The Angry Hungry

Raj Patel, over here. And he calls Stephen Pollard a cretin for good measure, too.

In other Raj-related news, people in the UK can now buy his excellent book Stuffed and Starved in paperback, and the US edition has been published over there, too. Buy it and read it, if you haven’t already. (Even the Daily Mail liked it!)

21 Comments


  1. I’ve been known to have a dig at Stephen Pollard in my time, but in this case Pollard links to some facts and an actual argument, while Patel links to an article of his own with the compelling title “Retelling Worlds of Poverty: Reflections on Tranforming Participatory Research for a Global Narrative” that contains a methods section that I wouldn’t have accepted from a first-year undergraduate. Who needs statistics and intellectual rigour when you can just *feel* the pain of the little brown people?

    Quote | Posted 28 April, 2008, 2:36 pm

  2. Which pages of the article are you calling the “methods section”, and what’s wrong with it? If you don’t like what Patel & Rademacher do, what do you think of the methods of the Voices of the Poor project, or of World Bank publications more generally? (This is a very important issue, in fact: World Bank publications are among the most frequently used works in development studies courses around the world, but don’t go through any kind of academic review process to ensure any kind of rigour or quality control.)

    You’re going after the wrong target, by the way, if you think that Raj can just feel the pain of the little brown people. He’s been working on the relationship between the global trade institutions and poor agricultural workers around the world for a decade now. And he’s perfectly happy to argue the empirical case about free trade in food products — indeed, part of the point he wants to make right now is that the food crisis is hitting particularly hard in places like Haiti, which had a liberal trade policy.

    If Pollard (or you) wants to address the situation in Haiti, great. But I suspect we’ll basically get more assertions of free-trade dogma from people like Pollard (and, I see, from Tim Worstall on the CiF thread) with not much by way of examination of particular cases.

    Quote | Posted 28 April, 2008, 3:04 pm

  3. “Which pages of the article are you calling the “methods section”?”

    That’s a good question. There’s nothing clearly marked as such so I had to wade through paragraph after paragraph of painfully bad prose to try to find out what had been done. Either what had been done was meaningless or the way it was described was meaningless. What’s wrong with it? The answer to the standard minimal test: “On the basis of this publication could the work it describes be repeated?” is simple and damning. It’s “No”.

    Patel is “perfectly happy to argue the empirical case about free trade in food products”

    That might be true, but, in this case and in the paper to which he refers, he does not. He does, however, call Stephen Pollard a “cretin”.

    “If Pollard (or you) wants to address the situation in Haiti, great. But I suspect we’ll basically get more assertions of free-trade dogma from people like Pollard (and, I see, from Tim Worstall on the CiF thread) with not much by way of examination of particular cases.”

    Patel’s CiF article doesn’t even provide “much by way of examination” of the general question, never mind Haiti. The reason I made my original comment was to point out that it’s Patel who makes the assertions and Pollard who doesn’t. And the burden of proof is anyway on Patel to justify intervention (especially in countries not well known for good governance and the resistance of their elites to manipulation by outside commercial and political interests), rather than on Pollard to justify the removal of barriers to trade.

    When I followed your link, I was genuinely looking forward to a reasoned alternative view. Instead I found mush. As anyone who reads PooterGeek knows, I am deeply skeptical of many of the supposed benefits of letting the Invisible Hand have its way with us, and I also think that certain claims about comparative advantage are broken, but bleats like CiF piece make the worst voodoo economics look good.

    Quote | Posted 28 April, 2008, 4:39 pm

  4. If you want Raj’s views in greater detail, and in clean, non-academic prose, then buy his book. He can’t do everything in a short CiF piece, and he wasn’t trying to.

    You ask: “On the basis of this publication could the work it describes be repeated?” It’s a long time since I read Raj & Anne’s piece, and I don’t have time to look at it right now, but if memory serves what they are doing is being very rude about the World Bank’s poverty project, because of its methods and operative ideologies. They’d agree with you that work like that shouldn’t be repeated – because it’s so horribly flawed.

    Quote | Posted 28 April, 2008, 4:46 pm

  5. And the burden of proof is anyway on Patel to justify intervention…. rather than on Pollard to justify the removal of barriers to trade.

    Why?

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 10:42 am

  6. “…in this case Pollard links to some facts and an actual argument”

    The crucial question is not whether he links to some facts, it is whether those facts support his assertion that tariffs contribute to, or bring about, poverty and famine. And they don’t. They simply note e.g. that Africa is in a bad way economically, and then – what I’m guessing is the bit you identify as the ‘argument’ – blame it on high tariffs, without giving evidence connecting the two. Sounds pretty dogmatic to me.

    Not that I’m arguing against free trade in general. I only really know anything about the impact of free trade wrt to Mexico, and the disasterous NAFTA.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 10:56 am

  7. “And the burden of proof is anyway on Patel to justify intervention…. rather than on Pollard to justify the removal of barriers to trade.

    Why?”

    Seconded. You’re effectively just saying that we should start from the assumption that neo-liberal trade policies work, which isn’t the most plausible assumption to my mind.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 10:57 am

  8. Actually, I would strongly advise Pollard to link to other people’s arguments on free trade rather than to attempt to construct his own, as his track record on that really isn’t very good. PG criticises Raj for his use of stats, but I don’t think anyone has come close to suggesting that Raj just pulls the numbers out of his arse, which is what Pollard does:

    http://virtualstoa.net/2003/09/05/106276129995296800/

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 11:01 am

  9. “If you want Raj’s views in greater detail, and in clean, non-academic prose, then buy his book.”

    The problem with his prose isn’t that it’s “academic”; it’s that it’s gibberish. I’m not accusing Patel of these things (or even of being a “cretin”) but obfuscation is often a flag of poor thinking, intellectual insecurity, or plain deception.

    “what they are doing is being very rude about the World Bank’s poverty project”

    Well done them. That’s worth a five-year grant on its own.

    “They’d agree with you that work like that shouldn’t be repeated – because it’s so horribly flawed.”

    The point of the repeatability test is not that it encourages others to repeat particular pieces of research; it’s that it sets a reasonable criterion for judging a discussion of methodology. Unless you can describe a piece of work to a minimal level of detail and with a minimal level of precision it is impossible for others to assess anything you have to say about it. Without that minimum standard, you might as well get out your Crayolas and scribble a picture of an angry “peasant”.

    “You’re effectively just saying that we should start from the assumption that neo-liberal trade policies work, which isn’t the most plausible assumption to my mind.”

    I’m not “effectively” starting from any assumption at all. That’s my point. If a farmer works a field and wants to sell the fruits of his labour to someone else—something quite a lot of Africans had been doing for a little while before people with clipboards came to ask them how they felt about it—then you have to have damned good reasons to interfere with his/her doing so—or, indeed, to subsidize the industrial-scale output of US and European factory farms. Patel hasn’t provided one. (Well, maybe one: stockpiling surpluses for lean times, but he might have noticed that people used to do that for themselves for a few tens of thousands of years before governments “offered” to do it for them.)

    How obtuse does anyone have to be to believe that the burden of proof is on Pollard to show that high food prices for the poor might be the result of the governments of poor countries pursuing policies that openly aim to raise the price of food? Not taxing staples to the point where your people go hungry and riot in the street (and using that tax revenue to pay for your fleet of Mercedes limos) for example isn’t a “neo-liberal trade policy”; it’s basic human fairness.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 1:52 pm

  10. Why on earth are you being so snotty? (You aren’t usually like this.) Raj & Anne’s piece isn’t gibberish at all. There’s a bit of jargon, and it’s basically written for an audience familiar with academic development literature, but it’s not hard to follow, and the story they tell is an interesting one. And, as I say, if you’re allergic to this kind of writing, then Raj has published lots and lots of non-academic stuff, too, and you might prefer to read that.

    I’m still not sure what you’re getting at with the remarks on the repeatability test. The authors are reporting back on their involvement with a Bank project, and explaining why they found its methods problematic, to the extent that they didn’t want to be associated with its claims. If you think the particular criticisms they make of the methods Narayan et al used don’t have substance, then say so. But “the piece of work” that’s being described here is an attempt to synthesise 73 separate participatory studies of poverty around the world (and no doubt more details on the methods used are given in the Narayan et al volume itself). Is your point that you think they need to reproduce (say) the methods chapter of Narayan et al (so that someone else might be able to reproduce the methods) before any criticisms of that method have any substance? That would be odd.

    And you’re assuming that Raj is a moron – esp. in your penultimate paragraph. (“But he might have noticed that people used to do that for themselves for a few tens of thousands of years before governments ‘offered’ to do it for them”), which is a crazy assumption, and a false one. Why, for example, do you think he’s naive about the rapacious and exploitative nature of many developing world regimes? Raj has said more rude things about governments in the developing world than anyone else I think I’ve come across (he’s persona non grata in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, for example, because of his past involvement with the opposition there), and his political activity is devoted to supporting peasants and other rural producers against landlords, their governments and various international agencies. So, you didn’t like his CiF piece. That’s no big deal, but it doesn’t license you to make a whole lot of further assumptions about what kind of project he’s engaged in and why you think it might be a stupid one.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 2:21 pm

  11. And since this is a Raj-thread, he’s also just published this new piece, in Red Pepper:

    http://www.redpepper.org.uk/article1219.html

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 3:05 pm

  12. “Why on earth are you being so snotty?”

    I’ve been scrupulously polite about a bad essay and a bad paper about a matter of life-and-death. I’m not the one celebrating someone calling someone else a “cretin”. In fact, the (uncharacteristic) snottiness of your original post was one reason why I bothered to comment in the first place.

    “You aren’t usually like this.”

    If you follow the link to my attack on a piece by Stephen Pollard in my original post to this thread, you’ll notice that I was a great deal more aggressive in my criticism of him than I have been in my treatment of Patel’s writing—and Pollard was just writing an op-ed in the *Daily Mail*, a task that might be held to a slightly lower standard than an academic essay. (To his credit, Pollard almost immediately held up his hands and linked back to my dig at what he’d written.)

    “If you think the particular criticisms they make of the methods Narayan et al used don’t have substance, then say so.”

    That’s exactly what I have said.

    “Is your point that you think they need to reproduce (say) the methods chapter of Narayan et al (so that someone else might be able to reproduce the methods) before any criticisms of that method have any substance?”

    No. I have said (twice now) that any discussion of methodology should describe the aspects of that methodology under debate sufficiently clearly that another worker in the field should be able to repeat (that part of) the research. This basic principle is, as I have also said already, something any decent university should teach you as an undergrad.

    “And you’re assuming that Raj is a moron”

    I’m doing no such thing. I’ve bent over backwards not to make any kind of personal attack throughout this thread, not that Patel or Pollard deserve that, given the way they refer to their opponents. Though I was openly sarcastic about the importance of policies to smooth variations in harvests, the point I was (admittedly crudely) making was that I knew Patel (and everyone else) would be familiar with the history of such efforts; not that he was so stupid he wouldn’t have thought about this. My words wouldn’t make any sense otherwise.

    The end of my last reply was addressing the specific question that two of your other commenters asked: about which side of the debate—pro- or anti- trade liberalization—was obliged to make the case. I am not familiar with Patel’s history with the government of Zimbabwe, but I am familiar with the way (for example) African governments behave when they are involved in any intervention, however well-intentioned, in local or international food markets. Let me be clear again: I am not against intervention; I just believe that there have to be demonstrated benefits from such intervention, because its dangers are built-in.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 3:06 pm

  13. And I am depressingly familiar with the language of academic development literature, thanks to someone we both know who was studying the subject at SOAS when I was working in London, and who used to send me her stuff to read and comment on.

    On many of the occasions when I replaced an unnecessary piece of pseudo-scientific jargon with a(n often more accurate) plain English term, she’d say, with characteristic honesty: “I know, but you don’t get the marks unless you write like that.”

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 3:34 pm

  14. The claim:

    I’ve been scrupulously polite

    is not wholly compatible with the decision to start a sentence “How obtuse does anyone have to be” – is it?

    As for the rest:

    to believe that the burden of proof is on Pollard to show that high food prices for the poor might be the result of the governments of poor countries pursuing policies that openly aim to raise the price of food?

    Well, firstly, neither myself nor James stated that the burden of proof was with one or the other. That’s what you did.

    Secondly, you’ve changed the terms of the question: originally it was “the removal of barriers to trade”, now it’s “governments of poor countries pursuing policies that openly aim to raise the price of food”, as if that was necessarily the same thing.

    Thirdly, as the case of free-market opponents is that it’s free-market policies that have raised the price of food, you’re not enetitled to start with the assumption that it’s something else. You may think it’s something else, and so may Pollard: you may be right or wrong. But you’re not entitled to claim a privileged position that a given analysis is to be taken as correct until its opponents demonstrate otherwise.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 4:38 pm

  15. “The claim:

    I’ve been scrupulously polite

    is not wholly compatible with the decision to start a sentence “How obtuse does anyone have to be” – is it?”

    You omit the end of my first sentence, which restricts my politeness to Patel’s writing. The second sentence of mine that you refer to was (as I pointed out previously) aimed at you, ejh.

    “Secondly, you’ve changed the terms of the question: originally it was “the removal of barriers to trade”, now it’s “governments of poor countries pursuing policies that openly aim to raise the price of food”, as if that was necessarily the same thing.”

    …because restricting the supply of food will lower its price.

    “it’s free-market policies that have raised the price of food”

    Yes, that’s what Robert Mugabe says as well, and he’s seen that the way around this axiomatic truth is to tell farmers what they should charge for their produce.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 5:08 pm

  16. The second sentence of mine that you refer to was (as I pointed out previously) aimed at you, ejh.

    And your reasons for being objectionable to myself and to James, if (in your view) not to Raj Patel, would be?

    …because restricting the supply of food will lower its price.

    I assume this is irony, but I really cannot grasp the point you are making here.

    Yes, that’s what Robert Mugabe says as well

    So to oppose the present free-market approach leads inevitably to Mugabe? It’s a point if you wish to make it, but I’m not sure it’s a helpful or an accurate one.

    Quote | Posted 29 April, 2008, 5:30 pm

  17. The Patel/Rademacher paper is not about trade liberalisation per se. It’s about the problems associated with synthesising the results of over 70 Participatory Poverty Assessments for the purpose of a single, ‘global’ study, to the extent that the final Voices of the Poor report excluded many of the most interesting findings of the PPAs and reached some fairly unremarkable conclusions about poverty and its causes, failing in its stated objective to adequately represent the ‘voices’ of the poor.

    Quote | Posted 30 April, 2008, 5:47 pm

  18. Pollard to show that high food prices for the poor might be the result of the governments of poor countries pursuing policies that openly aim to raise the price of food?

    Export restrictions do not “openly aim to raise the price of food”; the opposite is the case; they aim to lower the domestic price of food by reducing the effective demand for locally produced food. They are usually effective in this regard; there is certainly a problem in that the implicit transfer from farmers to food consumers tends to reduce investment in agriculture, but perhaps we could worry about this in a yaer when there isn’t a crisis?

    Raj Patel’s point in this case, contra Pollard, is the very simple and very obvious one that in an economy which has a) export restrictions on food and b) a local price of food which is below the world market price of food, removing the export restrictions will cause the price of food to rise. He also notes, again correctly, that the World Bank’s liberalisation programmes have tended to involve the dismantling of strategic grain reserves and agricultural support programmes that could have mitigated this effect. He is, in the passage Pollard quotes, clearly right.

    Quote | Posted 2 May, 2008, 12:01 pm

  19. Regarding the Patel article, it’s visibly not gibberish – it’s quite clearly written and anyone with a copy of “Can Anyone Hear Us?” could “reproduce” it simply by looking up whether the quotations are accurate. What on earth is unclear about this, for example?

    Critically reading each report would have introduced the complicated task of scrutinizing the very methodological tool our project was intended to advocate; far simpler, and more efficient, was the naturalized acceptance of each report and an uncritical reading and compiling of its contents. For instance, the following quotation, which appears in the conclusion to Can Anyone Hear Us?, was read and incorporated into the study at its face value:

    After we had lunch with thern, they sang for us. It is really amazing how they used songs to express themselves and their thoughts, expectations,fears, anxieties. The words of thejnal song were: ‘Here they are, yes, we agree, here they are, our visitors who were sent by the World Bank, yes, there they are, they are here to help us and develop us, and we hope they won’t-forget us.’ (Narayan et al, 2000, p283)

    This quotation can be read in many ways, ranging from a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude towards the World Bank to an example of the institution’s power to coerce rehearsed responses in the places in which it operates.The implicit and explicit boundaries of the ‘helpful’ guided us to treat all of our data in the spirit of the former interpretation.

    Or this?

    Yet, over time, a felt need to package the data for an institutional audience -some of whom, we expected, would not automatically accept our conclusions without numerical proof (nor, we assumed, would they automatically embrace the descriptive potential of participatory methods) – actually drove much ofour treatment of the data for certain sections of the synthesis. Despite
    repeated recognition that our numerical data were inconsistent, at times we were guided by them.

    It’s crystal clear what he’s saying, and the question of “repeatability” is irrelevant because he’s describing a particular historical event (the writing of this study) which could no more be repeated than the Battle of Bosworth.

    Quote | Posted 2 May, 2008, 12:24 pm

  20. I think they try here but I’ve not got sound so I can’t be sure….

    Quote | Posted 2 May, 2008, 1:50 pm

  21. *** Here they are, yes, we agree, here they are,
    our visitors who were sent by the World Bank,
    yes, there they are, they are here to help us and develop us,
    and we hope they won’t-forget us. ***

    I would very much like to hear this song, but somehow I doubt it is on YouTube or iTunes.

    Quote | Posted 3 May, 2008, 10:48 am

Leave a reply


six − 3 =


biannual