normal emanation of liberal values is to ignore the critical compulsions those powers had to abide in order to protect and project the interests of capital at the historical moment. The impact of economic power from the developed world onto the developing world is much more telling, as it reveals much more about the hierarchical nature of global capitalism.

Several scholars that have written on economic interdependence and conflict have broached this topic. Morrow (1999), in expressing skepticism that trade prevents conflict, notes that economic interdependence leaves poorer states inclined to preserve the status quo, making their coercion more likely. Moreover, powerful states can utilize economic linkages to send costly signals to their partners, damaging trade flows but nevertheless successfully imposing their will on others. Gartzke, et al (2001) build on this by demonstrating how countries dependent on capital investment are especially at risk of economic disruption brought on by a communication of resolve from a capital-rich partner. In their view, trade itself can be a medium of conflict as wealthy countries push their agenda on poor ones.

For those countries that have existed in a state of underdevelopment in the postwar era, this should not come as news. The work of dependency theorists like Andre Gunder Frank (1966) and Samir Amin (1976) explains in detail how developing countries find their economic and political options placed largely out of their hands due to their involvement in391px-Imagination_Graphique_64_Capital the world economy organized and orchestrated by the affluent industrialized countries. Required to follow neoliberal policy prescriptions to access long-term finance, developing countries are thus unable to implement programs to protect and grow domestic industries or to reduce inequality through redistributionist measures, thereby ensuring that their societies remain strained and unstable. Hence such countries remain at the bottom of vertical economic order, their political development stunted as it is often difficult to appease foreign capital and domestic forces demanding equality and redistribution. The all-too-common outcome (and one conveniently ignored by advocates of “pacific liberalism”) is that developed liberal states provide support for dictators and death squads in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, so that elites in the developing world commit violence on their behalf to keep their counties and, by extension, industries stable. Of course, it should not be omitted that those same developed liberal states, especially the U.S., has not hesitated to intervene directly in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and elsewhere to violently remove populist leaders who dare to privilege sovereignty over capital access. Yet, because “conflict” is so often defined as direct and fitting in with expectations of conventional war, liberal states that finance right-wing guerrillas and generalissimos or back coups are still considered “pacific” in their relations.

We encounter further trouble with definitions when we consider how liberal theory treats the arena of domestic politics when it comes to the dynamic between trade and conflict. Copeland (1996) focuses on how the benefits and costs of economic interdependence interact in the minds of rational decision-makers along with predictions concerning the 370px-Pyramid_of_Capitalist_Systemfuture trading environment between states. The weighing of peace versus war must also include examinations of fluctuations in trade levels. Brooks (2013) studies the ways in which economic actors within states may lobby state leaders for peace or war before boldly proclaiming that such lobbying no longer needs to occur: foreign direct investment is an able substitute for gunboat diplomacy and the rewards of globalization alone induce elites to accept peace in order to “play ball.” Of course, in all instances the emphasis is on rational decision-makers or pluralistic democratic institutions in crafting policy. What is missing from the analysis are the structural forces that drive capital accumulation in capitalist states that exist distinct from the public sphere of politics and instead reside in the more private sphere of vested interests. After all, the capitalist liberal state depends on the continual development of its productive forces; capitalism abhors a vacuum. If we acknowledge this to be true, it seems unlikely that estimates over shifting trade levels would restrain the untamable drive of capital, much less that global capitalism itself would remove agency from states so they fall naturally together into the rhythm of globalization. Global capitalism may indeed deny human agency, but rather than a force for peace it is more likely a force for imperialism.

To understand the workings of capital accumulation and imperialism, it is worthwhile to look beyond modern liberal scholars and turn to scholars such as Rosa Luxemburg (1951), who wrote in 1913 about capital penetration into “primitive” economies. If accumulation160px-Rosa_Luxemburg was allowed to stagnate, then the collapse of capitalism would necessary follow, so surplus must be converted into capital and expanded into the world market. Her work would be built on by Bukharin (1929) and Lenin (1967), who argued that finance capital and the financial oligarchy hold tantamount power in regards to all other forms of capital – a claim that has echoes in Gartzke, et al (2001) – and pushes states toward imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. States thereby act in the interests of the capitalist class, inducing their citizenry toward ideologies such as nationalism and militarism that create public support for actions that are rooted in economic projects. For example, Brooks (2013) dismisses the 2003 Iraq invasion by the U.S. as not being indicative of lobbying by economic actors because U.S. firms did not already have a presence (and thus a stake) in the Iraqi oil industry. It does not seem to occur to him that the invasion, superficially presented as being about combatting terrorism and bringing down a war criminal, could have been motivated by an imperialist impulse in his view of benign liberal calculus.

It would not be correct to give the impression that all scholars presume beneficence on the part of liberal states. There have been studies undertaken from the perspective that states can be ruthless opportunists. For example, Li and Reuveny (2011) found that, all other things being equal, a state will choose conflict with a trading partner if that conflict is expected to increase its exports of energy goods and manufactured goods (due to an abundance of buyers) and its imports of manufactured goods (due to an abundance of suppliers). This undermines the traditional liberal view that trade will always lead to peace between trade partners, as conflict can actually boost trade gains. The authors also present their results, however, as questioning the neo-Marxist/neo-mercantilist tenet that asymmetric trade will inevitably lead to conflict due to insecurity, as depending on the trade flow and sectors involved, peace may be promoted instead. Besides the aforementioned objections about how conflict may be defined, it would also be interesting to see if domestic actors (with the tacit support of liberal state benefactors) changed the equation so that direct conflict was no longer necessary, or if liberal states merely lacked the political capital to initiate a conflict due to it not fitting within the ideological structure normally used to generate popular support for military intervention. Although Li and Reuveny are somewhat unique in postulating a theory of trade wherein trade is actually a conflict-inducing variable, they nevertheless do not scale back the magnifying glass to consider the confluence of factors that work at the systemic level of the global market. If they did so, they may find, as dependency theorists and neo-Marxist scholars have found, that the contradictions of global capitalism rest upon a stratified world order predicated on keeping poor states undeveloped politically and economically while the more affluent and industrialized states carry on at the top, crediting their dominance to the rightness of liberal norms and institutions rather than the capitalist system that enriched them and their capitalist classes.

The question of whether trade promotes peace will likely be one that persists in academic circles for a long time to come, but it is apparent there is a need for more critical voices in the discipline. Presumptions that liberal states and their pacific federations emerged organically need to challenged by historical examinations of how they were planned rather than naturally grown. Scholars that express reservations about the capitalist peace are right to consider how economic dependence can lead to coercion and costly signaling, especially when capital is involved, but they must push onward to more penetrating analyses of the global economic hierarchy and how globalization foments polarization and instability in the developing world. Additionally, studies of domestic economic policy should not be limited to rational mediations centered on liberal institutions but state and social apparatuses that exist outside the public sphere, furthering capital accumulation through various means, imperialist or otherwise. It may not be fashionable in the present climate to return to classic works on dependency theory or imperialism, but that does not mean that a good deal about the world we live in cannot be explained – and hopefully enriched – by bringing their approaches into scholarly theoretical research.

Remembering Tony Benn

Aside

Today is a sad day for me as Tony Benn has just passed away. Benn, whose name became synonymous with radical left-wing views in the UK, was a huge inspiration to a lot of people, including myself. If I can be somewhat autobiographical for a moment, for most of my young life I was a dyed-in-the-wool left-of-center Democrat, molded in imitation of the many Baby Boomers in my life who had flirted with radicalism in the 1960s but then moderated their views and voted Reagan in the 1980s. I blandly espoused support for environmentalism, nebulous “social justice” causes and a kinder/gentler form of capitalism. Somewhere along the way I found these views ill-fitting, but it wasn’t until I began to learn about British politics that I discovered democratic socialism, its tenets and an articulation of my actual sense of how the world actually worked. I wasn’t just dissatisfied with one or two aspects of the status quo; fundamentally, from the norms on down to the structural relations between classes, our society was rotten to its core. Yet another world was possible. And no one spoke more eloquently or seemed more committed to creating that world than Benn.

Benn himself started out as an establishment figure, a scion of nobility and an aspiring technocrat within the Labour Party. He was on the fast track as a government minister in the 1960s, much more mainstream than counterculture (the antagonist in that Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie about pirate radio DJs is actually based on a young Benn). It wasn’t until later that Benn embraced and then championed the uncompromising socialism he would forever be associated with; a Labour Prime Minister once said Benn “immatured with age.” I always found it fascinating that Benn was a late convert to socialism; so many of us, from politicians to decent people, start out with lofty ideas about the world and how it should be, only to succumb to cynicism and disillusionment. We come to accept the notion that people are, at heart, greedy and dishonest people and that life, while unfair, cannot be any other way, so we might as well scratch and scramble for whatever scrabs we can. Benn, however, afforded many privileges in life, decided to give up not just his noble title but any of the comforts that would have come from a quiet, simple life of towing the party line to become a far-left firebrand, putting his principles before personalities and, ultimately, even his party.

For a brief spell in the late 1970s and 1980s, Benn was at the forefront of his party. Financial crises had shown to the world that orthodox economic thinking was flawed, and while Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives turned to Friedrich Hayek and neoliberalism, Benn and other noted socialists like Michael Foot and Eric Heffer returned Labour to its socialist roots. The nationalization of the “commanding heights” industries became a top priority, as did a return to full employment and fair wages. While it cannot be disputed that Labour’s 1983 manifesto was the most radical the party had ever presented, the idea that it was the “longest suicide note in history” (so dubbed by a Labour right-winger) omits the fact that Thatcher and the Tories had seen their poll numbers bolstered by the Falkland Crisis, in which the Iron Lady killed many Argentines over Britain’s claim to a handful of rocks in South America. If there had been no “rally-round-the-flag” effect created by the wave of jingoism and saber-rattling and if Britons had been focused (as they had been) on the “necessary” unemployment fostered by Thatcher’s policies, would the 1983 election have been as close as it was? Perhaps, perhaps not; so it is with counterfactuals. However, what we do know is that the milquetoast, effete leadership of Neil Kinnock that followed the short-lived days of radical, militant Labour did very little to bring down the Thatcher premiership (even when it seemed certain in 1992). Instead, the Labour Party only lurched further to the right, becoming “New Labour” — Thatcher’s proudest achievement. What had started off as the political arm of the British labor movement turned into all-image, no-substance party that hated spending but loved U.S. military adventurism.

Most remembrances you will find out there of Tony Benn express admiration for him not because he was a great man in the opinion of the writer but simply because he held fast to his views even when they were no longer popular. Just beneath the surface of such obituaries is the implicit belief that Benn was, at the end of the day, a misguided old fool who talked funny and only became safe to admire when he was no longer in a position to affect policy. Once he became a backbencher and a “mere” political activist, he was no longer a “dangerous man.” The truth is that Tony Benn was always dangerous to people in power, and just because he did not have a place in Cabinet or a seat in the House of Commons does not mean he was powerless. His power stemmed not from official sanction but his integrity, his character and not least of all his eloquence to express what cynical, jaded people don’t admit openly that they sometimes still think: that maybe this unfair, unjust world isn’t the only possible world we could be living in. Tony Benn may not have realized his dream of a socialist Britain, but by continuing to espouse his beliefs and by refusing to censor those beliefs for the sake of personal advancement, he provided a model for people like me — to not tether our dreams and ambitions to fleeting things beyond our control, like wealth or fame, but to stay true to that which is in our control: namely, to live our lives according to the principles of courage, equality and justice.

Contracts Rule Everything Around Me: On the John Campbell/Kickstarter Situation

It stinks getting ripped off. We’ve all been there. You pay for a good or service, but rather than getting what you were expecting, you either get something far below your expectations or, even worse, you get nothing at all. Sadly, because we live in a world where so many are willing to put profits before people, cutting corners and misleading advertising are all too common. However, we now live in a world where it’s easier to share information, so it is relatively simple to take to social media or blogs and shame a person or company that has stolen your hard-earned cash by defrauding you, decrying their manipulative ways and shameless opportunism.

This has been largely been the reaction to the news that John Campbell, the artist behind the darkly comedic Sad Pictures for Children comic, has decided to burn a quarter of the books he promised to donors on Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing Web site that allows people to donate money toward an enterprise (in this case, the second hardcover collection of Campbell’s comic) in exchange for promised rewards. In his announcement on the Kickstarter Web site, a clearly troubled Campbell bemoans the intense pressure he feels around the economic management of the Kickstarter campaign as well as life in general. He states that “if you spend your life in a small room thinking, you deserve to live and breathe the same amount as someone who spends their life doing intense physical or mental labor, or who has money that ‘makes money.'” He claims that a good chunk of the money he earned through the donations ended up going toward providing books to the people who donated the most, and also notes that a lot of the money he has earned in the past has gone toward settling debts, including those stemming from student loans.

Most of the responses I have read out there accuses Campbell of being a “ballsy” jerk who is ungrateful to his fans and donors. A few admit that he appears to be “in a bad place,” but then dismiss his criticisms of capitalism as naive and unrealistic. “You want someone to pay for you to sit around? Me too, John, me too!” Campbell’s “crime” of abandoning his end of the bargain outweighs the reasoning or even the emotion that went into it, despite how naked that reasoning is, how blatant the emotion is. And while it may well be true that Campbell is lying and that his post was just an excuse for him to hold on to money he claims he doesn’t have, I don’t think that is very likely. He’s either a soulless spawn of Satan faking depression or a very troubled artist who is sick and tired of the rat race and “just getting by,” constantly trying to please others and ignoring his own needs and desires. Considering the obvious consequences of his actions in terms of ever getting donations again, it’s hard to see how the former presumption has any support.

It bothers me that there seems to be more shock and concern over the integrity of the Kickstarter system than there seems to be for John Campbell the human being. If you like someone’s art enough to pay them for it, I would assume what you really value is the artist and the creative juices he or she possesses, not just the art for it’s own sake. In other words, you would express hope that the person espousing a disconnect from the world and its emphasis on material gains and wage labor as “real work” finds someway to cope and not be so overwhelmed by feelings of alienation or isolation. Instead, everyone writes off Campbell as a “ballsy” con artist or a sheltered utopian. iT wouldn’t surprise me at all if Campbell sinks even deeper into depression because, after pouring his heart out about how he feels, the general consensus is “Stop crying, baby, and follow the rules of capitalism!” rather than any interest in his welfare as a person. It only goes to show that the commodity is assigned more value than the person producing it.