EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P027)
Not rotten apples: disciplinary approaches to economic wrong-doing
Location U6-16
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 11:15
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • James G Carrier (Max Planck Institute) email
  • Marc Morell (Universitat de les Illes Balears / Universitat de Barcelona) email

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Short Abstract

The past few years have revealed widespread economic wrong-doing, especially in the financial sector but also elsewhere. Often this was explained in terms of rotten apples, aberrant, amoral individuals. This panel considers that economic activity in terms of approaches familiar in the discipline.

Long Abstract

The conference theme invites us to approach emerging events in terms of our discipline's intellectual legacy. Papers in this panel will look at such events in the economic realm. The financial crisis of 2007 revealed substantial economic activity that appears suspect, even fraudulent. This is different from corruption, which has attracted scholarly attention, not least because it was especially visible in the financial sector rather than in government, though it was hardly limited to that sector. That activity often is explained in terms of rotten apples, aberrant individuals who ignore the rules of honesty and fair dealing. However, the extent of that activity makes such an explanation implausible. This panel will encourage consideration of that activity in terms of ideas, long familiar in the discipline, that attend to the social settings and processes that facilitate or even encourage such economic activities. In doing so, it also will encourage consideration of how suited those ideas are for making sense of that activity. Although there are many such ideas, the most obvious are found in Marx's work on capitalism, Durkheim's work on anomie, Sahlins's work on structural tendencies in Melanesian exchange and E.P. Thompson's work on moral economy. This panel will consider how these and other ideas in our intellectual store can help us to make sense of recent, fairly widespread economic wrong-doing, and help us to understand why these activities are seen as wrong by many people and are carried out by many others.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Predatory and high-risk mortgage lending as economic wrongdoing during the Spanish housing bubble

Author: Irene Sabaté (University of Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

Granting mortgage loans to customers with a high potential of insolvency became a widespread practice in Spain during the recent housing bubble. A practice, nevertheless, that made sense in the social settings where bank clerks, real estate agents or mortgage brokers found themselves at that time.

Long Abstract

Granting mortgage loans to customers with a high potential of insolvency became widespread practice in Spain during the recent housing bubble that came to an end in 2007, resulting in an unprecedented spate of home repossessions during the current crisis. As the regulation of these activities was very loose, only in some cases did they entail illegality. Nevertheless, if power relations, structural determinations and asymmetrical access to information are taken into account, they can very well be depicted as abusive.

In order to tackle this issue, the ethnography has confronted the experiences of mortgage borrowers to those of bank clerks who, under pressure from their superiors, took advantage of their long-lasting relationships with humble customers; of real estate agents and mortgage brokers who saw an opportunity in the middle and working classes' aspiration to access home ownership; of executives in investment banking institutions who devised sophisticated financial products aimed at masking risk. For all these actors, almost indiscriminate credit lending was not only a profitable business, but also a way to comply with norms, values and expectations shared in their social settings.

The ethnography shows that such practices had a systematic nature, and should not be attributed to individual, isolated behaviour. But it is also apparent that there was always some scope for resistance and for individual, unorthodox decision-making guided by prudence and principles of moral economy. The practice of predatory and high-risk mortgage lending, as well as its repudiation, need thus to be understood in their socio-historical context.

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Moralities of care, accumulation by dispossession and the re-definition of informal exchange in Romanian healthcare

Author: Sabina Stan (Dublin City University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks at widespread wrongdoing in Romanian healthcare in the form of informal exchanges between patients and doctors. It proposes to see these practices as instantiating both diverse moralities of care and processes of accumulation by dispossession following healthcare privatisation.

Long Abstract

The paper looks at widespread wrongdoing in Romanian healthcare in the form of informal exchanges between patients and healthcare personnel. It argues for the need to understand these practices in the larger context of Romania's turn to a neo-liberal pathway of development after 2000. In doing so, the paper proposes to see informal exchanges in healthcare as instantiating both diverse moralities of care (Kleinman 2012) and multi-layered processes of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2004) following healthcare privatisation.

Many patients traditionally framed their recourse to informal exchanges in terms of a redistributive 'moral economy' (Thomson 1971) of care provided in public units. This moral economy came to be challenged by healthcare privatisation. Thus, richer patients increasingly 'lifted-off' from public healthcare and instead promoted a neoliberal morality of care based on the use of private means for private care. In parallel, continued depressed wages for healthcare personnel led a few of them to engage in predatory forms of exchange that further exacerbated poorer patients' dispossession of public care. Finally, Romanian governments used the austerity following the 2008 financial crisis as an opportunity to speed up healthcare privatisation. In doing this, they aimed both to give the final blow to redistributive moralities of care and to channel the flows of accumulation by dispossession away from the pockets of healthcare personnel and into those of private healthcare insurers. While popular protests gave voice also to redistributive moralities of care, they managed merely to slow down but not stop or reverse healthcare privatisation.

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Maximisation against the state: tax avoidance and deviance in Greece

Author: Andreas Streinzer (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

There is considerable ambivalence about the rights and wrongs of tax avoidance among my interlocutors in Volos, Greece. Discussing ethnographic material from recent fieldwork, I will ask whether this maximisation against the state can and should be addressed as economic deviance.

Long Abstract

'Every day I see their ships passing the bay, freight, ferries, whatever. I know who owns them. They don't pay taxes for their profits, not any.' (Penelope, 50, Volos 10.7.2015)

Starting from Penelope's story as a former employee of a notorious tax evader, the paper asks whether avoiding taxes in contemporary Greece should be addressed as economic deviance (Merton 1938). As the underlying doctrine of the virtualism (Carrier and Miller 1998) by which Greek economic lives are restructured, neoliberalism welcomes maximisation against the state. In Greece this is met by considering industries too big to be taxed (Reuters 2015) and a large number of self-employed that underreport their incomes (Artavanis, Morse and Tsoutsoura 2015). My ethnographic material from Volos suggests that there is a considerable ambivalence about the rights and wrongs of not paying one's taxes. Discussing topics like the number of Greek offshoring activities, the appointments to government positions dealing with tax evasion, as well as what they consider a corrupt and inefficient public system, my interlocutors address tax avoidance in moral and political terms. On the basis of this ethnographic material, I shall firstly discuss the issue of tax avoidance as interest politics (paralleling Scott's argument about corruption, Scott 1969). Secondly, I will reflect the shift from political economy to moral economy in the framing of contemporary questions of distribution (cf. Narotzky 2016).

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Walking the crossroads: financial supervision in post-2008 Europe

Author: Daniel Seabra Lopes (CSG-ISEG/University of Lisbon)  email

Short Abstract

A discussion of post-2008 EU financial reforms and the resilience of the international financial system, drawing on Leach's vision of society as a process implying either structural continuity or transformation, as well as on the concepts of dispositif (Foucault) and continuous change (Arrighi).

Long Abstract

This paper discusses post-2008 EU financial reforms and the apparent resilience of the international financial system, which bends but does not break easily, notwithstanding its multiple crises. The problem at stake dates back at least to Leach's classic discussion of society as a process involving basically two types of changes - those which are part of a movement of continuity and those which bring forth a transformation of social structure (Leach 1954). In addition to Leach, the paper also draws on the concepts of dispositif (Foucault 1975) and continuous change (Arrighi 1994). These ideas will be here applied to a series of evolutions taking place inside what appears to be a specific power framework. Such a framework may be useful both to illuminate the crossroads at which contemporary finance presently stands and to evaluate the possibility of a disruption within this field. It comprises three unstable movements or dynamics: the touch-and-run game between innovation and deviance, the delicate articulation between national sovereignty and international harmonization, and the predominance of technical facticity over money's inherent fictionality. On this basis, it becomes possible to understand the repetition of a sequence of deliberation + technical normativity + regulatory arbitrage + deviance, which prolongs the current impasse and postpones any major political breakthrough.

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Political-economic drivers of moral economies of fraud: the case of neoliberal Uganda

Author: Jörg Wiegratz (University of Leeds)  email

Short Abstract

Social sciences has largely ignored the relationship between neoliberalism and fraud, as well as the moral economy and political economy of today's fraud. Yet, fraud should be seen as a political-economic and moral-economic phenomenon that calls for comparative political moral economy research.

Long Abstract

The global economy is characterised by high levels of fraud. Discourses around moral crisis and the need for a moral revival, and the launching of anti-fraud measures are a feature of politics in countries that have witnessed a string of fraud cases. Social sciences have largely ignored fraud, including (i) the relationship between neoliberalism and fraud, as well as (ii) the moral economy and (iii) political economy of today's fraud. Yet, fraud should be seen as a political-economic and moral-economic phenomenon that calls for comparative political moral economy research, i.e. an analysis of how dominant political-economic agendas, power structures, and conflicts, as well as norms and values, amongst others, (re-)produce fraud as a social practice. Such enquiry requires: expanding rigid notions of morality and moral economy that currently dominate the field and developing analytical frames that allow studying the morals of 'wrong' practice and 'bad' actors, i.e. fraud and fraudsters; enhancing our study of the (international) political economy of the (national/local) moral economy of fraud, including relevant dynamics triggered by neoliberal reform. This allows identifying the neoliberalisation of political economies and moral economies across economy, polity, society and culture in the name of creating market societies as a key factor in the proliferation of fraud. Empirical material from Uganda is used to advance the argument. Particular emphasis is given to the role of the IFIs and the Ugandan state in driving fraud. The analysis shows that fraud in is a phenomenon of political-economic power.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.