Climate Change

Boris Getting the Coronavirus Shows How Seriously He Took It

The big news today is that the charlatan passing himself off as prime minister has personally come down with Covid-19. He showed mild symptoms of the virus, including a temperature, was tested for it, and the results were positive. He is therefore self-isolating in some corner of No. 10. Nevertheless, he was still keen to show that he was, in the words of one BBC news presenter this morning, ‘Tiggerish’. He was not incapacitated, and would carry on the business of government through teleconferencing and other methods. And if he does become too ill to govern, then the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, will take over. Lord preserve us!

Boris, as the Prime Minister, was in an especially exposed position because his duties mean that he has to meet many different people every day. Just like Prince Charles has, who has also contracted the disease. Fortunately, Boris has come down with it several weeks after he met her Maj, so she doesn’t have it. But it’s partly BoJob’s own fault that he’s got it. Mike today put up an article reporting and commenting on the fact that Boris was warned not to shake hands. But he carried on regardless, even boasting that he was. He would be all right, you see: all you needed to do was wash your hands, that was the important thing. Er, no. That’s why the health authorities have been telling everyone to stand 2 metres away from each other. Hand washing’s important, but on its own it won’t stop anyone getting the virus. As BoJob has just found out.

But this shows very clearly how seriously Boris and the Tories, or at least his circle, took the virus: not very. Mike quotes the New York Times, which comments on the woeful leadership our comedy prime minister has shown in this crisis. He’s been cheerful when he should have been grave, and presented a muddled message when clarity was needed. It’s a poor performance from someone who was selected because of their communication skills.

I think part of the problem comes from Boris’ own attitude to his briefs. George Galloway remarked during an interview that he’s know Boris for 20 years, and he doesn’t read the information given him. It’s why his performance as Foreign Secretary was such an embarrassing disaster. He went to Moscow to soothe relations with Putin, only to make matters worse with remarks about the Russian autocrat when he returned. And then there was that embarrassing episode when he visited Thailand, and the British ambassador had to ask him to be quiet when he was being shown round the country’s holiest temple. He started to recite Kipling’s ‘Road to Mandalay’, and couldn’t understand why that may not have been appropriate.

But there’s more than an element of willful ignorance in his attitude. Medical experts have said that he should have imposed the lockdown seven weeks ago. Boris didn’t, because he accepted Cummings’ bonkers, malign idea that all that was needed was herd immunity. The disease should be allowed to spread through the general population. No lockdown should be imposed, as that would damage the economy. This took priority over people’s health, and if some old people died it was just too bad. This policy is nonsense, the kind of Bad Science Ben Goldacre attacked in his book of that title. But even after Boris took the decision to close some businesses, pubs, clubs and other social gatherings were allowed to continue. Many Tories said that they were still going out for their pint, despite the government advising them – but not actually forbidding them – not to. Those still heading down the boozer included Boris’ own father, Stanley. The pubs and other establishments were only shut down, apparently, because Macron told Boris that if he didn’t, he’d close the French border. And that would seriously harm the economy.

And this lunatic attitude is still fervently embraced by some parts of the Tory establishment. This afternoon the Sage of Crewe put up a piece about another bonkers article in the increasingly desperate and bizarre Torygraph by a hack called Sherelle Jacobs. Jacobs has decided that Cummings was entirely correct, and BoJob has been panicked into adopting the present strategy by Imperial College research. She claims that there is ‘no consensus’ on how to handle the virus, but, as Zelo Street points out, she cites no sources for that view. And she also rants about how the strategy is also due to ‘liberal managerialism’ and ‘global elites’. She’s spouting dangerous nonsense, but she was supported in her delusion by Toby Young. Young declared that Boris was spooked by ICL’s modelling, but we don’t know how reliable that is, and that it’s beginning to look as if ICL exaggerated the risks of not adopting hard suppression measures. Which is more nonsense for which Tobes provides absolutely no data to back it up.

I’ve said in several previous blogs, as have many others, like Buddyhell and Vox Political, that Boris’ attitude is rooted in the Tories’ own eugenicist views. They regard the poor and disabled as ‘useless eaters’, who should be allowed to die so that the fit and the able, and most of all, the rich, should be allowed to prosper. Boris was content to tell the nation that many of their loved ones would die before the time, but wasn’t going to do anything about it, because their lives simply weren’t important. He and the others in his circle were fit and, as the rich and privileged, biologically superior according to their Social Darwinist views. Only the biologically inferior would catch it, whose lives don’t count and are an encumbrance to the right of the rich to do what they want and pay as little tax as possible. Now Boris has shown how irresponsible and stupid that attitude is by coming down with it himself. Positive thinking and a clean pair of mitts are important, but they won’t save you on your alone.

But the Torygraph’s refusal to accept that a lockdown is necessary is part of the Tories’ wider refusal to believe experts. The Heil and other right wing papers have published claptrap telling the world that global warming is a myth. Michael Gove famously declared a few years ago that people were tired of listening to experts. And I believe I recall that when one of the Tories – I think it was Iain Duncan Smith – was actually confronted with evidence showing his policies wouldn’t work, he had nothing to say except that he believed it.

Well, the Tories prefer belief and pernicious pseudoscience over reality. As a result, Boris has now got the disease and thousands more people are in danger of dying from it.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/toby-young-jumps-virus-shark.html

Has hand-shaking Johnson taken his whole cabinet down with coronavirus?

6 post-Corona Institutional questions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/03/2020 - 11:34pm in

The mass hysteria of the corona crisis is raging, with the resulting self-isolation of whole economies and populations. The loss seems greater with every new forecast on the economic collapse than I initially thought, and the benefit of imprisoning and terrorizing the population smaller than I initially thought, leading courageous little Sweden to forego these options. High-level media and calm commentators are waking up to the longer-term implications, though the population is still too overcome by fear.

I want to share 6 areas where we should think of international institutional reform to prevent another hysteria like the one we are going through now. I don’t want to presume any answers but simply want to hear your thoughts and suggestions, so am merely laying out the challenges.

They are: i) How to diminish the normality of apocalyptic thinking, ii) How to read China better, iii) How to prevent international contagion of panic through social and regular media better, iv) How to reduce the fragility of international supply chains, v) How to foster better cooperation between countries in the EU, and vi) How to regain our lost freedom and reason.

Over the fold I explain them in more detail.

 

  1. The cult of the apocalypse. This crisis laid bare that large parts of the population and the scientific community, not just epidemiologists, have really bought into some notion of extreme emergencies for which a totalitarian response is needed. Via petitions and the media have these people loudly called for draconian measures, based on little evidence that this would work or no evidence that it would do more good than bad. The world has up till now shrugged its shoulders over the various doom scenarios dreamed up by scientists, including “extinction due to climate change”, “killer asteroids”, “nuclear devastation”, “run-away robots”, and a whole host of other scenarios you might recognise from disaster movies. This time the population went along with one such story, leading to devastating losses as the ‘cure’ turned out to be far more deadly and destructive than ‘the problem’. How do we reduce the prevalence and growth of these doomsday cults?
  2. Understanding China. The Chinese government showed the world the example of how to be totalitarian about a disease, and their example proved infectious. Understanding in the West as to why the Chinese did this was extremely limited, but we looked up to them anyway and several governments simply followed their example. We need to learn how China truly operates and stop imagining they are like us. The Chinese have a long history of disastrous totalitarian projects, like the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, and we should learn why they do this, in order to avoid following their example, not copy them.
  3. Contagion of panics via social media and the regular media. This was first and foremost the biggest mass hysteria event in history, fed by a connected media. Even in India, which is far too warm for this virus to do much damage and where there are hence almost no recorded cases, the population has become scared enough to loudly call for draconian measures, leading to the madness of locking down hundreds of millions of extremely poor people who have no savings and no income to buy food. We need to think hard about how to make contagion of these panics harder and slower, not just for pandemics but also the many other global fears (financial, military, ethnic, religious). This will require thinking about the architecture of media, the internet, mobile telephony, etc. It is not easy to see what can be done.
  4. The fragility of international supply chains. The huge recessions of 1929 in the West, and 1990 in Eastern Europe taught us that broken supply chains are very hard to rebuild in a hurry. Companies and industries make very particular investments that form a link, and if some of the pieces in the chain break, the whole chain cannot function, disbands, and very quickly loses the knowledge to re-form as parts go their separate ways[1]. We should think of what we could do to make the supply chains less fragile to disruption: how do we build more slack into the system?
  5. International cooperation. As Harari pointed out in the Financial Times, international cooperation has broken down during this crisis. Even in the EU, countries went their own way, not caring about the disruption to partners of their own actions. This is also what happened in 1929 and in Eastern Europe in 1990, to the loss of all. We have learned again that only nation states remain cohesive and take collective decisions. What to do about it?
  6. How to regain respect for freedom, privacy, own reason, the fallability of expert advice, etc.? This hysteria has cost the West, which is the audience we on this blog overwhelmingly belong to, much of the best we had to offer the world. For the sake of fear have we loudly demanded totalitarianism, invasive top-down monitoring, top-down rules on who is important and who should do what, and adopted the fantasies of experts who had no more idea about the balance of the effects of what they proposed than anyone else. How to regain and more stringently hold on to our ideals and our reason?

I have preliminary suggestions on these but want to hear your thoughts. Also importantly, what other international institutional challenges do you see needing to be addressed once this hysteria passes and the West wakes up to the loss it has inflicted on itself?

[1Because this stuff is too hard to put in an easy macro-model (though you can do it in micro models, see here), mainstream economics hasnt managed to incorporate these lessons into its canon and has thus once again missed the importance of this when the crisis hit.]

Will the Fires Change Everything?, by Alison Caddick

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/03/2020 - 1:00pm in

We are passing into an elemental moment, but do we have the language for grasping this? For understanding what this moment means? Elemental: fire, earth, water, air. And to understand our odd place as human beings within this—not only as sentient creatures but as a self-aware cultural species, prone and subject to our contradictory constructions in culture and society, certainly in our ‘relations with’ nature.

The elements, even if the components of or matrix for various ancient knowledges, remain our tangible connection to disaster: visible, touchable, tastable, audible, smelt on the wind—fire, earth, water, air—comprehensible through the senses, as experienced. They are known by us at the level of bodily life—in ordinary circumstances as givers of life, and complexity; in the extraordinary, as destruction—as wildfire, inundation, degradation, pollution. We can readily point to each of these blights on our world and increasingly on our imaginations: the disasters of earth, sea, rivers, skies that are everywhere palpable, in real time, now, in the Anthropocene, as human made.

‘Elemental’ seems so utterly right when we hear the testimonies of fire survivors. The reality they faced was not a hysterical projection; the individuals involved feared for their families and were scared for their own lives, but the overwhelming sense in their reports was of the enormity of the forces arrayed, of facing something absolute, and something general. In everyday usage ‘elemental’ means basic: something that cannot be overridden. The fires were overwhelmingly to human consciousness uncontrollable, offering little ‘choice’, and by this very admission to ourselves the radical otherness always implicated at the base of ‘nature’ is also admitted.

But where does this lead us? Will this terrible confrontation mean the fires will change everything, as many have hoped? Will their elemental force and horrific consequences, especially if seen together with other examples of ‘nature turning against us’, bring us finally to the point of rationally guided plan sufficient to meet predictions of climate change and related environmental devastation?

One of the issues here is exactly that, beyond the terrible moment when the elements confront us, or carry absent others to that elemental scene (that tang in the city air from fires hundreds of kilometres away), the language we have to fall back on is very removed from anything like a tangible relation with the elemental. In general, we have lost that; it is a residual part of the lexicon, and experience, in modern life. This is especially so specifically in late capitalism, where a sense of the elemental is layered over, even transmuted, by scientific understandings of it as merely a contingent level that in principle is available for use or reconstruction. Even the deepest facts of nature are today resources.

One of the problems faced by scientists and activists alike has, for decades, been that the language of science in warnings and predictions of global warming has had little purchase on the general population. Deniers evade its truth altogether, when forced to respond clinging to spurious counter-information; while the great bulk of us, even if on board with climate-change predictions, have tended implicitly to some other level of denial: the end of human life is unimaginable; tomorrow will be just like today, only worse; in any case science and technology will save us; we don’t have to do anything because someone else will.

As a cultural species, we live encased in culture and in particular ideologies. In our world science and technology are an overdetermined cultural framework that reaches into consciousness, influencing our beliefs, and, deeper, shaping us as beings and actors in the world. One of the key messages of science and our outlook through it—in its technical language and practical construction of the object world—is that of control. Science and scientific technology speak to us through the reality of their concrete products—not just the talk of scientists—about the power of science to control and to enhance. When climate scientists and others decry a ‘lack of rationality’ among ordinary people, unable to grasp why people support science’s role in every other sphere (the cars they drive, the medicines they take) except climate prediction, they aren’t seeing that they are asking people to consider a contradiction.

Science is telling us the end is nigh, but people formed in this culture ‘believe in’ science and the everyday world it has in large part made possible. In key ways they see the world according to its assumptions. They don’t believe in the scientific method—not at all. But they do ‘believe’, and are heavily invested in, the world that science has brought us in the devising of endless means for utilitarian purposes and the apparent solving of problems. It is an easy step from here to fall back onto believing that science will solve the ‘emissions problem’ or devise the necessary means for adjustment and adaptation. More generally, it is a frame of understanding that gives comfort and closes possibilities for examining just how our obsession with means and utility are implicated in the crises we are facing.

Easy reference to ‘the science’ (that proves climate change is real) suggests that understanding follows ‘proof’ via calculation; in this case the calculation of emissions levels (how many cows, how much methane; how many cars, how much pollution, how many tonnes of coal exported…and so on). Only after calculation do we arrive finally at the conclusion, destruction—only then the emotional scene, images of the dire consequences for humans and for nature. We are asked to tread this path of consequences as the route to a rational response, without any attempt to grasp the cultural logic of the techno-science–capitalism connection and its emotional grip upon the world. It is a problem to see any of the versions of ‘denial’ in terms of people’s lack of rationality (the view you get, for instance, listening to the ABC’s Science Show), but especially so if science is not prepared to examine what it might be about science itself that is implicated in the contemporary world, contributing both to climate change as such and to contradictions and incapacities in rational awareness.

Many movements today, including within some arms of science, are working to decentre the human; to question scientific rationality and its assumptions about nature as resource; to rearticulate nature and culture in meaningful ways; to raise questions of value and meaning in relation to how we live and what we should hold true if we are to protect Earth, its creatures, places and cultures, in proper respect of its many faces and forces.

How we negotiate the perilous task of taking on the power of dominant social forces and the embedded cultural frame of high-tech capitalism will be a central concern in the new Arena. Why is contemporary science entwined in our culture’s obsession with the production of means and humans’ omnipotence over nature? How has capitalism, supercharged by techno-science, contributed to the ‘natural’ disasters we now face? More positively, what are the pathways that might be forged towards new life-ways, post-capitalist and deconsumption in orientation, and how will we engage communities more effectively in these aims? How, especially, might we reconnect with nature through more tangible relations with it, and see this as a starting point of a cultural logic we need to reimagine and explore, not a conclusion forced upon us by a logic of destruction?

The elemental nature of the Fires, the shock of their non-human power, is a profound confrontation with forces we cannot control, promising large-scale destruction of landscapes and species, and their meaning for us. Perhaps we will be frightened into action. But a more joyous, lasting and positive basis may also be found. Let’s be critical, let’s speak truth to power, but at the same time let’s bring into being positive experiments in social life and relations with nature that better show us where to head.

Alison Caddick

The Silver Lining of the COVID-Caused Recession is Supra-Economic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 2:19am in

By Brian Czech

COVID-19 has done in a deadly way what steady-state economists would prescribe in a healthy way: putting the brakes on a runaway economy. In fact, the pandemic has slammed on the brakes and jammed the GDP gearstick into reverse. It has ushered us into a recession that will be pronounced and protracted. In a COVID-caused recession, it’s nature at bat, not the Fed.

In these dark times, any source of comfort is welcome. Steady-state economists offer one of the only economic comforts to be found, a bona fide silver lining that warrants inspection by the mainstream media, public, and policymakers. There are three qualifiers. First, the silver lining is mostly macroeconomic, not micro. In fact, it is so big-picture we might call it supra-economic as it transcends the standard economic indicators. Second, the comfort it provides will be palpable primarily to younger generations. Third, it may take a paradigm shift to feel the comfort, especially for older readers who’ve spent most of their life in the 20th century, when a burgeoning economy was such a good deal for people and nations.

GDP illth

GDP illth: noise and congestion (upper left), landscape destruction (upper right), environmental catastrophe (lower left), light pollution (lower right). (Credit: CC0)

The silver lining begins to appear when we recognize that the $88 trillion GDP ($21 trillion in the USA alone) was so big and bloated, it was causing more harm than good. It had grown into bad-deal territory, in other words. All else equal, that means a reversal—recession, degrowth, declining GDP—is actually a better deal at this stage. While it still sounds incredible to most citizens and policy makers, the logic is irrefutable. Recession is the antidote to the outbreak of GDP “illth,” the term favored by Herman Daly to more clearly contrast with “wealth.”1

The point here is somewhat analogous to Bernie Sanders’ comment about Cuba prioritizing literacy under Castro. Increasing literacy was a “good thing,” he said, and was ruthlessly attacked for calling it that. He made the mistake of failing to qualify the circumstances; namely, that Cuban literacy was floated out only in a sea of dictatorial bad things.

To avoid a similar mistake, it must be acknowledged that COVID-19 is a very bad, truly horrible thing. It is a sea of fear, misery, and lonely deaths. No one is “rooting for the virus,” as reactionaries on social media are prone to asperse. The COVID-caused recession, on the other hand, can be quite a good thing; supra-economically at least. Let’s consider some of the reasons.

Supra-Economic Indicators

Other writers have noted certain benefits of the recession: most notably reduced traffic congestion but also less noise, more family time, and—so far at least—less crime. These effects of the slowdown are typically thought of as social or psychological benefits. However, when we “add up” these benefits, they start painting a macroeconomic picture. They help to illustrate, like pieces of a puzzle, the fact that the economy—with all that traffic, noise, and stress—was growing too big for the good of society.

Ideally, conventional macroeconomics would illuminate the overgrowth of the economy, helping to warn the public and policy makers of the dangers of stimulating yet more growth. Unfortunately, the word “macroeconomic” is so tied to figures such as unemployment, inflation, and of course GDP itself, that confusion would abound if we started referring to peace and quiet, for example, as a macroeconomic indicator.

Furthermore, the “leading economic indicators” (as well as the “lagging” and “coincident” indicators) reveal the growth bias in conventional macroeconomics. These indicators—building permits, new orders, manufacturer shipments, etc.—are clearly designed for indicating whether or not GDP will be growing in the near future. All interpretations in the conventional literature are that vigorous growth is good, slowdowns are bad, and recessions are anathema. “Macroeconomics,” while it sounds academic, amounts to cheerleading for growth in the applied journals of business and finance, as well as the popular news outlets.

So, peace and quiet won’t be reported by the Conference Board any time soon. Yet peace and quiet is directly related to economic activity. In particular, it is inversely related (similar to unemployment). We don’t want to lose the relevance of the indicator to economic affairs by dropping the word “economic.” If our goal is a steady state economy, we must raise awareness, at every turn, of the negative implications of economic growth.

Given that macroeconomics, including the measurement of macroeconomic indicators, is currently off limits to the steady-state program, we’ll have to take the linguistic bull by the horns and establish a new term and concept: “supra-economic” indicators. “Supra” is a prefix meaning above, over, and “beyond the limits of.” Supra-economic indicators, then, are overarching indicators of society’s well-being that are clearly and directly affected or impacted by the level of economic activity. It is not enough to classify such indicators as merely “ecological,” “social,” or (least helpful of all) “non-economic,” not when they are directly related to economic activity! Rather, their relevance to economic policy must be kept at the forefront; thus the term “supra-economic.”

Environmental Conditions as Supra-Economic Indicators

Reduced traffic, less noise, and more family time are readily observable and experienced by many if not most Americans already. They are like the pieces of a puzzle that are easiest to recognize and assemble. Taken alone, though, they only hint at the silver lining of the COVID-caused recession.

Recession over coronavirus may not be bad for Venetian canals.

In the COVID-caused recession, water is clear again in Venetian canals. (Image: CC0, Source)

Some of the most important puzzle pieces are much harder to recognize and piece together, especially for Americans who haven’t experienced real environmental leadership in decades. Middle-aged Americans, especially, have been misled by the win-win rhetoric, “There is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” These Americans and global citizens subjected to “green growth” fantasies are not attuned to long-term ecological threats. Much less do they draw the connection of such threats directly back to the level of economic activity, or GDP. Likewise, when a recession hits, most citizens aren’t aware of the environmental benefits without a little assistance from scientists, journalists, and commentators.

Given the COVID-caused recession, the puzzle pieces are there for the assembling, starting with drastic reductions of carbon monoxide, CO2, and nitrogen dioxide emissions. Professor Róisín Commane from Columbia University, discussing carbon monoxide levels in New York City, told BBC News, “This is the cleanest I have ever seen it. It is less than half of what we normally see in March.” With regard to CO2, it’s as if COVID-19 is enforcing the Paris Climate Accords, whether presidents want to or not. In February, Chinese CO2 emissions dropped “at least 25%.” Meanwhile, while the virus may be ravaging the lungs of its victims, at least the victims’ lungs will be less challenged by the ravages of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and industrial emissions in general. Doyle Rice of USA Today, having interviewed a swath of environmental scientists, suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects could actually be saving lives in some parts of the world.

Then there are the thousands of species of fish, wildlife, and plants getting a break from the bulldozer of GDP. Biodiversity loss is as solid of an indicator of economic activity as GDP itself. Given the fundamental conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation, wildlife wins when the economy slows. It doesn’t take long, either. For example, the water is visibly cleaner in Venetian canals, giving visitors (on foot or aboard gondolas) the joy of spotting fish below and clear reflections of swans above.

Wildlife is inspiring to all, which may very well trump economic considerations (supra in that sense as well). Again, however, we don’t want to forget the crystal-clear relevance of steady-state economics to biodiversity conservation. We should refer to biodiversity, then, not only as an environmental indicator but as a supra-economic indicator.

A silver lining in the clouds of the COVID-caused recession. (Credit: NASA Earth)

The Silver Lining: There for the Long Term?

Right now, while the GDP bulldozer is idling behind the survey stakes, we have the opportunity to consider what remains of the landscape and how precious it is. We have to recognize the COVID-caused recession (and help others recognize it) as a reprieve for the ecosystem; the stage upon which tomorrow’s economy is set. The healthier the ecosystem, the healthier the economy to be sustained. Why race to tear it all up again as soon as we get past the peak of the pandemic?

Meanwhile on the social front, when the pandemic subsides citizens may conceivably be left to ponder, “Gosh, in some ways it was nicer during the recession. The COVID part was horrible, but the peace and quiet was amazing. Violent crime was almost unheard of for a change. The family time turned out to be priceless!” On the other side of the same coin, they may also be thinking, “Well, we’re past the pandemic, but now it’s back to the rat race and all the noise, traffic, and stress.”

When you stop to think about it, as we now have time to, the benefits of slower and lower economic activity are ubiquitous, nuanced, and heartening. The silver lining—a reprieve from the ravages of runaway GDP—has been sewn into the environmental and social fabric of 2020. We’d be wise to value and keep it, not rip it out and sell it as soon as we get the chance. With a newly developed appreciation of economic moderation, we can move more intentionally toward a post-growth, steady state economy that fits on the planet.

1A hardcopy version of this article is available as Chapter 1 in Best of The Daly News: Selected Essays from the Leading Blog in Steady State Economics, 2010-2018.

 

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post The Silver Lining of the COVID-Caused Recession is Supra-Economic appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Reply to Troy Vettese’s “Against Steady-State Economics” 1

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/03/2020 - 3:00am in

By Herman Daly

Steady staters are used to being attacked by right-wing neoliberals. Attacks from left-wing neo-Marxists are new and require a reply. To put the matter simply, Marxists hate capitalism, and they mistakenly assume that steady-state economics is inherently capitalist. Vettese is a Marxist; ergo, Vettese hates steady-state economics.

To spell this out, let’s begin by giving Marx due credit for emphasizing the reality of class exploitation under all heretofore existing economic systems, including especially capitalism, although excluding future idealized communism. Communism arrives after the Revolution in which the dictatorship of the proletariat seizes control of the enormous powers of capitalist production. With overwhelming abundance, bourgeois man is freed from scarcity-induced greed and acquisitiveness, giving birth to the “new socialist man” and the Marxist eschatology of heaven on earth.

Karl Marx

Marx noted injustices of capitalism and predicted political crises, yet failed to foresee limits to growth. (Image Source, Credit: John Jabez Edwin Mayal)

History has not been kind to this Marxist fairy tale, except for the part about inequality under capitalist growthism (the part which doesn’t take a Marxist to recognize). Socialist growthism also had serious problems but let’s leave that aside. There is, however, a new problem with growthist economies that Marxists did not foresee in their eagerness to appropriate the abundance that capitalism historically created. Growth in a finite and entropic world now produces “illth” (depletion and pollution) faster than wealth, thus becoming uneconomic growth and threatening the overwhelming abundance required for the advent of the new socialist man.

This unexpected emergence of uneconomic growth, plus the economic failures and enormous political repressions of 20th-century communist states (not to mention the intellectual discrediting of dialectical materialism and historical determinism) has left the poor orphaned Marxists without an ideological home. As their red house collapsed, the green house down the street began to look attractive. After all, the greens do recognize major problems with capitalism, the big enemy, even if they are problems that Marxists have failed to recognize. So, these Marxists paint themselves green and hyphenate their name, calling themselves not eco-Marxists but, less specifically, “eco-socialists,” hoping to appeal to reasonable leftists in addition to fellow neo-Marxists. They aim to revive moribund Marxism by usurping the place of ecological economics.

Many greens, eager for allies, welcome the eco-Marxists and accept the red cuckoo eggs deposited in the green nest in the hope that the hatchlings will be more green than red. Steady-state economists certainly need friends and allies, but reading Vettese has reminded me of an aphorism my mother taught me: “Better alone than in bad company.”

Specifically, Vettese has deposited three Marxist cuckoo eggs in the steady-state nest: (1) Markets are bad; (2) Central planning is good;2 and (3) “Malthusianism” is wrong as demonstrated by Julian Simon. This is an odd collection of eggs that demonstrate the confusion of Vettese. If one accepts Simon’s view that there is no need to stop the drive for endless economic growth, then whence the necessity to abolish markets and establish central planning? The confusion hardly stops there. Let’s consider each egg in turn.

(1) Markets are All Bad

The Market with a capital “M” is indeed a poor master and should be demoted to “markets” with a small “m” which can be good servants. Marxists tried to completely abolish all markets, along with money, in the early days following the Russian Revolution, and they attempted instead the direct physical requisitioning of resources and goods by central planners. This was the period of War Communism. It was a failure and was soon replaced by Lenin’s New Economic Policy, which restored significant reliance on markets, although not The Market. Today all countries, including the remaining communist ones, rely on markets to a significant degree, usually constrained by elements of collective action. Indeed, socialist-economic theorists, such as Oskar Lange in his On the Economic Theory of Socialism, have long shown how markets can serve collective goals as well as individualistic ones.

So much for the 20th-century economic history ignored by Vettese. What about 21st-century economic policy? Ecological economists recognize that we live in a capitalist market economy, like it or not. It is our historically given starting point. Trying to wipe the slate clean with the bloody shirt of Revolution is a very bad idea. Instead, it’s better to restrict the individualistic-capitalist market by two collective limits. First, given that the market does not count the cost of economic growth displacing the very ecosphere on which the economy (and life itself) depends, we must impose macro constraints on the size of the economy. Second, because a capitalist market economy generates extreme inequality in the distribution of income and wealth, a direct solution is to constrain the inequalities between minimum and maximum incomes, supplemented by wealth and inheritance taxes. Do eco-Marxists advocate limiting the range of income inequality by a maximum as well as a minimum income?

Graph of distribution of wealth within the market

How do we change these statistics? Through a bloody revolution? Or with policies conducive to a steady state economy? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Guest2625)

A specific policy for achieving both limits (before they are self-limited, that is) is the cap-auction-trade approach to conserving and allocating basic resources. Vettese totally opposes cap-and-trade auctions because they make use of markets. He can almost be heard complaining, “How unfair of the auctioneer to sell to the highest bidder instead of my more deserving nephew! Putting a price on the free gifts of nature is crude and immoral too!”

While Vettese appears to be advocating for a more ethical use of basic resources, he fails to recognize that free gifts can also be scarce and require rationing. These preciously purist sensitivities lead Vettese to oppose any use of markets. No markets mean no exchange, no prices, no need for money, no specialization, and no division of labor. Well, who is going to abolish markets and centrally plan the production, allocation, and distribution of everything? Not Troy Vettese and his fellow pretenders who don’t have a clue, but “the new socialist man” who is still being materialized in the Marxist dialectical womb of history!

Markets are necessary for allocating goods but not sufficient. In addition to offering macro policies to correct the market’s scale and distribution failures, steady-state economics also emphasizes that many goods can be physically non-rival and legally non-excludable. Yet market allocation works only for rival and excludable goods. In other words, non-rival and non-excludable goods cannot be efficiently or fairly allocated by markets and require planning and collective action at a more micro than macro level.

(2) Central Planning is Good

Macro limits on scale and distribution require considerable planning. Micro intervention in the allocation of non-market goods takes even more planning. Given all the economic planning needs, why bother to defend any role at all for markets? Why not centrally plan production and distribution of everything “for the good of society” as advocated by Vettese? First, remember the failed Soviet experiment with War Communism and collectivization of agriculture. Second, consider the following thought experiment.

Imagine the consequences of rival market goods (food, clothing, and shelter, plus a whole lot more) being freely distributed, according to the will of the citizens, as eco-Marxists envision. The democratic will of the citizens is to be expressed by voting. One decision concerns the amount of steel to produce. Citizens place their votes, but their collective decision leads to another question: How much of that steel will go to the production of, say, wood screws as opposed to a million other uses? The citizens vote again, and more subsequent questions arise: Of the wood screws, how many will be round-head, flat-head, slot-head, or Phillips-head? How many cadmium-plated; how many chrome-plated? Also, some screws are made of brass or aluminum, not steel. And for each type of screw, how many of each length and diameter? And who shall receive how many of each type? The citizens robustly and democratically vote again and again as conditions change, although most are unaware of the myriad special uses of different types of screws and may not even know which end of a screwdriver to hold.

Meanwhile those people who actually use screws and know their uses are unable to “vote” with their money in markets, and are thereby prohibited from conveying reliable information to producers about the mix of the infinitely many types of screw that would be most needed and most profitable to produce. Instead we have citizens spending absurd amounts of time “democratically” voting, mostly about things they don’t understand, while those with the most information about actual use-values of screws are “disenfranchised” by the absence of markets.

Ironically, eco-Marxists claim that in a planned economy, use-value, not exchange value, would be the only criterion for the production of goods and services. Use-value as judged mostly by non-users—what could possibly go wrong?

With so much effort wasted on attempting to plan the allocation of market goods, there will be little capacity left to plan the use of true public goods or to avoid the tragedy of the commons resulting from open-access exploitation of rival but non-excludable goods (such as oceanic fisheries). The larcenous market enclosure of non-rival goods, such as knowledge and information, will be difficult to avoid as well. Eco-Marxists expect that as the transition moves forward, more goods and services critical for meeting fundamental human needs would be freely distributed according to the democratic will of the citizens effected by the central planners.

Carbon emissions

Vettese may oppose cap-and-trade auctions, but what is his solution for addressing resource scarcity? (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Bernard Bradley)

Without markets (that is to say without supply and demand, prices, and yes, profit), there could be no self-employment. No one could identify a needed good or service and make a living by taking the initiative to provide it. Everyone would be a salaried employee of the state, giving the state monopsony power in the labor market and stifling initiative.

Most objections to market allocation would disappear if the underlying inequality of wealth and income distribution were limited by cap-and-trade auctions or ecological tax reform. Opposition would also dwindle if the throughput of energy and materials was restricted to an ecologically sustainable level. Instead of correcting excessive throughput and distributional inequality—which of course get reflected in distorted market prices and allocation—eco-Marxists attack market allocation itself, as if underlying sustainability and equality problems could be solved by breaking the mirror that reflects them.

What are the eco-Marxist policies for directly limiting throughput and distributional inequality? If they don’t like cap-and-trade auctions, distribution limits, or ecological tax reform, then let them suggest something better. However, preferably not the Revolution, the Singularity, the Rapture, or the advent of the New Socialist Man.

(3) Malthusianism is an Evil Fiction

Thomas Robert Malthus and markets

Thomas Robert Malthus: His thesis was “false” according to Vettese. (Image Source, Credit: Popular Science Monthly Volume 74)

Marx’s hatred for Malthus is well known and prevalent among Marx’s disciples as well. For all his faults, it is hard to find a historically more influential figure than Thomas Robert Malthus. In addition to his enormous impact on Marx, Malthus was a key influence on Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin as they independently developed their theories of natural selection. Malthus’ theory of under-consumption also greatly influenced John Maynard Keynes’ theory of unemployment. Not to mention the whole neo-Malthusian birth control and planned parenthood movement. For Vettese, however, Malthusianism is merely the “false” idea that resource scarcity and overpopulation are real. For Marx poverty was caused only by class exploitation, and he rejected any cause stemming from nature as undermining the call for Revolution. Marx’s anti-Malthusian denial of natural resource limits and demographic pressure continue in Vettese and the faithful band of eco-neo-Marxists.

Curiously Vettese’s modern anti-Malthusian champion is the late Julian Simon, a staunch neoclassical economist of the most cornucopian variety, who vigorously opposed environmentalism. This third cuckoo egg (which is contradictory to the first two, as noted earlier) seems to have hatched prematurely and will likely get kicked out of the green nest, exposing Vettese as more red than green. Vettese accuses steady-state economists, specifically me, of having ignored Julian Simon’s critique: “Moreover, the neo-liberal Julian Simon developed a powerful critique of environmentalism in the 1980s, which Daly has not responded to” (p. 35). Actually, I published critical reviews of two of Simon’s books, and I do not have space here to repeat my response, so refer Vettese back to what he overlooked.3

An Issue of Representation

I’ll conclude with one last point, quite distinctive from the preceding. Vettese has taken me as representative of the entire field of steady-state economics. That is not fair to the many scholars whose steady-state findings have been quite independent of mine. Indeed, some of these scholars may sometimes call themselves “eco-socialists.”

Furthermore, given the central role of the steady state economy in ecological economics, Vettese’s attack on steady-state economics (were it successful) would also stain the broader field of ecological economics.

However, I am afraid that I have also treated Vettese as representative of eco-Marxists in general. That is not really fair to other Marxists or eco-socialists of various stripes, some of whom (John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, for example) I have benefitted from reading, regardless of differences.

1 Vettese, T. 2020. Against steady-state economics. The Ecological Citizen 3:35–46.

2 On these two points Vettese is clear and emphatic: “…the only way to stop the drive for endless economic growth is to undo the necessity to participate in markets. That is, the conscious political control over production and distribution through central planning is the only way to stop and reverse capitalism’s ceaseless incorporation of the natural world” (pp. 37-8).

3 Daly, H. 1982. Review of The Ultimate Resource. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 38(1):39-42.
Daly, H. 1984. The resourceful earth. Environment 26:25, 27-28.

Herman DalyHerman Daly is an author, professor emeritus, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He currently serves as the chief economic advisor for CASSE publications and projects and is on the CASSE Board of Directors.

The post Reply to Troy Vettese’s “Against Steady-State Economics” <sup>1</sup> appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Conversation with William Mitchell and Noel Pearson, Newcastle, December 15, 2019

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/03/2020 - 9:26am in

Today’s blog post is shorter than usual but you do get to access a hour-long video where I talk with Indigenous leader and activist Noel Pearson about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), how it impacts on his perceptions of options to improve indigenous well-being in Australia, and how it informs a new collaborative venture we are in the process of putting together – JUST2030 – as a response to the socio-ecological crisis that three decades of neoliberalism and the fiscal obsession with surpluses has created.

Conversation with William Mitchell and Noel Pearson, Newcastle, December 15, 2019

For non-Australian readers – Noel Pearson – is the Founder and Director of the – Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.

You can learn about his work as a lawyer, activist, indigenous leader, writer from the Wikipedia page, which provides extensive links to his work.

The Institute’s home page is at – Cape York Partnership.

Noel and I have been having regular meetings over the last several months to develop our collaboration on a major project that we hope will influence the direction of policy in Australia and beyond.

Our project – JUST2030 – will be launched in the coming months – coronavirus allowing – to the general public.

It will outline what we think is a realistic but ambitious agenda to meet the challenges of the social and environmental damage left after three or more decades of neoliberalism and its related policy misuse.

We are partnering with global climate activists and other academics and community activists.

We are also forming partnerships with activists in Timor-Leste, West Africa, Europe, and the UK (and hopefully Japan) to create a global movement that allows the insights of an MMT understanding to inform a green agenda designed to (among other things):

1. Improve the quality and availability of employment for all, including the design of a viable Job Guarantee framework.

2. Restore the integrity of public infrastructure and public services.

3. Provide coherent opportunities for workers and their families in regions affected by carbon-reducing strategies to retain material prosperity and employment in equitable ways via a Just Transition.

4. Address the excesses of the financial markets.

5. Reduce income and wealth inequality through wage justice and other measures.

6. Outline a viable path to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030 through regulative action and public investment.

While this video doesn’t articulate the JUST2030 agenda (that will come in due course), it does provide essential background to how Noel and I came together to begin this work together.

The video starts off talking about his – Light on the Hill – speech delivered in Bathurst, NSW on August 12, 2000.

It goes on to discuss how Noel came to understand MMT and how it has changed, to some extent, how he thinks about unemployment and the opportunities for disadvantaged people in Australia and beyond.

Our conversation also allowed me to understand the background to Noel’s ideas surrounding ‘passive welfare’ and ‘radical centrism’.

It was a most enjoyable and rewarding hour spent in conversation with a good friend.

The video goes for 59:27 minutes.

I was going to cut it into shorter segments but I decided that it would then lack continuity.

I am thankful to David Thompson, from the Cape York Partnership for his excellent filming and video editing services.

When I did the last conversation with my co-author Thomas Fazi – released in this blog post – Our sequel to Reclaiming the State in now in progress (February 27, 2020) – we used my iPhone as the movie camera mounted on a little tripod structure that we bought in a Trastevere street market in Rome for a few euros.

This video, thanks to David, was recorded using professional audio and video equipment and the quality is excellent.

The music is my addition (obviously, 1960s rock steady)!

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Naming and Shaming the Trolls.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/03/2020 - 6:27pm in

Be honest, you always wanted to know what kind of poisonous creature would write something like this:

“She [Greta Thunberg, that is] should be burnt at the stake!”

Comments like that (not the worst, btw) followed Greta Thunberg and the Climate Kids during her late February visit to Bristol.

Well, BristolLive exhibits a small bestiary, with names and photos:

(source)
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So, now that you know how they look like, let me tell you: I look much like them. Around the same age most of them are; the same ordinary face and physique, the same cheap clothes, pretty much the same tastes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised they had mates -- maybe even relatives -- like me.

But, make no mistake, I’m a proud commie. I don’t side with cowards. They aren’t my friends.

I also speak their language. So, addressing you, filthy pieces of Pommy shit: don’t try bullying those kids in my presence … or in the presence of those like me.

My message to ethnic minority trolls: tolerance and respect is a two-way street. You like bigotry? I can give you bigotry. You like bullying? I can give you bullying. Most of us would rather not follow you -- I am talking to you, personally, as an individual -- to the sewer you inhabit, but don’t push us, for your collective situation is perhaps even more precarious than ours. You know what they say about glass houses and stones, don’t you?

And, if I were you, I wouldn’t put much faith in the solidarity of your new-found white comrades in trolling. You could be surprised how quickly they turn on you.

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Considering that (1) these men may have their own families, including children, and that (2) they seem to have a disturbing proclivity for misogynistic violence, particularly addressed to young women, so far expressed only verbally (one hopes), perhaps Bristol police should pay them and their families a courtesy visit. You know, just to make sure that verbal violence does not indeed have a more immediate physical expression.

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Will Australian media follow the example BristolLive set? I’m looking at you, ABC, SBS, Guardian Australia, Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, The New Daily.

Book Review: Climate Change Impacts on Gender Relations in Bangladesh: Socio-environmental Struggle of the Shora Forest Community in the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest by Sajal Roy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 09/03/2020 - 11:13pm in

In Climate Change Impacts on Gender Relations in Bangladesh: Socio-environmental Struggle of the Shora Forest Community in the Sundarbans Mangrove ForestSajal Roy offers a close examination of the Shora community, examining the different gendered experiences of its members and their interactions with the Sundarbans forest in the context of climate change and two recent cyclones. While the book relies heavily on secondary sources and description over critical interrogation, it sets a foundation for further analysis of the relationship between gender, climate change and environmental security, writes Daniela Schofield

Climate Change Impacts on Gender Relations in Bangladesh: Socio-environmental Struggle of the Shora Forest Community in the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. Sajal Roy. Springer. 2019.

Find this book: amazon-logo

From shifting rainfall patterns pushing parts of southern Africa closer to famine to drought exacerbating wildfires across Australia, the effects of climate change are becoming devastating realities for individuals and communities worldwide. Across the globe, human activities, knowledge and beliefs are interwoven with the natural environments upon which communities depend for economic, physical and cultural survival: natural environments that are increasingly under threat from climate change and extreme weather events. In Climate Change Impacts on Gender Relations in Bangladesh: Socio-environmental Struggle of the Shora Forest Community in the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, Sajal Roy holds a magnifying glass to the Shora community, examining the gendered differences of its members and their interaction with the Sundarbans forest in the context of climate change and following cyclones Sidr (2007) and Aila (2009).

In this compact volume (part of SpringerBrief’s Environment, Security, Development and Peace series), Roy sets out to document the activities and perceptions of Shora women and men as they relate to the Sundarbans. With an area of approximately 10,000 km2, the Sundarbans forest is the planet’s largest tidal mangrove zone stretching across India and Bangladesh. Roy’s examination of the overlapping areas of gender, ecological knowledge and environmental security highlights the importance of recognising how these areas intersect with one another and the localised consequences of climate-related extreme weather events. As Roy points out early in the text, the Sundarbans have been an increasing focus of development agencies in recent years through research and programming that fails ‘to present a comprehensive juncture between the disaster victims’ knowledge of the forest and human Sundarbans relations’ (9).

The brief opens by identifying a gap in knowledge of the impact of extreme weather events on gender relations. In seeking to address this gap, Roy clearly articulates an objective of documenting gendered activities and perceptions of women and men in Shora related to forest use. The strength of the volume is in its surfacing and disseminating accounts of everyday experiences, which may be useful for policymakers, development practitioners and scholars. Yet, the brief’s title overpromises an analytical investigation of the relationship between climate change and gender relations, which, disappointingly, is not present. While interesting to read, in the absence of a substantial analysis, the accounts presented fall short of filling the identified knowledge gap. Although Roy acknowledges the limitations of the study (Chapter Six), the brief is conceptually confusing throughout due to a distractingly heavy reliance on secondary sources in every chapter interspersed alongside empirical observations.

The brief centres on a study conducted by Roy for a 2012 MPhil thesis. Following an introduction to the Sundarbans, Shora and cyclones Sidr and Aila (Chapter One), the brief follows a thesis-like structure, describing qualitative research methods employed and overviewing Roy’s theoretical approaches – standpoint theory and feminist political ecology (Chapter Two). The volume then moves to three body chapters that describe the relation of Shora community members to the forest (Chapter Three), how Shora women utilise the resources of the Sundarbans (Chapter Four) and environmental and economic security, as well as women’s roles in forest conservation (Chapter Five). The volume concludes with a superficial analysis of gendered knowledge in Shora, which is largely descriptive rather than a critical interrogation.

Roy’s empirical accounts, often heavy in aesthetic detail, surface articulations of traditional knowledge from Shora community members. Accounts are provided from not only men and women, but different groups of women. Roy recounts the forest-going practices of three groups of women in Chapter Three: Jele-Baoalie women engaged in fishing work; divorced women; and married women. Although each group is only briefly overviewed, Roy’s differentiation between the three is useful in resisting a homogenised depiction of women. Despite this, I have three concerns when reading the discussion of women.

My first concern is with the depiction of divorced women as an exclusively vulnerable group. Roy describes exclusion faced by divorced women when former spouses withdraw financial support and the stigma they encounter from their families. Yet, Roy also describes a communal housing arrangement for divorced Shora women that provides living space and opportunity for economic collaboration. Although this arrangement is described as precarious due its challenging of patriarchal norms, Roy reports divorced women living in this arrangement as accessing the forest to generate their own income in a way married women do not (48). This description raises the question of whether the status of being divorced, while not without difficulty, offers an opportunity for women to engage in forest-related income-generating activities with more, or at least different, agency than that of married women. It would have been interesting for a comparison between the activities of divorced and married women to be explored in greater depth.

My second concern lays in Roy’s claim that gender norms in Shora are being overcome. The brief contains significant exposition on gender divisions and norms in Shora generally. His claim is neither substantiated by the accounts provided, nor is a plausible argument for this claim presented. This argument is also not linked to cyclones Sidr or Aila, missing the stated aim of advancing knowledge of the impact of extreme weather events on gender relations. Further, accounts that directly contradict this claim are provided in the description of entrenched norms that devalue and disrespect women’s labour (65) and the statement that ‘women’s socio-economic identity at Shora is controlled by patriarchal ideology’ (69).

My third concern is the assumption of women as natural caretakers of the forest. A subsection titled ‘Women as Natural Conservators of the Sundarbans’ (67) unquestioningly depicts Shora women as forest guardians. Roy points to a 2004 USAID programme that utilised Shora women as champions of conservation to dissuade their husbands from killing Bengal tigers (68) as evidence that women are ‘more motivated and environmentally aware of the importance of wildlife conservation’ than men (69). Failing to critically examine the assumption that women are inherently motivated to protect the forest risks perpetuating a feminisation of responsibility for conservation and for development programming to add to women’s existing multiple responsibilities.

I am not convinced the brief succeeds in addressing the gap in knowledge of the impact of extreme weather events on gender relations. A dissonance is present throughout the text between this aim and Roy’s objective to provide documentary accounts from members of the Shora community. The result is a heavily descriptive, at times subjectively presented, narrative reliant on secondary sources. Yet, Roy sets the foundation for an interesting analysis of gender, climate change and environmental security, which could be undertaken in future to contribute to filling the gap. In doing so, it would be interesting to consider work carried out since Roy’s 2012 fieldwork (e.g. the potential for more gender equitable societies following extreme weather events, the effect of extreme weather on gender gaps in education and the prevalence of gender-based violence after extreme weather events) and what remains to be addressed in the knowledge gap of the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on gender relations.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Image Credit: Dying mangroves in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh (Frances Voon CC by 2.0).

 


Beating Teflon Trump Entails a New Perspective on GDP

By Brian Czech

In the earlier months of Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats were stunned by his popularity despite his racist rhetoric, acerbic arrogance, and international insults. Trump himself had meanly boasted that he could “shoot somebody on 5th Avenue” and not lose any votes. He knew the American political system—Dems included—worshiped at the altar of GDP growth. Trump, as the quintessential growthist, had skyrocketed to the throne of Untouchable High Priest, albeit in a sharply divided church of red and blue growthists.

President Donald Trump

Say no to economic bloating: It’s time for Democratic candidates to take a stand against growth-mongering. (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Gage Skidmore )

The Democratic response to Trump’s resilient popularity was to double down on the corruption and general awfulness of Trump, all the way to articles of impeachment. Dems were stunned once again at the lack of buy-in. Yet no one in Big Money circles—nor their media-manipulated red states—cared about “abuse of authority” or even “contempt of Congress” when GDP was growing faster than anyone had hoped for in years.

Dems have also tried to take credit for the growing GDP, claiming it has more to do with Barack Obama’s policies than Trump’s. Right or wrong, that’s a claim that falls on deaf ears. The growth mindset is all about now; previous administrations are as irrelevant as climate change to red-state congregants of the GDP religion.

What else can the Democrats do, in the face of such pro-growth Trumpian triumph? Easy! They can challenge the assumption that growth is good!

Some Democratic strategists, still stuck on “It’s the economy, stupid,” shudder at the notion of questioning growth. Yet think how easy the argument is. Without batting an eye, Dems can say:

GDP isn’t everything. All it measures is the number of people and the amount they consume. Why should that be the number one goal? More and more buyers of more and more stuff…how is that helping at this point in history? More and more traffic, congestion, pollution, noise, and stress. That’s a good thing? All the while with less and less natural resources, green space, wildlife, peace and quiet, and even the peace of mind that comes with a stable climate! “It’s the economy, stupid” had its day as a slogan, but that was decades ago. Now, in the twenty-first century, pushing for higher GDP is the new stupid.

There have been some baby steps taken in that very direction by some of the Democratic 2020 presidential candidates. Cory Booker ventured out first during the June 27, 2019 Democratic debate by stating, “The indicators that are being used from GDP to Wall Street’s rankings [are] not helping people in my community. It is about time that we have an economy that works for everybody, not just the wealthiest in our nation.” While he wasn’t questioning the goal of growth so much as the distribution of GDP, merely casting doubt on the merits of GDP is right on the cusp of a growth critique.

Two more things are noteworthy about Booker’s comment. The first is especially relevant to readers of the Steady State Herald and to active citizens in general: Booker seemed to be following up on advice provided by CASSE at a meeting with one of Booker’s staff on April 11. We suggested that he merely question GDP as a measure of success, and that is exactly what he did. Second, this succinct questioning was enough to qualify as an NBC News “top candidate line.”

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang challenged the merits of GDP as an indicator of success during his campaign. Who’s next? (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Gage Skidmore)

 

 

At the July 31 debate, Andrew Yang went a step further: “What we have to do is, we have to say, ‘look, there’s record high GDP and stock market prices, you know what else there are record highs [of]? Suicides, drug overdoses, depression, anxiety.’ It’s gotten so bad that American life expectancy has declined for the last three years.”

Yang went on to say, “The way we win this election is we redefine economic progress to include all the things that matter to the people in Michigan and all of us like our own heath, our well-being, our mental health, our clean air and clean water, how our kids are doing.”

 

 

Yang’s sweeping statement was reminiscent of the words of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968:

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things… Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

The fact that Kennedy made these points more than 50 years ago is not so much evidence of the prescience of Kennedy as it is of how far behind the times the Democratic Party (sans Booker and Yang) has fallen on limits to growth. After all, Kennedy already spoke in terms of “for too long.” Now, in the 21st century, with GDP approximately 20 times higher than the 1968 model, economic growth is causing far more problems than it solves. It’s a bad dirty deal that’s starting to look like an existential threat!

Yet GDP growth is Trump’s calling card. Big Money passes it around 24/7, while Dark Money sneakily funds research and “think tanks” to make it seem like growth is the solution, not the problem. The only way to defeat this phenomenon is to keep harping on the impact of perpetually pushing for GDP growth. We have to emphasize, too, that it’s not just environmental impact. The environmental deterioration caused by bloating GDP is a matter of common sense, yet it’s not rocket science to connect that environmental deterioration to economic unsustainability and national insecurity.

Aside from Booker and Yang, who are out of the running for 2020, the Democratic presidential candidates haven’t provided any leadership to speak of for raising awareness of limits to growth and the need for a steady state economy. That said, they have been far, far less growth-obsessed than Trump. In fact, taken as a whole, they’ve had so little to say about economic growth that columnist John O. McGinnis (also a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University) claimed, “Democratic presidential candidates have abandoned the idea of economic growth.” That was an overstatement, though. Outside of Booker’s baby step and Yang’s follow-up, none of the candidates have capitalized on the potential of a 21st century growth-is-stupid strategy. Rather, they are too focused (according to McGinnis) on “taking” from the rich and redistributing it to the poor. According to McGinnis (and supply siders at large), Dems would do better to help the less fortunate by way of the seemingly ancient approach of GDP growth, that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Iowa State Fair

A sign at the 2019 Iowa State Fair reads, “Make Him Go Away, 2020.” Trump’s obsession with GDP growth is especially ripe for disposal. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Phil Roeder)

So, what is the political lesson? It is that the Democratic focus on helping the less fortunate would be far more effective if coupled with the message of limits to growth. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, especially,1 should be pointing out there is only so much “water” for a rising tide, and only so much room for “boats” on the water (not to mention the limited availability of boat-building materials). In the 21st century, we need a transition to a steady state economy for the sake of all boats.

All that said, a democracy is supposed to be “for the people, by the people.” Simply wishing that Sanders, Biden, or Warren will take a stand on limits to growth is about as productive as wishing that Trump would re-sign the Paris Climate Treaty. In order for a Democratic presidential nominee to handle the truth about limits to growth, he or she will need to hear from constituents to develop the knowledge and comfort to do so. So will Democrats (or other progressive candidates) running for county, state, and federal offices across the board. If CASSE’s one request of a presidential candidate quickly paid off with a rhetorical baby step that was then recognized by NBC News as a “top candidate line,” imagine what thousands of such requests across the country may accomplish.2

Teflon Trump’s obsession with GDP growth is not only ham-handed; it’s short-sighted, anachronistic, and stupid. It belongs in the dustbin of history, and the sooner it gets there the better. Let’s make sure it gets there by providing the alternative vision: the vision of the steady state economy.

1Elizabeth Warren would be too avowedly pro-growth to manage a steady-state paradigm shift, certainly within this election cycle.

2 Why not print this off and send it to your local Democratic Party candidates, staffers, and organizers? If they express an interest, follow up with a visit, or at least send them a copy of Best of The Daly News: Selected Essays from the Leading Blog in Steady State Economics, 2010-2018. Best of The Daly News is a primer for getting people—including staffers and candidates—quickly up to speed on steady-state economics. To order copies at the cost of printing for political candidate distribution, send an email to Casey Reiland, Managing Editor, at caseyreiland@steadystate.org.

Brian Czech, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. He is the author of three books, Supply Shock, Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, and The Endangered Species Act, as well as more than 50 academic journal articles. He served as a conservation biologist in the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1999-2017 and as a visiting professor of natural resource economics in Virginia Tech’s National Capitol Region.

The post Beating Teflon Trump Entails a New Perspective on GDP appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Reds Under Dutton’s Bed.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/03/2020 - 8:14pm in

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”

Call me paranoid, but I feel something disturbing is going on.


Last Monday 25, Mike Burgess, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), highlighted the three most serious threats to Australian national security:

  1. Foreign interference/espionage.
  2. Fundamentalist Islamic terrorism (ASIO’s primary concern).
  3. A real and growing “threat of rightwing extremism”.

A low-tech terrorist attack (using knife, gun, vehicle) is “probable”, Burgess said, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

He also praised recently enacted laws giving security services search and seizure powers over computing and telecommunications hardware and unencrypted data and forcing communications services to assist such agencies. Federal Minister for Home Affairs and Burgess’ boss, Peter Dutton, has been a key proponent of such laws within the Morrison Cabinet.

Although I haven’t seen any comments about its legal aspect, the address was object of interest by commentators, because of the importance Burgess gives to rightwing extremism. Moreover the event itself is a first (ASIO is generally described as “very secretive” and journalists aren’t frequent guests at its headquarters).

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But it’s not just ASIO. The entire security apparatus of the State, under Dutton’s parliamentary portfolio, seems to have been very busy.

A week earlier (Wednesday 19) the heads of three other intelligence/law enforcement federal agencies gave an also unusual joint public address at the National Press Club in Canberra.

In that address the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), and Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) argued their case for yet additional surveillance powers.

It wasn’t Islamist terrorism or foreign interference, however, what concerned them; it was child sex abuse.

Used in messaging applications, end-to-end encryption enabled, they argued, “deviant and perverted offenders ... to evade law enforcement detection”. Therefore, new legal powers are needed to either decrypt those messages or force encryption providers to hand them their unencrypted content.

I’m sure criminals use end-to-end encryption, but journalists and their sources, among others, also use it very legitimately to protect their sensitive communications against State eavesdropping. What about them?

One would have thought that that would have raised eyebrows among journalists, particularly after the Federal Court dismissed the ABC’s legal case against the AFP. However, at least those present at the event (which was televised) seemed more interested in the AFP’s negative to investigate the case of federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor’s doctored documents.

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Then, on Tuesday 25, making reference to Burgess’ remarks, Peter Dutton (remember: the boss of those top cops and spooks) suddenly dropped this:

“If somebody is going to cause harm to Australians, I just don’t care whether they’re on the far right, far left, somewhere in between, they will be dealt with.

“And if the proliferation of information into the hands of rightwing lunatics or leftwing lunatics is leading to a threat in our country, then my responsibility is to make sure our agencies are dealing with it and they are”.

Readers can compare by themselves what Dutton left out from Burgess’ (and the other security bigwigs’) assessments. Here I’m interested in what he added to them.

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Like many police officers, ex-cop Dutton seems prone to hallucinate about dangerous red hordes lurking under his bed. Unlike most of his former colleagues, Dutton has a high profile job. Therefore, many noticed when he added “leftwing lunatics” to the list of threats and, as a consequence, asked him about that. Some went as far as calling his parliamentary office asking for clarification … with perturbing results.

Journalists, too, were intrigued. David Speers, the new host of Insiders, was the latest.

Dutton’s rather scornful answer boils down to this: He’s too busy to discuss semantics; “leftwing lunatics” were present all along in the top cops’ assessment, for Islamic terrorists, he adds, are nothing if not … leftwing (!?).

In other words, “leftwing lunatics” means whatever Humpty Dutton chooses it to mean – neither more nor less.

And, remember: he may not be the master -- yet -- but he’s pretty close to him.

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I am sure card-carrying members of the “sensible middle” feel the lunacy in Dutton’s “leftwing lunatics” remarks; many are even likely to find it all vaguely threatening. It’s not the first time the Morrison Government aroused such feelings.

Ultimately, however, most will probably shrug it all off: it’s others who should worry about that (by coincidence, I wrote about those others last time).

The reader, of course, doesn’t need to agree, but I, for what it is worth, think that attitude may be unwise. Given the plasticity in the labels Dutton uses for his targets, who’s to say the sensible reader him/herself isn’t -- to his/her utter surprise -- a “lunatic”? Your sanity does not depend on a clinical diagnosis, after all, but on Dutton’s let’s say idiosyncratic assessment.

If I were a journalist, I’d keep my eyes peeled.

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