sustainability

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A Life on Our Planet – A Tentative Step Toward Mainstream Steady Statesmanship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 1:22am in

By James MacGregor Palmer

Sir David Attenborough is nothing short of a national treasure in the UK. The 93-year-old nature broadcaster’s lyrical but soft-spoken narration is instantly recognizable, providing the backdrop for many Britons’ most vivid on-screen encounters with the natural world.

Attenborough’s career has spanned well over half a century, bringing the world’s wildlife to our screens. While initially his focus was merely on bringing viewers a taste of the planet’s brilliant biodiversity, over the years a new concern has emerged: Biodiversity is shrinking. And Attenborough feels an obligation to use his platform to do something about it.

That’s why, even at his advanced age, he’s joined Instagram, hoping to influence a younger generation that will bear the majority of the burden of the climate crisis. It’s also why, though tentatively and incrementally, he has begun to point the finger of blame at something so deeply embedded in our hegemonic psyche that it has seemed for so long beyond criticism—capitalism. In doing so, he is (perhaps unwittingly) becoming a great asset to those of us who believe in steady-state economics.

Globe (a life on our planet)

From outer space it’s crystal clear that we live on a planet of a finite capacity. (Image: CC0, Credit: PIRO4D)

Attenborough’s latest film, A Life on Our Planet, is his “witness statement.” It documents the loss of biodiversity that has occurred during his lifetime. Biodiversity is a term that has somewhat shifted off the mainstream media’s radar in recent years; yet here it is brought front and center. But throughout, there is a consistent theme that this loss is not merely caused by human carelessness but by a systemic need for ever more consumption. This need must be overturned if we are to stand any chance against the climate crisis.

The Importance of Visual Metaphors and Frames

Some of Attenborough’s key points can be viewed as a coherent and digestible argument for steady-state economics. They also highlight the idea that the message lands better when it is presented as part of a broader philosophical worldview, rather than as a set of cold, hard economic principles.

First, Attenborough sketches out a rather vivid picture of monitoring the 1968 Apollo mission, the first time humanity had seen our planet from the outside:

I remember very well that first shot. You saw a blue marble, a blue sphere in the blackness and you realised that that was the earth, and in that one shot there was the whole of humanity with nothing else except the person that was in the spacecraft taking that picture.  And that completely changed the mindset of the population, the human population of the world. Our home was not limitless. There was an edge to our existence. It was a rediscovery of a fundamental truth. We are ultimately bound by and reliant upon the finite natural world about us. This truth defined the life we led in our prehistory—the time before farming and civilization.

This is a powerful visual metaphor. While we walk on this planet, it is easy to become lost in its vastness, to fall into the trap of believing on a subconscious level (though on a rational level we know this to be untrue) that it is infinite. Once we view our planet from another angle, one from outside its atmosphere, it is easier for us to grasp its finitude. Widespread realization of this “fundamental truth,” as Attenborough calls it, is vital if steady-state ideas are to be accepted by the general public. Reducing steady-state economics to the fundamental truth at its core—the reality that Earth is finite and should be treated as such—could be a key element of simplifying the message. When we acknowledge this truth, and that, as Attenborough states, “anything we can’t do forever is, by definition, unsustainable,” it becomes a case of simple logic that endless economic growth is incompatible with the limits of our planet.

The power of the visual image of a finite Earth is not the only frame that A Life on Our Planet lends for potential application to steady-state economics. Another is in the following:

We had broken loose. We were apart from the rest of life on Earth. Living a different kind of life. Our predators had been eliminated. Most of our diseases were under control. We had worked out how to produce food to order. There was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us. Unless we stopped ourselves. We would keep consuming the earth until we had used it up.

Forest

The natural world is the greatest visual and experiential asset to the communication of steady-state ideas. (Image: CC0, KANENORI)

The idea here is that humans have become separate to the rest of life on Earth, subduing it and refusing to be confined by it, changing the environment instead of ourselves (an idea Attenborough first posited way back in his 1979 documentary Life on Earth). This is another mode of thinking that, if we were able to successfully challenge, would make steady-state economics far more palatable to the general public. When we view ourselves as separate from the living world we inhabit, it is easier for us to see it as there for our consumption rather than our cooperation. While many accept the fact that current hegemony encourages us to think in individualistic terms, few extend that premise beyond other people to other forms of life. Hegemonic individualism and consumerism encourage us not only to see other people as merely assets to be exploited but also to apply the same logic to the natural world. We continue to exploit all the assets available to us until there are none left. Steady-state economics is a direct challenge to this logically flawed position, but in order to become widely accepted as a legitimately workable economic theory, we must first challenge the underlying ideology that predisposes many to subconscious opposition of degrowth ideas.

A Step Forward

The natural world is the greatest visual and experiential asset to the communication of steady-state ideas. While anthropogenic climate change is now broadly acknowledged as a “root cause” of our current environmental crisis, the challenge for us is to illustrate the “deeper root”: endless economic growth. We all see the loss of biodiversity around us and we all lament it. We lap up nature documentaries because we have an innate sense of awe for the natural world. If we can bring into plain view the link between the loss of the natural world and the idea that growth is always good, we may stand some chance of winning people over.

David Attenborough

David Attenborough: Serious about protecting the planet and on the cusp of steady statesmanship. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Mikedixson)

A Life on Our Planet takes a big step in making that connection. Yes, it may be tentative. And yes, Attenborough is careful to avoid any explicit reference to economics, but what the film does do is advocate a fundamental shift in human thinking. That has to be the first step toward general acceptance of the steady state economy.

In fact, Attenborough went further into detail on a BBC podcast following the release of the film, stating his belief that “we must curb excess capitalism” in order to combat the climate crisis. A national figure talking about capitalism as the “deeper root” of the climate crisis on a state broadcaster no less. This is big stuff.

Now, as journalist George Monbiot pointed out on Twitter the following day, Attenborough still felt the need to qualify “capitalism” with “excess,” pointing the finger at the adjective and not the noun. But Monbiot himself has written about the incompatibility of perpetual growth with continued human life on Earth on multiple occasions over the last two years in the prominent British newspaper The Guardian. We are beginning to see mainstream voices questioning the moral and theoretical underpinning of the hegemonic ideology that compels us toward perpetually increasing consumption, and that is a crucial first step toward overthrowing that ideology.

Returning to Our Roots

Steady statesmanship is not just an economic principle, it is a counter-hegemonic ideology. We are fundamentally opposed to the neoliberal capitalist worldview, which makes the task of communicating our ideas immeasurably harder. But the lesson from A Life on Our Planet is that we can use universal visual and experiential metaphors to our advantage. We all experience and love the natural world. We all get some sense of existential awe when we realize the enormity yet finitude of the planet we live on. The task for those of us who believe in change is to convince others that the world’s dominant economic model is responsible for the rapid erosion of our relationship with the natural world around us. In the words of Sir David Attenborough:

“When you think about it, we are completing a journey. Ten thousand years ago, as hunter-gatherers, we lived a sustainable life because that was the only option. All these years later, it’s once again the only option. We need to rediscover how to be sustainable, to move from being apart from nature to becoming a part of nature once again.”

James MacGregor Palmer graduated from Newcastle University with a BA in Music with Politics in 2019 and is pursuing a master’s degree in International Journalism at the University of Stirling.

The post A Life on Our Planet – A Tentative Step Toward Mainstream Steady Statesmanship appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Who Does Economic Growth Serve?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 5:09am in

By Brian Snyder

For many people, one of the causes of our obsession with economic growth is our belief that it will make our lives better. We think that with a little more money and a little more financial security, we will be able to better provide for our families, pay for our children’s college, and eventually retire, perhaps not wealthy but safe in the knowledge that we will never be poor.

For others, economic growth is needed as a means to help the poor. We drive around our communities and see a great deal of poverty—people without healthcare, food, or decent housing—and think that if we had a bit of economic growth with the new businesses and jobs it brings, we could alleviate this suffering.

These are noble and understandable goals, but they are based on a faulty assumption: A rising tide lifts all boats, and national economic growth increases financial stability for the middle class and raises the poor out of poverty. There was a time in American history when this was the case. But for the past three decades, economic growth has almost exclusively benefitted the top 10 percent, and done little to nothing for the bottom 50 percent.

Economic Growth and the Unequal Distribution of Wealth

Recently, the Federal Reserve released an analysis which showed that the 50 richest Americans controlled as much wealth as the 164 million poorest. While that shocking number led to headlines, the more interesting aspect of this data is the way in which equity shares have changed over time. In 2002, the top 1 percent owned about 40 percent of equity in corporations, while those in the 50th to 90th percentile owned about 20 percent, and the bottom 50 percent owned about 1.5 percent. Today, the 1 percent own over 50 percent of equity, while the bottom 90 percent own about 11 percent of equity. Of that, the bottom 50 percent own about 0.5 percent of equity in corporations.

Moving more broadly to the estimate of wealth, the trends remain the same. The top 1 percent of the nation own 30.5 percent of its wealth, up from 24 percent in 1989. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent’s share of wealth has declined from 3.6 percent in the late 1980s to 1.9 percent today.

Of course, these statistics do not necessarily imply that the poor and middle class are growing poorer, but they do imply that the benefits of economic growth are not spread evenly or equitably. The bottom 50 percent, or perhaps even the bottom 90 percent, support an economic system that is built for the benefit of the top 10 percent. We support this system because we believe that it is the means to move from poverty to prosperity, but it turns out that this prosperity is not our own.

Jeff Bezos and economic growth

Jeff Bezos and then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, 2016. (Image: CC0, Credit: Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

What is especially galling in this situation is that this growth is an affront, not just to steady-state heterodox economics but to neoclassical economics as well. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, made $5 billion dollars last Wednesday, enlarging his fortune to $188 billion. Inexplicably, that was not his personal best. Neoclassical economists assume that utility plateaus as consumption increases. That is, there is some amount of money beyond which further income does not add to happiness. Certainly, this limit to human utility must be decidedly south of $188 billion dollars. If so, then why do we have a system that encourages billionaires to build wealth ad infinitum?

Critics will argue that the rising tide of economic growth has indeed lifted all boats. They will argue that poor and middle-class Americans are richer than we were 20 or 30 years ago. Certainly, we all have more stuff than we did a few decades ago, and our stuff is fancier and more expensive. So, in a sense, such critics would be correct. But they neglect the fact, described by Herman Daly and John Cobb long ago, that wealth is at least partially relative. Humans are social animals, and one of the ways in which we situate ourselves on the social hierarchy is through wealth. Thus, what matters is not just how much stuff I have, but how much stuff I have relative to that other guy. Therefore, in a very real sense, when the rich get richer faster than the poor get richer, the poor really do feel poorer.

Unbeknownst to most, this economic growth that benefits the rich extracts a cost on natural resources and the environment. Our aquifers are being depleted, fisheries are in decline, forests are disappearing, air is toxic, oceans are acidifying, soils are eroding, and the planet is warming. At some point, perhaps next year or perhaps 100 years from now, these environmental crises will become a global humanitarian crisis. Indeed, climate change may already have contributed to the war in Syria, the most terrible humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. Yet when this socio-ecological crisis comes, who do we imagine will suffer the consequences? Will it be the children of the 1 percent, or the children of the bottom 50 percent?

Who Will Pay the Price?

The COVID-19 crisis illustrates the linkage between environmental crisis and wealth. While many may not think of COVID-19 as an environmental crisis, it was caused by a parasitic organism that a wild animal transmitted into humans and spread through densely populated cities in China and the USA. Thus, the pandemic is an anthropogenic environmental crisis.

Graph and economic growth

Impacts of climatic variation on corn yields in the USA. Source: EPA.

A year ago, we might have thought that we were all equally vulnerable to an infectious disease. Certainly, we would expect differences in population density to impact transmission, but not differences in wealth. While it is certainly true that the rich and poor get COVID-19, it is not true that we have all contracted it at the same rate. African Americans and other minority groups have been disproportionately impacted as well as people living in areas with historic particulate matter pollution.

The same pattern is likely to hold for the next environmental crisis, whether it is another pandemic, a climate-induced famine, or some new terror that we have not yet imagined. The poor—the people that live in polluted locations with less healthcare, more violence, and more food insecurity—will pay the costs of environmental degradation, either through a reduction in the ecosystem services they rely on, or via an increase in ecosystem disservices like parasitism, fires, and extreme weather.

No More Economic Growth! No More Malarkey!

Map and economic growth

Anthropogenic soil degradation. Source: UN FAO.

In sum, the richer have gotten richer through economic growth while the poor and middle class have grown relatively poorer. Furthermore, the children of the poor and middle class will pay for this growth. In a best-case scenario, they will pay higher taxes to pay off the government debt the rich have required to fuel growth and build the infrastructure needed to resist the various environmental crises that befall them. In a medium case, perhaps they will also be displaced from their homes. But in a worst-case scenario, they will pay with their lives.

Of course, they already do. Globally, over 3 million people die each year from air pollution, with about 200,000 of those deaths in the U.S. Lethal air pollution, mostly in the form of particulate matter, is a direct result of our economic activity, and it has increased in China and India in recent years because of the globalized world we created to fuel our economic growth.

Given this ludicrous yet abhorrent situation, I wonder what the first step should be. Not a long list of radical policy ideas, but the first, moderate step. A step someone like Joe Biden could take to slow growth and change the beneficiaries of the growth that remains. Reversing the Trump tax cuts would certainly be helpful, and it is in Biden’s plans, but that seems almost trivial compared to the scale of the problem. Instead, I think we must change the mandate of the Fed to favor employment rather than growth. That seems like real progress that is both symbolic and meaningful. It is radical without being overly so, and it is the sort of change that may gain popular support. Perhaps, if Biden is elected, advocates of the steady state economy might focus on one or two such policies with the broadest appeal. Policies that, while not turning the train of economic growth around, at least start tapping the brakes.  

Brian F. Snyder is an assistant professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University and CASSE’s LSU Chapter director.

The post Who Does Economic Growth Serve? appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Fair Incomes for a Healthy Future: The Sustainable Salaries Act

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 4:43am in

By Ashfia Khan

To achieve sustainability in the USA and generally, it is crucial that we narrow the income gap between the highest and lowest earners. An equitable distribution of income is a prerequisite of social and environmental sustainability. It’s not just about sustainability, either—it’s about fairness, too.

yacht

Unsustainable salaries lead to unsustainable consumption. (Image: CC0, Credit: Roman Boed)

People tend to be happier and healthier in societies where there is a more equitable distribution of wealth, as well as more likely to receive higher education and have a longer life expectancy.[i] Among the G7 countries, the USA ranks highest in income inequality, and the wealth gap more than doubled between 1989 and 2016 and continues to widen.[ii] The more the income gap widens, the worse it gets for economic mobility.

Sometimes called the “Great Gatsby Curve” by economists, the relationship between income equality and mobility is such that children from lower-income families will be far less likely to improve their economic status compared to their parents.[iii] It simply seems unfair that so little of the USA’s population controls so much of its wealth while 20 percent of Americans are unable to even pay their monthly bills and give their children the opportunity for a better future.

Income Inequality and Its Negative Effects

Domestic and international researchers have explored the effects of income inequality through the “Gini coefficient.”[iv] The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 represents perfect equality and 1 represents perfect inequality. In other words, when the coefficient is 0, everyone receives an equal share; when the coefficient is at 1, only one group or individual gets everything.

The Gini coefficient is not a perfect indicator, as it depends on every country having reliable income data and doesn’t measure informal economic activity. However, it does provide useful insights for how income inequality effects people’s wellbeing. For example, one researcher compared infant mortality rates in the USA by mapping CDC data against the Gini Index and found that as income inequality increased, so did infant mortality.[v] Researchers also found that U.S. teenagers living in states with higher levels of inequality are more likely to become pregnant than those living in states with a low level of inequality.[vi]

Gini coefficients have also been analyzed with data from the U.N. Human Development Indicators, revealing that Japan has the lowest Gini coefficient (lowest inequality) and the U.S. has the highest, and that there is a significant relationship between inequality and obesity.[vii]

The pervasive reach of income inequality extends beyond societal impacts. Researchers have also discovered strong threats to the environment and sustainability. While many of the causes of biodiversity loss, such as habitat loss and climate change, are more directly causal, some studies have explored the relationship between income inequality and biodiversity loss. Even after controlling for factors like biophysical conditions, human population size, and per capita GDP and income, researchers found that as the Gini coefficient increased, so did the indicators of biodiversity loss.[viii] This pattern remained the same whether compared across countries or U.S. states. The researchers noted that correlation does not equate to causality, but they postulated a strong likelihood of causality in this case.

It doesn’t end at biodiversity loss either. One researcher found that there was a consistent trend, at least among wealthy countries, whereby those with higher inequality consumed more resources and generated more waste.[ix] U.S. water consumption per capita is more than twice that of Japan. In Japan, the top 10 percent of the population has an income 4.5 times that of the bottom 10 percent. In the U.S., the top 10 percent earns 16 times that of the lowest. Similarly, in New Zealand, where the top 10 percent earn 12.5 times as much, the per capita annual consumption of fish and meat is close to three times as much as that of Japan.

graph and salary caps

Inequality and consumption of fish and meat across countries, 2002-2007. Note: Circle size corresponds to the size of a country’s population.[xi]

This same pattern is reflected in how much per capita annual waste countries generate. Sweden, which has a relatively low ratio of income inequality, generates 513kg of waste annually. Switzerland, with an income inequality ratio of 9, generates 728kg, and Singapore, where the top 10% earns 18 times as much as the bottom 10%, generates a whopping 1072kg.[x]

Salary Caps

One proposed solution to narrow the income gap is to implement a salary cap, which could also be considered a 100 percent tax rate beyond a certain salary. The tax revenue may be repurposed to serve the public good.

Salary caps have been kicked around the policy arena as early as 1933, when members of the House of Representatives were introducing amendments to limit annual incomes to $1 million. In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt proposed that annual incomes should be capped at $25,000 (which would translate to $375,000 today).[xii] These proposals were never legislated, but academics and policymakers have explored the concept with increasing interest and support.

The NFL and NBA, among other athletic organizations, have famously adopted salary caps. Since 1994, the NFL has enforced both a salary floor and cap for its athletes and teams. These minima and maxima are readjusted after annual reviews. Sports teams have found that leveling the playing field not only makes for a more egalitarian league, but it also makes the performance more engaging for their audience as well.[xiii]

It would hardly make sense, though, to set one overarching salary limit across all industries and occupations. Some industries require higher levels of education and more skilled qualifications. Industries that require specialized education and experience will have less competition than other industries and may garner greater profits. Holding industries with a huge disparity in profit margins to the same salary cap doesn’t seem feasible. If set too low, the political prospects for establishing the cap would be nil. If set too high, it would lose effectiveness.

In Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution, Brian Czech proffers “sectoral salary caps” of fifteen times the lowest in-sector salary or wage, calling this a common-sense starting point for feasible policy negotiations. Using the example of a barber in Pulaski, Tennessee versus a barber in New York City, it makes sense that the New York barber could, would, and should charge more for a haircut. For producing what would be a $15 haircut in Pulaski, the New York barber may receive up to $450. A $450 haircut is hardly a glowing example of sustainability, yet it’s not a $1,000 haircut, which would be wantonly wasteful by almost anyone’s standards. The cap, then, would move us in the direction of sustainable consumption.

Green Bay Packers and salary caps

The NFL is no paragon of sustainability, but has implemented salary caps since 1994. (In the case of the Green Bay Packers, shown above, the team is community-owned as well). (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Mike Morbeck)

The Sustainable Salaries Act

Consistent with Czech’s sectoral salary-capping proposal, I propose a “Sustainable Salaries Act.” The legislation may be included in CASSE’s broader Full and Sustainable Employment Act. Alternatively, it may be introduced as an independent bill.

The Sustainable Salaries Act would prohibit top employees in most industries from making more than fifteen times as much as the lowest-paid employees. Somewhat lower proportional caps would apply to sectors known for inequitable business practices or the production of non-essential goods and services.

The bureaucracy entailed may not be as onerous as some would suspect. Companies already report their employees’ salaries and wages to the IRS. Pursuant to the Sustainable Salaries Act, the IRS will compile this information and submit it to the U.S. Department of Labor. If a company violates the act, it will face criminal penalties and fines in proportion to excess salaries, and CEOs may even face jail time in egregious cases.

The following is a conceivable Section 3 (Declarations) of the Sustainable Salaries Act. This should give readers a better sense of how the law would function and provide a starting point for conversation on sectoral salary capping. As the act is further developed, some of the subsections may be broken out into full sections.

 

Sec. 3. DECLARATIONS

 

1. In General.—The salary of the most highly compensated employees of any
organization or corporation may not be any greater than fifteen times the salary of
the lowest paid employee of the same organization or corporation.
(A) The salary of the most highly compensated employees of any organization or
corporation engaged in activities—
   (1) in the pharmaceutical and drugs sector, real estate sector, and commercial lending sector may not be any greater than ten times the salary of the lowest paid employee of the same organization or corporation.
   (2) in the amusement and recreation sector, cosmetics sector, and jewelry sector may not be greater than twelve times the salary of the lowest paid employee of the same organization or corporation.

 

2. REPORT.—The Internal Revenue Service shall submit the salary and
wage information of all employees within the top ten percent of highly compensated
employees and the salary and wage information of all employees within the lowest ten percent of the least compensated employees within an organization or corporation to the U.S. Department of Labor for review.

 

3. CRIMINAL PENALTIES.—Whoever—
     (1) knowingly and willfully exceeds the salary limit set forth under the Sustainable
Salaries Act shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years
or both.
     (2) willfully reports a record of compensation as set forth in the Sustainable
Salaries Act with the intent to deceive, mislead, or otherwise falsely misrepresent
information, knowing that the record contains false information or does not meet all
the requirements set forth in the Act, or both, shall be fined not more than
$5,000,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

 

Enforcing salary caps pursuant to a Sustainable Salaries Act is just one step toward a steady state economy, but a crucial one. By reducing income inequality, we move closer to not only a more equitable society, but a more sustainable one as well.

 

[i] According to a study in Italy, where the Gini coefficient was mapped against life expectancy at birth, income inequality was shown to have a significant negative correlation with life expectancy. G.A. Cornia, R. Gnesotto, R. Mistry, R. De Vogli. 2005. Has the relation between income inequality and life expectancy disappeared? Evidence from Italy and top industrialised countries. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59(2):158–162.

[ii] Schaeffer, K.,”6 facts about economic inequality in the U.S,” Fact Tank: News in the Numbers, Pew Research Center, February 7, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/07/6-facts-about-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s/.

[iii] Vandivier, D. “What is the Great Gatsby Curve?” The White House: President Barack Obama, June 11, 2013, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2013/06/11/what-great-gatsby-curve.

[iv] Chappelow, J, “Gini Index,” Investopedia, February 3, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gini-index.asp.

[v] Erwin, P., M. K. Jones, and A. Siddiqi. 2015. Does higher income inequality adversely influence infant mortality rates? Reconciling descriptive patterns and recent research findings. Social Science & Medicine 131:82–88.

[vi] Levine, P.B. and Kearney, M. S. 2012. Why is the teen birth rate in the United States so high and why does it matter? Journal of Economic Perspectives 26(2):141-63.

[vii] Brunner, E., Kelly, S., T. Lobstein, K.E. Pickett, K. E. and R. G. Wilkinson. 2005. Wider income gaps, wider waistbands? An ecological study of obesity and income inequality. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59(8):670-674.

[viii] Gonzalez, A. G.M. Mikkelson, and G.D. Peterson. 2007. Economic inequality predicts biodiversity loss. PLOS ONE 2(5):e444.

[ix] Islam, S. “Inequality and Environmental Sustainability.” New York: DESA Working Paper No. 45., 2015.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii]Pizzigati, S., “For Minimum Decency, a Maximum Wage,” Institute for Policy Studies, June 6, 2018, https://ips-dc.org/for-minimum-decency-a-maximum-wage/.

[xiii]Vassallo, J. The Advantages of Salary Caps. Houston Chronicle, July 31, 2020.

Ashfia Khan is a Policy Specialist with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) and a prior CASSE Legal Intern. She is also pursuing a J.D. at George Washington University. 

The post Fair Incomes for a Healthy Future: The Sustainable Salaries Act appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Wealth Transfers, Carbon Dioxide Removal, and the Steady State Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/09/2020 - 5:24am in

By Brian Snyder

In 2019, the U.S. per capita GDP was $65,000. It seems obvious that this level of economic activity is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the U.S. population; after all, if we can’t live fulfilled, productive lives in an economy producing $65,000 per person per year, more money and production will never be enough. Further, additional per capita economic growth in the USA is uneconomic. For example, economic growth to $75,000 per person per year will not increase our economic wellbeing nearly as much as it will decrease ecological wellbeing; hence, the justification for a steady state economy.


Just one example of wealth in the USA. Mansion in Newport, RI. (Image: CC BY 3.0, Credit: silvervoyager)

But much of the world is not like the USA. Afghanistan’s per capita GDP was $502 in 2019. Burundi’s was $261, and the average per capita GDP in sub-Saharan Africa was less than $1600. In these nations, most citizens cannot meet their basic needs—food, water, sanitation, electricity, education, and healthcare—at current levels of economic activity. In these places, a steady state economy is unsustainable because poverty is unsustainable.

There are two reasons we may consider poverty unsustainable. The first is simply definitional. One of my favorite definitions of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While this definition was originally used by the Brundtland Commission for “sustainable development” rather than “sustainability,” it works just as well for either. Given this definition, poverty is unsustainable because it does not allow for present generations to meet their basic needs.

But there is also a more fundamental reason why poverty is unsustainable, and it has less to do with poverty per se than the unequal distribution of wealth. If we consider sustainability to be “able to be sustained” or “able to be repeated for long periods,” then poverty itself is actually quite sustainable. Almost every human in history has lived in what we would consider abject poverty and could continue to do so for millennia.

Syrian Army

Poverty and an uneven distribution of wealth are major factors of the Syrian Civil War. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Freedom)

Yet while poverty may be sustained over long periods, a vastly uneven distribution of wealth cannot; just ask Marie Antoinette or Tsar Nicholas II. While the French and Soviet Revolutions were, in part, a reaction to the inequal distribution of wealth and extreme poverty within a country, unequal power and wealth between nations can also fuel international rivalries, terrorism, and wars, all of which are unsustainable regardless of the definition you choose. A large part of the reason that Afghanistan and Somalia have been fertile soil for terrorism over the last three decades is that they are some of the poorest nations on Earth. Likewise, intranational economic inequality and poverty is an important cause of the Syrian Civil War, the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.

In sum, poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth between nations is unsustainable, and per capita GDP growth is required in the developing world to rectify it. Without such growth, asymmetries in wealth will continue to incite violence.

CDR Systems as a Solution

If we agree that economic growth is counterproductive in wealthy nations yet productive in poor nations, we may then ask which policies will be useful for transferring economic growth from the developed to the developing world. One obvious alternative is to transfer wealth from rich countries to poor countries. However, if this wealth is used to invest in industries, especially extractive industries, such wealth transfers may become counterproductive. For example, imagine that the developed world provides $100 million in cash to country X to build a factory that exports goods to developed markets. In this case, the developed world may benefit from cheap goods, facilitating economic growth in the developed world and defeating the purpose of the transfer. In other words, creating more low-cost production centers in a Western-financed race to the bottom is not in anyone’s interest.

Instead, we need to find a cash flow that facilitates economic growth in the developing world without creating economic growth in the developed world. Given that the economies of poor and rich nations are intertwined, this is unlikely to be possible, but there may be industries that could be targeted and developed that come close. One possibility is investments in carbon dioxide removal (CDR) systems financed with developed-world cash and using developing-world labor and land.

Reforestation

Reforestation in Haiti. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Cunningchrisw)

CDR, also called negative emissions technologies, are systems that use energy to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CDR systems range in technology from very low tech (like reforestation) to very high tech (like direct air carbon capture), and, at first glance, might not be the sort of thing many steady staters are inclined to support. After all, steady-state folks tend toward technological moderation and generally favor halting consumption growth, rather than developing new, often energy-intensive means for mitigating the impacts of consumption. Further, many CDR systems are likely to be unworkable or create larger problems than they solve. Hence, some skepticism is warranted.

But many CDR systems have considerable potential. Reforestation stores carbon and produces ecosystem services like soil protection, water retention, and wildlife habitat provision. Some bioenergy with carbon capture and storage systems may likewise produce ecosystem services if the biomass is harvested and managed sustainably. Enhanced weathering also is promising as a low energy means for sequestering carbon. And while direct air carbon capture systems are energy intensive, that energy could be supplied by renewable resources, especially in parts of sub-Saharan Africa with exceptional solar resources.  

Furthermore, CDR is likely the only plausible path toward meeting the Paris commitments. To limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, we need to be at about net zero CO2 emissions in 30 years and achieve net negative emissions in the last decades of the 21st century. Because of our dependence on fossil fuels in industrial and power applications, it is highly unlikely that our gross emissions of CO2 will be zero around 2050. We would need some negative emissions to achieve a net zero emission. In other words, even if we decarbonize rapidly, it likely won’t be enough.  

The Function of Wealth Transfers and CDR

Consider a policy in which developed-world nations transfer wealth to the developing world for investments in CDR systems. This wealth transfer would act like a tax in the developed world, potentially reducing economic growth. Of course, some portion of this wealth transfer will return back to the developed world for purchasing technology for CDR implementation, subverting the purpose of increasing growth in the developing world without increasing growth in the developed world. Yet much of the wealth will be used to pay for labor in the developed world, especially in lower-tech CDR systems like reforestation and biomass-based systems. If much of the wealth from the policy stays in the developing world and isn’t used to buy developed-world goods and services, the policy may be effective at transferring wealth.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos has accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars. Image how many countries could be supported on his income alone. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Seattle City Council)

The use of wealth transfers to fund CDR has an advantage that less targeted wealth transfers do not have because CDR is, in a sense, parasitic. CDR does not produce something of value that can be sold in the same way that a factory or a coal mine does. Instead, it consumes wealth to produce a theoretical emissions credit that can only have value because governments require them. The physical “thing” itself, stored carbon, has no value—especially in its oxidized form stored in underground formations. Thus, CDR systems are akin to wealth furnaces that take land, labor, and capital and turn them into nothing that can be used to stimulate economic growth in the developed world.

We can think of investing in CDR as akin to investing in sanitation. Like sanitation, CDR produces a public good that is absolutely necessary, but funding it serves as an inefficiency for the economy. By tying CDR with wealth transfers, we may be able to increase this inefficiency, and thus slow growth, for the developed world while creating employment and infrastructure in the developing world.

A Just Transition

The nations of the developing world did nearly nothing to cause climate change, yet they are likely to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of the direct impacts of climate change and the indirect economic impacts of decarbonization. Not only are poorer countries less able to adapt to climate change, but by using up the carbon budget, wealthy nations have effectively foreclosed poorer nations’ abilities to extract and use their own fossil fuels.

village child

We need a just transition for countries who will suffer from climate change and are not economically stable. (Image: CC0, Credit: ajaykhadka)

As mentioned above, the transfer of wealth will help to rectify this injustice, but we need a means to determine how much money to transfer. One possibility is to use a climate easement system in which developing-world nations are compensated for the lost value of their hydrocarbon resources. In such a policy, nations may estimate the net value of their hydrocarbon resources and enter into easements with wealthy nations that compensate them for their lost value and ensure that the resources remain underground.

Climate and Energy are Not Just Developed World Problems

In discussions about climate policy, we tend to focus on wealthy emitters—the USA, China, Europe—and ignore the developing world. This makes sense because it is how we have dealt with nearly every international problem in history: The rich people get together and make decisions, and the poor people get ignored. But energy and climate are the glue that binds us all together. We cannot craft an energy and climate policy that ignores the developing world because, if we do, developing-world nations will either develop into major emitters or remain mired in poverty, susceptible to conflict as temperatures rise and resources decline. Thus, we need a climate and energy policy that includes an explicit path toward sustainable development (as opposed to unsustainable growth) for the developing world. Without such a path, climate policy will fail.

Brian F. Snyder is an assistant professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University and CASSE’s LSU Chapter director.

The post Wealth Transfers, Carbon Dioxide Removal, and the Steady State Economy appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Wildlife on the Way Out While the World Wildlife Fund Lays a Policy Egg

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 6:22am in

By Brian Czech

It’s been awhile since wildlife—not just a species here or there but wildlife at large—has been front and center in the news. Usually the biggest environmental news pertains to climate change at the global level, or local pollution problems such as lead in the water pipes. “Biodiversity” gained traction as an issue in the 1990s, but seems to have slipped off the public’s radar. (When’s the last time you saw it in a prominent newspaper headline?)

WWF

Rubber pandas and social science at the WWF? Another Living Planet Report leaves us without a clear message on economic growth. (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: DocChewbacca)

“Wildlife,” on the other hand, seems always to be waiting in the political wings. It has plenty of constituents, as evidenced by the millions of members of wildlife organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife. Constituents range from the “hook and bullet” crowd of hunters and fishermen to organizations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which fights for the humane treatment of wildlife such as harp seals, elephants, and wolves. Wildlifers come from both sides of the political aisle and from all over the ethical map.

So, every once in awhile wildlife comes out of the wings and onto center stage, as it briefly did this week with the release of the 2020 Living Planet Report by the World Wildlife Fund. The report spawned headlines such as “Wildlife in Catastrophic Decline,” “World Wildlife Plummets,” and “Humans Wiping Out Wildlife.” The report itself used phrases such as “freefall,” “wrecking our world,” and “desperate SOS.”

Unlike most of the headlines, the report does use the phrase “biodiversity,” which the WWF finds has declined 68%—just since 1970! What is their measure of biodiversity? Populations of wildlife. While biodiversity runs along a spectrum from DNA to biomes, trusty wildlife species and populations are still the key indicator of health on our “Living Planet.”

biodiversity graph

Biodiversity is the variety of life and runs from the molecular level to the landscape level. For the Living Planet Report, the World Wildlife Fund focuses on populations of species. (Figure Credits: CASSE.)

Competing Headlines

Obviously the WWF is trying their best to get media coverage with the use of such dramatic language. They’ve succeeded in a number of key outlets including BBC, NBC, CNN, PBS, and Aljazeera.

But what about Fox News? Wouldn’t the right wing of our polity be interested in wildlife? Certainly the hook and bullet crowd has a lot of skin in the game.

Using Google and the same wildlife search terms, but limited to Fox News outlets, we instead find headlines such as “Starlings captured on film fighting in mid-air,” “Tiger on the loose near Knoxville,” and—wait, what?—something about “…more imperiled species being saved.” The latter was from an article by Rob Wallace, an assistant secretary in the Department of the Interior. Wallace made the ridiculous claim, “No administration in history has recovered more imperiled species in their first term than the Trump administration.”

I spent 18 years at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters. I was hired as the first “conservation biologist” in the National Wildlife Refuge System. That was after my Ph.D. research, which was a policy analysis of the Endangered Species Act. I’ve got three things to say about Wallace’s article:

First, no one administration “recovers” imperiled species. By the time a species is listed as threatened or endangered pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, decades of conservation effort (regulation, habitat provision, law enforcement and more) are required to prevent the species from going to the ultimate graveyard of extinction. Real recovery takes science, conservation proficiency, plenty of luck, and decades of time.

Second, once the Fish and Wildlife Service determines that a species has recovered—meaning the population and habitat goals of its recovery plan have been met—delisting or downlisting (from endangered to threatened) is a contentious, laborious, bureaucratic process that itself can take years. Wallace’s article gives credit to Trump for species recovered “since 2017.” What rubbish. Every one of these species would have clawed their way back in the decades preceding Trump, with Trump reaping the benefits of efforts under Obama, Bush, Clinton, and probably Bush the Elder as well.

Third, knowing what we do about Trump’s tampering with the regulatory process, does anyone trust a delisting process under his watch? Right now, for example, most FWS employees aren’t even reporting to the office. They’re teleworking, and that means there are no in-person meetings, no conversations in the halls, no reinforcement of cultural integrity. Who’s minding the store?

It’s not hard to envision a sequence similar or identical to the following:

  • Trump tells cabinet members, including the Secretary of the Interior, to do all they can to reduce the regulatory burden on economic activities (to stimulate GDP growth and to appease corporate donors).
  • Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, the former oil lobbyist, knows exactly what Trump means, and (among other things) tells FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith, the former Monsanto executive, to delist some species. Rob Wallace, the former energy lobbyist and a bureaucratic layer of fat in the chain of command, may or may not have any significant role in the process.
  • Skipwith meets with the smallest possible number of bureaucrats in the Ecological Services Program necessary to initiate or speed up the process of delisting species. She inquires, cajoles, and insists, and then prohibits the bureaucrats from talking about the conversation with anyone else.

If you think that last step sounds a bit like conspiracy theory, think again. I know all about gag orders in FWS. Then there was the warning from Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity, “Aurelia Skipwith has been working in the Trump administration all along to end protections for billions of migratory birds, gut endangered species safeguards and eviscerate national monuments. [She] will always put the interests of her old boss Monsanto and other polluters ahead of America’s wildlife and help the most anti-environmental administration in history do even more damage.”

I’m not denying that a few species are being delisted or downlisted (with hundreds of other species more imperiled by the day). But I am nominating Wallace’s propaganda—“No administration in history has recovered more imperiled species…”—for slippery shibboleth of the year!

Meanwhile, Back at the World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund does the world a service by publishing the Living Planet Report. It’s an ambitious effort that provides an easily understood metric, the Living Planet Index. This index is a big-picture metric that should be monitored along with the Genuine Progress Indicator, Human Development Index, Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, and Gross National Happiness. We should be looking to these metrics rather than blindly following GDP as the measure of welfare.

Judy Woodruff

Judy Woodruff and PBS producers are hamstrung by muddled messaging
from the environmental NGOs. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: PBS NewsHour)

We do need to measure GDP, just like an obese patient needs to monitor the scale. The other measures, though—including the Living Planet Index—are akin to the blood pressure cuff and the stethoscope, providing key measures of holistic, societal health. They deteriorate as the “patient” (our body economic) gets obese.

It’s a shame, though, that the WWF interprets the Living Planet Index with such mixed messaging. It leaves people like Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour blaming the plight of wildlife on “human population and resource consumption” (September 10, 2020). What’s wrong with that, you ask? Isn’t it true?

Yes, but where’s the policy hook? If WWF wants to put a dent in the plight of wildlife and biodiversity, broadcast journalists like Woodruff need to be talking about “economic growth.” Then, suddenly, we hit the mother load of policy implications, starting with overhauling the antiquated Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978, and changing the entire dialog on the economy, GDP, and growth.

You might then ask, “But wouldn’t Woodruff and the producers figure that out for themselves, that human population goes hand-in-hand with GDP growth, and requires more resource consumption? Wouldn’t they talk about economic growth themselves then?” Nope. Otherwise they would have by now! These broadcasters won’t be uttering the phrase “economic growth,” at least not in response to the Living Planet Report, unless the WWF highlights the point for them and makes the messaging clear and easy to adopt. Meanwhile it’s down to “human population and resource consumption,” and good luck taking that to the policy arena.

WWF Has Huge Potential

Judy Woodruff, along with Lester Holt, Norah O’Donnell, and David Muir (and of course their counterparts around the world) could easily be saying, “The Living Planet Report shows how wildlife is being decimated around the planet by economic growth. As GDP goes up, wildlife populations decline and species are driven toward extinction.” They could easily be saying that if only the Living Planet Report said it that clearly.

Imagine how instantly that would impact the tone of everything from the rest of the show (stock markets, GDP figures, etc.) to the presidential campaigns. For example, Trump’s presidential calling card—GDP growth—would suddenly come into question. Rather than vying with Trump for who can grow GDP faster, other candidates (Democratic or Republican) would be empowered to counter, “Are we sure that’s a good thing?” Serious, high-level, American political dialog about limits to growth would commence at that instant.

Imagine the upside for WWF, too. They could become the standard bearer for 21st century conservation affairs. They would set themselves apart from virtually all other big environmental NGOs, at least in North America (where only Greenpeace and IFAW have said a peep about GDP growth). And, they could drive home the point every two years with their Living Planet Report.

This would probably entail some heartburn for WWF, which has a messy history of dealing with economic growth. When CASSE led the way in getting The Wildlife Society, the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics, and the American Society of Mammalogists (all scientific, professional societies) in adopting a unified position on economic growth, key opportunities were narrowly missed in the American Fisheries Society (AFS), Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), and Ecological Society of America. In the SCB case, one of the biggest detractors was a social scientist, from WWF!

For at least two decades now, well-intended social scientists have made things difficult for the biologists and ecologists who get it about limits to growth. With their knowledge of concepts such as carrying capacity, niche breadth, and competitive exclusion, ecologists are the “economists of nature.” Unfortunately the social scientists without such background aren’t always interested in the hard science of limits to growth. They tend to be more concerned with social psychology and the “human dimensions” of conservation, and consistently “overthink it” on the topic of economic growth.

Instead of helping to figure out the best ways to communicate the fundamental conflict between growth and conservation, social scientists try to figure out the best ways to avoid even using the phrase “economic growth” because they know that (currently) economic growth is politically entrenched. They’re dialog takers, not dialog makers. Then, they persuade the biologists, ecologists, and leaders of environmental NGOs that they have a better way to go about the social business of conservation. This makes them natural allies with the pro-growth neoclassical economists, who further muddy the waters (such as in the AFS), and they all feed right into the perpetual growth machinery of Wall Street and the Dark Money think tanks.

At CASSE we have challenged the environmental organizations to overcome this history and this culture, and join us in telling the truth—in the clearest of terms—about the fundamental conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation. WWF may be on the right track. In the “At a Glance” summary of the report is this tidbit: “Global economic growth since WWII has driven exponential human improvements, yet this has come at a huge cost to the stability of Earth’s operating systems that sustain us.” So, at least they are using the phrase “economic growth,” and noting that it can be problematic for wildlife. The phrase is used six other times in the report, but unfortunately without a single clear statement about the fundamental conflict between it and wildlife conservation.

Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, introduces the report thusly: “It’s time for the world to agree [to] a New Deal for Nature and People, committing to stop and reverse the loss of nature by the end of this decade and build a carbon-neutral and nature-positive economy and society” (page 5). On page 99, WWF urges us to develop a “new grammar” of economics, which will then have “profound implications for what we mean by sustainable economic growth, helping to steer our leaders towards making better decisions that deliver us, and future generations, the healthier, greener, happier lives that more and more of us say we want.” Is that clear as mud yet? Imagine the howls on Madison Avenue.

WWF also repeats the tired theme that “the loss of nature is a material risk for economic development” (page 102). The fact that economic growth is what inevitably causes the loss of nature is completely lost upon the likes of ABC, BBC, and CBS. Again, they could probably figure it out if they dug into the details, but even if they wanted to, their producers don’t have time to read between the lines, and they’re not trained for this topic to begin with. They’re going to take directly from what’s in the report, and we can’t blame them.

So BBC, for example, takes a figure from WWF to inform readers that one of the biggest problems of biodiversity decline is “a huge loss to the economy.” What’s the response to that supposed to be? With the pro-growth mindset we have in the USA, the most likely response is, “Hey, we better reverse as many regulations as we can to compensate for that huge loss to the economy.”

With all due respect, Mr. Lambertini and WWF, reversing “the loss of nature by the end of this decade” is utter nonsense when we have almost all the nations of the world pursuing the goal of GDP growth. That said, at least you have upped the bar a bit with explicit references to the economy and especially “economic growth.” We eagerly await the next big step: a Living Planet Report coming clean on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation.

Brian Czech

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

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5 Uses of Oil that Make our Lives Better

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 12:41am in

Oil has historically been one of the world’s most important resources, particularly regarding energy supply to both the commercial and domestic sectors. Although the industry makes considerable contributions to numerous economies around the world, it has also often come under fire for its impact on the environment. Many leading oil companies have addressed this, using…

The post 5 Uses of Oil that Make our Lives Better appeared first on Peak Oil.

Uncommon Sense—The Foreword

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/09/2020 - 5:25am in

By Brian Czech

© 2020, Steady State Press
ISBN: 978-1-7329933-0-3
Format: Paperback

Editor’s Note: This foreword is an excerpt from the Steady State Press’ forthcoming book, Uncommon Sense: Shortcomings of the Human Mind for Handling Big-Picture, Long-Term Challenges by Peter Seidel. Preorder a copy now.

I first encountered Peter Seidel at a Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Wisconsin. Or perhaps it was a conference of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics in New York. Neither of us recall for sure, but we both noticed one thing: Our paths crossed regularly during that first decade of the 21st century. Not only did we find ourselves at the same conferences, but in the same sessions and in the same conversations—and invariably on the same side, in the event of controversy or debate. Most notably, we both recognized limits to growth and the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection.

Now, I have the privilege of penning the foreword for the latest in a string of salient books in which Seidel offers a lifetime of wisdom on the “big-picture, long-term challenges” facing humanity.

Seidel is an elder statesman of limits to growth, and he had been researching, writing, and conferencing on the relevant topics for decades before I came along with my specialty on the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity was big in the 1990s and early 2000s; bigger than climate change in academia and in the environmental movement. By then, though, Seidel had seen it all: DDT, a burning Cuyahoga River, Love Canal, the destruction of the ozone layer, coral bleaching, endangered species, resource shortages, and wars too numerous to speak of. Biodiversity loss and climate change were just two more insults—albeit huge ones—heaped upon a planet subjected to rabid GDP growth.

Seidel took an interest in my muffled efforts—with me in the silenced depths of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the time—to raise awareness of the trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection. He was one of the first 50 signatories of the CASSE position statement calling for a steady state economy, along with the likes of Herman Daly, William Rees, and Richard Heinberg. He was a no-nonsense, sound-science, non-fantasy futuristic thinker, and I took an interest in his work as well, reading several of his books and engaging in lengthy discussions with him on the future of America, the planet, and Homo sapiens.

I could see Uncommon Sense coming. I’d read There is Still Time, the predecessor book, and I knew Seidel had a rare, holistic sense of limits to growth. I was thrilled to hear of his interest in revising There is Still Time—which suffered from production problems and practically zero marketing—into a new book with an apropos title, updated data, and a solid plan for distribution.

Peter Seidel

Author Peter Seidel. (Credit: Gordon Baer)

With Uncommon Sense, I believe Seidel is at the peak of his game. It may seem a peculiar thing to say about an author in his 9th decade, but it’s true in my opinion, and here’s why: While Seidel’s penchant for prose was fully developed by the time he wrote, for example, Invisible Walls (Prometheus, 1998), his inquisitive mind only found more issues to integrate in the decades since. Uncommon Sense packs an impressive sweep of issues into such a compact book. No book that I’m aware of covers environmental, evolutionary, psychological, social, political, and religious subject matter into one cogent, flowing analysis from a limits-to-growth lens. Certainly not in less than a hundred pages!

The topics aren’t just packed in, though, like sardines squished into some unceremonious can. Seidel has something important to say about each of these topics. While some readers will have encountered similar lines of thought on some of the topics, few readers will fail to find something original, unique, or at least new to them in the pages of this prescient book.

It’s not that Seidel has all the answers, nor has he written the perfect book. (Who has?) As a student who studied the molecular basis of evolution as a supplementary topic during my Ph.D. research, I found the segments on the evolution of the human brain to be somewhat sketchy and lacking corroboration from human DNA analysis. Yet I also found myself thinking, “Maybe he doesn’t have the nucleotides mapped out, but how could he possibly be wrong?” The human brain would indeed have evolved the way he described; if not, surely we’d be behaving differently.

Seidel took on a daunting challenge in writing Uncommon Sense. The task he bore was not simply to journalize and lament on limits to growth, but to analyze, to penetrate, to dissect what it is about Homo sapiens that leads us to the limits as a moth to a flame. Why don’t we stop? Why should we? Can we?

The last question, of course, is the most challenging of all for any writer of such a sweeping book. In my opinion, Seidel provides a most refreshing approach. He doesn’t sugarcoat the answer. You won’t find any wishful notions of “green growth,” “mind over matter,” or “have your cake and eat it too” in Uncommon Sense. In his concluding chapter, Seidel comes clean on the prospects for the human race to handle the big-picture, long-term threats. The prospects, it turns out, are far from sure, easy, or even likely. It’s going to take some work, folks.

But then, humans have evolved to strive, to fight, and to work. We just need to apply a little more Uncommon Sense.

Brian Czech

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

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“Consumer Confidence” or Subtle Salesmanship?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 12:14am in

By Brian Czech

Have you ever wondered about the odd pairing of “confidence” with “consumer?” Isn’t confidence supposed to reflect something more virtuous than your shopping cart? When you’re confident, you’ll be comfortable in your own skin, right? It’s all about who you are, not what your stuff is.

Confidence is supposed to play out in places like football fields, gymnastic events, stages, and maybe weddings, not shopping malls and dealerships. In its highest form, confidence melds into bravery. It takes some real confidence to break up a fight or charge into battle.

What kind of “confidence” is needed for buying shoes or iPads or even cars?

Grocery store

Empty aisle, just awaiting your “confidence.” (Image: CC0, Source)

Nor is confidence the same as bluster, arrogance, or braggadocio. In fact, confidence is most convincingly exuded in modest dignity. Boasting, on the other hand, indicates the opposite of confidence: insecurity, neediness, and, in the extreme, sociopathy (as “certain individuals” have demonstrated in recent years).

Well, that’s what the word “confidence” connotes for me, at least. I’m confident it would to most others as well. But let’s check the dictionary, just to be safe.

According to Merriam-Webster, the confident person is “full of conviction: CERTAIN.” That’s meaning #1, and highly relevant. The point I’m making, though, is driven home even more profoundly with meaning #2: “having or showing assurance and self-reliance.”

While Fish May Be Innocent, Odd Pairings Are Fishy

It’s true enough that we’re all consumers. Furthermore, each of us fall somewhere along the confidence spectrum. Therefore, as an adjective, confidence can be applied to consumer. “Consumer confidence” is grammatically sound. Yet I still don’t buy it (so to speak).

When’s the last time you heard talk of “fish innocence?” What about “hiker ambivalence,” or “singer colorblindness” or “dishwasher jocularity?” Presumably all fish are relatively innocent, and yes, all hikers fall somewhere on the spectrum of ambivalence, but who the hell cares? These subjects—fish, hikers, etc.—just don’t need to be described in terms of those (respective) adjectives! In each of the pairings the linkage is irrelevant at best and spurious at worst.

So, when I hear the phrase “consumer confidence,” I smell a fish. Something seems awry, and I have a vague sense of being in the polyester presence of salesmanship and propaganda. Other slick phrases come quickly to mind, such as “jumbo shrimp” and “green growth.” It strikes me that these slippery slogans tend to be oxymoronic, or at least ironic, and “consumer confidence” is no exception.


This fish is innocent. Is that relevant? (Image: CC0, Credit: USFWS)

Certainly the “self-reliance” aspect of confidence is quite at odds with consumption, unless perhaps we’re talking about the purchasing of some fishing line and a hook, on our way to the trout stream for dinner. But then we’re talking about confidence in fishing ability, not the ability to cast a credit card all the way across the counter. “Fisherman confidence” makes sense, and so might “consumer solvency,” but… “consumer confidence?”

The Conference Board and the CCI

The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) was developed in 1967 as a measure of “optimism on the state of the economy that consumers are expressing through their activities of savings and spending.” The CCI is measured monthly by The Conference Board, based on a five-question survey issued to 5,000 Americans. Essentially, “confidence” is indicated when (based on the survey) consumers are likely to be spending more than saving.

The CCI is supposed to be a planning tool for manufacturers, retailers, banks, and government. If it’s rising, for example, the retailer may decide to invest in more locations and higher inventory. It’s a bit of an odd duck in the world of economic indicators, though. Investopedia gushes about it as “A Killer Statistic,” yet its predictive value is questionable, and most sources (including another Investopedia site) view it as a lagging indicator. In other words, it’s more of a rear-view mirror than a telescope to the future.

I’m less interested in its merits as leading vs. lagging than in the derivation of the name! One can’t help but suspect that the phrase was coined in some Madison Avenue conference room with the blessing of the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Chair, and the Koch Brothers. These folks are always thinking of the margin, looking for any pro-growth influence they can possibly sneak into the system. Just imagine the scheming… “I know,” said one of them, “Let’s call it ‘consumer confidence’ and get it all over the airwaves. Nobody likes to be a chicken; people will start thinking of spending money as a way to show their bravery, by God.” [Guffaws all around.]

I jest, I guess, but the phrase “consumer confidence” clearly reflects a bias toward consumption in the business world and the economics profession. If they really wanted to know about the prevalence of spending (vs. saving), the indicator could have simply and neutrally been called “spending” (as a lagging indicator), “spending likelihood” (as a leading indicator), or even the Keynesian “propensity to consume” (as an all-purpose indicator). And, of course, they could have used “consumer optimism” (straight out of the very definition), with its less normative connotations. Instead, they attached an always desirable condition—“confidence”—to the mere act of consumption!

Madison Avenue

Madison Avenue: “Consumer confidence” branded here? (Image: CC0, Credit: Leif Knutsen)

Actually, there is an economic indicator called “consumer spending.” It’s no mere psychological pulse, either; it’s the outright expenditure on goods and services by households. It’s monitored by the staid Bureau of Economic Analysis and, as a key variable in the calculation of GDP, it’s been around far longer than the CCI. Why wouldn’t that suffice? Why did we need a “Conference Board” to send out surveys on “feelings”?

So, while I’m not advancing a conspiracy theory, I still think there was an element of marketing, salesmanship, or PR in launching the “consumer confidence” paradigm. The CCI may seem like an objective indicator, but it’s designed to steer our subjectivity into a sense that spending is a good thing.

What’s Wrong with Saving, Anyway?

I’d be tempted to say, “Real men save,” but why tempt fate in the minefield of gender politics? You get the picture, though. Being a consumer has nothing to do with confidence. If anything, it’s the other way around: The more confident you are in your own skills, abilities, and general presence, the less stuff you need to show off, make you look better, or help you perform. “Non-consumer confidence,” we might call it.

Furthermore, if we associate consumption with the admirable thing to do, then where does that leave saving? Have we been led into a twisted choice between “consumer confidence” and “saver sheepishness?” When did saving become so frowned upon? What happened to Benjamin Franklin’s wise old adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned?”

Mountains

Inspiring landscape, spared via saving. (Image: CC0, Source)

Without getting into the philosophical depths of Franklin’s particular meaning(s), we have to acknowledge that “saving” means many things among many people. For the conventional, neoclassical, 20th century economist, “saving” meant little more than deferring consumption—so more could be consumed later!

For advancing the steady state economy, though, saving has entirely different connotations. After all, the steady state economy is all about stabilizing the level of consumption. The most prominent connotation of “saving,” then, is as an antonym to consumption. The saver foregoes consumption in order to…forego consumption! The income saved can be used for various other purposes: a rainy day, favorite charity, reduction in work hours, political investment, and other non-goods and non-services that don’t bloat the GDP.

Steady statesmanship, then, rejects the notion of “consumer confidence,” favoring concepts such as consumer conscientiousness, consumer frugality, and even “saver sagacity.” Sagacious savers understand they are saving far more than money. A penny saved—not spent on “consumer goods”—is a penny’s worth of planet earned. (Or at least spared.)

Brian Czech

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

The post “Consumer Confidence” or Subtle Salesmanship? appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


The Silver Lining of the COVID-Caused Recession is Fading Fast

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 5:04am in

By Madeline Baker

From February to mid-April 2020, in an early and shocking stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions plummeted worldwide. Nowhere was the reduction more notable than in China, the country with the highest emissions. According to Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by 25 percent from the end of January through mid-February. Also, for the month of February, average coal consumption at power plants fell to a four-year low, and oil refinery operating rates fell to the lowest level since fall of 2015. This translated to lower levels of nitrous dioxide in China; NO2 levels the week following the Chinese New Year were 36 percent below what they were for the same week the previous year. Meanwhile liquid fuel consumption was 20 to 30 percent lower in March 2020 than in March 2019.

 

NASA tweet demonstrating COVID-caused reduction in CO2 emissions.

 

Along with reduced carbon emissions, industrial output in China reportedly fell by a whopping 13.5 percent in January and February from the previous year. This translated to an economic contraction of 6.8 percent (annualized rate) for Q1, the first quarter since 1992 with declining GDP! Beijing was so taken aback that, for the first time in 30 years, China has no annual growth target.

Given the clear and significant benefits of the shutdown, not just for China but for the global ecosystem, it seems more than logical to ask: Should China, or any other nation for that matter, be striving for pre-pandemic GDP figures, and thenceforth further growth besides? Why shouldn’t our nations, more or less “united” under a UN charter, focus instead on combating the next deadly crisis, or protecting the environment, or the diplomacy of peacekeeping?

Unfortunately, these questions are becoming moot, especially for China, which is already ramping up to pre-pandemic industrial capacity. The Chinese appear to be focusing heavily on power generation, increasing capital spending on utilities by 14 percent from January-May compared to the same period last year, “even as overall capital spending fell by 6 percent.” China also consumes more coal than any nation by a large margin, and accordingly saw carbon dioxide emissions four-to-five percent higher in May of 2020 compared with May of 2019 as the post-lockdown economic push kicked into high gear. Fortunately, the May spike in CO2 emissions appears to have been temporary, abating in June and allowing for projected overall emissions for 2020 to remain 6 percent below 2019 levels. Still—a six percent reduction in emissions is a far cry from the initial 25 percent drop we saw during the lockdown period, and a far cry from the kind of reduction we need for serious mitigation of climate change.

Sustainability experts such as Vinod Thomas for the Brookings Institute are urging the public to view the COVID-19 disaster as akin to an environmental crisis, most notably climate change. Bill Gates makes a similar argument. Globally, the death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 790,000. We cannot know how many will ultimately die from COVID-19, but we do have estimates for the number of deaths already caused by climate change. The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that 150,000 deaths per year are attributable to climate change, and this number will only continue to rise over the next few decades as we’re locked into the momentum of global warming. Shane Skelton, former energy advisor to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, warned that climate change “will be just as bad as coronavirus when we’re really feeling it.” Is anybody listening?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

For virtually all of modern history up until the outbreak of COVID-19, society has functioned primarily in a growing economy (all the while headed toward limits to growth). Since the outbreak, however, society’s priority has been public health. With this common good as a powerful motivator, people have been making lifestyle changes they would have previously never considered, such as social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding close contact with family members. Unfortunately, it took a healthy dose of panic and, in many cases, government mandates for individuals to shift their priorities and act accordingly.

Typhoon and climate change

The devastating effects of typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines. Another result of man-made climate change killing thousands of people and leaving millions homeless. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Lawrence Ruiz)

So, why is it that despite a large body of evidence warning us of the impending climate crisis, we have been unmotivated to mitigate it? Common sense should reveal that the ecosystem is just as vital a common good as public health, but for many of us in wealthier countries, and particularly in urban areas, the natural environment is somewhat “out of sight, out of mind.” The number of people we find suffering from the effects of climate change is much lower compared to the number of those we know who are sick or dying from COVID-19. While the virus is widespread throughout socioeconomic classes, climate change adversely affects lower-class communities and people in developing countries first and worst. As noted in a study published by the Center for Global Development, “Climate change will be awful for everyone but catastrophic for the poor.”

Further exacerbating the ignorance of the developed world, and especially in the U.S. government, are the vested interests of many powerful players causing climate change. While corporations and political representatives who initially downplayed the effects of the virus have had to renege on their statements due to the massive economic shutdown, the energy majors have been monkeywrenching U.S. policy pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, Big Oil spent “more than $2 bn…lobbying Congress on climate change legislation between 2000 and 2016.” Expenditures like this make it seem unlikely that we can expect behavioral mandates—federal or state—to mitigate climate change anytime soon.

Sweeping Systemic Change Needed Now

The science is clear and bolstered by evidence from the COVID-caused recession in China: There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Recent months have confirmed that a return to our pre-pandemic lifestyle means a return to unsustainable resource extraction and emission rates. Not only have efforts to get the global economy “back on track” come with “compromising global investments in clean energy and weakening industry environmental goals to reduce emissions,” but other lifestyle changes to avoid the virus threaten serious regression in terms of environmental protection. For example, more people are choosing to drive to avoid contracting COVID-19 on public transit, and single-use plastic has become significantly more prevalent in restaurants and food-delivery services as they struggle to keep up with sanitation guidelines.

It’s hard to get enthused about “reduce, reuse, recycle” when we are told that every surface we touch may be contaminated with a deadly virus. Even reverting to pre-pandemic waste practices, which weren’t very sustainable to start with, could take re-education on a massive scale. It just wasn’t wise to get boxed into this corner; up hard against limits to growth.

The global infrastructure vulnerabilities that have been exposed in the struggle to combat the novel coronavirus reveal one thing for sure: Tackling climate change, one of many growth-induced environmental problems, requires an even more systemic approach than recovering from COVID-19. The only solution to these problems is a comprehensive policy shift, first by developed nations, toward a steady state economy, where population and consumption are stabilized within ecological constraints.

If we start to make the transition now, policy reforms could perhaps still be gradual and structured, without the chaos and suffering that comes with a macroeconomic supply shock. We need our leaders and institutions to acknowledge the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection now. Otherwise, we are unmistakably headed for more environmental breakdowns, pandemics, and long-running recessions.

Madeline BakerMadeline Baker is a former CASSE intern (spring 2020) and a senior majoring in International Economics and Finance at the Catholic University of America.

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


Joe Biden, Donald “Duck,” and a Steady-State Soul of America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/08/2020 - 2:05am in

By Brian Czech

Joe Biden wants to restore the “soul of America.” It’s a noble goal befitting an elderly statesman combining Uncle Joe charm with Uncle Sam chops. And, it’s badly needed after four years of soulless, sickening corruption of the White House. It’s also a huge opportunity, not only for restoring but for reforming that soul.

Reform is needed because the soul of America was hardly spotless to begin with, on either side of the political aisle. Let’s not forget that Donald Trump, the greatest liar in presidential history, was somehow popular enough—distinctly among Americans—to con his way into the White House. What does that say about the soul of America before he was elected? A “reality” show joker, insulting and crass and unbelievably arrogant, got enough of the vote to become the face of America. That’s not a sign of a healthy soul.

Biden

Joe Biden: Elderly, experienced, and good for the soul? (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Gage Skidmore)

On the other hand, what were the choices? If the innocent consumer finds nothing but liquor stores on one side of the street and drug dealers on the other, an edifying purchase is highly unlikely. In this case the other side of the street was Hillary Clinton. She was despised for numerous reasons, many of them unfair and owing to the propaganda of an electoral axis of evil running through the Koch Brothers, National Rifle Association, and Crossroads GPS.

Unfortunately, there were more legitimate reasons for rejecting Clinton, too. Steady staters had one complaint in particular: She was the epitome of the win-win rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” For environmentalists, scientists, and ecological economists—as well as loggers, miners, farmers, and ranchers—nothing ever seemed more cynical. It was a politically polished tarnishing of the self-evident truth that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection.

The win-win rhetoric was made all the more deplorable by Clinton’s prefacing, “Some people just don’t get it…” She’d say this with dismissive ease, and then “there is no conflict…,” as if dishonesty was second nature. For those of us in the battle for governmental truth-telling on the conflict, such insolence was especially galling.

My guess is that not a single steady stater voted for Trump, but many couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton either. They stayed home or perhaps voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. (Stein provides little leadership on limits to growth, but at least the Green Party of the United States features the steady state economy as an economic plank in its platform.)

 

Biden’s Rare Opportunity

You hate to call it an “opportunity,” when it’s borne out of such distress, yet there is no question that Joe Biden comes into the 2020 election in one of the most unique situations in American political history, including as it pertains to limits to growth. Plenty of factors and scenarios contribute to this limits-to-growth uniqueness, but let’s consider the primary themes:

Limits to growth. The USA, and indeed the world, has never been closer to limits. It might be more accurate to say that, according to ecological footprint metrics, we have never exceeded those limits by such a dangerous margin. And, while biodiversity loss and other environmental threats fail to gain traction as political issues, climate change is now thickly in the mix, helping to raise public awareness of the limits to growth.

COVID-19 pandemic. With almost 5 million confirmed cases and 160,000 deaths, no disease since the Spanish flu has stalked the land so rapidly and ruthlessly. Many millions of Americans are sitting home scared, worried about when their lives will get back to normal, and even re-thinking what “normal” means. While the pandemic isn’t a clear-cut instance of limits to growth, at least not in the sense of resource depletion or pollution, it’s hardly unrelated. It spreads fastest where people and economic activities are too crowded, and it knocks the economy to its knees.

Economic implosion. We’ve just experienced the single biggest quarterly drop in GDP ever. Not even degrowthers and steady staters can appreciate such a shock to the economy. But politically, while bombastic Trump blames the “Chinese virus,” just about everybody knows (although some won’t admit it) that Trump’s incompetent handling of the pandemic plays a large part in the implosion.

Donald Duck Trump

Joe Biden’s opponent, Donald “Duck” Trump. (Image of Donald Trump: CC0, Credit: White House)

Lame duck opponent. No candidate has ever run against such a ham-handed, bridge-burning “Divider in Chief.” With 90 days left before the election, Biden finds himself with a comfortable lead because Trump hasn’t been smart or talented enough to hide his autocratic tendencies, much less soulful enough to transcend them. Enough of Trump’s erstwhile voters are finally onto him that states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are turning blue again. The salient point for steady-state purposes is that Biden has a rare opportunity to provide some unprecedented leadership on big-picture, long-term challenges, because even if it caused him a point or two, his lead is big enough to absorb the blow. It’s a political luxury of sorts, similar to what emboldened Ronald Reagan when President Carter had become a lame duck. Lame ducks leave room for sweeping policy change.

 

 

Three Distinctive Approaches for Biden

Given the themes identified above, Biden has three basic approaches available to him for handling the economy. Two such approaches represent short- and long-term perspectives, respectively: growth at all costs and steady statesmanship. The third approach would be fence-riding on limits to growth via the Green New Deal. Let’s consider each in turn.

Growth at All Costs. While the cloud of the COVID-caused recession has a silver lining, the cloud has come to dwarf the lining, politically at least. It is such an unprecedented implosion that it could very well set the stage for a political competition on who can regrow GDP the fastest.

Trump will argue that, if it weren’t for COVID-19, GDP would be growing like never before, and all because of him. Virus or no virus, he’ll tell you, he’s the man for regrowth. And he would pull out all the stops for GDP. He’s not bluffing. The truth stops there, though, because Trump is lying about what it all means for the environment, public health, and the tax-paying middle class (not to mention the fact that pulling out all the stops can backfire even in GDP terms, as his handling of the pandemic illustrated). His cavalier concern for posterity combined with his abject abuse of the truth put him in a category reserved for himself, the Dark Money crowd, and maybe Madison Avenue. While Trump hardly rules that world, he’s the epitome of its ethic, so “Trumpism” is a fitting title. Trumpism is basically the dishonest version of growth at all costs.

Biden

Three distinct approaches for Joe Biden, plus Trumpism. The antithesis of Trumpism is steady statesmanship. (Credit: CASSE.)

Could Biden be baited into a GDP challenge, pulling out all the stops as well, or promising to do so? We can’t rule it out. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and—just like Trump—Biden is no young’un. As with virtually all politicians of his era, his mind is pro-growth programmed. There will be plenty of neoclassical economists, straight out of the 20th century, advising him in that direction, too.

Steady statesmanship. We can have a moderate level of hope for Biden taking up the mantle of steady statesmanship, or at least for raising awareness of limits to growth. Biden is known as a no-nonsense exposer of bunk, and he’s known as the antithesis of Trump. He cares about the truth, and he cares about posterity. That’s a combination made for steady statesmanship.

Let’s think about what a steady-state speech could sound like—Joe Biden’s intonation and all—incorporating elements of the themes we explored earlier. It could conclude thusly, following an articulation of the daunting problems we face in the midst of the COVID-caused recession:

Yes, we have to get the economy back on track. But not the way it was, folks! Not the way Donald Trump ran it, tearing up our hard-won environmental protections, burning bridges with our friends abroad, bringing us to the brink of a cold war with China, and threatening posterity with his blatant disregard of climate science. No, we’ve seen what a sociopathic obsession with GDP looks like, and we’ve had enough! It’s cost us our biggest treasure of all: precious American lives as Trump has rushed moms and dads back to the workplace—and kids back to schools—just so his GDP numbers would be on the upswing in time for the election.
Friends, the world doesn’t revolve around GDP. Just ask any parent with a sick child, or anyone who’s lost a friend to COVID. The economy is supposed to be for us, not the other way around. We don’t live to grow the GDP. GDP was never supposed to rule our lives, trash the environment, or push us to the brink of war. Trump’s blind pursuit of GDP growth—growth at all costs—is like miles per hour being the only thing that matters when driving a car, instead of smartly and safely avoiding the obstacles. It’s like consuming as many calories as we possibly can, instead of the right amount for healthy bodies and sharp minds. It’s like building as many towers and casinos and golf courses as we can squeeze onto the landscape, instead of maintaining our national parks and forests and heritage sites.
Aside from ruining our environment and risking our lives for the sake of his GDP numbers, Trump doesn’t know anything about the economy. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and knows nothing about the struggle of everyday Americans. You know what he knows about? He knows about Manhattan real estate, luxury living, and beauty pageants. He knows about discriminating, rigging, and cheating. He knows about grifting, grabbing, and getting away with it. There’s a reason—probably many reasons—he won’t show us his tax returns. This is a president who lies as part of his everyday life, as part of his business model, as part of his golf game, as part of his politics, as part of his presidency. He’s the world record holder with over 20,000 lies and counting.
Friends—and I mean Democrats and Republicans alike—we can’t afford to leave the economy in the hands of a con man. We need experience, expertise, and intelligence for managing the economy. When you elect me, you’ll have experience on your side. And I, instead of shuffling pawns and yes-men in and out of the West Wing…I’ll have the best possible advisors on my side, men and women gathering the most relevant intelligence. I’ll have a team, not of “elites,” but of smart, devoted subject-matter experts thinking in advance of the big-picture, long-term problems as well as the immediate crisis. Together, we’ll all steer this economy through the pandemic in a way that balances all of our concerns for the environment, public health, human decency, stable jobs, and most importantly, the soul of America!

 

It’s not at all far-fetched to envision Biden making such a strong, steady-state pitch, is it? The words make too much sense at this point in history and in this specific political context. While the Joe Biden of our hoped-for speech doesn’t go so far as to propose the steady state economy per se, he sets the stage for it unmistakably. His connotations are all over limits to growth, the stupidity of growth at all costs, and the dark underbelly of Trumpism. Yes, moving away from GDP growth as economic policy is a paradigm shift; it would be a major political gamble under normal conditions. But conditions have never been less normal, and Biden can afford to push the envelope as Trump’s duck gets lamer by the day.

Green New Deal. Perhaps the easiest way out, politically, is to avoid either growth at all costs or the steady-state stance. Biden has to have some kind of economic platform, though, so avoiding growth at all costs and steady statesmanship entails a third distinct approach. It would almost have to be the Green New Deal.

Nancy Reagan

Heading for Cloud 9 on Green Growth Street? Take Nancy Reagan’s advice and “Just don’t do it!” (Image: CC0, Credit: The White House)

The Green New Deal (“Green Deal”) certainly incorporates a healthy concern for posterity, but it has a debilitating truth problem called “green growth.” Green growth is an oxymoron and synonymous with the Clintonian win-win rhetoric that helped get Trump elected to begin with. While perhaps the most famous face of the Green Deal, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, seems firmly grounded in 21st century reality, many other Green Deal principals (Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, for example) are confirmed “green growthers.”

Where does Joe Biden stand? Evidently, according to Joe’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice, “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” Thankfully, Joe’s plan says nothing about green growth, at least not yet. So, despite the bow to the Green Deal, Biden could yet end up in any of the three camps (that is, the camps available to those refusing to wallow in the soulless swamp of Trumpism).

Please think about it, Mr. Biden. Stay off Green Growth Street, which is like that twisted street of liquor stores and drug dealers. The people there have a distorted perception of reality. “Green growth” is bunk; it’s definitely not you. If you find yourself tempted to venture down Green Growth Street, remember the wisest words ever spoken by a Reagan: “Just don’t do it!”

Brian Czech

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

The post Joe Biden, Donald “Duck,” and a Steady-State Soul of America appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


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