Category Archives: Political economy

The language of oppression

On Canada’a National Aboriginal Day, June 21st, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the name of the day would be changed to National Indigenous People’s Day. I’m so old I remember when Aboriginal/Indigenous people were often referred to as Indians and Half-breeds. In those days, people who were offended by such abuse used the term Native.  Continue reading

African squatters on European land: Opportunity, followed by a squeeze

The establishment in Kenya of what Europeans liked to call the White Highlands — land reserved for occupation by themselves — cut off the land frontier that Africans relied upon to accommodate normal population growth. In time, Kikuyus were forced into participation in the colonial economy. As it turned out, they were better prepared for that than Europeans generally expected.  I’ve covered all that in previous posts, and you can find it by following the links.

Even those who lacked the skills or resources for a business career were not immediately left landless by the Europeans’ closure of the land frontier, because they were able to use European land. For many Africans, their first contact with the modern economy was the experience of working as a labourer in the White Highlands. In the early days of white settlement, such employment, for many, represented (or seemed to represent) a real opportunity. Continue reading

Are businesses more efficient and effective than governments?

A particularly disheartening feature of the world we’ve been living in since the 1990s is the assumption — widely held and expressed in many ways — that anything governments can do, private enterprise can do better. It’s not exactly a lie. There are indeed many things private enterprise can do better than government, but the generalization of that proposition to any and all government programs doesn’t hold water.

My August 12th (2014) entry in my Passing Scene column points — too cryptically, I’ve decided — to two examples of the misapplication of market principles to governance — one from a recent newspaper article and another from a study a student and I did a few years ago. The newspaper article is written by a competent journalist and is self-explanatory.

The academic article is a different matter, Continue reading

Justifying the colonization of Kenya: European attitudes and African reality

In order to understand what happened after Europeans took over the country we now call Kenya, we have to know something about both the attitudes of the invaders and the reality of African life.

Elspeth Huxley, a writer who was popular with residents of what used to be called Kenya’s White Highlands, has done those of us who want to understand what happened the favour of speaking plainly in her defence of colonialism. She argued that colonization was founded, among other things, on

…an inherent conviction that civilization in itself was good. In [the early days of European settlement], when abstract morality had a concrete meaning, there was a Right and a Wrong, people did not doubt that it was better to be civilized than savage… There could be no question therefore, but that the white man was paramount, and must remain so until the native became — if he ever did — the intellectual equal of the European. (Huxley [see below], pp. 80-1)

Savage?
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Kenya’s Land Freedom Army: Why Africans couldn’t get over their hatred of colonial rule

My search for the truth about Kenya’s Million-Acre Settlement Scheme turned me into a student of history, and helped me understand why, in the 1950s, Kenya endured a bloodbath. Kenya’s freedom fighters, known to Western journalists as Mau Mau, took to the forests of central Kenya in a bloody, seemingly hopeless battle with handmade weapons against the might of Kenya’s colonial regime.

In the kind of contradiction that never seems to deter purveyors of media myths, much of the Western press portrayed Mau Mau as bloodthirsty savages on one hand and crafty agents of Communism on the other. To Africans in Kenya, they came to be known as the Land Freedom Army and in retrospect it’s clear that their apparently suicidal assault on the colonial regime was in fact a turning point on the road to Kenya’s independence.

DedanKimathiStatue of Dedan Kimathi, a leader of the Land Freedom Army
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Slow growth: The language has changed, but what about policies?

A number of years ago, with help from two friends, I published a pair of academic articles on the subject of slow urban growth, a topic that had previously received almost no attention, either by academics or in the “real world”. The articles were novel because they a challenged conventional wisdom, in which it was taken for granted that slow urban population growth was undesirable. This view was so entrenched that, for the most part, both academics and practitioners stated it as fact without bothering to argue the case.

In my articles — you can read them by clicking here and here. — I argued that neither slow growth nor rapid growth is inherently good or bad, but that they are different in ways that our decision-makers need to appreciate. On the surface, it looks as if the articles may have had a modest influence, at least in Winnipeg, because today slow growth is often spoken of simply as a fact, not as a blight to be eradicated. But policy doesn’t change as easily as language. Continue reading

Time out, for travel and reflection

I’ll be away from my blog until mid-October, for family time and to meet a couple of professional obligations. I’ll leave you with some posts that you may have missed the first time around.

From Henry Ford to Walmart
Nobody ever accused Henry Ford of having an overdeveloped social conscience. All the more reason to reflect on the chasm between his labour relations philosophy and the one that prevails today.

Does mixed-income housing ameliorate poverty?
A hotly-contested issue that has lost none of its currency. If anyone knows of new findings since I researched this, I’m interested in your comments. In fact, comments are always welcome.

How dangerous are our streets?
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