Technological Improvements


Land acquisitions have been on the rise since 2008, when rising oil prices and an international food crisis dramatically increased demand. Changing ownership patterns have the potential to influence not only the terms of agricultural supply chains, but the structure of political power in economies across the Global South.

A new book by MADELEINE FAIRBAIRN analyzes the trajectory of global land grabs, focusing especially on the expanding role of the financial sector.

From the introduction:

“The giant US pension fund Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), one of the largest players in the emerging farmland investment sector, illustrates how recently financial interest in farmland has emerged—and how rapidly it has grown. In 2007, TIAA suddenly began acquiring enormous tracts of farmland as part of the investment portfolio it manages on behalf of retired teachers and other professionals. By 2012, it already controlled $2.8 billion worth of farmland in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and Eastern Europe, making it one of the largest farmland owners and managers in the world. This included more than four hundred individual farm properties totaling 600,000 acres, most of them leased out to tenant farmers and operating companies. By the end of 2017, less than a decade after its first farmland purchase, TIAA—a firm created to manage the retirement accounts of teachers—had come to control over 1.9 million acres of farmland worldwide.

The amount of financial-sector capital so far invested in global farmland markets is fairly paltry. But financial-sector spittle has the potential to buy a lot of land. In Iowa, where farmland cost an average of $7,943 per acre in 2014, $40 billion could buy slightly over 5 million acres—approximately a sixth of the state’s farmland. In Brazil’s soy frontier state of Piauí, where farmland cost around $1,000 an acre in 2014, it would buy well over half the state. Ultimately, the prospect of landownership concentration in the hands of the financial sector matters because it has the potential to propel economic inequality. It matters greatly if the financial institutions that control much of the accumulated wealth of society decide that land is a preferred route for storing that wealth and generating income from it.”

Link to the book.

  • “We devised a new methodology for uncovering corporate organization and actors who benefit from farmland investment through an analysis of creditors and proprietors.” Loka Ashwood, John Canfield, Madeleine Fairbairn and Kathryn De Master draw on county-level tax parcel data to analyze corporate land ownership structures in Illinois. Link.
  • International investment law, which construes land as a commercial asset, can facilitate access to land for foreign investors and impose discipline on the exercise of regulatory powers in land matters. But shifts in the political economy that underpins international investment law can create new opportunities to reflect the non-commercial relations within which land rights remain embedded in many societies.” Lorenzo Cotula’s 2013 article on the legal underpinnings of global land acquisition. By the same author, a 2013 book looks at landgrabs across Africa. Link, link.
  • Another new book by Stefan Ouma presents an ethnography of agricultural-focussed asset management, through case studies of New Zealand and Tanzania. Link.


Care work and ethnic group boundaries in South Korea

Recent University of Toronto sociology PhD graduate YANG-SOOK KIM studies the effects of globalization in the care sector in the US and South Korea. In a 2018 paper, Kim analyzes the complex relationship between labor market stratification and ethnicity among elderly care workers in South Korea.

From the article:

“The predominance of migrant workers on the bottom of South Korea’s care labour market is commonly viewed as a natural outcome of an emerging regional care chain and an ethnocentric immigration regime that selectively brings migrant workers into the nation’s care markets. However, the interaction between policy discourses and the subjectivities of migrant and native-born care workers reveals a complex story. Unlike South Korean women who work as yoyangbohosa (state-certified eldercare workers), most Korean-Chinese migrant Joseonjok workers in the care sector are not state-certified and work informally as patients’ aides and domestic workers. It is crucial to analyze the role of policy regimes in reproducing existing divisions and hierarchies between similar yet unequally positioned groups of marginalized workers. In this article, I examine the boundary marking strategies of native-born and migrant care workers in South Korea to better understand how each group makes sense of and navigates the dynamics of ethnically-segmented care labour markets.”

Link to the full paper.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • Join us Tuesday September 15 at 6pm ET for another installment of JFI’s Social Wealth Seminar, featuring Marcelo Medeiros on a proposal for a permanent and countercyclical system for social protection in Latin America. Email to register, and read Medeiros’ “Plan for the Poorest” here.
  • “Using ethnographic data of doctors applying for maternity leave in Pakistan, this article documents strategies used by citizens to navigate administrative burden.” A new paper by Ayesha Masood and Muhammad Azfar Nisar. Link. For more on administrative burden, see this newsletter from last year.
  • “Value added per ton of raw material embodied in exports is 11 times higher in high-income countries than in those with the lowest income, and 28 times higher per unit of embodied labor.” A new paper provides “empirical evidence that supports the theory of ecologically unequal exchange.” By Christian Dorninger, Alf Hornborg, David J. Abson, Henrik von Wehrden, Anke Schaffartzik, et al. Link.
  • “The relationship between industrial worker campaigns and democratization is very robust, whereas the evidence is mixed for middle-class campaigns for democracy.” Sirianne Dahlum, Carl Henrik Knutsen, and Tore Wig on the social composition of antiregime movements, from 1900 – 2006. Link.
  • On the political effects of misreported Swedish balance of payments statistics in the 1970s, by Gunnar Blomberg, Lars Forss, and Ingvar Karlsson. Link.
  • “Forecasts by economists of the economic damage from climate change have been notably sanguine compared to warnings by scientists about damage to the biosphere. This is because economists made their own predictions of damages, using three spurious methods: assuming that about 90% of GDP will be unaffected by climate change, because it happens indoors; using the relationship between temperature and GDP today as a proxy for the impact of global warming over time; and using surveys that diluted extreme warnings from scientists with optimistic expectations from economists.” Steve Keen on climate modeling. Link.
  • Robert M. Feinberg and Daniel Kuehn find that a guaranteed basic income program in Alaska had positive effects on entrepreneurship that dissipated over time. Link.
  • “Underlining the significant role of caste in defining the educational experiences of Dalit students, the findings underscore that the emergence of class along caste lines, the different face of patriarchy for Dalit females, and the inaccessibility of affirmative action due to daily financial challenges, make the process of inclusion still a distant dream.” Kamlesh Narwana and Angrej Singh Gill on Dalit higher education in Punjab. Link.
  • Israel García Solares analyzes working class formations through simultaneous miner strikes in the US and Mexico in the early 20th century. Link.
  • On Baumol and Engel effects in the structural transformation of the Japanese economy, 1885 – 1985. By Kyoji Fukao and Saumik Paul. Link.
  • “Employing droughts and floods to proxy for changes in precipitation, this paper shows nomadic incursions into settled Han Chinese regions over a period of more than two thousand years—the most enduring clash of civilizations in history—to be positively correlated with less rainfall and negatively correlated with more rainfall. Consistent with findings that economic shocks are positively correlated with conflicts in modern sub-Saharan Africa when instrumented by rainfall, our reduced-form results extend this relationship to a very different temporal and geographical context, the Asian continent, and long historical period.” By Ying Bai and James Kai-sing Kung. Link.

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

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