Essay on Urban Planning


This week marked the 640th anniversary of the 1381 Great Rising, a rebellion which swept across medieval England demanding an end to serfdom and an overhaul of the legal system and the aristocracy.

A 2009 book edited by A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi and Cristóbal Kay examines the past, present, and future of peasant studies, paying close attention to the impact of globalization on configurations of rural power.

From the book’s conclusion:

“Agrarian restructuring has altered the land-, labour- and capital-intensity of production, in ways that have profoundly altered the terrain of the agrarian question. In Brazil and Vietnam, significant linkages between the export-oriented and peasant production subsectors has facilitated an asymmetrical but mutually reinforcing expansion of both subsectors, and consequently domestic demand. In both, the agricultural export sector now drives growth that, through its impact on product prices and wages, fosters increases in domestic demand in the rural economy in the first instance, but also more generally in the economy as a whole. Within both Brazil and Vietnam, rural accumulation continues to be of importance for both capital and labour and, in this sense, the classical concerns of the agrarian question remain salient.

By countrast, in countries as varied as Bolivia, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe, the processes of market-led land appropriation can be witnessed, though contingent trajectories of variation have produced manifestly different outcomes in specific settings. In particular, higher-value agricultural exports are an important determinant of aggregate rates of rural accumulation, but substantially weaker linkages between the export and peasant subsectors have fostered a significantly weaker distribution of the gains from rural accumulation and thus equality-deteriorating patterns of rural growth. Indeed, the greater emphasis on higher-value agricultural exports, coupled with devaluations and the removal of import restrictions resulting from ongoing structural adjustment in agriculture, has effectively, and in some cases deliberately, neglected agricultural production for the home market. Thus a range of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are increasingly engaged in the production of specialist farm output for niche consumer markets in developed capitalist economies, usually under the aegis of agro-food transnational corporations operating upstream in the commodity chain. The result, in many countries, has been to generate a reproduction squeeze within the increasingly fragmented peasant sector.”

Link to the text.

  • “There are no longer classes of predatory pre-capitalist landed property of any major weight, nor is it useful to regard today’s small farmers as ‘peasants’ in any inherited historical sense.” Henry Bernstein asks “Is There an Agrarian Question in the 21st Century?” Link. And, by Max Ajl, “Does the Arab Region have an agrarian question?” Link.
  • “I use data covering 267 prefectures over four centuries to investigate two questions about historical China. To what extent did weather shocks cause civil conflict? And to what extent did the historical introduction of sweet potatoes mitigate these effects?” A 2013 paper by Ruixue Jia on weather-induced economic decline and peasant uprisings. Link.
  • “The crucial determinant of large-scale, sustained peasant rebellions is the ability of peasants to find allies among other societal groups.” Karen Barkey undertakes a comparison of uprisings in seventeenth century France and the Ottoman Empire. Link.
  • “It is abundantly clear that the peasantry, and not wage workers, has constituted the decisive social base of most, if not all, successful twentieth-century revolutions.” James Scott’s 1977 article reflects on “Hegemony and the Peasantry.” Link. And in his seminal work, Barrington Moore concludes that “The process of industrialization begins with peasant revolutions that fail. It culminates during the twentieth century with peasant revolutions that succeed.” Link.


Sovereign Debt & War in Latin America

FELIPE FORD COLE is the Sherwood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In a chapter co-authored with Juan Flores Zendejas, Ford Cole examines the role of sovereign debt and intervention in Latin America in the 19th century.

From the paper:

“The 19th century witnessed a high number of of episodes in which a government’s failure to repay its debt led to the erosion of a country’s sovereignty. In the most extreme cases, such disputes would trigger the intervention of European powers—mostly Britain and France—and the establishment of colonial regimes. Interestingly, the colonial wars and foreign control commissions that could be observed in Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East were seldom seen in Latin America. This is odd given that Latin American governments frequently defaulted on their external debts during this period. Different episodes of sovereign defaults witnessed the rise of merchant banks and other, private agents as actors with capacities to alter the economic policies of a country, or to exert different types of control over public revenues, expenditures, and monetary policy. But this does not mean that more heavy-handed options to force repayment were absent. As shown in the Mexican, Venezuelan, or Central American cases, the threat of external interventions existed as the region also fell into the field of imperial competition. Recognition between Latin American nations and European powers that came with independence in the 1820s meant that they enjoyed the right to non-intervention. But because Latin American nations were considered throughout the 19th century as part of a semi-periphery, neither colonized nor within the family of ‘civilized’ nations, they could not enforce this right against the same European powers when they sought to enforce debt claims.”

Link to the text.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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  • “Shadow banking has three foundations: liquid assets, global dollar funding, and risk management. So far, the Fed has left the last foundation unattended.” New on PW, Elham Saeidinezhad on risk management after 2008. Link.
  • Also new on the site: an entry in our Phenomenal Works series by Laleh Khalili, who recommends a paper by Winona LaDuke and Deborah Cowen. Link. See also: Khalili in conversation with Katy Fox-Hodess about her book Sinews of War and Trade. Link.
  • David Reinecke on NASA-funded science in an era of austerity, 1967-1976. Link. (ht: reader Philip R)
  • “There are statistically significant associations (p<0.05) between subnational data quality and key indicators of public health system capacity, fiscal decentralization, and the quality of democratic institutions.” A new paper by Philip Rocco, Jessica Rich, Katarzyna Klasa, Kenneth Dubin, and Daniel Béland looks at subnational data collection during the Covid-19 crisis in federal countries. Link.
  • Arjun Ramani and Nicholas Bloom use USPS and Zillow data to quantify migration within and across US cities during Covid-19. Link.
  • Peter Wade examines the politics of genomic science, race, and indigeneity in Latin America. Link.
  • A new report from the People’s Policy Project by Paul E. Williams on social asset building with the American Rescue Plan. Link.
  • Aaron Littman on the role of sheriffs in incarceration and criminal justice policy. Link.
  • “The estimates indicate that one HIV/AIDS death has been avoided for every $314,000 allocated through the program and that the program has saved approximately 60,000 lives through 2018.” Marcus Dillender examines city-level funding to fight HIV/AIDS. Link.
  • Jonathan Gruber, Amalie Jensen, Henrik Kleven study the effects of scaling back the mortgage interest deduction for middle- and high-income households in Denmark. Link.
  • “We analyse how workers perceive corporate labour standards and the related work conditions in the agro-export sector of Northern Guanajuato, Central Mexico.” By Jaime Hoogesteger and Gaya Massink. Link.
  • “Secondary-school enrollment and graduation rates increased spectacularly in much of the United States from 1910 to 1940; the advance was particularly rapid from 1920 to 1935 in the nonsouthern states. This increase was uniquely American; no other nation underwent an equivalent change for several decades. States that rapidly expanded their high school enrollments early in the period had greater wealth, more homogeneity of wealth, and less manufacturing activity than others. Factors prompting the expansion include the substantial returns to education early in the century and a responsive “state.” By Claudia Goldin. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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