Posts by author:

Ingrid

It’s time for the Green Human Development Index

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 16, 2020

The United Nations Development Program’s flagship index of wellbeing and social progress, the Human Development Index, no longer captures what humans need, and needs to be replaced by a Green Human Development Index. That’s what I’ll argue in this post.

First, some context for those who do not know the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is the main index of the annual Human Development Reports, which, since 1990, have been published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reports analyse how countries are doing in terms of the wellbeing of their citizens, rather than the size of the economy. In 1990, the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq had the visionary idea that in order to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the yardstick for governmental policies, an alternative index was needed. He asked Amartya Sen to help him construct such an index. The rest is history. The HDI became a powerful alternative to GDP per capita. It consists of three dimensions and several indicators. The first dimension is human life itself, for which the indicators are child mortality and life expectancy. The second dimension is knowledge, captured by school enrollment rates and adult literacy rates. And the last dimension is the standard of living, for which the logarithmic function of GDP per capita is used.

It is easy to criticize the HDI for not capturing all dimensions of wellbeing, or for other shortcomings. For whatever those academic arguments are worth, there is no denying at how successful the HDI has been at accomplishing its two primary purposes: to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the sole yardsticks for societal progress, and to stimulate policy makers to put human beings central in their institutional design and policy making. And by that yardstick, the HDI has been a great success. Each year, the release of the Human Development Reports captures the attention of media and policy makers worldwide. Many politicians and governments care about their ranking in comparison with other countries. And, most importantly, the political power of the HDI provides an incentive for countries to try to invest more in education and health, combatting child mortality and increasing life expectancy.

Yet, it is now time to abandon the HDI. Paradoxically, this is not despite, but because of its political success. The reason is that we have entered the Anthropocene – the geological epoch in which the human species is changing ecosystems and the geology of the Earth. The most well-known of those changes that humans have caused is climate change. And since these ecosystems and planetary boundaries in turn affect human flourishing, they must be central in any analyses of that human flourishing. [click to continue…]

The good effects of the Pandemic

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 31, 2020

The pandemic has been hitting many of us hard – from the (roughly) 100 million people who were poor and are now pushed into extreme poverty, but also those of us reading this blog who might be lucky enough not to have lost their job, or not to have fallen sick or having lost family members, but who are nevertheless feeling gloomy, missing friends, and social interactions as we knew them.

But is there then absolutely nothing good coming out of this pandemic?

I confess I had to think hard to not answer this question with “No, what were you thinking??”. Still, while the advantages of the pandemic are peanuts compared to all its bad effects, there are a few changes for the good. I’ll start with pointing out the ones I see in my live and around me; then you tell me what you see in yours. [click to continue…]

Why publish books open access?

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 23, 2020

This week is the 2020 Open Access week. I’m using the occasion to share my experiences with publishing a book open access, now almost 3 years ago. I’ve had multiple emails since publishing that book, mainly from established scholars who had earlier published with world-leading academic publishers, and who were wondering whether or not they should opt for a genuine non-profit open access publisher for their next book project. [click to continue…]

Dutch university protests, start of another year…

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 5, 2020

Last Monday was the opening of the academic year at Dutch Universities. Over the last three years, it has become a tradition for the activist group WOinActie to organise some sort of protest. This year, there was the challenge of how to organise a protest given COVID, but a solution was found.

WOinActie organised together with the labour union protest bicycle tours between various Dutch universities. The idea was to symbolise the lives of temporary part-time teaching staff, who teach a few years (often on a contract that doesn’t allow for research) at one university, and then have to move on to another university, since they are not offered permanent contracts (they universities don’t want to offer those because they claim they can’t take the financial risks). But those temporary instructors teach courses that are part of the regular curriculum, and the claim of WOinActie is that work that is permanent should be done by tenured teachers; instead, the Netherlands has in international comparison one of the highest percentages of temporary teaching staff. Of course, the protest was used to talk again to the press, and also to have a brief, open-air and corona-proof, conversation with the minister of HE before the cyclists took off at the University of Nijmegen to cycle to the University of Wageningen.

The students from Utrecht University supporting WOinActie painted 10.000 red squares in Utrecht, from the historic Academy Building in the city center all the way out of town to the University Headquarters (Bestuursgebouw) at Utrecht Science Park.
Each of the red squares symbolises one hour of unpaid work that is done by staff at Utrecht University each day; the students estimated that this amounts to 10.000 hours on a daily (workday) basis, and protest that their education should not depend on the unpaid overwork of their teachers. That estimation is probably an overestimation, but the point stands. It was pretty impressive to see those red squares through town, as you can see in this clip that my son Ischa made: #10.000 In Groningen, students also staged a protest around the 10.000 hours. [click to continue…]

New PPE book series

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 27, 2020

I received an email earlier today announcing a new book series, focussing on Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). There has been a notable rise in the success of PPE – as can be seen from the multiplying numbers of PPE undergraduate and graduate programs and PPE scholarly activities in recent years. This series is a logical next step in the development of the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary study of topics that are relevant to economics, politics and philosophy.

The new series, which will be published by Oxford University Press, has a website, five editors (Ryan Muldoon, Carmen Pavel, Geoff Sayre-McCord, Eric Schliesser and Itai Sher), and a long list of editorial advisors (and I’m honoured to be included there).

I’m not sure how long it will take them to publish the first book – given how slow academic publishing is, it might take a while – but in the meantime the editors welcome book proposals by scholars working in this area.

Work. Democratize, Decommodify, Remediate

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 16, 2020

What follows is a manifesto that has been published today in its original in French in Le Monde and translated and published in 37 other places, which will be listed at the end of the text.

Working humans are so much more than “resources.” This is one of the central lessons of the current crisis. Caring for the sick; delivering food, medication, and other essentials; clearing away our waste; stocking the shelves and running the registers in our grocery stores – the people who have kept life going through the COVID-19 pandemic are living proof that work cannot be reduced to a mere commodity. Human health and the care of the most vulnerable cannot be governed by market forces alone. If we leave these things solely to the market, we run the risk of exacerbating inequalities to the point of forfeiting the very lives of the least advantaged. How to avoid this unacceptable situation? By involving employees in decisions relating to their lives and futures in the workplace – by democratizing firms. By decommodifying work – by collectively guaranteeing useful employment to all. As we face the monstrous risk of pandemic and environmental collapse, making these strategic changes would allow us to ensure the dignity of all citizens while marshalling the collective strength and effort we need to preserve our life together on this planet.

Why democratize? Every morning, men and women rise to serve those among us who are able to remain under quarantine. They keep watch through the night. The dignity of their jobs needs no other explanation than that eloquently simple term, ‘essential worker.’ That term also reveals a key fact that capitalism has always sought to render invisible with another term, ‘human resource.’ Human beings are not one resource among many. Without labor investors, there would be no production, no services, no businesses at all.

Every morning, quarantined men and women rise in their homes to fulfil from afar the missions of the organizations for which they work. They work into the night. To those who believe that employees cannot be trusted to do their jobs without supervision, that workers require surveillance and external discipline, these men and women are proving the contrary. They are demonstrating, day and night, that workers are not one type of stakeholder among many: they hold the keys to their employers’ success. They are the core constituency of the firm, but are, nonetheless, mostly excluded from participating in the government of their workplaces – a right monopolized by capital investors.

To the question of how firms and how society as a whole might recognize the contributions of their employees in times of crisis, democracy is the answer. Certainly, we must close the yawning chasm of income inequality and raise the income floor – but that alone is not enough. [click to continue…]

When to bury an academic paper?

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 30, 2020

Last November, a paper of mine got an impossible-to-do R&R by an academic (ethics/political philosophy) journal – it amounted to a de facto rejection, except if I was willing to write a very different paper. The paper had been rejected before, and I was at a point where I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The 5 referee reports (all very elaborate) wildly differed in what they found lacking in the paper. Several referees wanted me to write another paper, but they all suggested something very different. The reports also differed a lot in what they found plausible and implausible in the paper. It demotivated me, and then I did the most stupid thing a scholar can do – to leave the paper sitting there, not working on it, not having a plan at all about what to do with the paper. [click to continue…]

Uplifting music, please!

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 9, 2020

Social media are a mixed blessing, but in these times of physical distancing they help us to get a bit of a sense of how others are doing (at least, those with whom we are connected). And increasingly, people are voicing that they find the physical isolation with all its consequences tough, sometimes very tough.

Today, I had a particularly bad day in that respect. And suddenly it occurred to me that we should seek out uplifting music. There are a couple of albums that are in its entirety uplifting, such as Buena Vista Social Club, but instead I spent a bit of time compiling my own selection of music that I find uplifting and/or energizing. If you’re on Spotify, you can find my Against Corona Blues selection there. Anyone else made a compilation of music to get us through these difficult times? Share it with us!

Open thread on the adventures of homeschooling+work

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 3, 2020

In many countries over the world, working parents are now full-time caring for their children, often also teaching them, or helping them to stay focused and sufficiently organized to get their homework done. In many places the kids (and their parents) are for the most time locked up in their apartments or houses, which doesn’t always help to keep spirits lifted and to give kids possibilities to get rid of excess energies…

Since surely this must have led to funny, surprising, difficult or sad situations, let’s have an open thread to share your adventures. Simply responding that you think it is utterly exhausting trying to do two jobs at the same time, is also allowed :)

So here’s an idea I’d like to float in our virtual common room. In the last 10-20 years, there has been a lot of discussion in contemporary normative political philosophers on methods. Yet in my view, methods are always depending on the aim/goal/function of the analysis one wants to do. So, what is the work we are doing aiming at, exactly? The work of that part of political philosophy does different things, including spelling out what normative notions mean (conceptual work), developing theories of certain values (e.g. a theory of justice, a theory of freedom as non-domination), developing theories on particular problems (e.g. a theory arguing for open borders), and of course, many of us spend a lot of our energies showing that certain arguments other philosophers advance in pursuing the above research agenda’s are wrong, or have shortcomings and how these could be fixed; or whether the many views and reasons advanced in this kind of research are philosophically distinct, i.e. whether they cannot be reduced to a more fundamental reason given for a certain view.

But one could also do philosophical work in this tradition whereby one is, as a philosopher, firstly, not explicitly introducing one’s own values to this debate; yet, secondly, one is nevertheless trying to provide a constructive input for politics (public policy making and the democratic debate), and, thirdly, one is not coming up with a specific recommendation for a policy or an institutional change, but instead making some less specific recommendations.

We could call this method a ‘normative audit’ (or ‘ethical audit’ might also work, but let’s proceed with one name). How would this work?
[click to continue…]

One of the most wonderful aspects of academia is to be able to discuss with colleagues and (graduate) students the analyses and thoughts one is developing. We critically discuss each other’s ideas, give feedback, are able to test embryonic ideas we have, debate issues and come up with joint ideas or projects. Now that we are locked up in our own homes, we are not only missing out on the purely human interaction with our colleagues and students (chatting about music, food, politics and so on), but also missing out on the intellectual stimulation that academia as a physical space to meet offers us.

Is there any role that blogs that are hosted by academics (whether or not mixed with non-academics, such as ours), can play to compensate for the loss of interaction that is caused by physical isolation due to the pandemic? [click to continue…]

Free readings!

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 21, 2020

Many of us are currently locked up, in one way or another. For some of us this means no time for leisure – the people who are ill, the health workers currently making heroic double and triple shifts, workers struggling to get their work done in a virtual way, and parents and other careworkers being overwhelmed by the 24/7 homeschooling and carework. But for others, it means more time to read or watch movies, since there is nowhere to go. And given that acts of kindness and solidarity are now especially important, it’s nice to see that some publishing houses are putting out some of their book for free for everyone to download. Thanks!

Let’s share what we know is available. Here’s a start – Verso is offering 5 books (in ebook format) for free, which are all contributions to the post-pandemic world we might want to strive for.

And of course, pandemic or no pandemic, fully open access academic publishers, such as Open Book Publishers, are always providing us with free readings. Not all PDFs are for free, but some are, including Noam Chomsky’s Delhi Lectures on Democracy and Power.

Have you come across other intellectual, artistic, entertaining or otherwise valuable resources that have been made freely available to all?

The consequences of overtime in Dutch academia

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 20, 2020

Today, I joined three colleagues to head to The Hague to hand over a report of 720 formal complaints of structural overtime in academia and its negative consequences to the Labour Inspectorate. These complaints were filed as a single collective complaint by two labour unions, on behalf of WOinActie, the activist group of academics that tries to improve working and learning conditions in academia. The main claim of WOinActie has been that the Dutch Universities (which are all public), have become inadequately funded due to the rising number of students over the last two decades, and that this has caused structural overtime to be necessary to get the work done, which in turn harms the mental, physical and social well-being of university staff. And it’s also harming the quality of our teaching.

The report released today, which we translated in English (in order to inform and inspire the debate on overtime work in academia internationally), reveals the nature of the negative consequences. Colleagues report negative effects on their mental and physical health, sleep deprivation, constant worrying, deterioration of their friendships and other social relations, insufficient time for self-care including doing exercise, and so forth. The main problem is that the notional hours that are given to teach a course or do supervision (cfr. this post on PhD-supervision) are inadequate, and hence a 70% teaching load leads to a more-than-fulltime workload. And since everyone also wants to, needs to, and/or is expected to do research, that also still needs to be done. Add some administration and/or leadership tasks, and societal outreach, and we easily make 55 hours a week. For colleagues who only teach, and who are on the lowest pay scales, this also means they have troubles buying a house or starting a family, since those contracts are almost always part-time, and hence also create financial stress.

[click to continue…]

Time for PhD supervision

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 29, 2019

Some aspects of academia show great international variation. There is one on which I haven’t found any good data, and hence thought I’ll ask the crowd here so that we can gather our own data, even if it will be not very scientifically collected.

The question is this: if you are a university teacher/professor and your department awards PhD-degrees, do you get any official time allocated (or time-compensation) for PhD supervision? If it is part of a teaching load model, how many hours (or % teaching load) is it equivalent to? Or is there an expectation that you take on PhD-students but that this does not lead to a reduction in other tasks?

How do international practices of the conditions for PhD-supervisors compare? [click to continue…]

My colleagues put together a free MOOC that gives an introduction to the relationships between economic inequality and democracy (in particular political equality). I saw them working very hard over the months – it’s a hell of a lot of work to make a MOOC, even more so if you do this as a voluntary add-on to your regular work. Hence I’d like to salute them for their efforts, and share this with you since I’m a big fan of all things open access. I do not doubt that this will be interesting for people who are new to this question – which does not include most of the readers of this blog since we’ve been discussing these issues here repeatedly. But if you know people who might be interested, do let them now. There is no required background, and the MOOC is offered for free. More information below the fold.
[click to continue…]