Tag: black markets

Quote for Discussion: Deviant Globalization

The underlying political process associated with deviant globalization is the disaggregation of the “sovereignty bundle” of powers associated with the high modernist liberal state. In many places the state is no longer (if, indeed it ever was) the de facto governing authority, in the sense that it does not control the delivery of fundamental political goods, such as security, infrastructure, education, and health care. Different pieces of that bundle are being parceled out to (or, more commonly, grabbed by) a variety of actors: tribal leaders, gangsters, NGOs, religious leaders, transnational and local corporations, mercenaries, ethnic militias, and so on. The particular combinations vary from place to place, and there is a great deal of path dependency. In many places, the same actors who control the resource flows associated with deviant globalization are also de facto providers of “state-like services” such as security or infrastructure. And naturally enough, the common people who rely on these providers tend to align their political loyalties accordingly.

What’s new in this situation is that in many cases these “political actors” have no interest in actually becoming a state or taking over an existing state. They’re happy to wield state-like authority and power, while enriching themselves via dubious business operations. I’m thinking here of groups as various as the Mahdi Army in Iraq, the PCC in Brazil, the ‘Ndrangheta in Italy, or Laurent Nkunda’s crew in Congo. None of these organizations plan to declare sovereign independence and file for membership of the United Nations. What they want, simply, is to carve out a space where they can do their business and not have the state mess with them. This means that, unless a state confronts them, they’re disinclined to challenge states directly-directly challenging the state is expensive, and generally bad for business. As this new class of post-state political actors takes over functions formerly monopolized by states, they and their constituents lose interest in the state. From a political perspective, therefore, deviant globalization leads to (and also is facilitated by) the proliferation of jurisdictionally ambiguous spaces where sovereignty as it has traditionally been conceived simply no longer exists. It’s a self-reinforcing dynamic.

Western pundits and politicians like to describe these sorts of spaces with highly misleading terms such as “failing states” or “undergoverned zones.” The implication of such terminology is that the people living there want to be just like us, but that somehow they’re unable to get there. But such a belief is, if I may be blunt, a narcissistic delusion masquerading as political science. Contrary to what the bien-pensants claim, most so-called failing states don’t want to get fixed. In many of these zones, the local powers that be are quite content with these novel, informal political arrangements. It allows them to make fabulous amounts of money running globe-spanning commercial empires, while being recognized as the “big men” within the communities that they care about. They have no desire to attain the West’s ideal of an inclusive, welfare-providing modern state. These guys are “postmodern” in the sense that they realize that the West’s form of modernity will never include them, and they’re charting an entirely different path. It’s very different from the classic revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.

Nils Gilman

We’re not stupid; We’re Legislators!

New York has a new budget:

After reaching an agreement late Tuesday with Gov. David A. Paterson on the last unresolved pieces of the state budget, the Legislature passed the bills on Wednesday that will complete New York’s $122 billion spending plan for the next year.

The new budget, which relies on an array of taxes and fees for smokers, banks, hair salon patrons and others to keep the state’s 200,000-person government running, comes as New York faces one of the most uncertain economic outlooks in recent years.

Among the taxes and fees New Yorkers will have to pay are a $1.25 increase in the state cigarette tax. The new budget also closes a loophole in the state’s tax law that allowed online retailers like Amazon.com to avoid charging New York State sales tax on purchases.

A plan to raise income taxes on New Yorkers who earn more than $1 million a year was not included.


Millions of dollars worth of counterfeit tax stamps were seized and a Jordanian man arrested as part of a major undercover investigation into tobacco smuggling in New York, authorities announced Wednesday.

The arrest comes as some authorities voice concern about whether New York state’s planned $1.25-per-pack hike in tobacco taxes, taking the price of a pack in the city to about $9, will fuel demand for contraband cigarettes.

Health surveys have found that more than a third of New York state smokers already regularly buy cigarettes from untaxed sources.

State Department of Taxation and Finance Commissioner Robert L. Megna said his agency has stepped up its campaign against contraband cigarette trafficking over the past year.

Stupid is as stupid does.

The NYT’s Awful Op-Ed on Prostitution

The New York Times op-ed page has become all too often a haven for the worst writing and opinions America has to offer.  Naturally, with prostitution in the news, they found a horrible opinion piece to publish.

The article begins with a deliberate misinterpretation of a simple notion, that of a victimless crime.  A victimless crime is simply put, a “crime” where each party to the crime is engaging in the crime consensually, as opposed to the standard crime victim, who is involuntarily subjected to the crime in question.  To say, for example, that the drug trade is a victimless crime means nothing more than that both parties in a drug deal engage in it voluntarily.  That hardly means that no one suffers due to the drug trade.  However, the op-ed tries to use this term to pretend that victimless means that everyone involved is in no way suffering, a ludicrous claim.

The op-ed then goes into unsubstantiated and pointless digression:  

But most women in prostitution, including those working for escort services, have been sexually abused as children, studies show. Incest sets young women up for prostitution – by letting them know what they’re worth and what’s expected of them. Other forces that channel women into escort prostitution are economic hardship and racism.

Is anyone suggesting that incest in victimless?  Or for its legalization?

The paragraph coming shortly afterwards, however, is stunningly laughable:

Telephone operators at the Emperor’s Club criticized one of the women for cutting sessions with buyers short so that she could pick up her children at school. “As a general rule,” one said, “girls with children tend to have a little more baggage going on.”

Have the authors ever met anyone with a job before?  Few employers are enthusiastic about workers who cut out early to pick up their children.  And generally speaking, employer bias against parents is well-documented.  But the authors actually try to convey the attitude that employer dislike of employees cutting work short to pick up children is a shocking act, which is evidence of the victimization of sex workers.

Those of us who have campaigned for the legalization of sex work, along with other “victimless crimes”, are not doing so because we consider these activities beneficial or beatific.  We do so because we believe, as the evidence clearly shows, that forcing certain trades into the black market does nothing to prevent the activity and does considerable harm to both the workers in such industries and to society at large.  This idiotic and offensive op-ed does our cause harm, both by pretending that it is answering any of the arguments for the legalization of sex work and by sloppy and unsubstantiated claims which do not address any meaningful issue.

The Times should know better than to publish such garbage.  But I hope at least that I can help readers here not be taken in.