Saturday, September 27, 2008

The "I" in Psychology: The Ethical Self & the Nation-state

In "The Financial Advisor as Handholder", the New York Times today asked the following question and solicited reader comments. Read my response to the question, as well of course, the article.

September 27th, 2008 9:60 am
Q. How have you changed your thinking about money in recent weeks?

In response to the question, which in itself is disingenuous, my answer is, not really. Just leaving out "How" would make it less of a leading question and invite a more open-ended, thought-provoking, reflective response.

My Comment:

I read Ron Lieber's NYTimes piece (see below) with interest (though I am not earning any) in this bailout phase of late capitalism.

Psychology as a discipline cannot reasonably or logically be divested of its moorings within US style militarist democracy.
I teach psychology at my public higher ed institution.
It would be intellectually remiss of me NOT to present,
especially to my students of color who constitute the majority of our enrollment, that psychology is solely the scientific study of "I" (it is, but not solely)

and that that "I" in the U.S. is embedded in a macrostructural ideology of inequity, predation and supremacist notions that reject other perspectives, lifeworlds and diverse trajectories of the self within and across the nation-state.

Who are the handholders? Whose hands are in temporary need of holding? Who will be the main beneficiaries of this collapse? The same individuals embedded in the institutions that wreaked havoc in the first place.

Chithra KarunaKaran
City University of New York

Theory of Systemic Whiteness

— EthicalDemocracy,

Back to Article »

The Financial Adviser as Hand-Holder

* comments (2)

Published: September 26, 2008

How have you changed your thinking about money in recent weeks?

* Post a Comment »
* Read All Comments (2) »

After all, uncertainty breeds anxiety. This week alone, we witnessed the market plunge on Monday, a tussle over the scope of the federal bailout that grew on Tuesday and the unfamiliar sight Wednesday night of watching our normally cocksure president pleading for support on national television.

By Thursday, Washington Mutual was dead and gone and on Friday, the politicians in Washington still hadn’t settled their differences over the bailout. We can only hope that the package will allow the federal government to quickly clear bad debt from companies’ books and grease the wheels of the economy. But who knows how long it might take or if it will even work?

All of these uncertainties weigh heavily on our minds. So this week, I turned to financial planners and investment advisers who got their start as psychologists or studied the field as graduate students, plus a few ringers who are adept observers of minds and money, even though they have formal training only in the latter.

I asked them this: At this troubling moment, what’s the best way to reorient how we think about money, before we make any rash decisions about what to do with whatever we have left?

Start, just for a minute, by giving yourself over to the worse case. The visceral fear here is of dying in the poorhouse, as Richard Schroeder, a certified financial planner with Schroeder, Braxton & Vogt in Amherst, N.Y., put it. And his answer to clients who articulate that nightmare is this: the markets will eventually recover.

So let’s reel ourselves back from the edge of oblivion. Most of us can take some comfort in the fact that we have time on our sides. Managing our money is a process that unfolds over decades, not days. It’s easy to forget that, when one company after another is falling victim, week after week, and we can track their disintegration on an hourly basis.

“The individual needs to go back to that personal road map,” said Sharon Rich, a financial planner with a doctorate from Harvard who studied women, psychology and education. “Where are you right now, where do you want to be and how do you get from here to there?”

And then apply that to an investment portfolio. “I think reminding people in this environment of why we’ve chosen the investment strategy that we have is a good thing for those who are a little bit antsy,” said Constance Barber, a certified financial planner with Barber Financial in Natick, Mass., who got her start as a school psychologist. “We’ve usually not set this up because it’s money that you’ll need tomorrow.”

Even if we don’t need the money right now, it doesn’t feel good to look at a retirement portfolio and find that it’s down 15 percent from its peak a year ago.

“People rely on selective memory when they’re only looking at losses from the high point that the portfolio reached,” said Victoria Collins, who has a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked as a certified financial planner for more than two decades.

This was a point echoed by many people I spoke with this week. On one hand, it’s certainly depressing to be down to $340,000 from $400,000, for instance. The basic math doesn’t help the mood either, given that after a decline of 15 percent, a portfolio needs to gain 17.6 percent just to get back to $400,000 again. “This is real money in people’s lives,” said Ms. Rich, who runs Womoney, a financial planning firm in Belmont, Mass. She noted that some people added up how many years it took them to save the money that just disappeared.

We can mimic that mindset if we choose, or we can consider what our balance was, say, a decade ago. Chances are we’ve made a lot of progress since then, if we’ve been saving all along. “There are clients who will say, ‘Yes, it’s down, but look where I started,’ ” said Ms. Barber, the former school psychologist. “ ‘I’m hanging in there, and we’ve come a long way, baby, and it’s O.K. for now.’ ”

Next, put down the retirement account statement and consider the credit and debit card bills and the checkbook. Ms. Rich put some clients with job security anxieties through this exercise this week. It isn’t a budgeting drill exactly. “The question is how the way I’m spending reflects my values and what I think is important in the world,” she said.

For those of us who pay someone to clean our house, she said, perhaps having a clean house isn’t really that important when we reconsider. Or if we think it’s crucial for our children to experience nature, perhaps a series of day trips can have the same effect as going to the Grand Canyon.

School costs are an issue here too, Ms. Rich said, and she noted that such reconsideration may mean spending more, not less, on certain items.

One tricky part about the last several weeks is confronting all the headlines declaring this the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. “Most of the individuals that I find who need more handholding are the ones who’ve had some connection with the Great Depression,” says Ms. Collins, the Berkeley Ph.D., who is now an executive vice president and principal with Keller Group Investment Management in Irvine, Calif.

These people tend to be retirees, who may have had parents who told them stories about living through the 1930s or are old enough to remember it themselves. If they have little or no earning capacity now, they feel especially helpless when they see parts of their portfolios disappearing.

“I try to remind them that even they don’t need all of that portfolio today,” she said. “You’re only withdrawing a certain amount.”

Ms. Rich suggested that people reach out to someone else to discuss their situation if they don’t have a hybrid financial adviser-shrink to counsel them through the crisis. It could be a peer, a family member, a member of the clergy or staff at a senior center.

Even that support network may not be enough to bring the most anxiety-prone among us back from the edge. “For those who cling to doomsday scenarios we can also say, ‘So what?’ ” Mr. Schroeder, the financial planner in Amherst, N.Y., said in an e-mail message. “If the markets go to zero, if the whole system crashes, there is no safe haven, so it doesn’t matter whether you buy Treasuries. The currency will be worthless and there will be chaos in the streets. Your only alternative is to stock up on guns, ammunition and goods that are easily tradable and will become valuable, such as sewing needles, good Scotch, etc.”

Now, forget about hoarding sewing supplies and remember that things are much more likely to get better than they are to get that bad.

How have you changed your thinking about money in recent weeks? Post your comment at or write to
More Articles in Business » A version of this article appeared in print on September 27, 2008, on page C1 of the New York edition.

* Health Care Costs Increase Strain, Studies Find (September 25, 2008)
* Retirees Filling the Front Line in Market Fears (September 23, 2008)
* YOUR MONEY; Minimizing Your Own Exposure To Risks (September 20, 2008)
* Wall Street and You: Sorting Out the Changes in the Financial World (September 16, 2008)

image of
Victoria Collins, who has a Ph.D. in social psychology, is an executive vice president for Keller Group Investment Management
Readers' Comments

Most E-Mailed

1. Stopping a Financial Crisis, the Swedish Way
2. Government Seizes WaMu and Sells Some Assets
3. Talks Implode During a Day of Chaos; Fate of Bailout Plan Remains Unresolved
4. DealBook: Wachovia Begins Early Deal Talks with Citi
5. S.E.C. Concedes Oversight Flaws Fueled Collapse

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The More Things Change......

I wrote the following response to an article "Don't go Changing" that appeared in Inside Higher Ed today

The More Things Change.........

Did I read too fast and miss the corollary? More of the same. As much ( or as little?) change from the academy as from other components of the entrenched U.S. system.

Change — part of the vocabulary of commodified discourses in late capitalism in its bailout phase?

Still, the enduring optimism that change can occur through our own efforts sustains many of us.

Chithra KarunaKaran City University of New York

Chithra KarunaKaran, City University of New York, at 11:50 am EDT on September 25, 2008

Great article. I wonder, though, if the disproportionate language used to describe change in higher education is generated less by a desire for change (i.e. a hopefulness), than a recognition that change is being demanded, and that in the absence of real change, the language of change will have to do. Colleges and universities in many developed countries are being asked by governments, taxpayers, and think-tanks to change how they conduct themselves. In the U.S., for example, the Spellings Commission made ‘threatening noises’ about increased scrutiny and transparency requirements for post-secondary. In this climate, it’s not wise to appear to be sitting on your hands. Just like the politicians Rafael Heller cites in his article, higher education’s rhetoric of change may be more tactical than visionary.

Keith Hampson, Director, at 10:45 am EDT on September 25, 2008
Sept. 25

Don’t Go Changing
By Rafael Heller

Barack Obama’s campaign slogan, “Change we can believe in,” will never be mistaken for a classic of the genre. It has none of the poetry of “morning again in America,” the precision of “a chicken in every pot,” or the back-slapping bonhomie of “I like Ike.”

Nevertheless, Obama has succeeded in placing “change” at the rhetorical center of this year’s presidential contest. In just the last few weeks alone, he introduced his new and improved tagline, “the change you need,” John McCain countered with “change you can trust,” Joe Biden scoffed, “That’s not change, that’s more of the same,” and Sarah Palin hit back at “candidates who use change to promote their careers,” as opposed to “those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.”

Of course, sophisticated pundits and politicos would never let themselves be snookered by this sort of rhetorical gamesmanship. They’ve called out Obama on his messaging numerous times, dating to the Iowa caucuses when, for example, the editors at USA Today asked, “As the candidate of ‘change,’ what changes does he want? Could he deliver them?” Obama “seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public” with nothing more than the “vague promise of ‘change,’” complained the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson. And even John McCain — who was against such tactics before he was for them — rebuked Obama for making “an eloquent but empty call for change.”

Higher education, on the other hand, seems very much to enjoy snookering itself. Academic reformers have been making lofty appeals to change (and its souped-up partner, “transformation”) for years now, rarely stopping to ask what, if anything, such terms mean or whether anybody could deliver on them.

A quick search of scholarly publications turns up literally hundreds of titles such as “10 bellwether principles for transforming American higher education,” “Organizing adjuncts to change higher education,” “Transformation of the community colleges for the 21st century,” “Virtual transformation: Web-based technology and pedagogical change,” “Transformation of higher education: The transdisciplinary approach in engineering,” and “Transforming library and higher education support services.”

Appearing in the pages of the Journal of Transformative Education are pieces such as “Mentoring for transformative learning” and “Transformative higher education: A meaningful degree of understanding.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning chimes in with “Teaching and learning in the service of transformation” and “Creating change in engineering education.” Fordham University Press just released Class Degrees: Smart Work, Managed Identities, and the Transformation of Higher Education, Routledge offers Strategic Leadership of Change in Higher Education, Jossey-Bass presents Latino Change Agents in Higher Education and even TIAA/CREF, the retirement planning giant, has gotten into the act, with Transformational Change in Higher Education.

Recent events have included the National Conference on Civic Engagement: Creating Agents for Change, the Annual Conference on Teaching for Transformation, Vision 2020: Digital Ubiquity & University Transformation and the 18th annual Teaching for a Change conference. The state of New Mexico hosted Changing for Learning’s Sake: A Focus on Assessment and Retention, Wisconsin Women in Higher Education Leadership sponsored Women Moving Forward: Navigating Change, the Council on Independent Colleges offered workshops on the Transformation of the College Library and the U.S. Department of Education held an event that it billed as a “National Higher Education Transformation Summit.”

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at the University of Michigan’s Work Group on Organizational Change and Transformation in Higher Education, the University of Maryland’s project on Change and Sustainability in Higher Education and the independent National Center for Academic Transformation. The American Council of Education’s Project on Leadership and Institutional Transformation finished up its work a few years ago, taking with it ACE’s series of occasional papers titled On Change. However, for academics still needing a fix, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO continues to host discussions of “Working Together to Transform Higher Education,” the report of the 2003 World Conference on Higher Education.

So what’s wrong with all of this change-mongering?

To be fair, much of it perfectly harmless. People have to find something to name their articles, conferences, and institutes, and if nothing clever comes to mind, then “transformation” makes for a convenient rallying cry. As Barack Obama knows (and let’s not forget Walter Mondale, who went with “America needs a change” for his 1984 campaign slogan, and Jimmy Carter, who had a somewhat more successful 1976 run with “A leader, for a change”), change sounds like a pretty good thing to pursue. It captures people’s attention, makes them feel hopeful, and probably helps draw them to workshops and conferences.

The problem isn’t that academic reformers try to put a positive spin on their work. Rather, the problem is that they’re not very good at it, whether as producers or consumers of rhetoric.

As producers, they’re simply unimaginative. Again and again, they dip into the very same rhetorical well, as if there were no means by which to inspire audiences but to speak of transformation, and no way to stir people to action but to warn them that they live in a time of great change (as though that couldn’t be said of every decade since the Mesozoic era), one that compels a response.

And as consumers of this sort of rhetoric, academics are far too easy to please. Journalists and politicians pride themselves on their ability to dissect the candidates’ slogans and bumper stickers. But college professors and provosts seem all too happy to take such language at face value, smiling sweetly at the latest call for transformation.

Perhaps the appeal of such promises stands in inverse relationship to their likelihood of being fulfilled. As numerous historians of higher education have documented, for all the bold words and big plans of academic reformers, the “basic grammar” of higher education — the familiar ways in which faculty teach, students learn, departments function, administrators govern, and so on — has proven to be extremely durable, evolving little over the past century. It could be that reformers go easy on the vaguest of slogans precisely because they know how difficult it is to achieve the concrete goals toward which they work so hard, such as to get students to drink less and study more, to create tenure systems that reward excellent teaching, to graduate much larger numbers of low-income students, to devise a truly coherent undergraduate curriculum, and so on. Maybe academic reformers talk so often about transformation precisely because they see so little of it and they need the occasional dose of hopefulness.

Some such hopeful “audacity,” as Obama would put it, may be necessary, inspiring faculty and administrators to press on with the painfully slow and necessarily incremental march of academic reform. But too much of it can ruin their sense of direction, leading them to believe that “change” is actually a meaningful objective, and leading them to mistake every new curricular policy or departmental initiative for a dramatic transformation.

Those of us who care about higher education certainly wouldn’t want to forego the audacious optimism that sustains us, but it may be time to ditch, or at least tone down, the empty calls for change.

Rafael Heller is an independent consultant and education writer in Washington.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tata Nano & Ethical Democracy: How The Consuming Classes Impede Equitable Development

Chithra KarunaKaran
September 19th, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Isn’t this Singur Tata Nano discussion ass backwards? Most of the readers appear to have unexamined bourgeois positions on this issue.
Yeah, the neoliberal Indian middle class in which they have membership is the worst enemy of equitable democratic development.

Let me suggest some

Alternative Questions:

Q. Why are farmers being displaced? Isn’t agriculture of PRIMARY importance in a developing country? Should manufacture be undertaken at the expense of agriculture? What about dispossessed farmers, especially when they fall prey to unscrupulous politicians, whether Left, Trinamool or Congress? What about FARMERS RIGHTS and FOOD SECURITY for our people? Does India have one of the world's highest rates of malnutrition among young children and women? Are India's farmers being pampered with fancy subsidies like the one Tata was offered in Uttarkhand and Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal or are they committing suicide because they cannot pay back usurious bank loans and lack a safety net?

Q. Why is Tata manufacturing a CAR when the urgent national priority is PUBLIC MASS TRANSIT — buses, trains etc. ? Do we really need yet another private vehicle on already crowded city streets? Since Tata already has manufacturing expertise in buses etc, that is what it should be manufacturing in the first place.
Shouldn’t the Left Govt. insist that Tata manufacture MASS PUBLIC TRANSIT vehicles at Singur or elsewhere to promote the Greater Collective Good?

Q. Why should national priorities be secondary to the consuming needs of the urban middle class? Why should national development priorities be secondary to the GREED of multinational capitalists?

Think about it.

Dr. Chithra KarunaKaran
City University of New York
See The Rise of the Car Nazis: Ratan and the Tata Wannabes

See reader comments at:

Article from "The Hindu"
How Tatas chose Singur as base for Nano plans

Our Bureau

Chennai, Sept. 12 A comprehensive package of incentives — subsidy on land, concessional power, a soft loan and tax paybacks — to match the benefits that Tata Motors would have got in Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh, was what got it to choose Singur in West Bengal for making its low-cost car Nano.

The agreement between Tata Motors, West Bengal Government and the State industrial promotion agency — West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation — available on the corporation’s Web site, provides details of the incentives offered.

The Government has said that it approached Tata Motors to persuade it to locate an automobile project in the State, including the project to make the small car. Tata Motors showed interest in locating the plant in West Bengal, provided the State offered fiscal incentives equivalent to the value of total incentives it would have received by locating the plant in Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh.

According to the agreement, the West Bengal Government will provide Tata Motors a loan of Rs 200 crore at 1 per cent interest, repayable in five equal annual instalments starting from the 21st year from the date of disbursement of the loan. This loan will be disbursed within 60 days of signing this agreement (The company signed an agreement with the Government on March 9, 2007 for the land at Singur).
Electricity clause

The Government will provide electricity for the project at Rs 3 a kWh. In case the tariff is increased by more than 25 paise a unit in every block of five years, the Government will provide relief through additional compensation to neutralise the increase.

The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) will provide 645.67 acres of land to Tata Motors on a 90-year lease, on an annual lease rental of Rs 1 crore a year for the first five years, with a 25 per cent increase after every five years till 30 years.

After 30 years, the lease rental will be fixed at Rs 5 crore a year, with a 30 per cent increase after every 10 years till the 60th year. After this, the lease rental will be fixed at Rs 20 crore a year, which will remain unchanged till the 90th year. After the 90-year lease period, the lease terms will be fixed on mutually-agreed terms.

The agreement says that WBIDC will provide an industrial promotion assistance in the form of a loan at 0.1 per cent per annum for amounts equal to gross value-added tax and Central Sales Tax received by the State Government in each of the previous years ended March 31, on the sale of the small car from the date the sales begin.

This benefit, says the agreement, will continue till the balance amount of the Uttarakhand benefit (after deducting the amount from the land lease rental and the soft loan) is reached on net present value basis, after which it will be discontinued.
Loan repayment

The loan with interest will be repayable in annual instalments starting from the 31st year of commencement of sale from the plant. The loan availed of in the first year will be repaid in the 31st year and so on.

WBIDC will ensure that this loan is paid within 60 days of the close of the previous year, failing which the corporation will be liable to compensate Tata Motors for the financial inconvenience caused at the rate of 1.5 times the bank rate prevailing at the time on the amount due for the period of delay.

Tata Motors and the West Bengal Government will make best efforts to maximise sale of products from the small car plant, the agreement says.

As far as the land for the vendors is concerned, about 290 acres will be leased to the vendors on payment of premium equal to the actual cost of acquisition plus incidentals, to be calculated on the basis of the total acquisition cost and other incidental expenses incurred by WBIDC or any of its subsidiaries, averaged over the total land acquired.
Lease rental

The vendors will have to pay a lease rental of Rs 8,000 an acre for the first 45 years and Rs 16,000 an acre for the next 45 years. The initial lease tenure will be 90 years, after which it will be fixed on mutually agreed upon terms.

Tata Motors will invest about Rs 1,500 crore at Singur with the vendors bringing in another Rs 500 crore. The plant was to have a capacity of 2.5 lakh units a year on a two-shift basis, going up to 3.5 lakh units on three shifts. In addition, it would have vendors and act as a mother plant for many aggregates to the tune of five lakh cars a year.

Tata Motors, which unveiled the Nano at the auto expo in New Delhi in January 2008, suspended work at Singur on September citing the hostile environment at the site and said it was drawing up detailed plans to relocate the plant and machinery. The company was to roll out the Nano in the quarter beginning October.

Related Stories:
Singur: Differences over amount of land to be returned to ‘unwilling’ farmers
Tata Motors gearing up to pull out from Singur

Thursday, September 11, 2008

U.S. Raids inside Pakistan an Affront to Sovereignty of Nation-States

U.S. Raids inside Pakistan an Affront to Sovereignty of Nation-States

September 11th, 2008 9:21 am
Raids (actually acts of terror by the U.S.) inside sovereign states is abysmally shortsighted U.S. foreign policy. This horrific search and destroy non-strategy is supported by a majority of the American electorate, as numerous polls have shown. The American PUBLIC is largely accountable.

In their we-are-the-greatest-nation-on-earth, shop-until-we-drop stupor, despite record high joblessness, homelessness,lack of universal healthcare and a plummeting economy, the majority of American voters apparently thinks that a 'strong' America means a threatening America, a 'strong' America means an invading, occupying America.

The U.S. PUBLIC which historically has favored short-sighted military adventurism by their government, whether Republican (the Bushes) or Democrat (Kennedy, Johnson), got the government they deserve when they elected George Bush twice. The U.S. public, AND a poll-driven Congress, supported Bush's invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation state, Iraq.

This is the same U.S. public and their leaders, McCain/Palin, as well as Obama/Biden, that now predictably supports raids against so-called "terrorists", inside a sovereign nation-state, Pakistan, and kills large numbers of women, men and children, all innocent civilians, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When will they ever learn? Is it possible that a public with various civic freedoms can undermine their own democracy and endanger the prospect of democracy in other sovereign nation-states? The frightening spectacle of U.S. democracy offers sobering lessons for other nation-states and their publics as they chart a democratic course.

The US has absolutely NO business being inside Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The mere fact of U.S. military presence within these sovereign states, nation states in which the U.S. has dangerously meddled for decades, triggers adverse and sometimes violent reaction. The US has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no respect for the sovereignty of nation-states. The chest-thumping of American triumphalism and exceptionalism is continuing to challenge an emerging and fragile multipolarity in much of the rest of the world.

What the US govt. can continue to do is use its own intelligence and international intelligence resources to strengthen its OWN borders against incursions. This it has done admirably since 9/11. This is the way to go. This is the way to keep going.

Raids inside sovereign states produce more and more "terrorists", as the evidence already shows.

Chithra KarunaKaran

— EthicalDemocracy,

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Cheap" car is cheap for the environment? The case of the Tata NanC

Shame on Ratan Tata for focusing on his company's profits in Singur, instead of focusing on urgent environmental justice priorities for our nation.

What India needs is more investment in BOTH agriculture and in public mass transit. Not private car ownership and manufacture.

Tata, the West Bengal Left Govt, the neo-liberal Central Govt and the opportunist Trinamool have collectively managed to defeat both of the abovementioned urgent national priorities for a so-called "cheap" car.
Cheap for the Environment? Cheap for Farmers? Yeah right.

The Rise of the Car Nazis: Ratan and the Tata Wannabes
September 7, 2008 1:07 PM