Monthly Archives

April 2019

Research Findings

Finance, class, and the category of value: The marginalist revolution revisited

April 30, 2019

In contemporary economic textbooks, the value of any good is nothing more than its prevailing market price. This definition seems self-evident, but it stands in sharp contrast to the classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who located value in objective factors of production which remain hidden beneath the surface of market prices.

It was only in the late nineteenth century, when the notion of marginal utility was first introduced into economics, that value became tied to the preferences of consumers as reflected in market prices.

While economic categories such as “value”, “market” or “price” are often taken for granted, sociologists have long recognized that they are neither eternal nor natural. As Marx never tired of emphasizing, economic categories are “theoretical expressions” of concrete social and economic conditions, and they “show the historic foundation from which they are abstracted.”

What remains less clear is how these categories ‘show’ their historic foundations. How are changes in these foundations – in terms of the economic structure of society and the specific social location from which they are perceived – registered in the dominant categories of economic thought?

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Research Findings

Mapping the power of fossil capital

April 15, 2019
Image: Garth Lenz

None of the G20 countries are on track to combat climate change under the UN 2015 Paris Agreement, and among them, Canada stands out as the country with the worst carbon emissions per capita. The Corporate Mapping Project has found out why. Canada’s fossil fuel industry is a cohesive corporate community driving a ‘new denialist’ story deep into the federal government and into key institutions such as the University of Calgary. But we can change that story.

The Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), hosted by the University of Victoria since 2015, with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – British Columbia as a key partner, aims at understanding the economic, political and cultural power of Canada’s fossil fuel industry. As a collaboration between researchers and activists, the goal of the project is also to develop strategies for fostering socially just alternatives to fossil fuel.

The economic nucleus of Canada’s fossil fuel industry is the Alberta tar sands, where our findings show that five large producing companies and two major pipeline companies control most of the action. These corporations and the pipelines that flow mostly north to south make up a labour process that is highly capital intensive, and fast becoming more automated through driverless trucks and the like.

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Research Findings

People with disabilities turn to gig work

April 10, 2019

During the recent government shutdown, approximately 800,000 workers went without pay. Some government workers turned to gig work to make ends meet: Twitter is filled with stories of workers who began driving for Uber or Lyft during the shutdown as a stopgap measure.

Government workers are not alone in turning to gig work to make ends meet. The government shutdown is one example of systemic failures that leave many Americans without a safety net. In an ongoing study, I find that people with a disability also turn to gig work to get by. People with disabilities do gig work because they need a flexible job that allows them to stop working when they can no longer work that day, and to take breaks as needed.

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Research Findings

The Impact of African-American Enclaves on Economic Mobility under Jim Crow

April 4, 2019

In downtown Durham, North Carolina, a sign commemorates Black Wall Street, a district that once hosted some of the most prominent businesses owned by African Americans in the city. The sign is located on a four-block stretch of Parrish Street, which is now populated by relatively mundane urban eateries, bars, luxury condos, and the Durham County Board of Elections. But between the late 1800s and 1960s, the area became known nationwide as a center of black enterprise and upward mobility.

The success of Black Wall Street was all the more striking because it occurred in the U.S. South during the era of Jim Crow. It was a time of white supremacist ideology, when state and local laws dictated the separation of blacks from whites in schools, public transportation, public amenities, and many private businesses. On Parrish Street and in the neighboring community of Hayti, black residents looked for paths toward economic advancement despite the hostile historical conditions.

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Research Findings

The Real Mommy War Is Against the State

April 1, 2019

A lawyer and I stepped into a windowless conference room in her office building in Washington, D.C., and she reflexively closed the door. I had forgotten to restock my tissues and would soon regret that. By then, I had been interviewing American mothers about their work-family conflict for several weeks. I asked women I had just met what their bosses said to them when they announced a pregnancy, what their parental leave was like, if they could ever work remotely when a child was sick.

This time, I didn’t get even 20 minutes into the conversation before the woman I was interviewing dissolved in tears.

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