Posts tagged ‘labor’

Some Things I’ve Written, or I’m Still Alive

By , 29 September, 2015, No Comment

Though I’ve been very quiet on here since starting my PhD, I have actually been commenting quite a bit elsewhere on these here interwebs. For those who aren’t on Twitter (where I do extensive self-promotion in between posting pictures of my food), here are some things I’ve blogged.

I’ve been writing a regular monthly column for the website (who cover the intersection of science, technology and development) on the role of the private sector in development. I’ve covered:

Fairtrade and other attempts at ethical consumption will probably not work, even if they make us feel better about ourselves

Automation imperils employment in the developing world. Anthropologist James Ferguson’s has bold (but ultimately unworkable) vision for a society without jobs.

India’s new ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ law mandating firms donate to social projects is really an inefficient tax on corporate revenue, and a step backwards.

The best way to empower women in business might not be the C-suite, but the supply chain: hire women-owned businesses to source your parts or supply consulting services.

India exploits a loophole in international trade law to sell cheap drugs to sub-Saharan Africa. If they change their policies under US pressure, poor Africans will suffer.

In a world of finite resources, one-shop oil, gas and mining towns are planning for the day when the goods run out. Companies should help.

I’ve also blogged a little bit for the blog of my department’s policy journal, which I briefly edited last year. Recent pieces include:

How the Iranian government charmed the Western press, and thereby saved the peace process.

Foreign correspondents lie, or how news organizations conceal the work of local fixers they employ in conflict zones.

What is capital, and how did capitalism survive the financial crisis? An interview with economist Geoffrey Hodgson.

I’ll try to remember to cross-post all future blogging here going forward, and maybe even find time to write some original pieces for this site again soon*.

Finally, I’ve been interviewed about my research over on BBC Radio 3. It’s a special episode on Indian history, so I’m talking about the East India Company, who are one of several key historical predecessors for the kind of contemporary corporate politics I’m researching for my PhD.


*Don’t hold your breath.

Bangladesh and Sweatshop Economics

By , 10 May, 2013, No Comment

Very belatedly, posting the link to my debut piece for the Guardian. I look at the debate about the economics and ethics of sweatshops that has erupted in the wake of the Dhaka factory collapse last month. In particular, I’m intrigued by the logic of sweatshop apologists, who argue that because individual workers chose to work in these sweatshops over available alternatives, sweatshop jobs are the best possible jobs in Bangladesh. This is rational choice theory taken to an absurd Panglossian extreme, where everything that happens in a market economy must be good because if it wasn’t good, it wouldn’t be happening. It’s a way of thinking that strips out A. any normative analysis of what is a good choice B. any real engagement with the context in which choices are made. You can read the piece here.

How to Lie With Statistics, Women and Child Care Edition

By , 3 August, 2012, No Comment

My latest post is up at Forbes, highlighting two research papers that look at the impact women’s earnings and the cost of child care have on women’s decisions on whether to have children and whether (or how much) to work. They are good papers, but they both make a critical error:

Both papers assume that men commit full-time to the labor force, and that the choices families are about the balance of women’s working hours and caring hours. It’s one of the most infuriating aspects of the work-life debates that the choice is so often framed that way. The reality is that in addition to earning potential and cost of child care, the degree to which male partners share in child care duties is a major factor driving women’s career and family choices.

Leaving working fathers out of the choice equation tarnishes the studies’ results, and can have a dangerous effect, if policymakers feel that the solution suggested by papers like these is to expand the choices available to women without expanding choices for men. Framing the work-life conundrum as a women’s issue only makes it more likely that it will remain women’s burden. The research error becomes self-fulfilling.

This case is a perfect example of the problem outlined by Darrell Huff in his classic book, How to Lie With Statistics. I’m a great advocate for inserting more data into debates about work and family, but it’s equally important to be skeptical of the data presented to us. Ask not just, ‘Does this data answer the question we’re asking?’ but also, ‘Are we asking the right questions?’ At the moment, I’m not convinced we are.

Read it all here.

On Unions and Gender

By , 8 June, 2012, No Comment

I’ve got a post up at Foreign Exchange, my Forbes blog, today about some new research on the British labor movement. The paper takes two trends of the last 30 years – increasing numbers of women in the workforce and declining union participation – and wonders whether they are related. The researcher, Getinet Haile, finds a few ways they are:

1. As more women enter a workplace, union participation falls. Namely, workplaces with more than the median percentage of women see a 12-percentage point decline in union density relative to workplaces where the balance is below the median.

2. That decline has more to do with men than women. Men in the workforce are 15 percent less likely to be union members if their workplace – and therefore their union – has an above-the-median level of female participation. Women in the workforce are just 7 percent less likely to be union members in a diverse workplace.

3. In female-dominated workplaces, common in fields like education or social care, union membership is still strong, and indeed, actually increases with overall diversity – i.e. the entrance of men into these fields.

4. All of the above trends are stronger in the private sector than in the public sector.

Haile goes on to explain how cultural tensions inside unions may explain some of these trends. It’s a powerful reminder that while we talk about unions as built on an assumption of class solidarity, the union movement has historically relied on the common demographic makeup of the workforce (mostly white, mostly male) to act as a kind of social glue between workers. As the workforce grows more diverse – something we should celebrate – unions may have to find new ways of binding workers together. Or they may simply fade from relevance.