Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Think about Information or Slavery and American Economic Development

How to Think about Information

Author: Dan Schiller

It’s common wisdom that the U.S. economy has continued to thrive despite the loss of industry because of the booming information sector, with high-paying jobs for everything from wireless networks to video games. We are told we live in the Information Age, in which communications networks, and media and information services drive the larger economy. While the Information Age may have looked sunny in the beginning, as it has developed it looks increasingly ominous: its economy and benefits grow more and more centralized-and in the United States, it has become less and less subject to democratic oversight.

Companies around the world have identified the value of information, and are now seeking to control its production, transmission, and consumption. In How to Think about Information, Dan Schiller explores the ways information has been increasingly commodified as a result, and how it both resembles and differs from other commodities. Through a linked series of theoretical, historical, and contemporary studies, Schiller reveals this commodification as both dynamic and expansionary, but also deeply conflicted and uncertain. He examines the transformative political and economic changes occurring throughout the informational realm, and analyzes key dimensions of the process, including the build-up of new technological platforms, the growth of a transnationalizing culture industry, and the role played by China as it reinserts itself into an informationalized capitalism.

See also: International Politics or Managing Your Business

Slavery and American Economic Development

Author: Gavin Wright

Through an original analysis of slavery as an economic institution, Gavin Wright presents a fresh look at the economic divergence between North and South in the antebellum era. Wright draws a distinction between slavery as a form of work organization (the aspect that has dominated historical debates) and slavery as a set of property rights. Slaves could be purchased and carried to any location where slavery was legal; they could be assigned to any task regardless of gender or age; the could be punished for disobedience, with no effective recourse to the law; they could be accumulated as a form of wealth; they could be sold or bequeathed. Wright argues that slave-based commerce was central to the eighteenth-century rise of the Atlantic economy, not because slave plantations were superior as a method of organizing production, but because slaves could be put to work on sugar plantations that could not have attracted free labor on economically viable terms. On the mainland, Wright suggests that the decisive steps in regional divergence came with the abolition of slavery in the northern states and the exclusion of slavery from the Northwest Territory, measures whose economic impact has been underappreciated. He portrays the seventy years between the Constitution and southern secession as an economic cold war between two fundamentally different systems of property rights. Paradoxically, both sides had reason to claim victory in this contest, if each were allowed to use an economic scoreboard appropriate to its property-rights regime. Rather than seeing the slave South as a flourishing economy that subsequently declined, Wright maintains that the roots of postbellum backwardness were evident in the antebellum era. Startling, insightful, rigorously argued yet accessible to a broad readership, Slavery and American Economic Development is certain to become a classic.

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