Sunday, April 24, 2005

A catastrophic "Giant" has died.

I got a notice today via an anthropology list-serve I am on that someone I never heard of has died:
Andre Gunder Frank was a giant in the social
sciences and continued to make contributions to all of our work in
many ways more than his crucial underdevelopment concept.
I Googled him, and found one of his treatises online. If Andre Gunder Frank was a giant, no wonder Latin America has been the economic and political mess it has been for 50 years. He wrote:
I also accepted the Chinese line, because it appeared more revolutionary. The line and praxis of the Soviet and Soviet aligned Latin American Communist parties were too reformist.
That is, he considered the Soviet methods in Latin America as insufficiently revolutionary.
My article contained the then radical proposition and figures to show that Brazil and Latin America in fact were net capital exporters to the United States, which far from aiding them, thereby exploited them.
Could it possibly have been than in the 1960s any reasonable person with money in Latin America would have worked to get it out of Latin America because influential people there saw the Soviet Union as soft on capitalism?
In Brazil I wrote an article on the foreign investment 'Mechanisms of Imperialism' (reprinted 1969) to counter the gospel according to which the Third World needed foreign investment and capital. Received theory was that the principal obstacle to development was the shortage of capital.
Yep, what Latin America had was an excess of capital. So guys like this set about scaring it away. Did a pretty good job of it, too.
The upshot of all these theoretical and political reflections...was that continued participation in the same world capitalist system could only mean continued development of underdevelopment. The political conclusions, therefore, were to de-link from the system externally and to transit to self-reliant socialism internally (or some undefined international socialist cooperation) in order to make in- or non-dependent economic development possible.
Economic isolationism and self-reliant socialism: Let's produce everything we are terrible at producing, and export nothing which we are good at producing. Destroy all incentives to efficient use of resources. It is amazing that anyone even in those days could take this foolishness seriously, much less today consider him a "giant."
I also gave short shrift to how the necessarily not so democratic (pre) revolutionary means might or not promote or even preclude the desirable post revolutionary end.
Paraphrase: I have no idea why my anti-democratic revolutionary ideas might lead where I think we need to go, nor even any theory for why they wouldn't make things even worse, but lets start killing people we dislike (capitalists) and see what happens. That's responsible social activism for you.
Dependence theory and writing, including mine, also made a notable impact on and through the 'theology of liberation,' which was and still is spread through Catholic Church groups in Latin America.
Great: He turned the Latin American Catholic church into a bunch of Shining Maoists. That really did a whole lot to improve the lot of the impoverished.
Free to Choose (Milton) Friedman argued that the magic of the market (efficiency?) comes first and freedom (equity?) later. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics, not for peace. The World Bank still gives Chile pride of place for its model. For us, it has cost the assassination of literally countless personal friends, some still very recently.
This guy criticizes mass-murdering revolutionaries for killing his friends? He was the one who criticized the Soviet Union for being insufficiently revolutionary. Oh. Sorry: Revolutionary mass murder is just fine when it is Marxists doing the killing. When fascists do it, well, that is a terrible thing. But only then.

The various fascist groups in Latin America are lousy groups, but just because one opposes fascism does not make one a noble friend of the ppl. In this case the opposition was just a bunch of would-be mass-murdering Marxists, and Andre Gunder Frank was on their side- even tho he admits he had not even a theory of why their way would not result in worse oppression.
From 1974 to 1978 I worked in Germany. I was never able to get a professorship in Germany. The Minister of Culture, an ex police chief who now exercised his political judgment as arbiter of all appointments, told one university president who wished to hire me that 'this Frank will never get a professorship here.' So I left Germany in 1978.
A revelation: State control of university systems can lead to political abuses. Well, surprise of surprises. Would Frank have objected if a Maoist commisar had stopped Milton Friedman from getting a job?
About the same time in 1979 soon after we had arrived in England from Germany, my younger son Miguel observed 'England is an underdeveloping country.' I ran to my class to tell my British students, who were incredulous. After several years of British deindustrialization under the government of Mrs. Thatcher, I repeated Miguel's earlier observation to a later generation of students, who then reacted 'of course.'
Another shock: Students of an avowedly revolutionary Marxist professor thought Thatcher's capitalist reforms in Britain were a bad idea. The poor Brits have suffered thru economic booms ever since.
In 1986 I wrote that the recovery that began in 1983 generated many new problems
Damn those economic recoveries: better ban 'em.
I analyzed the rapid progress of (the reincorporation of the socialist countries into the capitalist world economy) in detail in 1976 under the title 'Long Live Transideological Enterprise! The Socialist Economies in the Capitalist International Division of Labor and West-East-South Political Economic Relations'
Now there is a catchy title for you. I wonder that I didn't hear of it at the time.
I suggested that East Germany faced, and it has indeed become the victim of...sell out to West Germans (who have 'carpetbagged' the entire East German economy and society by closing down its industries that were quite productive and competitive, precisely because they were so!
That's the capitalist way to riches: buy productive and competitive industries and shut them down. You can make lots of money by destroying your own wealth. Maybe the Germans should buy MicroSoft and Nissan and shut them down, too.
Therefore, any development 'policy' for a particular country, region, sector, group or individual must identify and promote some selected 'comparative' advantage within the world economy. The 'policy' is to find one or more niches in which to carve out a temporary position of 'comparative' monopoly advantage in the international division of labor.
For once he has said something remotely akin to reality, except that even here we can be sure that the "policy" makers will be government bureaucrats who have no shred of agility in adapting to changing conditions. They will lock in some "policy" and even if successful in the short run will in the long run destroy their subjects thru inability to adapt.
Then, it may be possible to derive some temporary monopoly rent from the same. Some specialization is necessary, because advantageous and even loss avoiding presence on all industrial and technological fronts is impossible today. Of course, it is advantageous to do so in a newly leading industry or sector, which is itself able to command temporary monopoly rents. However, each such sector, and even more so each such region or group operating within it, must count on soon losing this advantage again. For soon they will be displaced by competition from others on the world market
And that is why political direction of the economy does not work: Conditions change far faster than any central commanders can adapt.
the previously progressive political content or direction of social movements seems to be turning rightward. In Latin America, right wing evangelical fundamentalism is replacing more progressive community organization around the theology of liberation and other popular currents in the Catholic Church.
That last does jibe with something I read elsewhere recently: Evangelical Protestantism is apparently making big inroads in Latin America. If the alternative is Shining Maoists, that would be an improvement. Altho Pope John Paul seemed concerned about the lefties in the SA church and removed a lot from power, and the new Pope seems equally so inclined. Neither were/are great proponents of capitalism tho, at least from what I hear. Still, they aren't Maoists.

To the extent that Andre Gunder Frank influenced the political and economic development of Latin America he was a giant failure. Worse than a failure: He and his cohort were a catastrophe. Their good intentions impoverished millions and led to policies which will continue to promote conflict for decades. He should not be accorded more than forgiveness, for he knew not what he did.

As for that death notice I received, re-read it and think about the implications for economic and political development in the Pacific, if such Ph.Ds have much influence-and they do.


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