Elisabeth Schimpfössl: The Super-Rich of Russia

Following on from last week’s discussion of global povertyThe Provocateur turns its attention to the other end of the social scale: the super-rich, who have often been neglected in sociological studies of inequality. In Russia as in other post-Communist countries, capitalism is a relatively new phenomenon, creating in some cases a backlash from older Soviet-born generations against the burgeoning rise of mass consumption. Philanthropy is also becoming trendy among Russian multi-millionaires and billionaires, apparently in response to major disparities in income and wealth.

In this installment of The Provocateur I talk to Elisabeth Schimpfössl, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at UCL, about her intriguing work researching the lives of Russia’s 0.1%. We discuss the historical context of Russian inequality in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, before zooming in on the super-rich themselves. We investigate the gendered dynamics of Russian elites, their attitudes to the current regime and their motivations for charitable giving. Towards the end of the episode we also explore the future of Russian politics and the viability of comparisons with another highly oil-dependent country, Venezuela.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Jason Hickel: Bridging the Divide: Ending Poverty on a Finite Planet

It is widely recognised that global inequality is a serious problem. For instance, according to a Credit Suisse report in 2015, half the world’s wealth is owned by the top 1% of the world’s population. More than 60% of humanity, or 4.3 billion people, live below the realistic minimum standard of a decent life. And yet it is also widely recognised that there are ecological limits to material prosperity. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day – the date when human resource consumption for the year exceeds the Earth’s biocapacity for the same year – occurred on 2 August, compared with 19 December when the concept was first introduced 30 years ago. With Trump vowing to exit the Paris agreement on carbon emissions, it looks like the picture of our planet’s ecological health is also getting worse and not better. How to reconcile the objectives of development with the objectives of sound environmental policy is a complex and pressing matter. How did we get here? And what can we do about it?

On this episode of The Provocateur I talk to Jason Hickel, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at LSE, to discuss how we can bridge the gap between rich and poor on a finite planet. We first talk about Jason’s interest in the subject as an anthropologist before moving on to Jason’s case for his argument that global poverty is getting worse not better. We explore the history of development politics in the era of the Washington Consensus, the limitations of GDP as a measure of growth and new strategies for development in an age of both economic and ecological crisis.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Chang, H-J. (2007) Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury.

Easterly, W. (2006) The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Escobar, A. (1995) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

George, S. (1976) How the Other Half Dies. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Harvey, D. (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hickel, J. (2017) ‘Aid in reverse: how poor countries develop rich countries’, The Guardian, 14 January.

Klein, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Toronto: Knopf Canada.

_____ (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Toronto: Knopf Canada.

Pearce, F. (2012) The Landgrabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth. London: Eden Project Books.

Perkins, J. (2004) Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Pollin, R. (2005) Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, updated edition. London: Verso.

Shaxson, N. (2012) Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World. London: Vintage.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalization and its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton.

Tandon, Y. (2015) Trade is War: The West’s War Against the World. New York and London: OR Books.

Jason Barr: The Economics of Skyscrapers: Past, Present and Future

Skyscrapers are distinctly modern symbols of our urbanized planet. Their verticality represents not only the possibilities of technological progress and the limits of the human imagination, but also the challenges of city inequality. The idea of high-rise living first took hold in the 1880s in Chicago before the skyscraper was exported to New York, spread to the rest of the United States and eventually conquered the entire world. The first skyscraper on the planet is generally considered to be the Home Insurance Building in the Windy City; though, at a mere 11 stories, it would pale in comparison with the Petronas Towers or One World Trade Centre, it marked a turning point in the development of cities. As the experience of Chicago and later New York showed, skyscrapers are an answer to an economic problem of resource allocation: how to fit dozens, even hundreds, of people in a fairly small space. Yet going taller is not a perfect solution: even as they solve the conundrum of how to cope with urban population booms, skyscrapers also pose other problems such as congestion, overcrowding, rising land values and an intolerable cost of living.

This week on The Provocateur we are joined by Jason Barr, professor of economics at Rutgers University (Newark), to explore the economic history of skyscrapers. We begin by discussing skyscrapers as an economic problem, before moving onto talk about the history of the modern Manhattan skyline from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries. We close with a brief discussion of newer players in the skyscraper game such as Dubai, Shanghai and Taipei and speculate on future directions in the evolution of skyscrapers.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Barr, J. (2016) Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan’s Skyscrapers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Clark. W. J. and J. L. Kingston (1930) The Skyscraper: A Study in the Economic Height of Modern Office Buildings. New York and Cleveland: American Institute of Steel Construction.

Gifford, R. (2007) ‘The Consequences of Living in High-Rise Buildings’, Architectural Science Review 50(1), pp. 2-17.

Glaeser, E. (2011) ‘How Skyscrapers Can Save the City’, The Atlantic, March 2011.

Hsu, J. and C. Chan (2014) ‘The Emergence of Asian Supertalls’, CTBUH Journal IV, pp. 28-33.

Landau, S. B. and C. W. Condit (1996) Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865-1913. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Nobel, P. et al. (2015) The Future of the Skyscraper. New York: Distributed Art Publishers.

Parker. D. and A. Wood (eds.) (2013) The Tall Buildings Reference Book. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Willis, C. (1995) Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Chris Kanich: Privacy on the Modern Web

Billions of people use the Internet every day for all sorts of activities, from shopping to gambling to dating to academic research. For the vast majority of users, a browser is the primary interface between them and the world wide web. Yet the very fact that browser features are so ubiquitous makes them extremely vulnerable to privacy and security compromises. Not only browser history, but all sorts of data such as browser size, location and time of day could become extremely invaluable to third parties, whether they are Internet giants like Google, Facebook and Apple or more nefarious users. Companies such as Microsoft and Mozilla have tried to combat consumers’ privacy concerns by introducing private browsing modes, but it seems that even these may not be entirely foolproof ways of surfing the Internet anonymously.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Chris Kanich, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to discuss the privacy and security issues raised by the modern web. We start by exploring the history of browser features since the mid-’90s, from hypermedia to JavaScript to the fully integrated browsers of today. Then we move onto the privacy and security vulnerabilities created by ubiquitous code such as that found on Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Finally we investigate a range of legal and ethical implications, from the EU’s directive on the ‘right to be forgotten’ to monitoring terrorism online and even the security complications of cloud computing.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Eckersley, P. (2010) ‘How Unique is Your Web Browser?’ in Atallah, M. J. and N. Hopper (eds.) Privacy Enhancing Technologies: Proceedings of the 10th International PETS Symposium. Cham: Springer.

Snyder, P. et al. (2016) ‘Browser Feature Usage on the Modern Web’, Proceedings of the 2016 Internet Measurement Conference.

Brian Bird: Freedom of Conscience in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada 150 Miniseries)

Today we continue our Canada 150 miniseries with a look at perhaps the most significant piece of Canadian legislation since Confederation: the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section two of the Charter lists what are called the “fundamental freedoms,” including for example freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression and – importantly for our purposes – freedom of conscience. Many constitutional disputes in Canadian jurisprudence have tested the limits of freedom of religion. But as Canada becomes more and more secularized, the focus may well shift to freedom of conscience, which would thereby rise to greater prominence in Canadian politics.

In this installment of The Provocateur I talk to Brian Bird, a DCL student in the Faculty of Law at McGill University, to explore the history and theory of freedom of conscience, which he dubs “the forgotten freedom.” We discuss what freedom of conscience is and how it can be distinguished from freedom of religion; the nature of freedom of conscience before and after the Charter came into effect; the limits of freedom of conscience; and the future of “the forgotten freedom” in Canadian society.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Brownlee, K. (2012) Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waldron, M. A. (2013) Free to Believe: Rethinking Conscience and Freedom of Religion in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Vischer, R. K. (2010) Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space Between Person and State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ryan Nichols: The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Its Cultural Aftershocks

Lisbon is probably best known today as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, but it is also remembered as the victim of one of the deadliest and most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history. The disaster struck on 1st November 1755, registering an estimated 8.5-9.0 on the modern moment magnitude scale. It triggered fires and a tsunami, in the end claiming as many as 100,000 lives. The catastrophe was not just a literal earthquake, though; it was also a cultural earthquake, as it brought simmering religious tensions to the fore, threw Portugal’s imperial ambitions into disarray and even arguably changed the course of the Enlightenment in the latter half of the 18th century.

Today on The Provocateur I interview Ryan Nichols, associate professor of philosophy at California State University Fullerton, to discuss the cultural aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. We explore the historical context of Lisbon and Portugal before the earthquake; the immediate effects of the disaster on Portuguese politics and society; discussions of the earthquake by 18th-century philosophers including Voltaire and Rousseau; how Ryan’s research in the cognitive science of religion can help explain the aftermath of the quake; and the wider cultural reverberations of this episode for the history and philosophy of science.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Araujo, A. C. (2006) ‘The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 – Public Distress and Political Propaganda’, E-journal of Portuguese History 4(1), article 3.

Braun, T. and J. Radner (eds.) (2005) The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.

Chester, D. K. (2001) ‘The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, Progress in Physical Geography 25(3), pp. 363-383.

Dynes, R. R. (2000) ‘The Dialogue between Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake: The Emergence of a Social Science View’, International Journal of Emergencies and Disasters 18(1), pp. 97-115.

Festinger, L. et al. (1956) When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gutscher, M-A. (2004) ‘What Caused the Great Lisbon Earthquake?’ Science 305(5688), pp. 1247-1248.

Kelemen, D. (1999) ‘Why Are Rocks Pointy?: Children’s Preference for Teleological Explanations of the Natural World’, Developmental Psychology 35, pp. 1440-1453.

Marques, J. O. A. (2005) ‘The Paths of Providence: Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake’, Cadernos de Historia e Filosofia da Ciencia 3(15), pp. 33-57.

Neiman, S. (2004) Evil in Modern Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (For a critique see Nichols 2014, below.)

Nichols, R. (2014) ‘Re-evaluating the Effects of the Lisbon Earthquake on Eighteenth-Century Minds: How Cognitive Science of Religion Improves Intellectual History with Hypothesis Testing Methods’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82(4), pp. 970-1009.

Pereira, A. S. (2009) ‘The Opportunity of a Disaster: The Economic Impact of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, The Journal of Economic History 69(2), pp. 466-499.

Rousseau, J-J. (1967) ‘Letter to Voltaire, 18 August 1756’, in Correspondance Complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau, vol. 4, ed. J. A. Leigh, trans. R. Spang, 37–50. Geneva, Switzerland: Voltaire Foundation.

Voltaire (2000 [1759]) ‘Candide, or Optimism’, in Candide and Related Texts, ed. and trans. D.Wootton, 1–83. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Jennifer Hayter: Métis Identity and the Politics of Canadian Confederation (Canada 150 Miniseries)

We continue our month-long Canadian miniseries, in honour of Canada 150, with a critical assessment of one of the most important dynamics in the country’s history: the relationship between the indigenous and European peoples of present-day Canada, which remains a source of ongoing injustices. Though orthodox Canadian history might stress the nation’s relative youth – being traditionally created in 1867 – the story of Canada arguably begins centuries before, when humans first migrated into North America. Contact with European explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries led almost inevitably to interbreeding between indigenous and European people, which in turn resulted in the category of  “Métis”. Yet the apparent simplicity of its definition belies a host of anxieties around race, assimilation, integration and Canadian identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as Canada engaged in a process of nation-building.

On today’s episode of The Provocateur we are joined by Jennifer Hayter, who is currently completing a PhD in History at the University of Toronto, to discuss the history of the relationship between the Métis and the Canadian state. We cover the origins of the term “Métis” as a category; the rise of Métis nationalism in the late 19th century (especially the role of Louis Riel); the significance of the Métis in Manitoba and British Columbia; and the continuing ramifications for Métis politics today.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Ens, G., and J. Sawchuk (2016) From New Peoples to New Nations: Aspects of Métis History and Identity from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Gaudry, A. (2016) “Métis”, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Available at: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/metis/.

St-Onge, N., C. Podruchny and B. Macdougall (eds.) (2012) Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Ray, A. J. (2011) An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native People: I Have Lived Here Since the World Began. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.