Archive for April, 2011

"Salisbury by George Frederic Watts." (via Wikipedia)

One explanation for the phrase “Bob’s your uncle” says the “Bob” is Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, and that Arthur Balfour is the nephew; Bob was the Prime Minister making ministerial appointments and Balfour received desirable posts without being entirely qualified. So when “Bob’s your uncle”, you’re all set.

Recent news reports on both sides of the Atlantic reminded me of this nepotism-based explanation for “Bob’s your uncle”. The FT’s Westminster blog highlights the beginning of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s career, specifically how Clegg’s father got his teenage son an internship with a Finnish bank and also,

At Cambridge University [Nick Clegg] joined the Conservative association and his early career was tracked by Lord Carrington, a former Tory foreign secretary (and next-door neighbour) who recommended him for a job in Brussels with another Tory grandee, Leon Brittan, the EU trade commissioner.

The well-heeled and well-connected are at no disadvantage on this side of the Atlantic. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker appointed a 27 year-old college dropout to a $64,728 a year job. This appointee received a promotion and “a 26% pay rise in just two months with the state.” His pay now is $81,500 for “overseeing environmental and regulatory matters and dozens of employees at the Department of Commerce.” (JSOnline via Thinkprogress). The key qualification for this meteoric rise sans college degree appears to be: Son of a key figure in Wisconsin lobbying, dear old dad has overseen more than $100,000 in donations to Walker.

Freedom from Fear
Norman Rockwell, 1943

Dismantling nepotistic structures is an ambitious goal as parents will move heaven and earth to help their children. It seems a pretty difficult thing to say to those with stores of social capital and regular capital, “You can’t use any of that to help your children.” Civil service rules are one mechanism for shielding certain posts from nepotism and cronyism; notably, Walker changed 37 posts from civil service positions to gubernatorial appointments. What might be even more readily amenable to public policy is improving transparency and opening up access to career tracks to a broader cross section of society.

Quite a bit of thinking has been done on these issues recently at senior levels in UK politics. In July 2009 the panel on fair access to the professions published its report Unleashing Aspiration (pdf). The then-Labour government had a largely positive response – but being January 2010, the government was in its last months before an election that ultimately removed Labour from office.

Yesterday, Nick Clegg launched a social mobility strategy Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers (pdf), marking some key continuities on an intellectual level with previous work. The Chair of the 2009 Unleashing Aspiration panel was Alan Milburn, a Labour MP. Milburn was appointed by the Tory-LibDem government Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility in August 2010, and yesterday his remit was broadened to include “child poverty and children’s life chances.” (Opening Doors, p. 72). This high level policy focus and policy development work is all to the good, however, it remains to be seen if the Tory-LibDem government matches means to ends (the government’s aggressive cuts program does not look promising on that score). Both the UK and US can benefit from the thinking on improving transparency and opening career tracks beyond a narrow socioeconomic band.

In Unpaid Interns, Complicit Colleges Ross Perlin writes in the Times of employers and universities abusing internships, with students sometimes paying thousands to universities to work for free and get academic credit, or sometimes a notation on the transcript without credit towards a degree. Taken together, these practices amount to a perverse abuse of those starting out their careers and those without the foresight to choose the right parents – wealthy, well connected parents. In addition, such practices narrow the avenues for access to career tracks, shunting aside those who cannot fall back on The Bank of Mom and Dad.

Unleashing Aspiration explores the later career consequences of social immobility (though the report’s scope goes well beyond internships screening out the less well off, the issues are connected). Seven percent of the UK population is educated in private school, independently schooled. Yet independent schools produce “75% of judges, 70% of finance directors, 45% of top civil servants, and 32% of MPs”.

Proportion of professionals independently schooled by profession
(Unleashing Aspiration, p. 18)

To be continued.


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Long to reign over us?
"Queen Victoria's family in 1846 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter" (via Wikipedia)

Describing proponents of the responsibility to protect (R2P) as modern day Kiplings is wrong. The slur is about as accurate as describing present-day anthropologists as phrenologists, or calling present-day social workers as eugenicists. There was a point in time when an imperialist metanarrative intersected with nearly every field of knowledge in the West. But as for anthropology, social work, and the responsibility to protect today, the concepts doing the heavy lifting, the key moving parts, have moved well on from the notion of the white man’s burden.

That is to say, it is true that at one point in time anthropology, social work, and R2P’s antecedents were intertwined with a metanarrative reaffirming the white, Christian, male, West’s superiority to the Other; these linkages with white supremacy, patriarchy, and knowledge were also present for biology (see Social Darwinism), geology and archaeology (see the Piltdown Man hoax). A whole swath of many ways of understanding the world were freighted with the maintenance of empire. Imperialism linked with phrenology and eugenics (“science” in general) as a means of knowing the world that reinforced this metanarrative of racial superiority; imperial power justified its dominance with both religious and (pseudo)scientific underpinnings. A lot of work went into declaring a great deal of the world no man’s land, terra nullius. Thus these (supposedly) empty spaces were conceived of as ripe for capture, conquest, and civilizing.

Massive wealth and mass atrocities, Leopold II of Belgium

What distinguishes the responsibility to protect from an neo-imperial/neocolonial project?

Far from nullifying common humanity, R2P draws upon texts with the express purpose of identifying a space for human dignity in international affairs. R2P forcefully says to states, “This far and no further.” Under R2P states have a great deal of latitude in organizing intra-state affairs. For all states sovereignty is modified in an important way. Sovereignty may not be used to shield atrocities from the gaze of the international human rights regime. Those exercising power are charged with combating gross human rights violations.

This duty is a result of an overlapping consensus derived from international law, international institutions, and the international human rights regime. Examining the history of the human rights regime (and the shorter history of R2P proper) we find participatory legitimacy by way of global contributions and procedural legitimacy by way of international institutions in the key phases:

  1. The generative phase where the elements that would form the overlapping consensus on human rights developed.
  2. The codification phase, the negotiations that yielded the key texts of the international human rights regime (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent human rights conventions).
  3. The interpretation phase, the institutions and processes that have repeatedly reaffirmed the key human rights texts (the UN General Assembly and treaty-monitoring bodies).

Imperial projects cannot claim similar global participation and procedural legitimacy. In a sense, empire included global participation. But this participation was based on rigid hierarchy, not in a way analogous to the formulation of the international human rights regime and R2P. Empire distinguishes between metropole and periphery, with the imperial metropoles of old (Britain, France, Spain, etc.) managing the affairs of continents with limited representation of the periphery (if any at all). Drawing borders, determining trade policy, extracting resources, and denying self-governance all reflected the ideas and interests of the metropole first and foremost.

UN General Assembly (Richard Ross, 2007)

In terms of procedural legitimacy, what was once the periphery is now well represented in the corridors of power in international political institutions. The Western European and Others Group does not dictate to the UN General Assembly, in the UN System it is one regional group amongst the five.

There is a lot more detail to pursue here, perhaps more later. I’ll close by quoting the General Assembly’s 2005 World Summit Outcome Document:

Responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity

138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

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