Interview with Vishaal Kishore, author of “Ricardo’s Gauntlet”

vishaal kishore

Government strategist, public servant and academic Vishaal Kishore talks to Anthem Press about writing his newly released book, Ricardo’s Gauntlet: Economic Fiction and the Flawed Case for Free Trade, which challenges readers to reconsider the concept of free trade.

Q: Are you following any free trade deals in the news at the moment?  

Vishaal Kishore: There is never a shortage of ‘live’ policy debates concerning free trade in the news – for example the very recently concluded CETA deal between the EU and Canada, on-going US-EU negotiations, or indeed Australia’s recently concluded free trade and economic partnership agreements with both Korea and Japan.

What is quite interesting about much of the broader free trade discussion is that it asserts, rather than really explores, the notion that free trade is a good idea and that it leads to significant economic gains.

Q: What implications do you think that the book has for these debates?

VK: What I try to do in Ricardo’s Gauntlet is examine this underlying assertion, and find that the story told to support it is less than fully convincing.  Given how critical trade is in our global economy, and how prevalent it is in our public discourse, it’s quite timely for us to consider afresh the goals that we really seek from trade agreements and from trade policy, and whether free trade really is the best way to achieve them.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing Ricardo’s Gauntlet

VK: The best – perhaps even the only – way to engage in a policy debate with the history and prestige that free trade has is to pick up the debate using its own language, and test the dominant arguments as much as is possible on their own terms. This is what Ricardo’s Gauntlet tries to do: it asks the question whether – on its best reading – the case for free trade really stacks up.

And I think ultimately this was one of the hardest things about writing the book – having to be painstakingly scrupulous in examining, and ultimately critiquing, a well-established disciplinary truth.  Genuinely smart people – Nobel Prize winners amongst them – have spent a long time refining the case for free trade. Misstepping risks alienating those with whom you are seeking to engage. So instead you have to chase all the mainstream rabbits down their holes and move between different disciplines and sub-disciplines to make sure that you represent the case for free trade as strongly as you can.  And then you have to try to figure out why you disagree with it!

But what made writing the book hard hopefully makes it better to read!

Q: As you highlight in the book’s introduction, there are many ways to assess trade as a topic. If you were to analyse other types of trade other than free trade, which would you choose?

VK: There are of course other ways of thinking about assessing trade. While these might not have the same prestige in policy discourse, some of them are very much a part of our broader public imagination.

One that I think is particularly interesting is what is often called ‘fair trade’.

There are any number of fair trade organisations that seek to certify coffee, chocolate and other products as ‘fair trade’ goods based upon their compliance with certain standards. These standards often relate to the setting of minimum prices to be paid to local producers for goods, and premiums paid towards local community development and infrastructure.

Don’t get me wrong, this is better than allowing the market – unfettered – to run rough-shod over subsistence farmers. However, is some small premium on top of the market price all that it takes to make international trade fair?

It’s interesting to think a little more about what is ‘unfair’ about ‘free’ trade, and what it would take to make it ‘fair’. We might think that fairness in trade involves some kind of justice or fairness in the way that benefits are distributed between players involved in the production of goods in a broader supply chain. Is it right to call trade ‘fair’ where subsistence farmers in the developing world continue to eke out a meagre living while others in the supply chain garner massive rents by reason of their privileged position in that supply chain?

I think it would be exciting – ethically and intellectually – to see what more could be done in this area.

Q: What alternative would you propose instead of free trade? Would you describe yourself as an advocate of protectionism? 

VK: This is a great – and indeed a common – question. One of the problems with our current discourse about international trade is that it leads us to the dichotomy between free trade and protection: if you aren’t a free trader, you must be a protectionist.

One of the key points in the book is that this dichotomy – between free trade on the one hand and protection on the other – sets up a false choice.

In fact, when we look carefully at all of the different ways that the state is involved in the economy, we come to realise that free trade itself is a difficult policy stance to really get hold of. We can start to see that there are lots of different ways that the state can shape the development of the economy, of production, and of patterns of trade. We need to get better at having conversations about the kind of economy that we want, and what we can sensibly do from a policy perspective to get it. In this, we need to break the shackles of thinking that all we have to choose from is free trade or protection.

AUTHOR EVENT: Professor Cascetta | Italian Cultural Institute, New York

Our author Professor Annamaria Cascetta at the Italian Cultural Institute, New York

The event, “Italy Towards Europe”, took place September 24 and was focused on European theatrical heritage and featured readings by Laura Curino.

Professor Cascetta is a theatre history academic and the former director of the Department of Communication and Performing Arts at the Catholic University of Milan. She recently published Modern European Tragedy, a study of twentieth century European theatre, with us.

Here is an extract from Professor Cascetta’s introduction at the event:

There couldn’t have been a better coincidence than the European Union Italian semester presidency to speak about theatre and Europe.

The Italian contribution to the project of the European Union has been significant: Altiero  Spinelli and Alcide De Gasperi were among the founders; in 1957 the treaty defining the European Economic Community, or the Common Market, was signed in Rome, while in 2004, 25 heads of state and government signed the treaty that establishes the European Constitution, the result of a long process of integration yearned so much by us all.

Undoubtedly, over the centuries culture has been Italy’s major contribution to the melting pot that today we call Europe, that feeds on traditions still thriving in our own country: the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, Christianity, the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightment. Ever since ancient Greece, at the Acropolis in Athens, or from Shakespeare’s time at the Globe in London, a community of active spectators has been meeting up to think, to release the emotions, to mirror itself, to read the present in the light of its history and foundations and to get ready to change. Art becomes the sheltered place where to meet up, separated yet projected into reality.

In the course of this reading, through the analysis of selected texts and authors, our speakers will lead the audience to a journey into the European theatrical heritage exploring the thread that has connected dramatic art across all Europe, and still does.

The Ruskin–Morris Connection

Portrait of William Morris, aged 53

Portrait by John Everett Millais, 1853-1854


In late nineteenth-century Britain, theorist and critic John Ruskin and the designer, writer and activist William Morris began pioneering new approaches to design and the decorative arts. But what sort of relationship did they have and how did their approaches to crafts and politics differ? Dr Mark Frost, author of The Lost Companions and John Ruskin’s Guild of St George: A Revisionary History, explores the connection between the two most influential figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

 In recalling encounters with William Morris in the 1880s, W. B. Yeats spoke of asking him what led up to the Arts and Crafts movement. Morris replied:

“O Ruskin and Carlyle, but somebody should have been beside Carlyle and punched his head every five minutes.”

The remark, amusing as it is, reveals a great deal about differences in the approaches – to crafts, practical work, and politics – of Ruskin and his disciple, Morris. Ruskin remained deeply indebted to his ‘master’, Thomas Carlyle, and powerful strains of Carlylean authoritarianism darkened his otherwise radical political outlook. Morris, by contrast, managed to extract what he saw as the most productive elements of Ruskin’s vision while rejecting all of its Carlylean elements.


Morris shared Ruskin’s belief in the superiority of medieval crafts. He imbibed Ruskin’s conviction that a nation can be judged by its aesthetic productions; that an immoral nation is incapable of creating great art; and that only non-mechanical, freely creative crafts could produce genuine beauty.

This message, articulated most effectively in the chapter entitled ‘The Nature of Gothic’ in the second volume of Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice (1851, 3 vols), a work described by Morris as ‘one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of the century’, sought not merely to inspire beautiful buildings, paintings, and crafts, but to transform what Ruskin saw as the inhuman conditions of labour endured by Victorian workers.

Morris was so inspired by Ruskin that he produced an 1892 edition of The Nature of Gothic for his Kelmscott Press, influenced by Ruskin’s insistence on the virtues of high quality hand labour. Morris’s amazing Kelmscott books, like the famous William Morris & Co. wallpapers, textiles, ceramics, furniture, metalwork, and glass, represent the finest flowerings of the Arts and Crafts movement that Ruskin did so much to inspire. While Morris & Co. was a commercial success and provided a fine school for many workers, it also underlined the limitations of arts and crafts as a genuine challenge to modern industrial practices because such products were so expensive that they could never reach large sections of the mainstream market.

This limitation was even more evident in of one of the craft experiments with which Ruskin was associated. The Langdale Linen Industry, a revival of Lake District spinning and weaving led by Ruskin devotees, Marian Twelves and Albert Fleming, only ever found a market amongst wealthier buyers, including some illustrious aristocratic figures. The Linen Industry was loosely connected to Ruskin’s major utopian venture, the Guild of St George, begun in 1871 and conceived as a means to fundamentally challenge the steam-powered dragons of Victorian modernity.


Ruskin hoped that the Guild would attract many adherents or ‘Companions’ and create a series of agricultural and artisanal communities devoted to hand labour, fine products, and the socially transformative effects of non-mechanised land work. They would, he believed, encourage sustainable practices and environmental good practice. The reality, sadly, was much more modest – less than a hundred Companions joined the Guild and its projects were relatively few in number. It was also a disaster for a significant number of young idealists who signed up as agricultural Companions only to find that their time on Ruskin’s estates around the country was a nightmare of drudgery and neglect.

Their stories are only now being fully understood. A number of reasons have routinely been forwarded for the failure of the Guild to fulfil its laudable intentions. These have included Ruskin’s failing mental health, his incapacity in the organisation of practical schemes, and the disastrous impact of his failed relationship with Rose La Touche, the young Irishwoman he had pursued from the mid-1860s until her tragic death in 1875. While these were certainly contributory factors, the Guild’s principal weakness was arguably the adverse effects of Ruskin’s authoritarian politics.

For the Guild’s agricultural Companions, Ruskin’s authoritarianism meant that they were consigned to obey while suffering neglect, or to submit to the leadership of unscrupulous and unsympathetic local agents. Embracing the Guild with genuine zeal, they found all possibilities to exercise personal agency in the Guild’s work barred to them, while all of the potential energy and creativity that they might have used to make the Guild estates succeed was squandered – with often tragic consequences.

In Morris’s fictional utopia, News From Nowhere, contented citizens lived in creative harmony amidst beautiful landscapes while effortlessly producing exquisitely beautiful goods and a plenitude of necessities. They do so because their shared commitment to socialism rested on fundamental principles of egalitarianism and libertarianism. Whether such a society is possible in reality remains an open question, but Ruskin’s Guild certainly offered the painful lesson that it is simply impossible to combine ideals of free, creative labour with authoritarian power structures.


Celebrating Indian Independence Day

Globalization, Nationalism and the Text of the Kichaka-Vadha

As India celebrates its 68th anniversary of independence from colonial rule, many look to the massive political demonstrations and innovative theorists that prompted sociopolitical change. While such things were highly effective in attaining independence, a number of playwrights in colonial India crafted didactic works that forced an Indian audience to ponder existing political situations with the use of allegory and subtle suggestion that prompted social change. Even with close political censorship enforced by the British Raj, playwrights such as Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar laced their plays with coded political messages that supported the end of colonial rule.

In the very first English translation of Kichaka-Vadha, Globalization, Nationalism and the Text of the “Kichaka-Vadha” , Rakesh H. Solomon of Indiana University Bloomington offers the most extensive scholarly analysis to date on the Marathi play. With the use of colonial-era police, judicial, administrative, legislative and newspaper sources, this study highlights the allusions in the play that parallel Indian political circumstances of the time and the dramaturgic tactics used to prompt political change.

For more information, check out the book’s webpage.

August Book of the Month: “Women, Gender and Everyday Transformation in India”

By Kenneth Bo Nielsen and Anne Waldrop

Women, Gender and Everyday Transformation in India


“This book is a remarkable exercise aimed at comprehending and capturing change in a very complex society. It is an extremely useful volume for students and researchers of development and women’s studies.”

— Padmini Swaminathan, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad, India

It is a challenge to select a “Book of the Month” as we publish books across a range of genres. This month, we are proud to highlight a title from our Anthem South Asian Studies series which has already been well reviewed online just one week after publication. We are also excited to read forthcoming reviews in journals including Contemporary South Asia, Norwegian Anthropological and Gender and Development.

In the midst of rapid socioeconomic shifts in India, “Women, Gender and Everyday Transformation in India“ explores how these changes have affected the everyday lives of Indian women. Through stimulating and ethnographically grounded case studies from the university classroom to non-governmental organizations, the urban slum to the rural health clinic, this book takes the reader deep into the current debate of Indian gender relations.

In their introduction, the editors highlight some key questions about the changing roles of Indian women:

  • How does women’s ability to participate in an increasingly globalized and volatile Indian labor market alter the terrain upon which gender relations are negotiated and organized?
  • How is contemporary Indian feminism articulated and contested?
  • How does women’s grassroots political activism reconfigure gender relations and practices?


For more information, check out the book’s webpage.

Plus don’t miss these upcoming Anthem South Asian Studies titles:

The Politics of Time and Youth in Brand India: Bargaining with Capital

The Politics of Time and Youth in Brand India
By Jyotsna Kapur

Communication and Colonialism in Eastern India: Bihar, 1760s–1880s By Nitin Sinha

Communication and Colonialism in Eastern India: Bihar, 1760s–1880s
By Nitin Sinha

The “Slumdog” Phenomenon: A Critical Anthology Edited by Ajay Gehlawat

The “Slumdog” Phenomenon: A Critical Anthology
Edited by Ajay Gehlawat



Interview with Belinda Barnet, author of “Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext”

9780857280602_hi-res_1The following is an interview with Belinda Barnet, author of
Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext

This book is an exploration of the history of hypertext, an influential concept that forms the underlying structure of the World Wide Web and innumerable software applications.

Q: In the Introduction to your book, Stuart Moulthrop describes the current state of networked, computational media as ‘ugly and benighted’. Do you agree with him?

Belinda Barnet: I think we are facing some very real problems with networked computational media that people like Ted Nelson predicted we would face. For example, although the web is a successful globe-spanning archive and publishing system, it has issues as a hypertext system. Links break, content is duplicated all over the shop, copyright is difficult to preserve, the page you visited three months ago has now vanished. Many of the earlier hypertext systems I survey in this book had their own solutions to these problems. So yes, I understand what Stuart means by ‘ugly and beighted’.

Q: How do you account for the success of the Web if earlier versions were ‘in some respects more powerful than the Web’, as you say?

BB: I think the web won because it worked. It was not a proprietary system (like most of the systems I survey in the book), it was not difficult to learn, it provided a cheap and quick and effective way to publish things and create links *between* documents on opposite sides of the world. That’s quite an amazing feat. But just because it works doesn’t mean other systems would not work just as well, or better. Systems like Xanadu for example.

Q: You write that ‘[t]he systems I look at here were exciting and revolutionary in their era, but like mermaids gold from children’s storybooks, they turned to ashes when brought to the surface’. Why do you think alternative visions have never made it to the surface?

BB: They all had different reasons. For NLS, although the demo changed the computing world, the system itself ultimately faded out. I think it was because it was difficult to learn and use, but also because Doug was brilliant, a gifted and visionary person, but not really a businessman. I personally still hold out hope that Xanadu will make it to the surface, but I think it hasn’t so far for a number of reasons that are detailed in the book. Part of it may be that Nelson was at times his own worst enemy. Another reason may be that transclusion, the very powerful and groundbreaking idea that content should be re-used by reference rather than copying (and that this content should be traceable back to its source), has been a little difficult to build. Nelson has always wanted that to work, and has waited a long time for it. Memex was never built because digital computing swept the planet and it was really an analogue device, so the technology itself became obsolete.

Q: What, in your opinion, would be the aim and purpose of a perfect hypertext?

BB: The perfect hypertext system would be simple and easy to use, which the web already is. But links would not disappear or break, you would not lose documents, you would be able to re-use content by reference and trace that content back to its source. The perfect hypertext system would not require you to festoon content with markup before you publish it – and it would not require search engines to make sense of it for you.

Q: Why would you recommend students read your book?

BB: There is much to be learned from the history of hypertext, especially the systems that failed. We are currently facing problems that the early pioneers predicted we would face, and they had their own solutions to those problems. So this history is also relevant to people who are currently trying to design solutions for the problems, like the semantic web. I would like to see computing science as well as media and communications people reading this book.


Find out more about the book and the author on our website: