Links to My Writings & Talks

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My main website is asadzaman.net. For a QUICK START, see sampling of short posts on diverse topics on my author page at LinkedIn.  Collections of my writings are linked below:

My most popular blog post (by far) has been “A Summary of the Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi” link: http://bit.ly/1tSE9pP

My most viewed YouTube Videos are listed sequentially: (1) URDU memorial talk about my father:

(2): Inspirational & Motivational Urdu: Message of Allama Iqbal for Muslim Youth:

A five-minute guide to materials on my different websites, with an Islamic orientation:

I am now preparing several online courses with lectures on my YouTube channel, plus associated slides, lecture notes exercises, supplemental materials on course website linked below:

 

Guide to Guides

This is a jumbled assortment of collections, later to be organized more neatly and coherently.

Pursuit of Wealth

The Nature of Human Knowledge

  1. Eurocentric History is an expression of European Power.
  2. Logical Positivism. A disastrously wrong theory of knowledge
  3. Deification of Science — science is valid knowledge.
  4. Materialism: Only Observables matter for science
  5. Power/Knowledge. Knowledge is shaped by dominant power
  6. UNLEARNING: Knowledge requires unlearning rather than learning.
  7. Islamic views on the nature of knowledge

Methodology — Critiques of Economics

Critiques of Social Sciences

When Did America Give Up on the Idea of America?

VOICE (from Foreign Policy)

When Did America Give Up on the Idea of America?

What has gotten into those Canadians? Aren’t they supposed to be our allies in the war against radical Islam? They have agreed to take 25,000 Syrian refugees from camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey over the next three months. They have ceded much of the work of vetting those refugees to the International Organization of Migration, an intergovernmental body based in Geneva. And now they plan to distributethe refugees to 36 cities across the country. Don’t they know those people are terrorists?

No, they don’t. Jane Philpott, minister of health in the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, explained to me that the process of approving Syrian candidates “is not so different from our usual vetting process.” The whole process, she says, takes a few days, from pre-interview by international agencies through security screening in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey by Canadian officials. Philpott told me that Trudeau had made the 25,000-refugee target an important element of the party campaign platform as early as last March. And are the Canadian people nervous? Not at all, she said. “There was a tremendous outpouring of compassion once Canadians understood what was at stake.” Philpott is herself a refugee advocate. “It has made me very proud of my country.” (Polls in Septemberfound that three-quarters of Canadians wanted to take more refugees, though by the time the new policy was announced, in November, the mood hadshifted, with 51 percent opposing the policy.)

It makes me very proud of her country too — and yet more ashamed of my own, where Donald Trump can plausibly calculate that he will help his political chances by proposing to bar all Muslims from our shores. The question Americans must ask themselves is: Why are Canadians so calm about a transaction that provokes hysteria in the United States? Why have Republican candidates for president and Republican (and some Democratic) congressmen and governors reacted to President Barack Obama’s plan to bring in 15,000 Syrians, over a far longer period of time, after the kind of vetting process normally required in order to be nominated secretary of state, as if he had agreed to surrender American national security on a whim?

Of course, 14 Americans just died in a terrorist attack apparently motivated by Islamic extremism. For Obama’s enemies, that cinches the case against the refugees. The United States, Ted Cruz has declared, must not take any refugees “with a significant al Qaeda or ISIS presence, such as Syria.” Of course, he already thought that. Even before San Bernardino, Chris Christie, self-styled post-9/11 pillar of courage, told an interviewer that even “orphans under five” aren’t being vetted thoroughly enough and shouldn’t be admitted.

I was in Sweden immediately after the terrorist killings in Paris. The Swedes have agreed to take up to 190,000 refugees this year, far more than anyone save Germany. Plenty of Swedes told me that they didn’t believe their country could integrate all those newcomers, but scarcely anyone mentioned the alleged terrorist threat from refugees. They were worried, but they were not frightened.

Canada itself has suffered from lone-wolf terrorist attacks, including one last year on the Parliament in Ottawa. That, in turn, sparked calls for tougher surveillance measures. Nevertheless, voters welcomed Trudeau’s call to reverse the policy of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and take in more refugees. Of course, Canada (and Sweden) is every bit as devoted to its security as is the United States. That being so, the American response can’t be explained by the threat but by something else. So what is it?

For a long time, my answer was “9/11.” Americans had lived for generations with an expectation of security that had been utterly shattered; the ensuing overreaction was unavoidable. When the wildly hyperbolic debate over whether alleged terrorists could be tried on American soil broke out in 2009 and 2010, I blamed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who put impossible conditions on a proposed trial, for surrendering to Americans’ still-raw feelings about their vulnerability to terrorist attacks. The same fears, it seemed, stymied Obama’s effort to close Guantanamo.

The towers fell more than 14 years ago; the statute of limitations on post-9/11 panic has expired.

The towers fell more than 14 years ago; the statute of limitations on post-9/11 panic has expired. Yet Americans have never been more fearful. I’ve increasingly come to feel that I don’t recognize my own country. I was a little boy in the early 1960s, and, of course, we all had mushroom-cloud nightmares then. But the threat of nuclear war was real, not imagined. And even the anti-communist paranoia of that time could not eclipse Americans’ fundamental self-confidence. The besetting national sin has always been self-righteousness and complacency, not fear and loathing.No longer: The distinctive national mood today is a combination of anxiety and wrath — a blind wish to strike out at all the enemies that have laid American low. That’s why the emotional high point of so many of Trump’s rallies involves turning on a reporter, or a protestor, in the midst of the crowd; heckling him, giving him the bum’s rush, sometimes even manhandling him. Trump encourages his followers to find a scapegoat for their fear, an outlet for their anger; they eagerly accept the invitation. Maybe Father Coughlin, the 1930s fascist leader, inspired this kind of ugliness. But it’s something most of us have never seen.

Is it because Americans cannot accept the loss of unchallenged global supremacy — because we can no longer dash our enemies to the ground with a sweep of our mighty hand? Perhaps we’re more like Russia than we’d care to think — furious and frustrated that the world doesn’t cower before us as it once did. Is it the violent echo chamber of the Internet and social media and the shock jocks of radio and TV? That, too, is part of it. The idea of a rational center, emotionally detached and ideologically neutral — the old image of the mainstream media — now seems quaint beyond measure. Our emotional reaction to everything is hyperbolic.

Yet who is orchestrating this potent mix of adrenaline and resentment? Our political leaders — or rather, an entire right-wing political culture. The relentless collective message of the right is: America is helpless. Trump has based his entire candidacy on an inchoate, all-encompassing sense of American failure that only he can right. But so, in a less bullying way, have the other leading candidates and their supporters. Obama now devotes much of his rhetorical energy to counteracting the hysteria, as he tried to do in his Oval Office speech. But the extraordinary relationship he forged with Americans during his first campaign is long gone; he no longer has the ability to shift the public mood.

Here, then, is the formula: Politics, cranked to the highest volume by the Internet and 24/7 everything, acts on a very real sense of vulnerability to stoke fear and rage. Americans worry that immigration will harm the economy and change forever the texture of daily life. Those are legitimate anxieties. But Republican candidates and conservative media evoke an apocalyptic invasion, to be held in check only by immense walls and an army of border guards. The Syrian refugees are not people in need but emissaries from the land of jihad. Refugees are terrorists; terrorists are super-predators. Our institutions are weak; our enemies strong. The only inexcusable mistake is weakness. If the world hates us, let’s make sure that it fears us, too. Was it only seven years ago that Obama ran for office promising to restore America’s good name in the world? That was no small part of Obama’s pledge to voters. Yet today, a growing number of Americans look at the world beyond their borders with bristling hostility.

It feels like we’re in that stage of a Jimmy Stewart movie before our hero finally steps forward to remind the townspeople that they’re Americans, for goodness’ sake, and they’ve got to stop running around like chickens with their heads cut off. That always works in the movie, because the townsfolk have only temporarily lost sight of their better selves. I don’t think our problem is that we lack a Jimmy Stewart. The problem is that our loss of self runs much, much deeper.

Photo credit: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

Summary of the Great Transformation by Polanyi

Link to REVISED post, which provides some additional material and clarifies some questions which arose on the original post below. ORIGINAL POST on WEA Pedagogy Blog . and a repost on RWER blog, attracted a huge number of hits, and continues to be ranked high.: See RWER: Seeking Short Summaries.   This is copy of original post for historical interest.

An earlier post by Madi provided an introduction to Polanyi’s classic work The Great Transformation. This book is crucial to understanding both HOW and WHY we need to re-structure economic education today. Unfortunately, the book is quite complex, a bit dry and technical at times, and consequently hard to follow. Although many leading economists have praised it, I did not see any glimmer of understanding of its central arguments anywhere in orthodox arena. Even among heterodox economists, it is not frequently mentioned or cited.

Mostly for the purposes of understanding it for myself, I set out to write a compact summary of the key arguments in the book. The central theme of the book is a historical description of the emergence of the market economy as a competitor to the traditional economy. The market economy won this battle, and ideologies supporting the market economy won the corresponding battle in the marketplace of ideas. I quote from the introduction of my article:

The market economy has become so widespread that it has become difficult for us to imagine societies where the market does not play a central role. Yet, for reasons to be clarified in this article, this is the need of the hour. The unregulated market has done tremendous damage to man, society and nature. Bold, imaginative steps to find alternative ways of organizing economic affairs in a society are essential to our collective survival.

Polanyi’s arguments are complex and remain unfamiliar to majority of economists. They run
counter to received wisdom, and are directly opposed to what is taught
about economics in leading universities. They are summarized in FIVE points listed below.

From the FIFTH point, it follows that acquiring and spreading a correct understanding of the limitations and failing of markets is essential to creating a better society, based on more humane values than those generated by market societies where everything is for sale.

Firstly, markets are not a natural feature of human society. Nearly all societies other than the modern one we live in used different, non-market mechanisms to distribute goods to members. Our society is unique in having made markets the central mechanism for the production and distribution of goods to its members.
Secondly, market mechanisms conflict with other social mechanisms and are harmful to society. They emerged to central prominence in Europe after a protracted battle, which was won by markets over society due to certain historical circumstances peculiar to Europe. The rise of markets caused tremendous damage to society, which continues to this day. The replacement of key mechanisms, which govern social relations with those compatible with market mechanisms, was traumatic to human values. Land, labour and money are crucial to the efficient functioning of a market economy. Appropriating the functions of these alters and harms central social mechanisms governing human relations.
Thirdly, certain ideologies, which relate to land, labour and money, and the profit motive are required for efficient functioning of markets. In particular, both poverty, and a certain amount of callousness and indifference to poverty are required for efficient functioning of markets. Poverty is, in a sense to be clarified, a creation of the market economy. The sanctification of property rights is another essential feature of markets. Thus existence of a market economy necessitates the emergence of certain ideologies and mindsets which are harmful to, and in contradiction with, natural human tendencies.
Fourthly, markets have been fragile and crisis-prone and have lurched from disaster to disaster, as amply illustrated by the current and ongoing global financial crisis of 2008. Polanyi prognosticated in 1944 that the last and biggest of these crises in his time, World War II, had finally killed the market system and a new method for organizing economic affairs would emerge in its wake. In fact, the Keynesian ideas eliminated the worst excesses of market-based economies and dominated the scene for about thirty years following that war. However, the market system rose from the ashes and came to dominate the globe in an astonishing display of power. This story has been most effectively presented by Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism .
Fifthly, market economies require imposition by violence – either natural or created. As noted by the earliest strategists, deception is a crucial element of warfare. One of the essential ingredients in the rise of markets has been a constant battle to misrepresent facts, so that stark failures of markets have been painted as remarkable successes. There are a number of strategies commonly used to portray an economic disaster as progress and development. Without this propaganda markets could not survive, as the forces of resistance to markets would be too strong.

My full article, which provides further details of this brief sketch,  can be downloaded from the link below:

The Rise and Fall of the Market Economy,” Review of Islamic Economics, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2010, pp. 123–155

POSTSCRIPT: I have analyzed the methodology used by Polanyi which is based on a historical and institutional approach. This methodology is radically different from currently accepted methodologies in use in economics and the social sciences. In particular, Polanyi shows that the economic, political and social spheres are closely inter-linked and cannot be studied in isolation, as current structure of the social sciences assumes. USING Polanyi’s methodology would lead to substantially deeper understanding of current events, as well a better tools for research.

On Islamic Political Economy: A Brief Reply to Choudhury, Asad Zaman

Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective

Author Information: Asad Zaman, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, asadzaman@alum.mit.edu

Zaman, Asad. “On Islamic Political Economy: A Brief Reply to Choudhury.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 12 (2014): 89.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1Mj

Please refer to:

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Image credit: Muzaffar Bukhari, via flickr

According to the abstract and the first few sentences, this article is about the budding field of Islamic Political Economy. Since the labyrinthine prolixity of the article defied my attempts at comprehension, I looked at the reference list to find a more readable entry into this topic. Other than the author’s work, the bibliography only lists two dated articles on Islamic Political Economy. With no relevant articles within the past decade, and only three authors writing…

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Why I can’t celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize.

middle east revised

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this Friday to India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai for their struggles against the suppression of children and for young people’s rights, including the right to education. That is great news, and it might almost mean Nobel Peace Prize makes sense again, after being awarded to Barack Obama in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, and to European Union in 2012 “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

Still, there is something that really troubles me. How come we (meaning the West) always recognize the “devils” of the East, the torments children like Malala had to and have to go through (in her case, with the Taliban), but always fail to recognize our own participation in creating those “devils”? How come we never…

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