Money out of place? “Debt” and Incentives

by Richard Ashcroft on February 26, 2012

My interest in David Graeber’s extraordinary book “Debt: The First 5, 000 Years” stems from my work on incentives in healthcare. I don’t have much to say about debt and political economy. On these matters I am an ordinary citizen-punter and the most sophistication I can muster is to parrot John Lanchester’s better lines. But I know a little bit about incentives, and here I want to say a few things about the connections.

The current debate about incentives in healthcare can be split in half. One half concerns the use of incentives to motivate professionals and institutions to provide better, or different, care and services to patients and clients, citizens and customers. This is a very important debate, with roots in Adam Smith’s suspicion of professions as conspiracies against the public, the public choice theorists’ suspicion of regulation by rule-making, and the management consultant’s belief that people’s behaviour at work is driven principally by the available rewards.
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Good to Think With

by Lou Brown on February 26, 2012

On a recent edition of the public radio show “The Story” (air date February 21, 2012), the interviewee, Kenan Trebincevic, a Bosnian Muslim, describes the relationship his family had with a neighbor woman, Petra, a Bosnian Serb. Muslims were being rounded up and placed in concentration camps, and Trebincevic’s family lived in fear. Petra would stop by for a visit, commenting to Trebincevic’s mother, “I like your rug,” or “That’s a pretty dress.” She would then invite the mother over for coffee, all the while talking about how nice the rug would look in her apartment or how good the dress would look on her. Within a context where Petra was known to have betrayed other Muslim residents to patrolling soldiers, Trebincevic says Petra’s message was very clear: “Either agree with what I’m asking you to do, or I’m going to turn you in.” His mother would dutifully fold up her rug or her dress or whatever other possession Petra had tacitly demanded, and give it to her neighbor when she went for coffee. This is an example of a type of relationship David Graeber describes as constitutive of a human economy, an economy “concerned not with the accumulation of wealth, but with the creation, destruction, and rearranging of human beings” (p. 130). In this case, Petra is demonstrating that Trebincevic’s mother owes her a debt that can never really be repaid. The mother must continue to make payments, with both parties fully aware that no payment will ever be enough to match the value of the original “gift”, the lives of Trebincevic’s father and older brother. This story also resonates with another of Graeber’s key points, the role of violence in the creation of a system in which human lives can be thought of as objects of exchange. [click to continue…]

This isn’t funny at all – the Republican state legislature in Michigan is trying to forestall a vote on RA unionization at the University of Michigan by passing legislation declaring that RAs are not public employees, and hence have no right to organize. A Senate bill was “introduced”:http://www.michigandaily.com/news/sen-richardville-introduces-senate-bill-regarding-gsra-unionization on February 17 and “swiftly passed”:http://www.michigandaily.com/news/senate-bill-passes-will-soon-move-house. It is now before the Michigan House.

bq. Introduced by state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R–Monroe), the legislation will restrict graduate students from achieving status as public employees, thereby preventing them from claiming collective bargaining rights and obtaining representation from a union. Yesterday’s vote comes just one day after it had passed through the Senate Government Operations Committee, and the bill will now move on to the state House of Representatives. The vote also comes on the heels of an emergency meeting by the University’s Board of Regents to pass a resolution in opposition to the bill. The regents voted 6-2, along party lines, to approve the resolution and instructed Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president of governmental affairs, to garner support among state legislators to vote against the bill. Bob McCann, communications director for Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D–East Lansing), said Senate Republicans approved the bill so quickly — it was introduced last week — to avoid interference from negative public feedback.

The negative public feedback bit is where you come in. I don’t know how many CT readers are Michigan residents – I strongly encourage those who are to contact their state level representatives, whether Democratic or Republican, politely but firmly telling them what a horrible idea this is. I’d also be grateful if those who have useful information (i.e. relevant email addresses of political figures) or other helpful suggestions could leave them in comments. Time is of the essence; I also get the impression, perhaps mistaken, that graduate student union have only very limited resources to fight this kind of fight (they don’t have the direct political connections to local policy makers that other collective actors have. So please do what you can, and spread the word.

Update – Patrick O’Mahen supplies some useful phone numbers in comments.

Mark Ouimet District 52 (517) 373-0828
Rick Olsen District 55 (888) 345-2849
Pat Somerville District 23 (517) 373-0855
Nancy Jenkins District 55 (855) 292-0002
Kevin Cotter District 99 (517) 373-1789

Jase Bolger is the Speaker of the House and is always useful to bother on these issues (as he’s a veto point and all): (517) 373-1787

Finally, governor Rick Snyder can be reached at (517) 373-3400.