Archive for August, 2013

Exploitation and Economic Justice in the Liberal Capitalist State

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Guest Author: Mark R. Reiff

My PictureI have been thinking about the issues addressed in Exploitation and Economic Justice in the Liberal Capitalist State for a number of years. My work on these did not begin in earnest, however, until the financial crisis hit in the summer of 2008. My thinking was that because the concept of exploitation had been so associated with Marxism, non-Marxists had tended to avoid relying on this concept when devising theories of economic justice for liberal capitalist societies.  For example, the concept of exploitation played no role whatsoever in the theories of economic justice of John Rawls, or Robert Nozick, or Ronald Dworkin, or in the work of any of the political theorists who built upon their works. And while “analytical Marxists” such as G. A. Cohen and John Roemer attempted to take Marx’s theory of exploitation forward and revise it in ways that would allow its application to and provide a justification for democratic socialism, almost no one attempted to develop and defend a theory of exploitation that would regulate but not prohibit inequalities in a liberal capitalist welfare state.

But that is what I have attempted to do in this book. My aim was to develop a new, non-Marxist, liberal theory of exploitation that could compete with the two theories of economic justice that currently dominate the liberal landscape—the difference principle, from John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, and luck egalitarianism, an approach inspired primarily by the work of Ronald Dworkin—but which can also be seen as consistent with both left and right libertarianism. In constructing my theory, I have relied on two key concepts or toolsExploitation (Book cover) new: the just price, and intolerable unfairness.  The first has a long history; indeed the idea of the just price can trace its roots back through medieval to ancient times. The concept of intolerable unfairness, in contrast, is largely my own invention.  But as I hope the book makes clear, this is what makes my theory liberal—it is the interaction between toleration—a key feature of political liberalism—and my re-conceived notion of the just price that allows my theory of exploitation to regulate but not prohibit the inequalities that capitalism would otherwise invariably produce.

Accordingly, my book should be considered a work of political philosophy, or, to be slightly more specific, of political economy. But that does not mean the book is an exercise in formal economics. Indeed, the book has almost no formal economics in it. It is a book about economic justice, designed to be accessible to all those who are concerned about the moral status of our current economic relations and what we might do to put those relations right. What I argue is that there are good reasons to believe that we can have full or close to full employment and an equitable or at least substantially less inequitable distribution of wealth and income in our society without compromising any of the fundamental principles of either economics or political morality that most of us already accept, and our failure to restrain the growth of economic inequality much less reverse it is in large part due to our failure to take principles we already accept seriously enough.

The book

  • Develops the first wholly new, liberal theory of economic justice since the theories proposed by John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and other theorists in the 1970s and early 80s
  • Offers a theory that can function as either a replacement for or a supplement to the difference principle and luck egalitarianism, the most popular liberal egalitarian theories of economic justice of the day
  • Contains a comprehensive discussion of the history and development of the doctrine of the just price from Aristotle through the present day
  • Develops a new, non-Marxist theory of exploitation that is designed to be a creature of capitalism, not a critique of it, and shows why and how we can regulate economic inequality using the presuppositions of capitalism and political liberalism that we already accept
  • Provides a new, highly-topical moral justification not only for increasing the minimum wage, but also for imposing a maximum wage, one that tells us not only why but to what extent we should limit the kinds of corporate bonuses we all find intuitively excessive
  • Provides a new and specific moral justification for continuation of the estate tax on the wealthiest members of society, those with estates in excess of (at least) $2 million
  • Provides a timely and new specific moral justification for the prohibition of certain kinds of speculative trading, including trading in most kinds of the now infamous credit default swap, trading which contributed greatly to the advent of the current financial crisis
  • Provides an explanation and a new specific moral justification for dealing with certain aspects of climate change now regardless of what other nations do
  • Suggests that the theory presented can be the subject of an overlapping consensus of not only for liberal egalitarians but also for right and left libertarians too

The book also contains numerous references to other works that readers can consult if they want to go deeper into the history or intellectual background of any of these matters. 

Author’s Bio:

Mark R. Reiff is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. In addition to Exploitation and Economic Justice in the Liberal Capitalist State (Oxford University Press, 2013),  he is the author of and Punishment, Compensation, and Law: A Theory of Enforceability (Cambridge University Press, 2005), as well as various papers on topics within legal, political, and moral philosophy.  During the 2008-09 academic year, Dr. Reiff was a Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He is currently completing work on his third book, On Unemployment

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013

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Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K Rowling: An Engrossing Mystery Novel

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Author: Sherry Helms

1308160502306yS49k38The Cuckoo’s Calling is a Debut crime fiction penned by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. This is an elegant suspense novel in a classic vein steeped in the atmosphere of London featuring a hard-luck private investigator- Cormoran Strike who lost his half-leg in Afghan War; his recently engaged rich and smart Secretary Robin Ellacotto; and an ostensibly cultured but anxious new client named John Bristow, the adopted brother of famous young supermodel Lula Landry.

John walks through Strike’s door with a startling story that the death of his sister Lula Landry, known to her friends as Cuckoo, who fell down from the third-floor of the “five-star” Mayfair apartment, is not a suicide but a murder. Initially dubious and reluctant to reopen the case, Strike takes on the case only to relieve the damage on his stressed finances. However, this case plunges him into the posh world of multimillionaire supermodels, estranged wives, desperate fashion designers, odious film producers, and rock-star boyfriends. Each person whom Strike encounters tells their recollections of Lula that makes him to realize that the events surrounding Lula’s death are more confusing than he imagined.

Although the book received many favorable reviews in various trade publications, yet the sales remained fewer than 1,500 copies. However, after the revelation of the true identity of its author (J.K. Rowling) on 14 July 2013, the succeeding publicity of the book is instantly surged from non-selling murkiness into worldwide best-seller.

Unlike her Harry Potter series that hold a lot of magic and numerous wizards or witches and tackled good and evil, The Cuckoo’s Calling by the world-renowned storyteller Ms. Rowling is based on the mundane issues, like midlife crises, class envy, the pressures of fame, and the social anthropology of modern London. It reads very much like Rowling wants to try something different from her routine writing for her own pleasure.

The things that make the story more compelling still are the characterizations, and particularly a charming protagonist, who’s in no doubt to be the leading light of many sequels to come. Rowling has done an excellent job of infusing main character with enough unselfconscious appeal that it does work. The portrayal of Strike and Robin in contrasts of the London life is subtly masterful.

With this highly entertaining murder mystery novel, Rowling takes us on an exciting ride of London where we see the affluent and famous alongside the downtrodden. She not only portrays through her novel the world of chic parties and stylish possessions but also the sordid world of poverty- a world that she had lived in while she wrote her first Harry Potter novel. She represents each scene with as much information as possible in order to give the reader an opportunity to experience the London’s very old charm.

On the whole, Ms. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling is an entertaining read that prove to be utterly convincing in its portrayal of different aspects of this world. Moreover, the tightly moulded plotline, well-chosen dialogues, and all the social content with lots of twists and suspense make the story intriguing.

RIP Elmore Leonard- The ‘Dickens of Detroit’

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Author: Sherry Helms

elmoreThe legendary American crime novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard passed away on Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan following complications from a stroke at the age of 87.  

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925 the great crime novelist began his career in the Navy, where he served with the Seabees, just after graduating from the University of Detroit in 1943. His pared down style and sparse use of dialogue was admired by celebrated writers and his works left an indelible imprint on many film adaptations and popular crime genres. His many admirers had often dubbed Leonard as “The Dickens of Detroit” because of his intimate portrayal of people from the town.

Starting out his writing career in the early fifties, the prolific author Leonard—or “Dutch,” as he often called- wrote more than forty books a couple of screenplays. However, he got first giant success in 1951 when an American pulp magazine “Argosy” published his short story “Trail of the Apaches“. He wrote several short stories primarily in pulp Westerns. Eventually, he turned his writing to crime, and more topical genres, as well as screenwriting in the 1960 as he earned his status for creating memorable characters and strong dialogue.

He credited author George V. Higgins for inspiring him to write mystery novels. He often considered Ernest Hemingway as one of his leading inspirations, and simultaneously criticized Hemingway for sternness. Among his acclaimed works are “Get Shorty,” Hombre, “,”52 Pick Up” “Mr. Majestyk” and “Rum Punch,” which was adapted into a movie titled Jackie Brown. Two of his Western stories The Tall T and 3:10 to Yuma were translated into movies. His 1953 Western short story 3:10 to Yuma was remade into a film starring Russell Crowe in 2007 while his book The Switch being in production into a film starring Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins is scheduled to debut this year as Life of Crime. His gallant character US Marshal Raylan Givensm, inspired the current TV series on FX, “Justified.”

He won numerous awards including the Grand Master Edgar Award in 1992, the Louisiana Writer Award in 2006, the F Scott Fitzgerald award in 2008, and Peabody Award for his FX’s Justified in 2011. He received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. Leonard said he did not intend to end his life’s work after achieving further National Book Award lifetime achievement last year .

Commended by critics for his sly, calm, humorous and sometimes surprising voice, Mr. Leonard at times took liberties with language rules in the concern of pacing with the story. His “10 Rules for Writing” published in the New York Times in 2001, contained such constructive admonishments that are essential to any serious author and editor. His 10 rules should be pinned above the writing desk of everyone who terms himself or herself a writer.  

He survived by five children– three daughters and two sons, all born from his first wife Beverly Claire Cline before divorcing in 1977, as well as 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. He married and divorced his third wife Christine in 2012. At the time of his hospitalization for a stroke earlier this month, he was working on his yet another novel.

Our earnest condolences and best wishes go out to Leonard’s family, colleagues and fans all around the world.

Review: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane : A Darkly Disturbing Yet Magical Reminiscence Of Childhood

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Author: Sherry Helms

15783514The Ocean at the End of the lane by renowned fantasy author Neil Gaiman is a brilliantly imaginative and moving tale that explores the shadowy spaces of myth, memory, and identity through the otherworldly journey of a man. First adult novel since Gaiman’s bestselling book Anansi Boys released in 2005, it is a captivating tale concerning the baffling gulf between the childhood and adulthood. More specifically, the author incorporated a few events that took place in his own life such as stealing of a car belonging to main character’s father and the thief committed suicide in the car. Debuted at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, this novel will lure you, amaze you, and make you feel on the edge.

The novel is told from the point of view of a middle-aged anonymous narrator returning to the place where he and his sister grew up. Recalled by his adult self, the man revisits his childhood house in Sussex, England where he is suddenly overwhelmed by memories of being seven-year-old boy and powerless, when the lodger stole his father’s car, drove it to the end of the lane and committed suicide in the back seat. This death stirring up ancient powers, chief among them a gorgeous grey-eyed woman named Ursula Monkton, who tried to tempt narrator’s father.

He also remembers a good-hearted young girl named Lettie Hempstock, who lives with her grandmother, Old Mrs. Hempstock, and her mother Ginnie Hempstock on an old farm at the end of the lane. The mysterious eleven-year-old girl- Lettie- introduces him to the pond behind her house, which she deems an ocean. The narrator finds himself entangled in a paranormal conflict by the powerful and dangerous creatures from the outer world that have gathered to destroy his family. A strange set of events are put into motion, and only the Lettie and her family can help set things right again. The narrator returns to the present at the end of novel and stops remembering all the past events. However, the statement of Hempstock shocks him that he had visited this house at least twice during his adult years.

The author has fantastically represented in his novel the helplessness of childhood and the reliance on adults. The fantasy world portrayed by Neil Gaiman is weird but utterly real that will transport you back to your childhood in a way that you feel the same fear and wonder that the protagonist experiences. Though, the novel is written from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy, it isn’t a story for kids as it includes various upsetting images, scenes of nudity and child abuse, and discussions of physical chastisement.

Entirely captivating and perfectly rendered, it’s a short story that explores numerous iconic depictions of childhood memories. The author has an uncanny ability to depict human traits such as the unbreakable bond of Hempstock women together. As this is a fantasy piece, many memories seem unreal, and yet the author infuses the reality and the amorphous dream-like states in a way that will move the reader deeply. The Ocean at the end of the Lane is the best-written book by the storytelling genius Neil Gaiman that is haunting, fascinating, profoundly perceptive as well as lyrical.

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