power knowledge

Part 2 of Lecture on Spirituality and Development: Friday, 27th Jan 2017 by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE — for Students of Religion & Development Paper, Center of Development Studies, University of Cambridge. Link for part 1: Spirituality . 50m Video lecture:


  1. The meaning of development has varied dramatically across time, space, cultures.
    1. When Britannia ruled the Waves:
      Development definition suited Britain: Sea-Power, Coal Mines, Industry, Climate, Race
      No entry for “democracy” in Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1930
    2. Post-War Rise of USA
      Initial Definition: Democracy, GNP per capita – both criteria serve to ensure leadership of USA.
    3. Later, some Oil Economies had Higher GNP/Capita than USA
      So REDEFINE Development to include Income Distribution, so as to keep US on top
    4. Later, Switzerland, Japan and some other Scandinavian countries had Higher Wealth + Lower Gini. How to measure development to ensure USA is on top? Answer: Redefine Development to include Infrastructure
    5. Conclusion: Definition of Development Changes to suit the powerful. Criteria are chosen to ensure that the powerful are on top.
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Friday, 26th Jan 2017: Lecture by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE to students at University of Cambridge, Center of Development Studies for Religion & Development paper. 40 minute video recording of lecture on you-tube

Part 1: “What Is Spirituality?”:  Modern Secular thought takes spirituality and religion to be diseases which affect weak minds not properly trained in the scientific method. Part I of this lecture explain why this view, which is based on positivist ideas, is seriously mistaken. OUTLINE of this lecture is given below

Separate Lecture Part 2:” What is Development” focusing on how spirituality affects how we think about development and how to achieve it.

  1. Standard Modern Answer
    1. Spirituality is a literary term, used to spice up poetry and novels.
    2. It is like Phlogiston, Unicorns, Ghosts, Souls, God
    3. It is one among many medieval beliefs, like flat Earth, which have been proven wrong.
  1. Why don’t we understand spirituality?
    1. Because we have been trained to think like Logical Positivists, EVEN though this philosophy has been proven wrong! Key wrong positivist beliefs:
    2. Unobservables do not matter for science
    3. Science explains the observable patterns. It may postulate things like atoms, gravity, but this is just for convenience. Existence of gravity is not part of scientific assertion.
    4. Kant: Thing-In-Itself is not knowable, not relevant for science. Wittgenstein: Wherof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. ALSO, The human body is best picture of the human soul (That is, observables matter, unobservables don’t)
    5. SCIENCE is the ONLY source of valid knowledge.

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We cannot understand the world around us without a sophisticated understanding of the complex but intimate relationship between knowledge and power. One of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, Michel Foucault, crafted a radically different understanding of this relationship. Instead of seeing power in brute force, he saw power as being the ability to shape knowledge. To understand Foucault, we must let go of our comfortable and conventional understanding of Truth as an objective and factual entity which exists outside time and history, and which cannot be manipulated by ordinary mortals. Instead, we must learn to see Truth as a social product, which is created and shaped by politics and power. As Foucault said, “My job is making windows, where there were once walls.” Absorbing Foucauldian insights opens windows onto entirely new ways of seeing the world.

Instead of the simplistic binary understanding of ideas — as being either true or false — Foucault offers us a dramatically different perspective: “We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them.” The concept of Power/Knowledge is best understood by illustrating how it is used with concrete and specific examples. Read More

One of the core and central properties of markets is that they lead to increasing concentration of wealth at the top. This is because market allocations of goods and services respond to money, automatically conferring great power to those with wealth. For instance, market incentives lead to the production of luxury handbags anmythrealityd briefcases for plutocrats priced at $40,000+. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the price of one such bag can save more than 300 lives.

The extremely ugly realities of market societies are hidden from view because markets generate myths to glorify achievements, project illusions and conceal defects. Indeed, the creation of market myths is a second core and central property of markets, which is not mentioned in any current economics textbook. Market myths are crucial to the survival of market societies since knowledge of realities would lead to a revolution of the bottom 99% who are exploited by the super-rich. In this essay, we analyse a few of the central myths of market societies, and contrast them with the realities.

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I was deeply impressed by the magnificient sweep of Edward Said’s book, which show how an entire field of knowledge was intimately linked with the demands of imperialism, and had no relation to the ground realities of Eastern societies. The success of the book created within me the ambition to carry out the same analysis for the field of economics, to show that it reflects the demands of the powerful, and has no relation to the ground realities of existence. Of course this demands an entirely different analysis, one which I have working on for decades. I now have many major pieces of the picture in plorientalismace, but still need some more work to put it all together. Below, I provide a brief review and summary of Edward Said’s masterpiece.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2016:

Orientalism by Edward Said launched a revolution when it first came out in 1978. He succeeded in discrediting an entire field of study; so much so that scholars no longer call themselves “orientalists”. His book has been enormously influential, with ramifications in many established disciplines, including literary studies, history, anthropology, sociology, area studies, and comparative religion. The thesis of the book is complex and subtle, and we will only attempt to sketch a crude outline in this brief essay.   Read More

austerityThe IMF has been among the principal architects, executors and enforcers of the neoliberal agenda all over the globe for several decades. This is why an IMF publication with an article entitled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” is as surprising as an ISIS article entitled “Violence: Oversold?” would be. Has neoliberalism become so unpopular that even the IMF does not want to be associated with it? In this essay, we study the lessons that the IMF claims to have learnt from experience with its single-minded drive to enforce the neoliberal agenda throughout the globe.
The article by Ostry, Loungani, and Furceri, starts out by praising the neoliberal agenda for getting many things right. The authors write that they will confine their critique to two aspects. The first is capital account liberalisation, which means freely allowing capital flows across national borders. The second is “austerity”, which requires tight control of budget deficits, raising taxes, lowering expenses and making borrowing costly for the government.

While the rest of the world learnt this lesson after the East Asian Crisis in 1997, the IMF took two additional decades to catch on to the fact that free flows of capital across national boundaries are destabilising. Ostry et. al. write that growth benefits from capital flows are negligible, while the costs in terms of volatility and financial crises are high. They calculate that since 1980, there have been 150 episodes of surges in capital inflows with more than 30 resulting in crises. Many of these crises have resulted in large and sustained losses in economic output. They conclude that capital flows often create financial crises, and adversely affect economic growth, contrary to neoliberal theory. In addition, capital flows create increasing income inequality. In the era when capital account liberalisation was taken as the gospel truth, “capital controls” were taboo, considered akin to the suggestion of bloodletting for medical problems. Therefore, it is surprising that Ostry et. al. conclude their discussion by suggesting that direct capital controls may sometimes be the only effective method to prevent booms and busts due to short term capital flows. In the era of financial liberalisation, mechanisms for capital controls were dismantled all over the world, including Pakistan. To follow IMF advice, based on bitter experience, we will need to restructure capital controls, in a manner suitable to the substantial advances in electronic financial flows, which are characteristic of the modern age.
The question of ‘austerity’ is more subtle and complex. Thinking intuitively, it seems reasonable that governments should balance budgets, and not spend in excess of what they earn. This is called fiscal responsibility, and is strongly urged by advocates of austerity. In the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929, JM Keynes revolutionised economics, and created the field of macroeconomics by showing that recessions are caused by shortfalls in aggregate demand. The anti-austerity measures of printing money, and government spending, financed by deficits if necessary, could make up for the shortfall in demand, and lift the economy out of recession. In the post-Depression era, President Roosevelt was defensive about the deficit spending required to carry out New Deal programmes. Keynes visited him in 1934 to try to convince him to increase deficit spending, but was only partially successful. The recession was substantially prolonged because of Roosevelt’s timid and hesitant anti-austerity measures, running deficits of only around three per cent. It was more aggressive deficit spending necessitated by the war that finally lifted the US out of depression.
Why was this basic Keynesian lesson forgotten by the IMF, an institution which was created by Keynes? Although top level decision-making at the IMF lacks transparency, one can guess at the motive by following the money. Austerity helps richer countries, since scarcity of money allows them to lend at higher interest rates and extract greater concessions from poorer countries. The massive flows of interest payments from the poorest countries to the richest provides evidence for this view.
Among US Army generals who were the most brutal and savage in the persecution of Native Americans, many would become their strongest defenders after retirement. Perhaps the mea culpa of the IMF is motivated by guilt and remorse. However, it is more likely that they are backing away from an unpopular position.

Short Posts on Diverse Topics: My author page on LinkedIn. Other works: Index . Related” The Keynesian Revolution and the Monetarist Counter-Revolution

The perpetuation of inequality through clustering in neighborhoods is graphically depicted in: “Living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life” by Alvin Chang. Of course, this concept cannot even be formulated in conventional economic theory. I think we must move beyond the idea that neoclassical economic theory is “wrong” and come to the realization that neoclassical economist accomplishes perfectly what it is designed to do. It is designed to conceal those aspects of economic reality which could create unrest among the bottom 99%, as well as those aspects which enable the 1% to achieve extraordinary privilege and power at the expense of the rest. For instance,  “The Veil of Money” shows that QTM and standard monetary theory is designed to conceal how the mechanism of money creation provides enormous advantage to the wealthy. “The Fairy Tale of GNP” shows how standard economic theory measures of progress are designed to conceal inequality and distributional injustice. The standard DSGE model, with only one representative agent, is designed to conceal the presence of disadvantaged groups, minorities and laborers.

In reading obits to prepare  an article in memory of Muhammad Ali, I came across something to the effect that Muhammad Ali was a child prodigy. In any just society, given educational opportunities, he would have grown up to be a scholar, a philosopher, a statesman, or other kind of superstar. However, given the realities of discrimination, he could only become a boxer. The drastically different economic realities of heterogenous communities within societies are systematically concealed by economic theory. The article below, about Muhammad Ali, was published in Express Tribune on 13 June 2016, with the title: “Remembering an Icon

The Greatest 

The dramatic shifts of fortune experienced by Mohammad Ali, who died recently on 3rd June 2016, reflects the checkered fortunes of the minorities he represented. It requires effort for contemporary mindsets to visualize the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s where Black Americans were fighting not just for social, economic and political equality, but most fundamentally, the right to lead lives with human dignity. Mohammad Ali was among the most colorful champions of equality in a now nearly forgotten era of Black liberation. He came to prominence on the world stage after a surprise victory against reigning heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston, when 7 to 1 odds were given against Ali. He earned the anger and ire of white public when he publicly announced his conversion to Islam, and renounced his “slave name” of Cassius Clay.

Muhammad Ali’s status as world champion provided him with the platform to express and articulate the sentiments of the oppressed Black minority regarding the Vietnam War.  He refused to “drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights”. [ read more]