Sociology of Ponzi Schemes

A White woman counts money at a cafe. The title is at the top of the graphic: Sociology of Ponzi Schemes

This is an intriguing image below came to me on Google+. It asks why Bernie Madoff was the only Wall St investor to be facing jail. The text argues it’s because Madoff ripped off the 1% – the rich elite. The meme is inferring that justice is not served for the 99%, the working classes, who have been fleeced by Wall Street practices.

There’s a grain of truth to this message, but not quite in the way you might think. White middle class and upper class people are more likely to be convicted of “white-collar” crime and they are less likely to get severe sentences relative to minority first-time offenders who are caught for blue-collar crimes.

The punishment of crime is a tricky cultural terrain. Society gives higher penalties for some forms of crime (such as low-level drug abuse) that ensure more poor people are jailed. So where is the justice for the poor?

As for justice for the 99%: there’s another way to think about this too. The people who were conned by Bernie Madoff were rich and so they had more resources and could be better organised to seek justice.

Continue reading Sociology of Ponzi Schemes

End of Business Review Weekly

Former BRW journalist, Ali Cromie, reflects on the end of publishing titan Business Review Weekly. While BRW will move into digital publishing, some of its better known features will migrate to the Financial Review.

This interview is fantastic. Cromie speaks passionately about the low points (“hi-jinx”) that BRW reporters faced as well as what it represented as a media institution of over three decades. She tells a detailed story of how she got under Rupert Murdoch’s skin. She also said she left journalism because she felt she could no longer protect her sources due to phone tapping.

Cromie argues that the BRW’s parent publisher Fairfax failed to have a cohesive strategic vision. It pulled apart BRW’s entrepreneurial section, it mixed in BRW stories into a broader pool of financial reporting, therefore hurting its niche readership.

Cromie argues that the BRW brand still has power, but it requires dedicated management. “The problem is not the platform. It’s the board.”

Hangout with Scientists on Google Plus

Want to learn more about what other scientists on Google+ are doing? Check out the Science Engager Circle on our Science on Google+ community. I curate the social science stream! Read an interesting and lively discussion about different research projects and the types of Googel Hangouts people are interested in as part of our community. You can still contribute to the conversation by telling us about your research. If you’re a scientist, add your name to our database to be included in discipline-specific circles that are shared by our community.

What’s the Difference Between an Economist and a Sociologist?

Question from a follower on my Tumblr:

What’s the difference between an economist and a sociologist? Are economists just sociologists who use more maths?

Hi thanks for your question. No is the short answer. Sociology was founded as a quantitative discipline, meaning we used a lot of maths for much of our history. For example, Durkheim conducted statistical analyses of suicide data from around the world in 1897. It was more during the 1970s with the advent of feminism that sociology had a methodological shift towards qualitative methods (interviews, ethnography and so on). In some parts of the world, sociology is still largely about mathematics and statistics. Economics and sociology differ in our theories, the principles and ethics of our research, and our interests. Simplifying things, economics study human behaviour as the outcome of wealth production, while sociology studies behaviour as the outcome of history, culture and other social institutions. Our topics overlap sometimes, but the way we define our key concepts, as well as the politics of our research, are often different. Sociologists are interested in social critique of power and social change. Economists want to improve the market (though not all of them agree on how this should be done).

Here’s an example. Someone (who is not an economist) posted to Science on Google+, which is a community I help to moderate. He linked to an economic model of racial segregation. If you scroll to the bottom and read my comments, I show how sociology would explain things differently. Rather than observing that racial groups like to “stick together,” sociology shows that external forces such as the law, institutional racism, and economic disadvantage make it harder for non-White groups to move out of racially segregated areas.

If you’re further interested in mathematical sociology, start by reading James Coleman’s Introduction to Mathematical Sociology, or check out the Journal of Mathematical Sociology.

Foreign Aid Failing to Improve the Economy

Himalayas: A senior political sociologist and his multidisciplinary team of researchers have called for systematic evaluation to understand why foreign aid is failing to improve the economy.

Foreign aid finances 60% of development programmes and it is seen as a “necessary evil,” however these researchers aim to assess how aid is being spent and how to enable the state to provide better services. Continue reading Foreign Aid Failing to Improve the Economy

Privileged Representation of ‘Poor’ White Women

Nona Willis Aronowitz analyses the portrayal of “poor” young white women in the American version of Shameless and in the U.S. show Girls. Writing for The Nation, Aronowitz makes a distinction between being “privileged poor” and being born into an underclass. “Privileged poor” are (usually) white middle class people who have experienced downward mobility due to the financial crisis. Aronowitz argues that these young people seek to unionise and they feel entitled to a better life. Aronowitz argues that life-long working-class people who have been disadvantaged all their lives have a precarious sense about their working conditions and their futures. TV shows portray poverty in a more rigid sense, without exploring how working class relations are changing. Aronowitz writes:

For the most part, both shows are stuck in the old model of strict class segregation. In Shameless’s universe, you’re either rich and smug or poor and righteous. Hannah mostly interacts with her own kind, and when her free-spirited friend Jessa suggests to her fellow nannies that they all join a union, it’s played for laughs rather than inspiration. But in the real world, the labor movement may indeed benefit from the class mixing that’s already going on. Last year, when I reported on a group of young, mostly educated, mostly white kids trying to organize the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities, I spoke with Macalester College professor Peter Rachleff. He compared the organizers to certain Occupy kids who are “entitled,” “aware of their rights,” and have a safety net in case they get fired. I met a young woman who was galvanized by the realization that her middle-class aspirations may end up being pipe dreams. “What are the real dreams that we can actually accomplish? Fucking building a union,” she told me.

Compare this mentality to that of the working class employees I spoke with at Walmart last month, when reporting for The Nation on the workers who did not join the strikes, many of whom were terrified about retaliation or just happy to be making money at all. These workers are also hanging back from organizing at places like Burger King, Domino’s and Target.

Via The Nation.

Japan’s Disposable Workforce: Alienation, Suicide and Social Responsibility

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Shiho Fukada’s Pulitzer Centre project on Japan’s “disposable workers” focuses on people who are precariously employed in casual and “dead end” jobs. They are underpaid, working long hours but without any of the benefits or sense of stability of full time employment. This affects people who are homeless as well as white collar workers who are driven to suicide due to mental and physical exhaustion. I see that Fukada’s photo essay offers an insightful visual critique of economic progress and the rapid increase of an “underclass” in one of the world’s most advanced societies. I argue that Fukada’s work might be understood through the sociological concept of anomie, a term that describes the social alienation that follows a society’s shift in morals and values. In this case, I explore how a cultural change in attitude means that workers are less valued in Japan, leading to socio-economic and mental health problems. I draw a comparison between the Japanese and the Australian workforce. I conclude by showing how sociologists seek to help governments, employers, developers and community organisations work together to better support a sustainable and ethical economic future.

Shiho Fukada via Pulitzer Centre
Shiho Fukada via Pulitzer Centre

Continue reading Japan’s Disposable Workforce: Alienation, Suicide and Social Responsibility

Mapping the Pogressive Fuel Economy

A new map shows how countries compare in their adoption of progressive “fuel-economy.” That is, social policies that encourage businesses to use greener, efficient transport fuel that reduce carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions. Oil producing nations such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela “encourage wasteful fuel use through subsidies,” but North America also has policies that need vast improvement. Japan and European countries lead the way.

Dominant Discourse of Whiteness in The Economist

Economist-Staff is a website whose sole purpose is to point out white cultural dominance within The Economist, one of the world’s most respected economic publications. The Economist magazine shapes its global economic analyses through highly specific racial, ethnic and linguistic lenses.

The Economist-Staff website began in response to an article in The Economist that attempted to answer “Why are Korean women so good at golf?” The Economist Staff points out that is a problematic question to begin with, let alone the article itself, which reproduces racial and ethnic stereotypes. Check out the rest of the Economist-Staff site, which refutes The Economist’s claims that the magazine is about diversity, and that it is “the enemy of privilege, pomposity and predictability”. In the graphics below, we see that one way through which whiteness discourses are perpetuated in the magazine is through the English language.

Continue reading Dominant Discourse of Whiteness in The Economist

‘Mundane Knowledge: Toronto Street People’

Here’s a nice little post about rethinking homelessness in Toronto Canada by Daniel Little. Given my interest in the sociology of the mundane, the title obviously caught my eye. Little’s photograph above depicts a lone homeless person asleep on the street. This may be a sight so routine to some people living in large cities that they do not stop to think about how their experience shapes their understanding of homelessness. Little muses over how a social worker, a street activist, or a policeman might interpret the scene. It’s especially interesting to consider how social activists from different causes accommodate homeless people in Toronto. Little spoke to two young homeless men in their 20s (given the pseudonyms G1 and G2):

G1 said that he sleeps there too sometimes. I asked why not in the park. He says because Mayor Ford has ordered that people be ticketed for sleeping in the park. He himself has been banned from City Hall grounds because of panhandling. And if you go near the Marriott entrance just down the block, Marriott security make you move. I asked why they don’t choose more secluded spots. G2 says you need to sleep near a vent for the warmth. The good secluded spots are taken. Sometimes these two guys find a spot under a structure down the street.

I ask about Occupy Toronto. G1 is enthusiastic. He says he was welcomed into the biggest tent, the Communist tent, and slept there while Occupy was going on. It was a 12-person tent. But the guys say the demonstration that I heard yesterday wasn’t Occupy, it was a demo about Syria. G1 says, why demonstrate against Syria when people here are suffering?

I ask if it is safe sleeping on the street. G1 says he’d been robbed recently. The thief ripped his inside pocket out and took a bag with 35 cents, a tooth brush and toothpaste. G1 says indignantly, “You’re going to rob a man for his toothpaste?” They say people have been killed down the street a ways.

I ask about the city shelters. Neither of them wanted to go there: they refer to bedbugs, diseases, and seriously crazy people who might hurt you.

Read the rest via the link.

‘Mundane Knowledge: Toronto Street People’