Some of the most compelling work currently being done in the name of social cohesion is undertaken under the auspices of the Council of Europe, formed in Post WWII. The Council of Europe’s Directorate General of Social Cohesion (DG III) among other things “develops interaction and synergies between the work of the Council of Europe in the field of social cohesion and other European, regional and universal actors in the field of social cohesion through targeted contacts and liaison with the competent services and bodies of the United Nations family, the OSCE, OECD, the World Bank and the European Union, taking into account the specific responsibilities of the DGAP ( Mandate >> COE).”

“The subject of social cohesion has attracted much attention from inter-governmental, governmental and non-governmental organisations during since c. 1993 prompted by a widely-held belief that the quality of public and civic life is in decline (Cantle 2001, MGPOCC 2001, NSAUK 2003).” Social inclusion is one of the major challenges of governance in this advanced stage of globalization where nations are at the threshold of post-nationalism.“Cultural activities have the potential of encouraging social cohesion. Cultural industries encompass production and distribution as well as their related knowledge systems. There is a tension between the need for those who are developing and implementing public policy to engage in political and budgetary arbitration while reflecting on the long-term objectives of reconciliation which involves the slower processes of memory work with its passions and anxieties (Flynn-Burhoe “Cultural policy in a highly pluralistic society.” 2005).”

Definitions of social cohesion

“Social cohesion is the capacity for cooperation in society based on the set of positive effects accruing from social capital, in addition to the sum of factors promoting equity in the distribution of opportunities among individuals (Ferroni 2006).” Social capital and social cohesion are relevant dimensions of the standard of living, both as means to attain certain desired results and ends in themselves. Social capital and social cohesion are increasingly invoked as desiderata in the evolving discussion of the social agenda and social rights in Latin American Countires. Ferroni illustrated how interpersonal trust and trust in institutions eroded between 1996 and 2004.

“The literature on social cohesion is rich and varied, yet poorly integrated. Social cohesion is a measure of how tightly coupled, robust and unified a community is across a set of indicators. A community with a strong sense of identity and shared goals is considered to be more cohesive than one without these qualities. A cohesive community is also able to buffer more effectively changes resulting from realignments of international actors, national priorities, local political climates, economic upturns or downturns and the introduction of new technologies. Recent developments in agricultural biotechnology and their subsequent commercialisation give us a unique opportunity to chart how agricultural communities adjust to this suite of technologies. There is little agreement on how to define social cohesion. This is somewhat startling considering how widely used this concept is, and how quickly some claim that social cohesion has declined in recent years. Moreover, such assertions suggest that social cohesion is a desired state instead of its more likely manifestation as a process that reflects the changing nature of social relations. (Mehta 2002-11-27).</a>”

“Judith Maxwell (1996) considers the relationship between social cohesion and a range of social conditions that indicate when a society fails to function adequately. Maxwell (1996: 13) defines social cohesion as the sharing of values that reduce “…disparities in wealth and income” while giving people a sense of community. It is assumed from this definition that strongly cohesive societies are better able to face the challenges posed by social, economic and technological change. Many of the debates over new innovations in agricultural biotechnology pick up on this thread. We will now turn to the relationship between social cohesion and biotechnology by examining the challenges and opportunities posed by this technology to various actors (s0urce ?).”

“Jane Jenson (1998: 3) suggests that social cohesion became popular as a topic of discourse because it illuminates the interconnections between “economic restructuring, social change and political action.” Furthermore, Jenson notes that a cohesive society is assumed to be socially and economically optimal according to a range of governmental agencies and organisations like the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), and that a decline in cohesion represents a threat to the social order. However, it is worth noting that changes in social cohesion are considered to be much more than simply a threat to the economy (source ?).”

Social Cohesionis the ongoing process of developing a community of shared values, shared challenges and equal opportunities within Canada, based on a sense of trust, hope and reciprocity among all Canadians.” CSC. 2003. “A Glossary of Terms for the Voluntary Sector.” Community Services Council Newfoundland and Labrador. http://www.envision.ca/templates/profile.asp?ID=56

Jean Cassidy compiled a glossary of terms used in discussing poverty and social exclusion for a non-specialist audience entitled “Combat Poverty Agency – Glossary of Poverty and Social Inclusion Terms” for the Combat Poverty Agency. She included Social cohesion: Bringing together, in an integrated way, economic, social, health and educational policies to facilitate the participation of citizens in societal life (Cassidy 2003).

PhD student Marlene De Beer, whose PhD research study focused on social cohesion discourses, their relevance for education policy and practice and interventions by international organisations to develop social cohesion through education suggested in her 2003 paper (2003-09-01) that “There are multiple perspectives on social cohesion, and the following could be seen as influential academic conceptual developments: Social cohesion is a ongoing process that deals with bipolar dimensions of: belonging / isolation, inclusion / exclusion, participation / non-involvement, recognition / rejection, legitimacy / illegitimacy, equality / inequality, reciprocity, trust, hope and shared values (Paul Bernard, 1999; Caroline Beauvais and Jane Jenson, 2002; Sharon Jeannotte, 2000; Sharon Jeannotte, Dick Stanley, Ravi Pendakur, Bruce Jamieson, Maureen Williams, and Amanda Aizlewood, 2002; Jane Jenson, 1998 & 2002; Dick Stanley, 2002; Maureen Williams, 2001). Social cohesion is about wanting to take part (vs. dropping out / opting out); being allowed to take part (vs. discrimination); and being able to take part (vs. deprivation, enabling) (Talja Blockland, 2000:56-70, also see Selma Sevenhuijsen, 1998) (De Beer, Marlene. 2003.)”

Social cohesion: The capacity to live together in harmony with a sense of mutual commitment among citizens of different social or economic circumstances (Senate of Canada definition, based on a review of common elements in various national definitions). (CIRCLE/CCRN, 2000, p. 3)3.

See also Timeline of social events related to social cohesion http://snipurl.com/23a8u Webliography and bibliography related to social cohesion, What is Being Done in the Name of Social Cohesion? as well as http://snipurl.com/23a2b 2 http://snipurl.com/23a77

This theme is also being developed on the page entitled Key Concepts: Social Cohesion >> Speechless.

Creative Commons License 3.0

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2008. “What is Being Done in the Name of Social Cohesion?” >> Speechless. March 11. First Draft. Last modified March 12, 2008.


Société Générale trader, Jérôme Kerviel, 31, was accused by the Société Générale, Paris of implementing an elaborate, year-long fraud that involved betting billions of dollars of the bank’s money on European stock index futures. Michel Histel, 62, a French retiree who is closely following the story argues that it is common knowledge that the Société Générale’s has played a leading role in financial derivatives products. Jérôme Kerviel was employed by the Société Générale and in his role as arbitrageur he was expected to hedge large bets on index futures. In a sense what he was doing is a logical conclusion of the irrational process of betting on potential but risky, uncertain and unguaranteed future stock values prices. The value gaps may be intelligently guessed but the risk of unforeseen socio-economic structural, geopolitical and/or environmental changes, is always there so that even real financial transactions are more virtual that really real. In this risk society there is a chance for (even and often) very young people with an intuitive grasp of gaming to win big on their wagers. But this is not the logic of a marketplace. Impatient money contributes hugely to the growing inequality between the ultra-rich who can afford to gamble and the deterioration of the quality of life in the lower quintiles especially those who are most vulnerable to social exclusion.

Folksonomy cloud

impatient money, hedge funds, private equity funds, arbitrageur, arbitrage, value gaps, financial instruments, fictitious trades, fictitious sales transactions, virtual, real, risk management, auditors, audit, futures contracts, index futures, one-way bets, “long” positions, very high total nominal amounts, real portfolios of stock index futures, European stock index futures, Dow Jones Euro Stoxx, DAX, FTSE, speculation, financial derivatives products, repackinging of risky investments, transparent versus veiled financial dealings, current crisis in confidence in the banking sector, interconnections between banks, hedge funds, high risk investments and pension and mutual funds, group think, market will correct itself, learned incompetence,

Timeline of events related to the Subprime Market

1965-2005 Between 1965 to 2005 there was no national US real-estate bust as home prices surpassed inflation by a percentage point or two on average. However local reversals have taken place and some cities have never recovered (Christie 2005).

1970s “The additional grades or risk have arisen from the willingness to underwrite mortgages for more risky borrowers, encouraged by the democratization of credit since the 1970s. Lending to more risky borrowers is, by definition, more risky. More loans to risky borrowers increases the total amount of risk to be sold in the marketplace” (Mason and Rosner 2007).

1973-5 US investors in the S&P 500 lost 14% in 1973 and 26% in 1974 but gained 37% in 1975 (Mann 2000).

1975 Foreign competition made its inroads into the North American economy. Corporations panicked with a knee-jerk reaction by implementing the first major layoffs which eventually spread and multiplied, in time destroying the notion of job security and the dignity of work in North America (Uchitelle 2006; Uchitelle 2007).

1983 Australia’s benchmark ASX 200 index experienced a long losing streak which would be unparalled until 2008-01-21 (BBC News 2008-01-21).”

1985 In Peoria, Ill. a more traditional area the average home price fell from $60,800 in 1981 to $51,400 in 1985 partially because of strikes and lay-offs at Caterpillar, the city’s biggest employer (Christie 2005).

1986 The “total pay of top managers in North America has increased from 1986 through 2006 to roughly 40 times the average and from 1966 to 110 times the average(Leary 1998:265).”

1987 Canadian families saved 20 percent of their take-home pay (Ed 2007).

1987 Oliver Stone’s and Stanley Weiser’s fascinating but soulless film entitled Wall Street about a young stockbroker, Bud Fox’s entanglement in white-collar crime through his mentor and hero, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), an extremely successful businessman and Wall Street broker. in a speech by Gekko to a Teldar Paper shareholders’ meeting, a company he planning to take over, Gekko, and by extension, the Wall Street raiders he personifies, justifies his actions. He argues that he is liberating corporate America’s from its slothfulness and waste accumulated through the postwar years. He argued, “Greed is good” a slogan which symbolised the ruthless, profit-obsessed, short-term corporate culture of the 1980s and 1990s. These values became associated with neoclassical, anti-union economic policies that made slash-and-burn capitalism possible. Wall Street refers to the symbolic and geographical location in Lower Manhattan, the first permanent home of the New York Stock Exchange, center of New York’s financial district and the financial industry.

1987 Stock market crash

1987-19-20 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its worst days down 10.8% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

1987-10-20 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its worst days down 12.2% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

1987-10-21 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its best days up 7.9% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

1987-10-22 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its worst days down 5.7% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

1987-10-26 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its worst days down 6.2% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

1988 In “oil patch” cities like Oklahoma City prices plummeted 26 percent from 1983 to 1988. They only returned to 1983 levels in 2003 fifteen years later. In Oklahoma City, the inflation-adjusted price in 1983 was $196,600. Today, it’s just $135,100 (Christie 2005).

1988 Houston home prices fell 22 percent from $111,000 in 1983 to $86,800 in 1988 rebounded only in 2003. Counting inflation, the average Houston home, which cost just $159,700 in 2004, is actually worth less [in 2005] than it was [in 1983]. When, adjusted for inflation, a home cost about $219,000 in 1983 (Christie 2005).

1988 – 1990s Real estate prices fell in Northern California first followed by the rest of the state “as employers fled, incomes dwindled, quakes rumbled, sales fell and prices slipped. [. . .] Silicon Valley’s housing market crashed into recession along with the state’s economy (Perkins 2001).

1980-1990 In Los Angeles real estate was turbocharged for nearly 10 years (Christie 2005).

1989-90 The notorious price bubble of 1989-90 was linked to central banks specifically the Bank of Japan. “The Japanese economy continued to suffer during the early 1990s, and remained in recession until the end of 1993. Nominal GDP growth rates, which had been around 7 percent during the bubble period, fell beginning in 1990 and by 1991-93 were close to zero. Profits in the manufacturing sector fell 24.5 percent in 1991 and 32.1 percent in 1992. Bankruptcies began to rise starting in the latter half of 1990; by 1992, bankruptcies with debt more than Y10 million totaled 14,569 cases. Failures of real estate firms or of firms engaged in “active fund management” constituted more than half the corporate bankruptcies in 1991 and 1992 (Miller 2001).”

1991 Inflation-adjusted take-home pay in Canada froze to this level (Ed. 2007).”

1992 A new car in Canada cost $20, 000.

1992 – 2000 “Japan remained pretty stagnant in the last eight years, with the majority of the loss coming in the first two, when it eventually fell by more than 60%. There was never a big drop, just a constant and inexorable drift downward. Real estate prices plummeted, almost no Japanese company ended 1992 higher than it started 1990. In the interim, banks have failed (and if it weren’t for the financial props of the Japanese government, many more would have), and companies have had to reassess some of their basic assumptions, such as lifetime employment and large benefit packages” (Mann 2000).

1992-04-10 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its best days up 5.6% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

1996 There was a housing market reversal in Los Angeles with average house price dropping from $222,200 in 1990 to $176,300 in 1996, a loss of 20.7 percent. “Furthermore, those are nominal prices, not real values. To calculate the loss more realistically you would have to figure in the cost of inflation: $222,200 in 1990 would have been worth $266,700 in 1996 dollars, which means the actual loss for homeowners buying in 1990 and selling in 1996 was closer to 34 percent (Christie 2005).”

1994- 1996 “In 1994, [Japanese] banks wrote off non-performing assets of Y5.7 trillion, exceeding the previous high of Y4.3 trillion in fiscal year 1993. As yet, no major bank has failed, although a number have reportedly encountered serious difficulties. In December, 1994, the Bank of Japan supervised the takeover of two credit cooperatives, the Tokyo Kyowa Credit Cooperative and the Anzen Credit Cooperative, through the creation of a bridge bank with government support. The Bank’s decision not to let these institutions fail and pay off depositors under the deposit guarantee program was based, largely, on concern for the potential systemic effects of a deposit payoff on public confidence in the banking system in general. The “jusen,” or housing finance banks, suffered the most serious problems; these institutions, which were typically organized and sponsored by major commercial banks and staffed, in part, by former officials from the Ministry of Finance, lost tens of billions of dollars as a result of the collapse of the price bubble, and became one of the most contentious political issues of the day during 1995-86 (Miller 2001)”.

1996-12-05 “How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.” Alan Greenspan (December 5, 1996)**

1998 There was a market correction in the United States in October of 1998.

2000 In Tampa Bay Florida, high risk adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) made homes “seem affordable when wages stagnated as prices soared. They were just the ticket for cash-out refinancings and home equity credit lines that bought cars and swimming pools and paid off credit card debt. “What happened in a lot of expensive real estate markets is that first-time home buyers who felt they could not afford a home otherwise, took on a loan that had lower monthly payments than a traditional mortgage would have,” said Allen Fishbein, director of housing policy for the Consumer Federation of America. “They weren’t being underwritten on the basis of the borrower’s reasonable capacity to handle these loans.” The payments started out manageable, especially since many loans offered teaser rates. But borrowers are getting a lesson in what the word “adjustable” means. More than $130-billion in mortgages payments were reset in 2006″ In 2006 nearly a third of Tampa Bay mortgages were the high-risk varieties, up from 10 percent in 2003 (Huntley 2006).1992 – 2000 “Japan remained pretty stagnant in the last eight years, with the majority of the loss coming in the first two, when it eventually fell by more than 60%. There was never a big drop, just a constant and inexorable drift downward. Real estate prices plummeted, almost no Japanese company ended 1992 higher than it started 1990. In the interim, banks have failed (and if it weren’t for the financial props of the Japanese government, many more would have), and companies have had to reassess some of their basic assumptions, such as lifetime employment and large benefit packages” (Mann 2000).

2001-09-11 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its worst days down 5.7% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

2002-10-15 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its best days up 5.1% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

2002-07-02 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its best days up 5.0% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

2003-03-13 London’s FTSE 100 experienced one of its best days up 6.1% (BBC News 2008-01-21).

2004 British Columbia graduates from university have an average debt of $20, 000.

2005 Real-estate investing spiked, pressuring prices upward. In Phoenix, according to Bill Jilbert, president and COO of the Coldwell Banker brokerage there, investors from Nevada and California have invaded the Arizona market, and “affordable housing has been pushed to extremes (Christie 2005).”

2005 Market analyst Winzer (2005 cited in Christie 2005) warned that the housing market was high-risk as the boom has already gone on longer than expected. Low interest rates which means cheap mortgage rates extended the cycle of the real estate boom artificially creating higher demand and higher prices as all market levels (Winzer cited in Christie 2005). “Winzer assesses local market risk by taking into account economic and population growth, construction costs, vacancy rates, and, especially, income. He also considers such factors as density and access to open land. Prices in densely settled New York have always been higher than those of cities with lots of space for new housing (Christie 2005).

1991- 2005 “[I]ncreased complexity from increased grading of risk can also result in increased opacity. Risk that is more difficult to see, by virtue of complexity, is risk just the same. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the amount of risk in the marketplace has increased. Figure 3 shows that defaults on ABS and residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) increased substantially between 1991 and 2005″ (Mason and Rosner 2007).

2006-06-12. “Canadian Executives Indicate Human Resources and Rising Canadian Dollar are the Major Business Challenges.” CTV. June 12, 2006.

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/show/CTVShows/20060611/ctv_release_20060611/20060612

2006 Fitch Global Structured Finance 1991-2005 Default Study revealed that, “the overwhelming majority of global structured finance defaults over the 1991-2005 period were from the U.S., accounting for more than 97 percent of the total. While the 1,000 U.S. defaults were mainly concentrated in the Asset-Backed Securities._ (ABS) sector, the 27 international defaults were primarily from the collateralized debt obligations (CDO) sector.” See Mason and Rosner (2007) warn that risk continues to increase, as ratings agencies revise their loss expectations to account for the dynamics of the mortgage meltdown. For instance, on March 27, Standard & Poor’s raised its expectation for losses on 1.

2006 In Florida millions of homeowners were warned of the mortgage meltdown in which they will “face a financial nightmare brought on by a combination of higher interest rates, risky mortgages and a housing market gone cold (Huntley 2006).

2007-05-10 Desmarais, Paul Jr. 2007. “Private equity, public interest.” National and Global Perspectives . May 10, 2007. p. 16. Paul Desmarais, Jr., Chairman of Power Corporation of Canada warned of the structural impact on the industrialized world caused by the meteoric rise of private equity and hedge funds in the financial markets in a an article (2007) published in the Canadian Council of Chief Executives journal National and Global Perspectives. The current crisis in confidence in the banking sector is a direct result of the meteoric rise of private equity and hedge funds which transformed the mortgage market.

Is it not ironic that the principal investors in private equity and hedge funds – large institutional investors – are happy to put massive amounts of money in the hands of people who do not register with any securities commission, or have few, if any, governance regulations to adhere to and report on? (Desmarais 2007:16).

2007-05-10 Desmarais, Paul Jr. 2007a. “Chairman’s Address to Shareholders.” Power Corporation of Canada. May 10, 2007.

2007-06-14 Gandalf Group. 2007. “C-Suite Survey On The Role of Private Equity.” Report on Business. Globe and Mail. June 14, 2007. http://www.dwpv.com/images/C-Suite_June_2007.pdf In May and June, 2007 the 150 C-Suite executives from the top 1000 corporations interviewed by the Gandalf Group were generally optimistic about the Canadian economy (Gandalf Group 2007:4). Some expressed concerns about the increasing levels of foreign ownership in key sectors and about private equity firms hollowing out corporate Canada. 23% have concerns that private equity firms engage in too much short-term thinking (Gandalf Group 2007:32). Most executives now favour restrictions in strategic industries. “The strongest areas of consensus about the negative impacts of private equity relate to keeping the company Canadian owned and about the debt burden of the company. A substantial percentage of executives believe that private equity also has a negative impact on the economic contribution the company will make to Canada and to the community it operates in, on the labour relations of the company and on the governance of the company (Gandalf Group 2007:28 ).”

2007. “C-Suite Survey.” Globe and Mail, Report on Business. 18 June 2007: B5.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Page/document/video/vs?id=RTGAM.20070619.wvcsuite0619&ids=RTGAM.20070619.wvcsuite0619&hub=search

2007 Mason and Rosner (2007) warn that risk continues to increase, as ratings agencies revise their loss expectations to account for the dynamics of the mortgage meltdown. “Residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market has experienced significant changes [from 1997-2007].” [T]hey caution that “structural changes in mortgage origination and servicing have interacted with complex residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and highly volatile CDO funding structures to place the U.S. housing market at risk. This [. . .] could lead to prolonged domestic economic implications for U.S. standing in the world economic order [. . .] The potential for prolonged economic difficulties that also interfere with home ownership in the United States raises significant public policy concerns. Already we are witnessing restructuring and layoffs at top financial institutions. More importantly, however, is the need to provide stable funding sources for economic growth. The biggest obstacle that we have identified is lack of transparency.” (Mason and Rosner 2007).

2007-06-27 “In a Marketplace interview Amy Scott asked interviewees about the disturbing consequences of the interconnections between banks, hedge funds, high risk mortgages and pension funds. In June, 2007 two major hedge funds managed by the investment bank Bear Stearns, who purchased securities that were essentially a “repackaging of all kinds of risky mortgages” to tap into the subprime mortgage market are now verging on collapse as the number of borrowers defaulting on these mortgages increases. Joseph Mason explained that “this isn’t just a Wall Street problem. Your 401k or pension fund may be invested in similar mortgage-related securities.” The investor-base is broad and it is difficult to know who is at risk. “Investment managers don’t have to report their holdings. And unlike stocks, these securities aren’t quoted on an open market [. . .] Those hedge fund investment managers create investments that are bought by our pension funds and mutual funds. Charitable foundations are invested in these. It’s a broad investor base, and it’s not the rich versus the poor.” Mason has been a firm proponent of more transparency in financial dealings (Scott 2007).” See Democratization of Debt: Bear Stearn and Mortgage Meltdowns

2007-09-06 The U.S. subprime mortgage meltdown “Only 5% of mortgages in Canada are subprime compared to 20% in the US. And Canadian financial institutions are more prudent than their American counterparts insisting on mortgage insurance when appropriate and separate appraisals of a home’s purchase price to ensure they are not financing more than 100 per cent of a home’s value. In the US by late 2006 subprime lenders were going bankrupt and as many as 1.5 million Americans could lose their homes before the panic is over. In this under-regulated US industry, lenders partnered with hedge funds to make quick returns on investments then called in debts to avoid losses. Since we are all in some way linked to these investment portfolios, either through mortgages, pensions or insurance, we end up contributing to processes that are fuelled by high-risk, short-term, fast-profits thinking that enriches a few while causing havoc for most of us. See also http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/personalfinance/mortgage-meltdown.html

2007-11-27Staggering poverty report has province listening: A United Way report Losing Ground: The Persistent Growth of Family Poverty in Canada’s Largest City claims almost 93,000 Toronto, Canada households are raising children in poverty. That’s 30% compared with 16 per cent in 1990.” OECD, Policy Development, Public Policy, child poverty, del.icio.us, digg story, digg.com, economic efficiency model, how to be poor in a rich country, policy research, social exclusion, vulnerability to social exclusion

2007 Since 1991 inflation-adjusted hourly wages rose only 10 cents (Ed. 2007).”

2007 A new car in Canada cost $32,000 a 60 percent increase from 1992 (Ed. 2007).”

2007 Canadians collectively owe three quarters of a trillion dollars in personal debt. Canadian families not only have no savings, they draw on pension savings to make ends meet.

“The result of the easy credit is that an average family now owes far more than it takes in. That means we remain solvent only so long as the book value of our assets — things like our home, pension funds or investments — continue to increase (Ed. 2007).”

2007 British Columbia graduates from university have an average debt of $27, 000.

2007 It is now acceptable for Canadian families to pay 60 percent of income to pay monthly payments of their home mortgages (Ed. 2007).

2007 The British Columbia government will allow home owners who are over 55 to defer property tax payments for as long as they live. The government will claim unpaid taxes after you die or sell effectively placing the tax burden on the children (Ed. 2007).

2007 “The number of corporate failures in Japan rose for the third month in a row totaling 896 cases in December up 18.2%. November flops were up 6.5% and the number of companies going belly up in October were up 7.8%. The amount of debts the insolvent companies left behind were up 30.6% to 463.09 billion yen (Belew 2007).

2007 In March Bob Lawless reported in his blog that, “The folks at Automated Access to Court Electronic Records or AACER regularly collect data from all the bankruptcy courts for creditors and attorneys. They have a wealth of information that does not show up in the mainstream media. Most recently, they tell me that there were 58,640 total U.S. bankruptcy filings in February 2007 as compared to 55,088 total U.S. bankruptcy filings in January 2007. OK, that looks like a slight increase, but looks are deceiving. It’s actually a fairly hefty increase. The February filings were spread over only nineteen business days while the January filings were spread over twenty-one days. On a daily basis, the February filings were up 17.7% as compared to January (Lawless 2007).”
2007 Jayson Seth analysed data in National Association of Realtors (NAR) June 24, 2007 report. Seth argues that “America’s easy-credit, quick-flipping, borrow-now-and-forget-the-consequences lifestyle is coming to an increasingly painful, grinding halt” and the “confidence of homebuilders is at a 16-year low (Seth 2007).”

2007 Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors announced that the real estate market is softening due to psychological factors, tighter credit for subprime borrowers. NAR’s Lawrence Yun explained that since late 2006 housing sales have slowed as buyers double up with family, friends or just mortgage helper units in their homes to be able to pay for higher-priced homes.

2007 Mason and Rosner (2007) warn that risk continues to increase, as ratings agencies revise their loss expectations to account for the dynamics of the mortgage meltdown. For instance, on March 27, Standard & Poor’s raised its expectation for losses on 1. “Residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market has experienced significant changes [from 1997-2007]” Furthermore they caution that “structural changes in mortgage origination and servicing have interacted with complex RMBS and highly volatile CDO funding structures to place the U.S. housing market at risk. Equally as important, however, is that housing market weaknesses feed back through financial markets to further weaken financial instruments backing today’s CDOs. Decreased housing starts that will result from lower liquidity in the MBS sector will further weaken credit spreads and depress CDO and MBS issuance. This feedback mechanism can create imbalances in the U.S. economy that, if left unchecked, could lead to prolonged domestic economic implications for U.S. standing in the world economic order [. . .] The potential for prolonged economic difficulties that also interfere with home ownership in the United States raises significant public policy concerns. Already we are witnessing restructurings and layoffs at top financial institutions. More importantly, however, is the need to provide stable funding sources for economic growth. The biggest obstacle that we have identified is lack of transparency.” (Mason and Rosner 2007).

2007 In a Marketplace interview Amy Scott asked interviewees about the disturbing consequences of the interconnections between banks, hedge funds, high risk mortgages and pension funds. In June two major hedge funds managed by the investment bank Bear Stearns, who purchased securities that were essentially a “repackaging of all kinds of risky mortgages” to tap into the subprime mortgage market are now verging on collapse as the number of borrowers defaulting on these mortgages increases. Joseph Mason explained that “this isn’t just a Wall Street problem. Your 401k or pension fund may be invested in similar mortgage-related securities.” The investor-base is broad and it is difficult to know who is at risk. “Investment managers don’t have to report their holdings. And unlike stocks, these securities aren’t quoted on an open market.” Mason has been a firm proponent of more transparency in financial dealings (Scott 2007).

2008-01-12 Should banks avoid investing in carbon-intensive projects? “Ceres is composed of and works with investors ($4 trillion) and environmental groups to address sustainability challenges. In their report Corporate Governance and Climate Change (2008) they argue that the banking sector needs to become aligned with GHG reductions.” read more | digg story

2007-01-20Globalization and the Rise of Inequality: The extremes of wealth and poverty threaten globalisation. North American companies lose jobs to the Chinese Special Economic Zone (SEZ) where factories often employ rural women to work in 19th century conditions to keep their costs low. Meanwhile the total pay of top managers in North America has increased from 1986 through 2006 to roughly 40 times the average and from 1966 to 110 times the average. Globalization “refers to the current transformation of the world economy the reduction of national barriers to trade and investment, the expansion of telecommunications and information systems, the growth of off-shore financial markets, the increasing role of multinational enterprises, the explosion of mergers and acquisitions, global inter-firm networking arrangements and alliances, regional economic integration and the development of a single unified global market. The phenomenon of globalization is accompanied by increasing international mobility, the migration of workers, the growth of tourism and the increasing ease of international travel (Leary 1998:265).”

2008-01-19 The Bush administration announce they are seeking “a stimulus package of as much as $145 billion”. However the stock market did not respond positively as investors were concerned that the looming American recession would trigger economic crisis that will span the globe. See (Jolly and Timmons 2008-01-21).

2008-01-21 Société Générale trader, Jérôme Kerviel, 31, was accused by the Société Générale, Paris of implementing an elaborate, year-long fraud that involved betting billions of dollars of the bank’s money on European stock index futures. Michel Histel, 62, a French retiree who is closely following the story argues that it is common knowledge that the Société Générale’s has played a leading role in financial derivatives products. Jérôme Kerviel was employed by the Société Générale and in his role as arbitrageur he was expected to hedge large bets on index futures.

2008-01-21 “Global stock markets tumbled, with European indexes set for some of their biggest losses in recent years, amid growing fears of a recession in the US (BBC News 2008-01-21).”

2008-01-20 “Global stock markets plunged on Monday as fears spread that the turmoil in United States mortgage markets is spreading. Indexes in Europe fell as much as 7 percent after a huge sell-off in Asia. “There’s something approaching panic in the market,” Holger Schmieding, the chief European economist at Bank of America in London, said by telephone. “There’s been a reassessment in the market of the U.S. economic outlook, with most people now thinking that there will be a recession,” and investors are starting to reconsider the idea that the rest of the world “will remain aloof from U.S. problems [. . .] The selling began in Sydney, with Australian stocks falling nearly 3 percent for an 11th consecutive decline. Major markets in Asia followed suit, with the benchmark Nikkei 225-stock average in Tokyo falling 3.9 percent, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong falling 5.5 percent and the benchmark mainland Chinese index falling more than 5 percent (Jolly and Timmons 2008-01-21).”

2008-01-21 London’s FTSE 100 index fell 4.5% to 5,637.3 (BBC News 2008-01-21).

2008-01-21 Hugues Rialan of Robeco France says we are in a panic mode and a crisis in consumer confidence as the banking sector’s reassurances that they were not overexposed to US mortgage-related investments, prove to ring hollow and false. The banking sector lost consumer trust when they lost of “billions of pounds on investments linked to the US housing and mortgage markets (BBC News 2008-01-21).”

2008-01-21 “Australia’s benchmark ASX 200 index closed down 2.9%, or 166.9, points at 5,580.4″, amid growing fears of a recession in the US. This is ASX 200 index’s “lowest level for a year. It was also the 11th consecutive negative day for the index, the longest losing streak in more than 25 years (BBC News 2008-01-21).”

2008-01-21 “There may be more downturns in store for Asia, particularly as banks report the fallout from their investments in the United States mortgage market. Companies “have not announced their year-end numbers yet,” Schuller, of Moody’s, said, and if they are holding subprime assets, they may need to write-off their value, she said. “They are going to be taking these 25 to 30 percent haircuts we’re seeing on Wall Street,” she said. “I think it is going to shock people.” [This article which appeared in the New York Times was written by David Jolly reporting from Paris and Heather Timmons from New Delhi. Tim Johnston contributed reporting from Sydney, and Martin Foster from Tokyo (Jolly and Timmons 2008-01-21).”

“Mustier explained that Kerviel’s role on the trading desk was that of an arbitrageur, which meant that he was entrusted to purchase one portfolio of stock index futures and at the same time sell a similar mix of index futures, but with a slightly different value. The object of arbitrage is to try to make a profit from these differences in value. Because the value gaps between similar financial instruments are usually very small and temporary, this type of activity typically involves trading in very high total nominal amounts. Kerviel’s fraud, according to the bank, consisted of placing sizeable, real purchases in one portfolio but creating fictitious sales transactions in the second, off-setting portfolio. This gave the impression to risk managers that the risks in the first portfolio were hedged, when in fact they were not. As a result, the bank wound up exposed to massive, one-way bets, or “long” positions. Instead of hedging, which was his job, Kerviel was effectively speculating with the bank’s money. Mustier said a review of Kerviel’s trading records showed that he first began creating the fictitious trades in late 2006 and early 2007, but that these transactions were relatively small. The fake trading increased in frequency, and in size, during the course of the year, he said, but the largest fictitious trades – involving futures contracts on the Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50, the DAX in Germany and the FTSE index in Britain – were entered in early January. “Our controls identified from time to time problems with this trader’s portfolio,” Mustier said, although he declined to say when the first questions were raised by risk managers, saying that the bank’s auditors were still investigating. Each time one of Kerviel’s trades was questioned, Mustier said, Kerviel would describe it as a “mistake” and cancel the trade (Clark 2008-01-27).”

2009-01-21 Analyst Mike Lenhoff at Brewin Dolphin Securities predicts that the prospect of falling US interest rates announced by the US administration will have a positive effect on the market by January 2009 and the crisis mode of January 2008 and the drop in global indexes based on fears of a US recession will be proven to be a panicked knee-jerk reaction (BBC News 2008-01-21).”

Bibliography and Webliography

BBC. 2008-01-21. “Global shares tumble on US fears.” BBC News on-line. Uploaded 2008/01/21 16:10:48 GMT. Accessed 2008-21. http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/business/7199552.stm http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7199552.stm

CBC News. 2008. “TSX plunges 500 points.” Last Updated: 2008-01-21:13:26 ET.

Clark, Nicola. 2008. “Société Générale reveals more details of €4.9 billion fraud.” >> International Herald Tribune. www.iht.com Uploaded January 27. Accessed January http://www.iht.com/bin/printfriendly.php?id=9534514

Jolly, David; Timmons, Heather. 2008-01-21. “Stocks Plunge in Europe and Asia on U.S. Recession Fear.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/21/business/22stox-web.html?_r=1&ei=5088&en=f84e22b0fa01257e&ex=1358658000&oref=slogin&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=print

Leary, Virginia A. 1998. “Globalization and Human Rights.” In Symonides, Janusz (Ed.) Human Rights: New Dimensions and Challenges: Manual on Human Rights. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Dartmouth Publishing Company Ltd. / UNESCO Publishing. pp. 265-276. 2007.

“Rich man, poor man.” The Economist. Jan 18th 2007. Accessed January 18, 2007.


Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2008. “Risk Society: Unintended Consequences of Subprime Market.” >> Google docs. January 21. http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_505grfcrtgjFlynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2008. “Societe Generale: a Logical Conclusion of Impatient Money, Unregulated Hedge Funds and Private Equity Funds.” >> Google Docs. Uploaded January 28. http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_510gwkhvrcs


Business Editor Charles Frank (2007) cites a FirstEnergy Capital Corp newsletter to clients comparing Alberta’s provincially-funded analysis “Our Fair Share” chaired by Bill Hunter on royalties, to the modus operandi of socialist governments Kazakhstan and Venezuela. Premier Ed Stelmach commissioned a full analysis of provincial royalties as the price of a barrel of oil soared. It is now c. $82.881 a barrel. (It has to be $50 a barrel to extraction of oil from the oil sands profitable.)

EnCana CEO Randall K. Eresman threatened to redirect a billion dollars of EnCana’s planned capital investment out of Alberta to other parts of Canada or the United States if Premier Stelmach adopt’s the “Our Fair Share” report proposals in their entirety.

2007-10-02 Saskatchewan politicians hope that companies like EnCana will act on their bluff and move at least part of their billion dollar threat out of Alberta and into Saskatchewan if royalties are raised too much. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers industry vice-president David Pryce adds to the oil companies threats saying that if Alberta opts for their fair share of royalties the oil companies will shift activity to the other jurisdictions like Saskatchewan. However, even though Saskatchewan politicians might hold out for awhile, they would pay at the polls just like Stelmach if they continue to operate their energy sector as if the rules of the 1970s still apply. Alberta has lower corporate taxes, no provincial sales tax and no resource royalty surcharge so how much is Saskatchewan willing to give away to enjoy an Alberta boom? (Wood 2007-10-02). Do they really want the housing crisis, the long delays in service to drive their thriving economy even more? Are they willing to forego their fair share to entice fickle oil companies to their province.

CBC. 2007-10-05 ConocoPhillips President Kevin Meyers threatened Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach that ConocoPhillips will postpone $8 billion proposed oilsands projects. Meyers claimed that if royalties are raised as suggested in Our Fair Share and by the Alberta auditor ConocoPhillips would lose an oilsands project worth $500 million next year. They threaten to cut 30 to 40% of the $2.5 billion to $3 billion it plans to spend in 2008 on Alberta-based activity. It is estimated that if all the recommendations of Our Fair Share were implemented, the Alberta government would benefit by $2 billion a year. Alberta has a history of hospitality for oil and gas companies with the low energy royalties (based on oil at ?20 a barrel versus $80 and rising4), no provincial sales tax, no Alberta has lower corporate taxes, no provincial sales tax and no resource royalty surcharge. Oilsands developers have been allowed to use Alberta’s limited natural gas resources to extract their oil as quickly as possible instead of slower technology-intense methods. (Even the oil industry DOE report urges the need for patient money). Images of the Fort McMurray’s envirnomental nightmare landscape of Fort McMurray are courteously not shown around at dinner tables (although in quieter voices Albertans will ask, “Have you ever been to Fort McMurray?”).

Who’s Who

EnCana 10th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: EnCana with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 431/500 (previously 396/500) and revenues of $17,081.0 millions. EnCana’s profits are $5,652.0 million; Assets: $35,106.0 Million; Stockholders’ Equity: $17,466.0 million. CEO Randall K. Eresman. It has 4,678 employees and is located at 855 2nd St. S.W., Calgary T2P 2S5, Canada, Phone: 403-645-2000
Website: www.encana.com
FirstEnergy Capital Corp. (started c. 1994) is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund. Its 79 employees including CEO Jim Davidson, Jill Angevine, Vice-President of institutional research, John

Chambers, Ruby Wallis, Bev Thompson, Sheila Kaiser, Margie Gal, and Angelique Cyr work long days beginning at 6:15 AM and engage in the high-pressure industry of investment dealing. These investment dealings and transactions individually involve multi-millions and even billions of dollars of financings2. It is located at 1100, 311 – 6 Avenue SW, Calgary Alberta T2P 3H2 (FirstEnergy Capital (USA) Corp. is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation.) The firm has raised $7 million for Calgary’s less fortunate. It now supports over 200 charities. (Every year, [they] allocate a minimum of 2.5 percent of our gross profits to charitable organizations and community groups. Often, [they] significantly exceed this minimum donation. These actions illustrate the strong sense of community that is part of [their] corporate culture.” For example a party they hosted during the rodeo with 1500 guests raised $200,000 for Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA), Calgary Quest School and the Parks Foundation Calgary. In June 2006 CalgaryInc named them as the best place to work in Calgary. As well according to their own site “Canadian Business magazine ran a very complimentary article on FirstEnergy in the August 2007 edition covering the firm back to inception and including a mention of our expanded relationship with Société Générale.”

FirstEnergy Capital Corp FirstNews for investors tracks changes in the price of oil, gas through indicators such as unseasonable temperatures (for example in Toronto) or weather disturbances (such as hurricanes), consumer confidence, industry takeovers, bankruptcies, labour disputes, changes in interest rates, the housing market, oil and gas inventories and industry regulation. For example on September 25 they reported that “U.S. stocks fell on Monday, after news that Germany’s largest bank may take a hit from sub-prime mortgage investments. Citigroup and other banks fell after sources said the exposure could reduce Deutsche Bank’s profit by $2.4 billion. Furthermore, the first nation wide strike at General Motors in 37 years raised concerns about the economic outlook. Shares of auto parts suppliers fell, led by a 3% drop in Lear Corp. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 61.13 points to end at 13,759.06, while the NASDAQ fell 3.27 points to close at 2,667.95 (FirstNews 2007-09-25).”

Timeline

1992 Kazakhstan adopted among the world’s most open investment laws in order to encourage development.

2002 After the April 2002 aborted coup against Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, many observers accused Washington of having been behind the attempted ouster. The Bush administration denied any U.S. involvement in the affair. However, one relatively clear connection emerged between the U.S. government and the anti-Chávez movement: millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money channeled through the IRI and other U.S. organizations that funded groups opposed to Chávez during the years preceding the April coup. Writer Mike Ceaser reported that in an April 12, 2002, fax sent to news media, IRI President George A. Folsom rejoiced over Chávez’s removal from power. “The Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country,” he wrote. “Venezuelans were provoked into action as a result of systematic repression by the government of Hugo Chávez.” With NED funding, IRI had been sponsoring political party-building workshops and other anti-Chávez activities in Venezuela. “IRI evidently began opposing Chávez even before his 1998 election,” wrote Ceaser. “Prior to that year’s congressional and presidential elections, the IRI worked with Venezuelan organizations critical of Chávez to run newspaper ads, TV, and radio spots that several observers characterize as anti-Chávez” (Ceaser 2002). (IRI 2007)

2007-09-25
Rumours circulate that Germany’s largest bank may take a hit from sub-prime mortgage investments (FirstNews 2007-09-25).

2007-09-25 The first nation wide strike at General Motors in 37 years raised concerns about the economic outlook. Shares of auto parts suppliers fell, led by a 3% drop in Lear Corp. (FirstNews 2007-09-25).

2007-09-28 The Global Energy Conference for members only was held in Toronto, Canada on September 28 and announced on FirstEnergy Capital Corp. website.

2007-09-28 “The Kazakh parliament unanimously approved a bill Sept. 26 that would allow the government to modify or break any contract unilaterally in which the “interests of Kazakhstan” are threatened (as defined by the government). They are demanding royalties of 40% up from 30%. Kazakhstan now produces 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil, and if the projects currently signed are completed, within 10 years it hopes to be producing 3.5 million bpd [. . .] Royal Dutch/Shell, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips are part of the oil consortium developing Kazakhstan’s oil. [. . .] The best that Kazakhstan [might end up with a] Venezuela-like situation, in which foreigners freeze all expansion efforts and focus solely on inexpensive methods of maintaining existing output. In Venezuela output has fallen from 3.5 million bpd to 2.3 million bpd since government restrictions began 10 years ago. One of Kazakhstan’sfields is one of the most technically challenging in existence, boasting vertical and variable deposits loaded with high-pressure hydrogen sulfide. The field itself is in a high wind zone that freezes over in the winter. Kashagan will be the most technically challenging — and expensive — oil project ever attempted.” [China has the capital to invest in Kazakhstan but perhaps lacks the technology for now (Offnews.info 2007).”

2007-10-02 Saskatchewan politicians hope that companies like EnCana will act on their bluff and move at least part of their billion dollar threat out of Alberta and into Saskatchewan if royalties are raised too much. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers industry vice-president David Pryce adds to the oil companies threats saying that if Alberta opts for their fair share of royalties the oil companies will shift activity to the other jurisdictions like Saskatchewan. However, even though Saskatchewan politicians might hold out for awhile, they would pay at the polls just like Stelmach if they continue to operate their energy sector as if the rules of the 1970s still apply. Alberta has lower corporate taxes, no provincial sales tax and no resource royalty surcharge so how much is Saskatchewan willing to give away to enjoy an Alberta boom? (Wood 2007-10-02). Do they really want the housing crisis, the long delays in service to drive their thriving economy even more? Are they willing to forego their fair share to entice fickle oil companies to their province.

CBC. 2007-10-05 ConocoPhillips President Kevin Meyers threatened Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach that ConocoPhillips will postpone $8 billion proposed oilsands projects. Meyers claimed that if royalties are raised as suggested in Our Fair Share and by the Alberta auditor ConocoPhillips would lose an oilsands project worth $500 million next year. They threaten to cut 30 to 40% of the $2.5 billion to $3 billion it plans to spend in 2008 on Alberta-based activity. It is estimated that if all the recommendations of Our Fair Share were implemented, the Alberta government would benefit by $2 billion a year. Alberta has a history of hospitality for oil and gas companies with the low energy royalties (based on oil at ?20 a barrel versus $80 and rising4), no provincial sales tax, no Alberta has lower corporate taxes, no provincial sales tax and no resource royalty surcharge. Oilsands developers have been allowed to use Alberta’s limited natural gas resources to extract their oil as quickly as possible instead of slower technology-intense methods. (Even the oil industry DOE report urges the need for patient money). Images of the Fort McMurray’s envirnomental nightmare landscape of Fort McMurray are courteously not shown around at dinner tables (although in quieter voices Albertans will ask, “Have you ever been to Fort McMurray?”).

Footnotes

1. “Crude oil prices posted big gains on the day. The continued decline of the U.S. dollar and concerns that supply may not be able to meet demand this coming winter, fuelled the price increase. NYMEX light sweet crude for November delivery gained $2.58 to end at $82.88 per barrel [. . .] Canadian stocks continued their five day rally closing higher on strong commodity prices. The government also reported a $13.8 billion budget surplus for fiscal 2006-07, which will be used to pay down debt. Suncor Energy was the biggest weighted gainer, up $2.17 or 2.3% to $95.71. The S&P/TSX Composite Index gained 94.76 points to close at 14,129.73. [. . .] U.S. stocks ended higher on Thursday, as energy shares were elevated by higher oil prices. However, a report released earlier in the day showed a plunge in new home sales and the sharpest year-over-year drop in prices in nearly 37 years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 34.79 points to 13,912.94, while the NASDAQ gained 10.56 points to close at 2,709.59. (FirstNews 2007-09-28).”

2. In an online summary FirstEnergy includes in their recent report on their 800 financings and over 200 M&A assignments that they has participated in since c. 1994.$701,000,000 disposition by EnCana Corporation of its Interest in Petrovera Resources LimitedPartnership in January 2004. Others are: $495,000,000: the Sale of Sound Energy Trust to Advantage Energy Income Fund in September 2007; $3,500,000,000: of CCS Income Trust as Formal Valuator and Advisor to the Independent Committee September 2007; $508,000,000: Sale of Capitol Energy Resources Ltd. to Provident Energy Trust. June 2007; $91,000,000 Compton Petroleum Corporation Acquisition of Stylus Energy Inc.August 2007; $980,000,000 for TriStar Oil & Gas Merger with Real Resources Inc. August 2007; $440,000,000 Sale of Find Energy Ltd. to Shiningbank Energy Income Fund September 2006; $431,000,000 True Energy Trust Acquisition of Prairie Schooner Petroleum Ltd. September 2006; $1,500,000,000 Savanna Energy Services Corp. Merger with Western Lakota Energy Services Inc. August 2006; $320,000,000 Highpine Oil & Gas Limited Acquisition of Kick Energy Corp. August 2006; $4,000,000,000 Viking Energy Royalty Trust Merger with Harvest Energy Trust February 2006; $4,400,000,000 Precision Drilling Corporation Reorganization into an Income Trust November 2005; $350,000,000 UTS Energy Corporation Partnership and Asset Sale to Teck Cominco Limited December 2005; $1,400,000,000 Cequel Energy Inc. and Progress Energy Ltd. Merger and Reorganization into a Trust and Spinout of ProEx Energy Ltd. and Cyries Energy Inc. April 2004.

 

3. 1st place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: Anglo American with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 195/500 and revenues of $33,072.0 million; 2nd place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: BHP Billiton with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 205/500 and revenues:$32,153.0 millions; 3rd place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: Rio Tinto Group with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 313/500 and revenues:$22,465.0 millions; 4th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: RAG with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 345/500 and revenues:$20,365.0 millions; 5th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: CVRD with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 359/500 and revenues:$19,651.0 millions; 6th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: Oil & Natural Gas with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 369/500 and revenues:$19,237.4 millions; 7th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: Occidental Petroleum with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 377/500 and revenues:$19,029.0 millions; 8th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: Surgutneftegas with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 392/500 and revenues:$18,413.1 millions; 9th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: Xstrata with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 414/500 and revenues:$17,632.0 millions; 10th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: EnCana with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 431/500 and revenues:$17,081.0 millions; 11th place in Fortune Global 500′s Mining, Crude-oil production Industry: China National Offshore Oil with an overall Fortune 500 rank of 469/500 and revenues:$16,038.9 millions.

4. Not to mention Tertzakian’s $100 a barrel peak!


Webliography and Bibliography

2007. “EnCana.” Snapshots. Fortune Global 500. September 30. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2007/snapshots/11155.html

CBC. 2007-10-05 “Energy giant rages against plan to hike Alberta royalties.” http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2007/10/05/royalties-protests.html

Ceaser, Mike. 2002. “As Turmoil Deepens in Venezuela, Questions Regarding NED Activities Remain Unanswered,” Americas Program, December 9.

FirstNews. 2007. FirstEnergy Capital Corp. September 28. http://firstenergy.com/research/news/News-2007-09-25.pdf

FirstNews. 2007. FirstEnergy Capital Corp. September 28. http://firstenergy.com/research/news/News-2007-09-28.pdf

Frank, Charles. 2007. “Tough Talk Just the Start to Ugly Royalty Fight.” Calgary Business. Calgary Herald. September 29. C1 & c14.

(IRI) International Republican Institute. 2007. Right Web Profile. Silver City, NM: International Relations Center, July 19.

Offnews.info. 2007. “Kazakhstan – End of an Era.” Offnews.info. Buenos Aires, Argentina. September 30. http://www.offnews.info/verArticulo.php?contenidoID=9429

Wood, James. 2007. “Politicians in no mood to alter Sask. energy royalties system.” The StarPhoenix. Saskatoon.


Creative Commons License 2.5 Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Fear Industry marries Oil Industry: Albertastan? Canazuela? Who’s Afraid of Social[ism] Capital?” http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_380dvhvz9 September 30. Creative Commons License 2.5 Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Fear Industry marries Oil Industry: Albertastan? Canazuela? Who’s Afraid of Social[ism] Capital?” >> Speechless. September 30.


For ten years (1990-2000) I had the most seductive job a visual artist could imagine as contract art educator at the National Gallery of Canada. The largest spaces in the gallery were devoted to the growing collection of contemporary art. So most educators included some contemporary art along with European, RCA, Group of Seven and modern art . . . in their survey tours of the collection. In the 1990s contemporary art was almost entirely postmodern and it was there in the early 1990s I experienced my own personal experience of the powers and limits of oppositional postmodernism (Altieri 1990). Perhaps I should have paid more attention that day to where the students were from. But they were an animated, interesting and interested group and the Hans Haake exhibition had just opened. I think it was Hans Haake’s (1983) controversial artwork Here is Alcan (Stephen Biko) (purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1983) that abruptly ended my tour. This image of Biko’s severely swollen battered face haunts the history of apartheid and adds weight to the Mandela’s honouring of those heroes like Biko who sought “to redeem the pledge to give a more human face to a society for centuries trampled upon by the jackboot of inhumanity (Mandela 1997). The professor who accompanied the group of CEGEP students from Jonquiere seemed to be personally insulted by Haake’s critique of Alcan and insisted his students leave the gallery immediately.

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversay of Biko’s death in his prison cell in Pretoria, South Africa. Biko’s friend and biographer, British journalist Donald Woods’ gruesome postmortum photo of Biko was published around the globe resulting in such international indignation that the Security Council was forced to finally enforce the arms embargo they had instated in 1963. In 1994 Nelson Mandela acknowledged that the death of Biko was the first nail in the coffin of apartheid (Conchiglia 2007).

A decade ago Nelson Mandela unveiled the bronze statue of Stephen Bantu Biko by Naomi Jacobson as a contribution towards immortalising his life:

It also gives a certain kind of joy that the financial cost of creating the statue was footed by people in the creative field, including Denzel Washington, Kevin Kline and Richard Attenborough who will be remembered for the film on Biko, `Cry Freedom’. Another contributor is Peter Gabriel whose song `Biko’ helped keep the flame of anti-apartheid solidarity alive. This collaboration of British and American artists bears eloquent witness to Steve Biko’s internationalism (Mandela 1997).

Contemporary artist Jamelie Hassan (1987) reviewed Haake’s work,

Among the other works in this survey, Void Mean has the most visual and emotional impact — perhaps because it brings home Canada’s duplicity in tolerating Alcan’s involvement in the apartheid regime. It is in works like Void Mean that the full potency and immediacy of the issues reach us (and bravo to the National Gallery of Canada, who arranged for its loan during a moratorium on the loan of works from their collection so that Void Mean could be seen in the one Canadian gallery on the Haacke tour). Alcan’s corporate presence is appropriated from its promotional material and juxtaposed to two benign sepia images of a Montreal opera sponsored by Alcan. These images bracket a central, coloured, violent news photo of the dead Stephen Biko. In the accompanying text, Alcan’s involvement in South Africa is described: ‘The most important producer of aluminum sheet and the only fabricator of aluminum sheet in South Africa. From a non-white work force of 2,300 the company has trained eight skilled workers’ (translation from the French). To underline its source, the work is fabricated from aluminum storm windows: the top panels contain Alcan’s silver logo; the bottom panels, the images of the opera and Biko, to reinforce the reality of the violence perpetrated (Hassan 1987).

Bibliography

Altieri, C. 1990. “The Powers and the Limits of Oppositional Postmodernism.” American Literary History. 2: 443-481.
Bois, Yve-Alain; Crim, Douglas; Krauss, Rosalind; Haake, Hans. 1984. “A Conversation with Hans Haacke.” October. Vol. 30. Autumn: pp. 23-48.

Conchiglia, Augusta. 2007. “Steve Biko, la conscience noire.” Le monde diplomatique. September 12, 2007.

Hassan, Jamelie. 1987. “Hans Haacke at The Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, May 15 – June 21.” Vanguard, Vol. 16:4, Sept/Oct 1987.

Mandela, Nelson. 1997. “Address at 20th Anniversary of Steve Biko’s Death.” East London, 12 September 1997. http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/mandela/1997/sp970912.html

Creative Commons License 2.5 Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Stephen Bantu Biko (1940-1977) Thirty Years Later.” >> speechless http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_361xsrzrh


In his May 10, 2007 Address to Shareholders, Paul Desmarais Jr. CEO of the Power Corporation of Canada compared and contrasted his corporation with private equity and hedge funds.

In recent years private equity funds have grown at a phenomenal pace. Collectively they have brought about the privatization of public companies worldwide worth $900 billion! In 2006 alone, the 10 largest private equity funds raised $120 billion in new money destined for privatizations. At first an American phenomenon, private equity funds spread to Canada, the U.K., continental Europe and even Japan. Today in the U.K., 19% of private sector employees, or 3.3 million people, work for businesses owned by private equity firms. In Germany the number is 800,000.

In their early years, private equity funds often brought an added value and better governance to the companies they privatized by replacing ineffective and complacent boards of directors. While they were then generally met by fiercely resistant business managers opposed to privatization, nowadays their job is made easier by the growing number of public company executives who, frustrated by the tedious, distracting and costly compliance to modern-day governance rules and regulations, are more receptive to the idea of private equity funds taking them private. And, let’s not forget that, in today’s world, managers are more mobile and can gravitate to the numerous opportunities offered by private equity funds, where they can receive considerable compensation over a relatively short period of time, while being sheltered from public scrutiny and sensational headlines.

Meanwhile hedge funds, which by nature have a shorter time horizon, now number 9,000 and manage in excess of $1 trillion (that’s right, one thousand billions!). In 2006 alone, $126 billion of new money flowed into U.S. hedge funds. Their presence in the financial markets is substantial: for example, they account for between 30% and 50% of transactions on the New York and London stock exchanges! These funds are lightly regulated private investment pools which initially attracted endowment funds and wealthy individuals, but which today also have pension funds and insurance companies as investors.

While many hedge funds are devoted to generating short-term returns by leveraging financial instruments, I would like to focus on those funds which take positions in widely held public companies and become “activist shareholders” with the view of pressuring those companies into actions which, in turn, will quickly result in added value for shareholders, including themselves. Once they become shareholders, they will often align with other institutional investors who are shareholders of the company, and promote whatever initiatives could quickly generate added value: sale or spinoff s of divisions, cash dividends or repurchase of shares, and cuts in operating costs, are a few examples of what can be on their agenda, in addition to their ultimate goal of an outright sale of the company, which would fetch a premium for control (Desmarais 2007a:3.)

In the same month in an article published in the Canadian Council of Chief Executives journal National and Global Perspectives Desmarais warned of the structural impact on the industrialized world caused by the meteoric rise of private equity and hedge funds in the financial markets.

Is it not ironic that the principal investors in private equity and hedge funds – large institutional investors – are happy to put massive amounts of money in the hands of people who do not register with any securities commission, or have few, if any, governance regulations to adhere to and report on? (Desmarais 2007:16).

In the same edition both Gordon Nixon and Dominic D’Alessandro echoed their concerns.

In 2006, more than 100 of Canada’s public companies were acquired by foreign interests. The list includes some of the oldest and most well-established companies across a broad spectrum of industries – everything from hotels to retailing, to metals and mining [. . .] My concern stems from the fact that the world is awash with capital and that the consolidation trend in many industries will inevitably continue. We are a small country with a relatively small population. Canadian companies typically are not of a size to be global players. All too often, decisions affecting the future of important firms and the communities that they sustain are made solely with a view to the short-term financial consequences. I find it particularly bothersome that so many of our natural resource companies – which I would argue represent unique and irreplaceable assets – are now owned elsewhere (D’Alessandro 2007).

Over the past year, 116 Canadian public companies were acquired by foreign interests, more than any other major country including much bigger economies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and all the Nordic countries combined. We have not only seen the disappearance of major Canadian household names, but the loss of Canadian presence in industries where we have long had traditional strengths (Nixon 2007:5).

In May and June, 2007 the 150 C-Suite executives from the top 1000 corporations interviewed by the Gandalf Group were generally optimistic about the Canadian economy (Gandalf Group 2007:4). Some expressed concerns about the increasing levels of foreign ownership in key sectors and about private equity firms hollowing out corporate Canada. 23% have concerns that private equity firms engage in too much short-term thinking (Gandalf Group 2007:32). Most executives now favour restrictions in strategic industries.

The strongest areas of consensus about the negative impacts of private equity relate to keeping the company Canadian owned and about the debt burden of the company. A substantial percentage of executives believe that private equity also has a negative impact on the economic contribution the company will make to Canada and to the community it operates in, on the labour relations of the company and on the governance of the company (Gandalf Group 2007:28).

Bibliography

2006. “Canadian Executives Indicate Human Resources and Rising Canadian Dollar are the Major Business Challenges.” CTV. June 12, 2006.

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/show/CTVShows/20060611/ctv_release_20060611/20060612

2007. “C-Suite Survey.” Globe and Mail, Report on Business. 18 June 2007: B5.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Page/document/video/vs?id=RTGAM.20070619.wvcsuite0619&ids=RTGAM.20070619.wvcsuite0619&hub=search

D’Alessandro, Dominic. 2007. “How Can We Conserve Canadian Ownership?” National and Global Perspectives . May 3, 2007. p. 23.

Desmarais, Paul Jr. 2007. “Private equity, public interest.” National and Global Perspectives . May 10, 2007. p. 16.

Desmarais, Paul Jr. 2007a. “Chairman’s Address to Shareholders.” Power Corporation of Canada. May 10, 2007.

http://www.powercorporation.com/powercorp/webcast/2007/PCC_Eng_Discours_P_Desmarais_jr_2007_May11_FINAL.pdf

Gandalf Group. 2007. “C-Suite Survey On The Role of Private Equity.” Report on Business. Globe and Mail. June 14, 2007. http://www.dwpv.com/images/C-Suite_June_2007.pdf

Nixon, Gordon M. 2007. “As the world changes, Canada must adapt.” National and Global Perspectives . March 2, 2007.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Meteoric Rise of Private Equity and Hedge Funds.” >> speechless. September 2007. http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_355dbbcxv


Charles Taylor distinguishes between ethics and morality by describing the latter as “that part of ethics which is concerned with our obligations to others, in justice and benevolence.” In the course that he is currently teaching (2007) Taylor examines how,

For some thinkers, this is the really important department of ethics, far more significant than questions about what constitutes a good or worth-while life. For others, this primacy is quite mistaken and unacceptable. This issue is often fought out under the description “the primacy of the right over the good”. If one accepts the primacy, certain questions open up: viz, utilitarianism versus a Kantian approach. If one refuses this primacy, then another set of questions become important, because there are a host of different ways of defining the good life (Taylor 2007).


Nussbaum (1994) rejected pro-patriotism arguments in favour of a more cosmopolitan identity which prioritizes human rights above a sense of national belonging. She began her essay with a quote from 4th century BC Cynic Diogenes who, “Asked from what country he came, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.”4

The Stoics stress that to be a citizen of the world one does not need to give up local identifications, which can frequently be a source of great richness in life. They suggest that we think of ourselves not as devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The first one is drawn around the self; the next takes in one’s immediate family; then follows the extended family; then, in order, one’s neighbors or local group, one’s fellow city-dwellers, one’s fellow countrymen — and we can easily add to this list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender and sexual identities. Outside all these circles is the largest one, that of humanity as a whole. Our task as citizens of the world will be to “draw the circles somehow toward the center” (Hierocles 1st 2nd CE)1, making all human beings more like our fellow city dwellers, and so on. In other words, we need not give up our special affections and identifications, whether ethnic or gender-based or religious. We need not think of them as superficial, and we may think of our identity as in part constituted by them. We may and should devote special attention to them in education. But we should work to make all human beings part of our community of dialogue and concern, base our political deliberations on that interlocking commonality, and give the circle that defines our humanity a special attention and respect.

The Stoic model is of course imperfect since Stoic process of drawing the circle toward the centre was based on assimilation. There was no concept of a sophisticated Derridian “philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view” or a “politics of friendship” which unsettles relationships to the stranger, the unfamiliar, the unheimlich.

Taylor has deplored the fact that most of us are content to not question what we value. What are the ethics and morals that are most important to us? Where and when did we adopt them? Was it conscious choice or osmosis? Pondering these questions in moral philosophy is not part of our everyday lives. As we slide towards a form of world citizenship, we will need to know ourselves so the values that are important to us are the ones we end of defending.

While Charles Taylor2 (1994) admired Martha Nussbaum’s (1994 ) with one caveat, he disagreed with her proposal that cosmopolitan identity replace patriotism. And of course they are both correct. Nussbaum’s call for a more inclusive global citizenship based on responsibility and caring is essential to the sustainable futures. But for all appearances we are still national citizens (Rorty 1994). However, the concept of the Westphalian nation-state has a historical beginning and its future form may be quite different from what we now experience. National sense of belonging will be quite different a decade from now just as it was prior to 911 when these articles were written. As we move into the unknown area of morality in a post-national world, will the secular humanist discourse be enlightened enough to stretch our sociological imaginations and allow us to negotiate solutions to seemingly irreconcilable differences.
Writing in Palestine3 in 1917 Abdu’l-Baha, a Persian spiritual leader called for a unity of the Orient and Occident, the North and the South. He called these concentric circles, ‘collective centres of human association and unity’ which were necessary for the prosperity of the world of humanity. However, he reminded his audience that these centres are accidental and temporary, composed of matter not substance, and therefore vulnerable over time to being swept away by revolutions and upheavals. He compared the transitory nature of these concentric circles of belonging and responsibility to the eternal and everlasting spiritual collective centre which is capable of embracing all races of men.

In the contingent world there are many collective centers which are conducive to association and unity between the children of men. For example, patriotism is a collective center; nationalism is a collective center; identity of interests is a collective center; political alliance is a collective center; the union of ideals is a collective center, and the prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers. Nevertheless, all the above institutions are in reality, the matter and not the substance, accidental and not eternal — temporary and not everlasting. With the appearance of great revolutions and upheavals, all these collective centers are swept away. But the Collective Center of the Kingdom, embodying the Institutes and Divine Teachings, is the eternal Collective Center. It establishes relationship between the East and the West, organizes the oneness of the world of humanity, and destroys the foundation of differences. It overcomes and includes all the other collective centers. Like unto the ray of the sun, it dispels entirely the darkness, encompassing all the regions, bestows ideal life, and causes the effulgence of divine illumination. Through the breaths of the Holy Spirit it performs miracles; the Orient and the Occident embrace each other, the North and South become intimates and associates; conflicting and contending opinions disappear; antagonistic aims are brushed aside, the law of the struggle for existence is abrogated, and the canopy of the oneness of the world of humanity is raised on the apex of the globe, casting its shade over all the races of men. Consequently, the real Collective Center is the body of the divine teachings, which include all the degrees and embrace all the universal relations and necessary laws of humanity. (Abdu’l-Baha 1917)

Footnotes

1 Each of us is, indeed, as it were circumscribed by many circles, larger and smaller, comprehending and comprehended, according to various mutual circumstances (Hierocles 1st 2nd CE)


2
This essay is hosted on a Charles Taylor resource site by Professor who describes it as “a response to Martha Nussbaum’s “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” which appeared in the Boston Review (Vol. 19, No. 5). Taylor’s response is part of an excellent discussion which includes Hilary Putnam, Benjamin Barber, Judith Butler, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., William E. Connolly, Sissela Bok, and several other excellent thinkers. For Nussbaum’s reply to her critics, see “Asking the Right Questions,” from the same issue of the Boston Review.”

3. Delivered on March 8, 1917, in the summerhouse (Isma’il Aqá’s room) at `Abdu’l-Bahá’s house in Haifa, Palestine and addressed to the small, emerging community of Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada. Throughout his writings there is an insistence on the unicity of God and inclusivity though union and diversity, so that ‘divine teachings’, Holy Spirit, the Cause refers to a progressive religion which is constituted by all world religions.

4. The irascible Cynic Diogenes is perhaps not the most noble example of a world citizen since he lived by the precept that one’s personal happiness was “satisfied by meeting one’s natural needs and that what is natural cannot be shameful or indecent. His life, therefore, was lived with extreme simplicity, inured to want, and without shame.” Asked from what country he came, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” (Diogenes. vi.). His world citizenship was not based on the responsibility or caring of a world citizen rather on his insistence on dismissing societal norms for his own sense of happiness. See Grout (1997-2007). Diogenes is perhaps a citizen of the world in the same sense as Humphey Bogart as Rick in the 1942 film Casablanca who declared his nationality was “drunkard” when interrogated by German officers. His companion joked that “That makes Rick a Citizen of the World.”


Bibliography

Abdu’l-Baha. 1917. “Tablet to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada.” Tablets of the Divine Plan. Haifa, Palestine.

Abdu’l-Baha. “The Divine Plan: The Cause of Baháu’lláh.” Baha’i World Faith.

Diogenes Laertius. 4th BC. “Diogenes the Cynic.” >> Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Essays on Greek history and culture and the later Byzantine empire. Encyclopaedia Romana and Greece. University of Chicago.


Grout, James. 1997-2007. Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Essays on Greek history and culture and the later Byzantine empire. Encyclopaedia Romana and Greece. University of Chicago.

Hierocles.
1st 2nd CE.Conduct towards Relatives.” >> completepythagoras.net

Nussbaum, Martha. 1994. Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism.” Boston Review. 19:5.

 

Rorty, Richard. 1994. The New York Times. 13 February. The New York Times (13 February 1994), philosopher Richard Rorty urges Americans, especially the American left, not to disdain patriotism as

 

Taylor, Charles. 1994. “Why Democracy Needs Patriotism.” Boston Review.

Taylor, Charles. 2007. Theories of Ethics: Course Abstract. School of Law, Northwestern University

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Ethics and Morality at the Interstice between Patriotism and the Cosmopolitical Point of View.” >> Speechless

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Ethics and Morality at the Interstice between Patriotism and the Cosmopolitical Point of View.” >> Google docs

http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_229c7dfpj


If our minds are what our brains do (Dennett 2003:i) and changing entrenched brain pathways may be harder than we think (Merkl 2007) is the logical conclusion of an entirely naturalistic Darwinian human evolution a more just, humane world or a dystopia? Or you tried to change your mind but your brain wouldn’t let you.

Dennett (2003) argues that the evolution of the human brain over deep time has followed the laws of natural science and that human free will is an emergent phenomena of that same physical process. He forcefully argues that biological determinism does not limit human behaviour to predictable, inevitable outcomes.

Dennett contends that recognition of the true nature of man as an exclusively physical body proscribed by the laws of nature will provide a stronger, wiser doctrine of freedom (Dennett 2003:22) than the belief that the reality of man resides in her immaterial, immortal human soul capable of defying the laws of nature (Dennett 2003:1).

Man’s evolution towards moral thinking and existential interpretations is constituted by higher levels of evolution, more advanced outcomes of the natural evolution of entities towards emergent changes that allowed them to avoid harm and reproduce themselves (Dennett 2003:22).

While Dennett draws on arguments from biology, cognitive neuroscience, economics and philosophy proposing provocative and original arguments, there is a lack of the psychological or sociological2 imaginations in his work. It is in the area of habits (particularly those that are institutionalized or community-sanctioned) that flaws may be revealed in Dennett’s arguments of a logical evolutionary conclusion of an emergent salutary human nature incapable of overriding its material brain yet somehow managing to move beyond its own autopoietic system. Would human nature not follow evolutionary pathways towards conservation of the familiar while eliminating that which is uncomfortably unfamiliar from everyday life? What are the ethical implications for sustaining an authentic pluralism, diversity of cultures? It is in this area of an expanded Derridian hospitality towards the stranger, the unknown that Dennett’s secular humanism fails to respond.

Like Dennett, William James1 (1986:369 cited in Tursi 1999) perceived the same evolutionary principles at work in inorganic matter that have been applied to organic matter. In the same year that James developed his ideas on the relationship between the birth of human consciousness, habit and knowing, Freud explored the concept of habit formation as simple agents of conservation that are instinctual reaching deeply back through consciousness, through organic and even organic compulsions. James seemed to perceive the evolutionary changes in human consciousness as radical agents of variance and development. He aligned habit and knowing so that free human agents develop habits by force of will and character. James regretfully admits that habits are difficult to change after the age of thirty (1890). Freud’s theorized that an organism, including a human being, is disposed towards repeating its own lived experience while protecting itself against unsafe levels of stimulation from the unknown, the unheimlich or the uncanny. Freud argued that the cerebral cortex as the seat of consciousness, recorded negative past experiences of unfamiliar stimuli protected itself by constructed hardened defensive shields against outer stimuli. James acknowledges the way in which habitual sequences and customary feelings provide us with an agreeable feeling of being at home with oneself, whereas unsafe levels of excitation from uncustomary, unfamiliar, incongruous representations evoke distress, doubt, misunderstanding and irrationality (Essays in Philosophy 345). For a more in-depth thoughtful discussion see Tursi (1999).

James “advocates idiosyncrasy, spontaneity, and originality as enrichments to a malleable world, he always returns to habit (Tursi 1999). We reconfigure the unfamiliar or uncanny, the unheimlich to a more welcome pattern (Pragmatism 122).

Just as rivers can be reconfigured so too can our neural networks but deep entrenchment of fast flowing rivers in their time-worn river beds are less flexible, less plastic and more embedded.

It may seem easy to change your mind, but if it’s your brain we’re talking about, maybe it’s harder than we think. A University of Houston professor is looking into this with research into something called ‘brain plasticity (Merkl 2007 ).’

Key Words: brain plasticity, free will, entrenched core beliefs, reconfiguring entrenched brain pathways, habits, character, morality and meaning,

Notes

1 The work of William James, considered by his followers as canonical, has been derided by his critics as classist and elitist. I consider it fortunate that his work has again found a legitimate place even with these critics. James began or contributed to so many debates that have been recently resuscitated.

2 Pierre Boudieu’s studies on the reproduction of social values through cultural institutions through schools and museums, for example, reveal the degree to which entrenched societal values continue to be reinforced in a hidden curriculum that benefits exclusive, powerful social strata. In Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argued that genocide was the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment project with its promise of a better society based on shared western values. The Other who refused modernity would be eradicated through a process of natural selection that ensured a safer world for those with more power to reproduce themselves.

Not just for radicals, but for many mainstream liberals too, the road that began in the Enlightenment ends in savagery, even genocide. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues: ‘Every ingredient of the Holocaust… was normal… in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilisation, its guiding spirits, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world – and of the proper ways to pursue human happiness together with a perfect society (Bauman 1989:8).


Bibliography

Zygmunt Bauman. 1989. Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p8

Dennett, Daniel C. 2003. Freedom Evolves. New York: Penguin.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “You tried to change your mind but your brain wouldn’t let you.” >> papergirls. May 3. http://papergirls.wordpress.com/2007/05/04/you-tried-to-change-your-mind-but-your-brain-wouldnt-let-you /

Freud, Sigmund. 1953-75 [1919]. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Trans. and Gen. Ed. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1953-75.

James, William. 1890. “Habit.” The Principles of Psychology. http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/prin4.htm

James, William. 1986 [1919]. Essays in Psychical Research. Ed. Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K. Skrupskelis. Cambridge: Harvard UP.

Merkl, Lisa. 2007. “How Plastic Is Your Brain? UH Engineer Seeks Answers.” Medical News Today. May 3. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=69263&nfid=crss


Tursi, Renee. 1999. “William James’ Narrative of Habit.” Style. Spring. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2342/is_1_33/ai_58055905/print

© Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. “If our minds are what our brains do (Dennett 2003:i) and changing our brain’s habits may be harder than we think (Merkl 2007) can we achieve a wiser, stronger freer society through a process of purely natural selection as Dennett predicts?” >> Speechless
http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_227c46gc3

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