[PEN-L:13271] trying to make sense of Kerala

Craven, Jim jcraven at SPAMclark.edu
Fri Nov 5 16:46:22 MST 1999

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Perelman [mailto:michael at ECST.CSUCHICO.EDU]
Sent: Friday, November 05, 1999 8:49 AM
To: pen-l at galaxy.csuchico.edu
Subject: [PEN-L:13271] trying to make sense of Kerala

Jim Craven poses a legitimate dilemma.  As Sen has shown, different
forms of social organization can create entirely different outcomes,
many of which slipped through the statistical cracks.

Earlier Doug indicated that the poorer a society is, the more likely
that small increases in GDP are likely to lead to increases in social

Brad insists that development as it appears in the statistical
indicators is likely to translate, perhaps roughly, into economic
progress -- although many people may not experience these benefits.  The
rising homeless population in China is a case in point.

The problem is that without the face-to-face contact that Jim describes
the outsider has little choice but to rely on Brad's indicators or to
fall back on anecdotes.


Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
michael at ecst.csuchico.edu
Chico, CA 95929
fax 530-898-5901


Let me, if I may add something here not intended as any rebuttal to anything
you note above with respect to what you, Doug, Brad or I have said; just as
an additional comment.

Even on pure theory, methodological, a-priori or hypothetico-deductivist
grounds, coupled with deconstructing the constructs, one can be justifiabily
question the usefulness and meaning of some of these constructs. As a simple
example, if nominal GDP per capita = nominal GDP/Population, then obviously
GDP per capita might double by wiping out half the population in which case
what kind of "development" or anything progressive has taken place? Then we
get into the real versus nominal issue. Further, if anything that commands a
market price and is produced in quantity gets added to GDP, while that which
is not commodified is not, then we get into the issue of some sick stuff
that destroys critical determinants of growth and development--ie human and
social "capital"--being added and counted as "growth and development
promoting" while that which might really adds to real growth and development
but has not been "commodified" is ignored or not counted as growth and
development promoting. This is all on the pure methodological/pure logic

But then we get into how, by whom, with what likely intentions, and with
what methods the basic stats, necessary to form the constructs are gathered
within various national and system-type entities and of course the issue of
inter-entity comparisons as well as the basic accuracy/usefulness of the
stats and constructs of any given entity. Then we get into patterns in the
applications/uses of these stats and constructs. We see clear patterns in
uses/applications that reveal clear rhetorical intentions in the service of
certain clearly defined and definable interests and forces. We get into the
issue of how and by whom--and in the service of whom--these stats and
constructs are used.

So far, we can do all of this without leaving the comforts of our offices
and computers; we can dig through the usual sources, assign TAs to do some
of the digging, and come up with all sorts of stuff to argue all sorts of
stuff. But the closer we get to the realities we are purporting to model and
measure--the real smells, blood, sufferings, pain, consequences, forces and
conditions of those realities--the less meaningful--and the more
offensive--many of these stats and constructs become.

If we go from high school to undergraduate studies to grad school and then
straight to a professorship, never having been anywhere or really seen or
experienced any of these realities we are purporting to measure, and if we
remain on the etherial level of number crunching and debates among "refined"
intellectuals, well what's there to get upset about--it's all an interesting
intellectual exercise, you prefer this stat/construct, I have a problem with
it; we'll just agree to disagree. But if one has been in the middle of the
smells, pain, suffering, backwardness of the realities being
modeled/measured, if one has seen first-hand death and destruction
caused/exacerbated by policies constructed and justified by some of these
stats/constructs being debated, if one has been up close to the rhetorical
intentions and apologists that cynically use and benefit from some of these
stats/constructs, if one has seen and experienced a hell portrayed as heaven
through the cynical uses/misuses of these stats/constructs, then it is
difficult to remain intellectually detached and indeed "polite" or "civil".
In Kerala, there is a saying: "Smiling with the front teeth, grinding with
the back teeth."; survivors of Auschwitz reported that Mengele considered
himself a refined intellectual (M.D./Ph.D) and acted very "refined" as he
waived his hand to the left and to the right as he examnined each new
arrival--and his "experiments", and those of Unit 731 of the Japanese on
Chinese, Koreans, AMericans and others, were picked up and utilized by other
"refined" intellectuals and scientists who arranged for the criminals to
escape in order that the "experiments" of those criminals could be used.

Just as words like Kike, Nigger, Spic, Redskin have concrete meanings, have
rhetorical intention, are used to promote concrete interests and have
real-world consequences on real people, so it is with stats/constructs that
can be used/are used to reveal or to hide, to help to change or  to prevent
changing certain realities. Stats/constructs, even as artificial or mental
constructions and artifacts, nonetheless move from the abstract to the real
as they are applied in the real world with real consequences. For some, who
have experienced some of the ugly aspects and pain associated with those
realities being modeled and illuminated or covered-up, these constructs no
longer become a matter of abstract and polite debate; sort of like someone
writing to a feminist newsgroup to "politely" and "intellectually" discuss
the "fact" that "battered women really deserve being battered, no women are
really oppressed that do not bring on their own oppression, rape victims
should just get over it and stop their whining, early childhood sexual abuse
is only abuse if one has puritanical ideas about sex etc etc."  For those
who have been beyond high school to college to teaching, and for those who
regularly travel outside of the "refined" world of academia and do not stay
in five-star hotels when venturing outside of the U.S., for those who have
really seen and been in the middle of hells politely and acedemically
portrayed as heavens through creative/rhetorical stats and constructs, and
for those who have known--and can never forget--the victims of the
policies/conditions created/exacerbated by some of these contived models and
stats/constructs, well sometimes being "civil" and polite" seems to be a
desecration and denial of all that was seen and experienced at very real

I sometimes think about all the stats I have seen that "prove"  growth and
devlopment, trickle-down and upward mobility--in the Indian world--Browning
included--and then I think about the conversation I just had for an
hour-and-a-half with Browning today with a honest tribal cop whose wife and
children have been threatened with death and whose wife was driven off a
road, about an unconscionable land deal ($20 an acre, 720,000 acres out of
937,000 acres, full gas/mineral/oil rights for 55 years versus a normal
$5000 an acre in Canada) sealed with massive bribes to the Tribal Council,
about murders of several tribal activists and about gross underfunding of
the Indian Health Service Clinic and about massive infusions of dope and
cocaine being sold on the Rez and damn, I never found any stats/constructs
about that in the World Bank/IMF literature or any U.S. government official

Just a thought; hope this isn't regarded as a flame.

Jim Craven

More information about the Marxism mailing list