23 September 2008

Lecture reflections

This morning the COM lecturer is ill so I have the morning free. Yesterday's lecture was quite interesting. We had a guest lecturer, Paul Richards, a well-known social scientist in rural development. He has recently been researching the effect of war and conflict on farming practices and power relations. Our lecture is difficult to explain because it covered so much but I'll give it a shot. I should review anyways I suppose. He began by explaining that Emile Durkhiem is the only social scientist whose theories have proved correct over several years. The Scottish economist Adam Smith's theories on the market's "invisible hand" have been disproven by the ill effects of environmental degredation, social inequality, and social factors outside of the market. Karl Marx dwelled too heavily on the role of materialism and the implementation of his ideas has been mostly through dictatorships and at the expense of famine and suffering. Max Weber had many of the same difficulties as Marx and Spencer's belief in social darwinism and neo-liberalism has proved inconsistant in the face of government protection and concern for special interests. Spencer's ideas suffer from the same shortcomings as Smith as well.

Richard's example of Durkheim being correct is the recent US government bailout of the banks. The US and Britain have pursued a neo-liberal agenda advocated by Smith and Spencer and popularized by Thatcher and Raegan for a number of years. This implies that the government stays out of commerce and allows the market to determine prices, production, employment levels, etc. With the recent credit crisis in the government was forced to abandon their policies for the good of the American society (credit availability, maintan the banking system) by buying the debts of American banks. This is basically a socialisation of the banking system and a return to the basics of the social democrat, Durkheim. Durkhiem believed that an unfair contract will always be renegotiated and that people are born social and become individualistic.

The lecture on Durkheim was based on its relation to the green revolution. The green revolution was basically a response to the cold war. It was believed that if a society was short of food it would be susceptable to communist takeover by the USSR and that food production was the solution. Following the fall of the USSR most green revolution projects were abandoned and people are only now thinking about food security again. A paper that I recently read stated that the level of world hunger in relation to the abundance of food in Europe and the US will be the greatest blight on our generation; in comparison with slavery in the 19th Century, the Nazis in the 1930s, etc. Our challenge though is to increase food production without the ill effects of the green revolution. Agro-ecological principles such as integrated pest management must be a part of any agricultural development rather than simply increasing external inputs. Programs also need to target smallholders and consider producer knowledge. Take for instance the case of African rice-Asian rice hybrids in West Africa. The African rice center in Benin recently won a nobel peace prize for its work on rice hybrids. At the same time farmers in West Africa had created their own hybrids (more than 50) without assistance and at a much lower cost. Market-determined distribution of food is not working as we have so many going hungry and a new system is necessary.
Pretty boring stuff huh?


  1. As I was reading this, I told Sarah, "Wow, this is really boring stuff." I then read the last line, and laughed for a couple of minutes. Just wanted to share.

  2. Thanks for sharing Dan, we all appreciate your input. I'm glad you made it all the way to the end.
    Your ever grateful, better looking brother, Andrew