Greed, Revolution, and Governance

I’m generally very taken with Ian Welsh’s work, particularly two recent posts, A New Ideology and How to Create a Viable Ideology. He then continued with 44 Explicit Points on Creating a Better World. And I hate to say it, but the last piece was no where near as well thought out as the preceding pieces.

It can be extremely useful to throw out a bunch of ideas as a forcing device: you offer up best guesses and are explicit about that. The purpose is not to create agreement on them, but simply to advance thinking, perhaps get a closer approximation of where answers might lie, and also expose area where further investigation and thinking is needed.

But that isn’t what Welsh seemed to be doing. What troubled me about his latest piece was its combination of confidence (as opposed to modesty and soliciting reactions and input) in combination with it having internal contractions and a lack of precision of language. But perhaps the biggest shortcoming was trying to finesse the question of governance.

I’m not saying I have any answers to the Big Hard Problems of the day. But I think it’s important for us to keep trying to ask the right questions. That’s a necessary, though far from sufficient, condition for us to have any hope of pulling out of our collective nosedive we are in.

My personal belief is that we are at the confluence of extremely difficult societal challenges. One is that we are at the end of an economic paradigm (this is something I discuss longer form in ECONNED): that a model based on shared prosperity and wage growth changed in the 1980s to one favoring capital and using asset bubbles and consumer borrowings to mask wage stagnation. That has led to an oversized, predatory banking system, and unresolved problem of excessive private sector leverage and destabilizing levels of international capital flows. That alone is monstrously difficult to resolve.

But this economic breakdown is taking place alongside a crisis of overpopulation which is leading to a rapid degradation of the environment, increasingly desperate energy development strategies, and radical and probably dangerous approaches to food production. It took World War II to resolve the political dislocation that came out of our last global financial crisis, so our record on managing big banking problems alone isn’t so hot. It’s hard to see how to navigate through this higher-stakes complex of problems, particularly since much of the business elite has decided to use the perturbations to advance their agenda of a counterrevolution, to at least roll back New Deal style social guarantees and better yet, bourgeois democracy if they can. So political and societal effort is being diverted to that set of struggles, pulling attention away from the pressing ecological issues and the lesser but still pressing problem of the role of banks and financial markets.

So with that background, I’m really troubled by statements like Welsh’s second of his 44 points:

We know much of what must be done. We know we need to do it. We have not done it. That suggests this is not a “practical” problem.

Huh? There’s perilous societal consensus on many issues, save perhaps on things related to restoring the fallen state of the middle class (for instance, that jobs are the biggest economic problem, that large majorities consistently favor preserving Social Security and Medicare as is, and would rather cut the military budget and/or raise taxes rather than reduce benefits).

Let’s look at just one monster problem facing us: energy. Despite a scientific consensus that human activity is a large contributor to global warming (even the Bush Administration formally supported this view), there’s not a consensus in the US as to what (if anything) to do about it, particularly since the view of China and some other important developing economies is that they have the right to emit carbon in order to improve the living standards of their citizens. And to the extent people in the US talk about needing to tackle the problem of climate change, they tend to focus on pleasant, “don’t ask me to change my lifestyle much” solutions like green energy. Folks, if the IPCC projections are remotely correct, we need to go into radical energy conservation mode NOW. The timetable for commercializing and implementing green energy on a large enough scale basis is too long to rely on it as the primary solution.

Do you hear anyone discussing that in a serious way? And the irony is that that in many cases it won’t be as painful to make cuts as it sounds. For instance, BP in 1997 decided to lower its carbon emissions below the 1990 level by 2010. It achieved the goal in 3 years rather than 13 at a cost of $20 million. Oh, and it happened to save $650 million. With that sort of calculus, you’d think that every big corporation would be on the emissions-reduction bandwagon.

Oh, and back to an en passant observation: is anyone willing to talk candidly about overpopulation? The only solutions appear to be indirect, like cutting social safety nets to get perceived-to-be unproductive old people to die faster. That’s also insufficient to deal with the underlying problem of how unsustainably large the human population is now, and close to nothing is being done to curb or reverse growth (and the related economic challenges, even if we were to face them head-on, that people who are not working age are perceived to costly in economic terms, when that suggests both our metrics and our approaches are sorely wanting).

So I challenge Welsh to produce a list of what he thinks “must be done” in concrete enough terms to guide action. Another wee problem is even if you make generalizations that people can agree on, consensus often breaks down when you start to put forward particular proposals as to how to get there (that’s the one legitimate reason that politicians make 50,000 foot promises, anything more specific would seldom get broad-based approval). For instance, let’s say we were to miraculously get consensus on the need for more radical approaches for energy conservation. How do we get there? Aggressively tax energy but provide tax breaks and credits for the poor? Ration? (we did that in the oil crisis via every other day access to gas stations). Do more to discourage driving and the use of automobiles generally?

And how about Welsh’s statement 6:

Any new social structure must throw off surplus that people can live on, and that surplus must not be able to be bought up by the old system, which will seek to do so. The ban against selling out/being bought out must be irrational and ideological. Rational people sell out.

Ahem, I consider myself rational and I continue to make myself very unpopular with people who could pay me nice speaking fees or shell out consulting fees that in one day equal I make in a month of blogging. But I prefer having control over my life and not telling lies to make a living, and I happen to like writing. I’m not very good at lying anyhow, so I’m severely disadvantaged from a competitive standpoint in the selling out market. Maybe my stupid strategy is completely rational given my skills and personal quirks (also being lousy at selling, and most “selling out” strategies require decent marketing ability). A lot of people do things that are not financially maximizing because they value things besides money (pretty much any professional artist falls in this category, power law payoffs assure only a very few at the top get rich, yet many continue to be professional artists even though they make little or struggle because they really enjoy their work).

And contrast Welsh’s number 7:

The forms of the old world must be gotten rid of, and must be seen as anathema. You cannot save the world and keep American style suburbia as it is now. You cannot change the world so people are happy and healthy and prosperous and keep wage labor as your primary method of distributing surplus value to the commons.

with his number 25:

A regular rate of return of 5% is reasonable. A world in which you have to make 15% or 30%+ to be viable is a world in which most businesses are not viable, and in which millions sit idle with nothing to do because there is nothing to do that can make those sort of returns.

Um, if you want to get rid of the world as we know it, why does a return calculation persist in the new order? And even if it does, how exactly do you determine it? This was a huge issue in the days of regulated utilities (I won’t bore you with that discussion, but even in pretty simple businesses with stable customer bases and established technologies, you’d have trouble getting the accounting and incentives right).

Russell Brand’s unscripted remarks in his BBC interview seem closer to the spirit of what Welsh says he wants:

I think a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think they should be ta– I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron says profit isn’t a dirty word; I say profit is a filthy word. Because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. And this system currently doesn’t address these ideas.

And what about this, point 32:

You cannot have large standing armies and keep liberty. Period.

versus his number 35:

We are going to require a transnational body with armed forces to enforce environmental controls.

I’m at a loss as to how to reconcile those, particularly with another point I flagged as key from his post on developing a new ideology:

If you want a society, then, which is prosperous and egalitarian, with the proceeds of increased production going to everyone and not just a few, you must have an internal structure of power which gives ordinary people quite a bit, makes concentration of power in private hands difficult, makes the government unable to use too much power against its own citizenry while (and this is the important bit) still being able to defend itself externally, and able to resist internal putsches. Egalitarian societies which cannot defend themselves get overwhelmed by hierarchical societies which are better at violence.

Even Japan, which is an island and has been a de facto military protectorate of the US since 1945, still has a “self defense force” of over 200,000.

I could make more micro-level comments about the Welsh piece, but to me, the one he most needs to come to grips with is governance. There’s a lot of “we” in this piece and it’s not clear who that “we” is. I like to use the royal “we” from time to time, yet I have no interest in auditioning for the role of benevolent dictator (which actually is a very good model for running things if you could reliably get the right sort of person to take the job. Unfortunately, history shows that doesn’t seem to happen all that often). From the Greeks onward, the question of how to provide for the stewardship of society to produce stability, decent outcomes for ordinary people and limiting corruption in the ruling classes has vexed philosophers and thinkers. How to do that NOW is in my mind the essential question and we need to address this issue squarely yet again.

America’s system of checks and balances has broken down as industrial and technology revolutions have overwhelmed it (both produce industries with scale factors of various sorts that produce enough powerful and disproportionately wealthy concerns as to be able to destabilize democracy. The fatal assault has actually not been via the ballot box but via a well-funded “law and economics” movement that began in the 1970s and with surprising speed has produced a very business friendly judiciary that has gutted a lot of case law and even legislation that used to protect ordinary citizens).

The fact that the political and economic system in advanced economies being reengineered before our eyes to serve the interests of a tiny group of super-rich and a technically skilled elite is the fuel for more and more calls for fundamental changes in social arrangements, with US reactions ranging from Tea Party obstructionism to Occupy to the recent outbreak of the “r” word, revolution. It’s also the driver of impulses for what some have called neo-primitivism, from partial relocalization efforts (the “locavore” food movement) to more radical versions. Democracy does not scale well, and the neo-primitivist movement seems at least in part born out of a desire to make smaller, more accountable governance units more powerful. Switzerland would seem to be the model for this sort of re-localization, since the bulk of taxes are collected and spent on the cantonal level, allowing it to operate in significant respects like a direct democracy.

One book anyone interested in this line of thought needs to read is Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. It focuses on the social arrangements on a moon colonized by humans that has managed to implement an extremely egalitarian, non-commerically oriented society (“proprietarian” is a term of extreme disapproval). Le Guin shows how it still has petty power-mongeres who do damage in their sphere of influence and has stagnated in some respects. But this regime is also held in place by necessity: it’s simply hard to survive on this particular moon, so cooperation is also an imperative for survival. And because the moon is isolated, and useful to the colonized planet around which it rotates (which by contrast is lush, hedonistic, and highly stratified socially; the lunar colony mines a critical material and the planet-dwellers are happy to let the materially-deprived moon-dwellers do that dirty work), they don’t need to defend themselves, and so haven’t cultivate Welsh’s “good at violence” skills. Le Guin does not offer any answers, but reading her book may help in the effort to keep asking better questions.

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  1. Noonan

    “Folks, if the IPCC projections are remotely correct…”

    IPCC projections have been proven to be incorrect according to their own published temperature data.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      What do you climate change deniers search on? You must be well paid for such diligent efforts. I’m impressed you always get your digs in at the top of posts.

      Your claim is bunk:

      In addition, scientists have tackled the apparent recent slowing of global warming observed by meteorologists around the globe. According to the new IPCC report, temperatures rose by about 0.15C a decade for the latter half of the last century. Since 1998, however, that rise has been reduced to only 0.05C. The observation has been seized upon by global warming deniers who say it is evidence that climate change is slowing down and may halt.

      But experts reject this claim. In fact, satellite measurements of the solar radiation entering the atmosphere, compared with the radiation being reflected back into space, show there has been no change in the rate of Earth’s warming. Most researchers believe that changes in sea currents may be taking heat deep into oceans.

      “The heat is still coming in, but it appears to have gone into the deep ocean and, frustratingly, we do not have the instruments to measure there,” said Professor Ted Shepherd of Reading University. “Global warming has certainly not gone away.”

      The answer is that there is a ‘pause’ if the data are cherry picked. First we have to cherry pick the 2 percent of global warming represented by surface temperatures and ignore the other 98 percent. Then we have to cherry pick a sufficiently short time frame to find a flat trend.

      I can see the effects of climate change here and where I travel. People in the Explorers Club, which is a mix of adventurers and scientists, have been giving alarmed reports on what they’ve seen in the Arctic since the early 2000s in terms of ice retreat. But I guess the opening of the Northwest passage and dying polar bears aren’t enough evidence of radical change to persuade you.

      Insurers are refusing to write flood insurance for huge swathes of property they used to be happy to insure. So you are telling me you are smarter than insurers? Why don’t you try stepping in and write some flood insurance, and tell me how that works out for you.

      Just look at Florida:

      The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America found that nearly 3.0 million U.S. households lost their homeowners coverage between 2003 and mid-2007, only half of which stated that they were able to find new coverage (IIABA 2007).

      Allstate, for instance, has said that climate change has prompted it to cancel or not renew policies in many Gulf Coast states, with recent hurricanes wiping out all of the profits it had garnered in 75 years of selling homeowners insurance (Conley 2007). The company has cut the number of homeowners’ policies in Florida from 1.2 million to 400,000 with an ultimate target of no more than 100,000. The company has curtailed activity in nearly a dozen other states. In 2008, State Farm—Florida’s largest private insurer—stopped writing new policies in the state (Garcia and Benn 2008). This was after suspending sales of new commercial and homeowners policies in Mississippi the year before (Tuckey 2007). A few months later, after being denied a 47% average rate increase, State Farm announced a complete pull-out, (Hays 2009). About 1.2 million customers will be affected.

      Better trolls, please.

      1. Cassiodorus

        Well, according to climatologist Joseph Romm, the IPCC figures are incorrect — but that’s because they understate the problem. Global warming is significantly worse than what the IPCC says it is.

      2. alex morfesis


        the last century has seen the standardization of discooperationalism to insure consuming parties reflect the needs of addings user units.

        The grand myth of “dumping” your kids into the world and the dystopian notion that a child who falls back into the nest is some form of failure is a corporatist success story.

        Insuring the disruption of family units by teenagers being “engaged” into their own “conforming nonconformity” leads to expanded user bases.

        How many cars in the driveway are really needed ?

        How many big screen tv’s…computers, laptops, cellphones.

        mine mine mine mine mine

        the meme of mine…

        only those who strive will find the voices speaking in the darkness…

        but most have been made to live as lichens, comforted by the little things in a big bad world with one too many wizard of oz moments.

        Too much drugs, too much alcohol, too much distraction and no need to focus.

        And the myth of fear continues.

        How many will insist that there were people running around with wheelbarrows of german marks when the economy there crashed after ww 1…

        but is it true ??

        find a photo…they don’t exist…the photos used historically are not of germany…and are not of consumers…but you believe it anyway…because it sounds like it should have been true…

        The myths of reality will keep those encrusted with power from losing it…

        it is sad that in these interesting times, we have no real leadership. There is greed and there is stupidity. We live in stupid times lead by puny little cowards hell bent on extracting the last ounce of dignity from society in some odd attempt at playing king of the world. 2lip factories…that is all wall street finances anymore…two moving lips selling you something of limited value with no long term infrastructure value from which to rebuild…

        most people today will sell out the truth for a postage stamp…or better yet, a promise of a postage stamp…

        but those who would strive will strive on…despite the odds…”those who can must and always will”…

        not sure if that was jefferson or pythagoras…or just my imagination…

          1. sue


            Still blaming the “victims” I see-note the previous author at least pointed at those who destroyed the U.S. economy-Wall Street. Following the money, we find those 6 largest “investment banks” are under whose auspices it resides.

            Do your homework-it’s not *yours* or *mine*.

      3. burnside

        I do find it deeply annoying that posts addressing climate – at least in passing – receive these stunningly prompt responses.

        At the same time, I think there are responses to each of the items you bring up about the changes in climate, responses which people who are not . . . what? stupid or evil? see as adequate to answer or to give perspective to each of your observations.

        To speak to just one, the IPCC has published five comprehensive climate assessments intended to help advise high level government officials on future developments in climate. The computer models included provide estimates of the earth’s future surface temperatures – that is, the IPCC itself and not its present critics has chosen to consider this metric the significant factor.

        When, in the early years of this century, a modest gap began to open between surface temperature projections and observed measurements, it raised little or no comment anywhere. As it persisted, however, and became more substantial, sceptics began to point it out. At about the ten-year mark, it was proposed among the consensus that a divergence lasting thirteen or more years could be considered significant. That proposed duration has continued to expand beyond the present horizon of fifteen or more years.

        If looking at a significant divergence constitutes cherry-picking, then that’s what we have here. Would you prefer no one looked at it? Does it matter to you that the projections produced by a large number of models have run above – in most cases greatly above – the observed temperatures? These are the precise models used to direct policy recommendations.

        We’ve just passed some sixteen years with scarcely any change – and no identifiable trend whatever – in surface temperature. That’s a measure the Panel was quite happy to stress until it began to run counter to expectations. Now, anyone dwelling on this former mainstay is said to have been cherry-picking.

        I don’t like the tactics. If you’re in possession of good information, you don’t need them.

      4. Jim S

        Yves, my first reaction on reading this thread was that I would be wise to stay out of it. But I suppose I’m just an idiot after all, so here goes:

        I am skeptical on anthropogenic climate change, not because I don’t think the climate is changing wildly–I do–but because I am skeptical on the process of science today. Take the assertion that 98% of warming has been captured in the deep oceans: did climate scientists predict this ten years ago? From what I remember, no. That is not to say that all scientists were ignorant of the effect, but it was never touted in the press. This feeds my feeling that we are just beginning to understand how climate works and that claims otherwise are rather silly. (An aside: what is especially frustrating from a logician’s standpoint here is that the article quotes Prof. Shepherd as saying “appears to have gone” and “we do not have the instruments to measure it” and presents this as sufficient evidence for rejecting the claim. The hypothesis may turn out to be correct, but until it is corroborated by observations it is merely a hypothesis and is not, by itself, Sufficient. Evidence. To. Refute. A. Claim. Augh!)

        Another factor which makes me skeptical of such claims is the absolute certainty with which they are presented. In another field, first eggs were good for you, then they were unquestionably–without a doubt–if-keep-eating-them-you-will-drop-dead-tomorrow–bad for you, and now they are starting to be good for you again. Likewise fat–first cholesterol absolutely caused heart disease, and now some forms of cholesterol actually fight heart disease. I don’t know that this effect is operant in climate science, but I feel it’s worth watching for. Good science should not only allow for doubt but moreover question itself constantly. Arguing with absolute certainty belongs to the school of rhetoric, not the school of science. Doubt is not weakness in science–yes, the stakes are high, but it is never weakness.

        As infuriating as the above may be, it’s only to say that doubt exists in my mind. What I am very much less doubtful of is that we are directly damaging our environments. BP Macondo. Fukushima. Fracking. GMO crops. Rainforest destruction. Overfishing. Hunting to extinction. Essentially this: climate change may or may not destroy us in 100 years, but destroying biodiversity and poisoning ourselves will destroy us much more quickly than that, and if Fukushima (or some other technological disaster) blows up tomorrow then civilisation as we know it might not last out the year.

        And the cynical part of me wonders if the talking heads haven’t seized upon global warming in order to not have to talk about all these direct threats to the environment. Who besides the alternative media is talking about Fukushima? Is the US government doing anything about it? It sure isn’t talking about it. But it’s talking about wind energy and electric cars and it’s quietly promoting fracking and offshore drilling and pipelines–everything that someone might make a buck off of.

        Enough gloom. Yves, until now I haven’t been able to become enthusiastic about Ian Welsh’s writings, but your piece offers much to mull over. If I haven’t shot my bolt writing on this inflammatory topic maybe I’ll join the larger discussion later.

      5. sue

        I believe Yves has, along with other extremely relevant observations, just described “ART”:

        Yves said, “Ahem, I consider myself rational and I continue to make myself very unpopular with people who could pay me nice speaking fees or shell out consulting fees that in one day equal I make in a month of blogging. But I prefer having control over my life and not telling lies to make a living, and I happen to like writing. I’m not very good at lying anyhow, so I’m severely disadvantaged from a competitive standpoint in the selling out market. Maybe my stupid strategy is completely rational given my skills and personal quirks (also being lousy at selling, and most “selling out” strategies require decent marketing ability). A lot of people do things that are not financially maximizing because they value things besides money (pretty much any professional artist falls in this category, power law payoffs assure only a very few at the top get rich, yet many continue to be professional artists even though they make little or struggle because they really enjoy their work).”


        When pursuing university level higher education, those of us who wished to author for ourselves, for example, were advised to consider the *market* for our material.

        Those whose *art* is personally acquired through years of study-application, have difficulty describing it. Thanks to Yves for her personal application of her art. Where would we go-“be” without it?

      6. different clue

        U of M professor of Middle East studies Juan Cole sometimes writes about global warming issues on his Informed Comment blog. A while ago he wrote a blogpost called With A Solar Minimum and La Nin~yas, Why Isn’t It Really Really Cold? In briefest he notes that warming deniers say the land/atmosphere has been flat for last ten years ha ha! He responds by noting that for the last 50years at least we have had some years of air temps rising, then some years of air temps flattening, then rising again, then flattening at their new higher plateau, etc. He notes the sun brightens and dims on an 11 year cycle. Each brightening correlates to a temp rise and each dimming now correlates to a temp plateau. But wait! Shouldn’t the temp go back down with each solar dimming like it used to do? So why not now? Prof. Cole thinks that
        our new skycarbon loads trap enough heat that the earth can’t cool back off during each solar minimum. Even with the ocean sucking down heat from the atmosphere, the best the land/atmosphere can now do is merely stop heating further during the solar minimum. The next maximum will raise the land/atmosphere temp some more and the next minimum will only plateau the air-temp at its new higher level. He didn’t name his amateur theory so I will: The Suncycle Stairstep Theory of Alternating Rises and Plateaus.
        If his little theory works, the next solar maximum should cause more rising temps and the next solar minimum should plateau the temps at their next higher stairsteop level.

        As much as I wrote, its still shorter than Prof. Cole’s own post. Here is the link.

  2. tyler

    Regarding global warming, it’s actually an easy fix. Please see:

    The real challenge will be in removing the misinformed from positions of power in Washington. Now, Nancy Pelosi may not qualify as a progressive to some people, but she’s progressive enough and certainly not misinformed on environmental issues.

  3. Jackrabbit

    We know much of what must be done. We know we need to do it. We have not done it. That suggests this is not a “practical” problem.

    I think what he means by this is that it is a problem of will / politics.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That’s where I differ. You can’t say it’s a problem of politics and then use “we” when broad swathes of the public do not agree with the position “progressives” advocate. They do on SOME issues: food safety, preserving current safety nets, prosecuting bank executives. But they don’t on a host of others (much more aggressive government action, in particular increased deficit spending, to tackle unemployment, much more aggressive action to contend with global warming, etc.). It’s not a “political” problem, in the sense of the political system not acting on the views of the electorate (which we DO see in banking regulation and food safety). It’s that on many issues, we don’t have a consensus.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Unraveling threads without muddying the issues is extremely difficult, but it strikes me that without a more objective, less bought and paid for, main stream media, including local vs. national versions, everyone, including TPTB, is doomed to having thier opinions manipulated. When opinion is bought and paid for like so much advertising space by conflicting interests that have only one thing in common – an aversion to facts, consensus is impossible.

      2. psychohistorian

        Some would say it is a population education/propaganda issue…….too much of one and not enough of the other….you get to guess which is which.

        I suspect humanity has a survival consensus if it could be clearly captured and executed on. But, since we continue to “stare” at Fukushima without seeing it for the threat it is, maybe our boat of “faith” has already gone over the falls.

        Perhaps we are not humble enough of a species to live in this cosmos. I think if we all had skin in the social commons instead of have the invisible hand of economics be a small bastion of private ownership and inheritance fed plutocrats, we would be better distributing our survival chances as a species………isn’t that a goal of mankind, to survive?

      3. Jackrabbit

        It seems to me that what _would_ be a consensus on many issues is spoiled by vested interests.

        Once the ‘dial’ is moved from 70-30 to 55-45 via heavy spending on advertising, think tank studies, compromised politicians and pundits, etc. then it becomes an issue that is ‘stuck’ in status-quo. A status-quo that is very favorable to the vested interests.

        This is one of the big reasons why people are turned off of politics – they don’t feel that they are heard or that they can change anything.

  4. Paper Mac

    The notion that you can consciously weigh, select, choose, and shape an ideology is a fundamental misunderstanding of what ideology is– “they do not know it, but they are doing it”. There’s no post-ideological space from which we can objectively assess what outcomes we value and the means we’re willing to pursue them. Welsh demonstrates this in his atavistic fallback to ideological capitalist ideals of social good like returns on investments. Yves is quite correct to note that there is no broad-based agreement on “what must be done”, but beyond that we don’t have an agreement on what is socially necessary and useful, so the cart is being put before the horse. It’s telling that the Marxist model of capitalist ideology is being invoked without a specified commitment to its teleology of progress or absolutist materialism (both features of most post-Christian Western ideologies, including liberal/neoliberal capitalism), but both of these commitments are still obviously present. These are fun thought experiments but they fundamentally misunderstand the problem of ideology.

    1. anon y'mouse

      how to explain the neoliberal thought collective, then?

      did they not manage to implement an ideology over many years, and passing through many different hands and channels of control?

      are we not living with the results now?

      otherwise, I agree with you. for -most- people, their thoughts and purposes are a jumble of religion, culture, inner drives and intuition, reason, science and everything else in a big mixer. to make a cohesive -ideology- and expect people to follow or make it grow seems a big…hubristic? even if a vast majority of people agree on the list because it already matches up with the basic values that they have jiggling around in their personal mental mixing machine. he might as well say that he’s founding a new religion, and then work on the culture that such a religion would produce.

      my guess is that it would involve co-ops on a large scale. that every element of living would involve mutual work and responsibility, from one’s living space to food to daily work to…..?

      1. Cassiodorus

        The neoliberal thought collective has an ideology for the little people, while its own membership rakes in the profits and controls the power positions.

        One point of a revolution is to disqualify such people from positions of power and influence. What we don’t need in the era of too-late capitalism is more condescension and rip-offs.

      2. Paper Mac

        I don’t follow you- neoliberalism is the culmination of the last couple of centuries of liberal and capitalist thought, not a project some guy thought up and outlined in 44 points or whatever. The fact that concerted effort goes into realising an ideology doesn’t mean it’s some kind of “constructed” ideology distinct from those that can’t or don’t mobilise large social forces toward their goals. Ideology isn’t some kind of transparent project you can pick up or set down, it’s the invisible set of assumptions your upbringing, education, culture, religion, etc etc. have bequeathed you. That’s what the word means.

        1. anon y'mouse

          ahh, that is clarifying. thank you.

          yes, I didn’t really mean “we dreamed it up in the lab” although, considering propaganda and public relations and advertising and so on, that’s not quite out of the realm of the possible nowadays.

          I still don’t see how it wasn’t the product of a certain class’s consciousness, though. they had to find some moral justifications for what they were doing and impose those on an already-existing culture that highlighted the merits of toil and humility and so on. I tend to think the imperatives of those who wanted to remain in control were grafted onto that of society at large.

          then again, I am a nut who thinks that civilization itself was built on and fosters hierarchy, and will do anything to justify why such a structure exists.

          sorry, just rambling.

          1. Paper Mac

            Yeah, I don’t think we disagree. The capital class has absolutely gone to great lengths to consciously extend and perpetuate the system prescribed by its ideology, and recognising and describing that process is really important. I just have a problem with this idea that we can go to some neutral space and rationally design an ideology that everyone’s going to agree on. I’m with Alasdair MacIntyre on this one- we need to discuss ethics, virtue, and answer his big questions (“Whose justice? Which rationality?”) in order to establish the regime of sense we’re operating under before we start getting into operational questions like “should we have an international standing army”.

            1. anon y'mouse

              perhaps those kinds of questions will lead us naturally to expose the underlying questions of virtue, justice, humanity/humanitarianism, etc?

              i’m in agreement with you. any one of us can come up with a laundry list of rational-sounding “solutions” or something, and claim that an ideology capable of getting to those solutions needs to be located and applied like some kind of weapon. heck, I do it myself—how about let’s start by undermining the ideology that greed (personal or ‘profit’) is good?

              we can come at this issue from both ends, don’t you think? we can examine “why” we think certain ends are more favorable over others and get to the root that way, and perhaps in getting there find better end goals than before. that’s the power of analytic philosophy, isn’t it?

              1. psychohistorian

                Actually, I think the data is out there that our current system is bad and has been out there for decades but we are watching/participating in it crashing and burning… slow motion.

                The rot is manifest at the top and it is not if but when it topples. Maybe even in what is left of my lifetime so I can justify going long on popcorn.

            2. Whistling in the Dark

              “answer his big questions”

              And suppose we do, in some lovely future. It doesn’t mean that you can get people to understand those answers or to agree with them or even to peruse them. Maybe you can, or maybe it takes a PR-machine.

              The whole thing sounds crazy optimistic. (I mean, you want to codify human is’s and oughts? Then, you want to get everyone on the same page about that?) To put it another way: Better get on it! I wish you all the best, though.

              Here is another idea (and, yes, given in humility rather than hubris): “Positive” answers and understanding of that kind is,…What?… No, who cares if we can answer this question? In the mean time, we have a perfectly consistent, clear, and capable curmudeonliness; it may not be necessary to ever figure out what one is or should be for (it may be impossible?); one can still proceed to live, you know: one will do so in the “negative mode.” As an example (how does one practice “negativity” — well, it’s obvious, and better left UNsaid :), but since consistency is a pile, positively reeking of impossibility…): Let’s say we have some sense of impending doom due to… over-population. Maybe there is evidence for it, dunno. Well, we do not like this doom feeling so good. No, scratch that! We have this unnerving anxiety. Well, there are drugs for that, etc. But then, we feel odd about the act of taking up such anxiety-ridding, soul-killing means. You know, despair and anxiety are a bit of whack-a-mole. So, we face the source: okay, maybe it is sensed to be overpopulation. Fine. So, we say, “No, let’s don’t do this thing.” And people (curmudgeons) ask, fairly, “Oh yeah, well, just what are you driving at anyway? In whose name? And by what means?” So, we are left in the uncomfortable position of trying to, you know, clothe our objections in some sort of shiny and out-going kind of garb: articulate the thing in the “positive mode.” (I use quotes because I don’t know if it is a thing or not.) Is this necessary, or is this simply a distraction foisted on us by the skeptic? In the meantime: the problem does not go away. So, look, we proceed out of awareness of problems; we have concern and awareness and anxiety for them. Good. They get addressed. Or: we outwardly manifest and articulate a justification of our intentions (why? Isn’t this just PR?), and march bravely into a brighter tomorrow. Yeah-f-ing right. It is far better to tackle the problems as we see them in their specific and immediate form–nay, existence. And so people want to ignore the (overpopulation, or pick a different one) problem? Well, then, we have a new problem. We don’t like this new problem either. How does one fix it? Maybe you find a new problem before solving this one, too, which has to be addressed first–like how to win friends and influence people, for instance. You know what? You’re not gonna like that one, because people don’t always see it the way you do. (And I am not speaking to anyone in particular, but if it stings, that’s just fine, though I would be small to expect this.) Phew, so what’s it all about? Maybe there are only two roads: Better PR or the other one: shitty PR. I likes the second one. If you like the first, then you can help us all by explaining what “Justice” means. Oh, what’s that? They’ve been working on that one and they are still awaiting some scientific or anthropological data? Let’s extrapolate to the future: and who is going to just buy what the scientists say? Somehow it will have to come down to the algorithmic regulation or even transcendence of human sex (we stand with Kurzweil in expectation). And, you know, how are you going to get people to go along with that? PR? Naw, chuckle. Some people, with their relentless pride, will object to nothing less than the finest of gunpoints to push them toward their immortal destinies. And, of course, some people will demand the gun do a bit more work for them, instead. And that will be their cute little choice, won’t it?

              In the meantime (I say) one can dispense with the brave-new-sci-fi wonderings. And, then, in the present, there are some things which ought to be addressed right now, no? How about suffering — but not as a concept. Somebody out there is doing a heck a lot of it. Is there some way we could help? Only one way to know for sure. And, I wait hopefully for someone to call me a pixellated imitation of the most picturesque of cowards — a hypocrite! — but, you know, maybe you are right, and maybe you will have done your good deed (in the negative mode, observe!) for the day.

              So, it’s just thoughts. I have fun typin’ ’em, but I reassure myself that it’s okay if you say “they dumb,” cuz, sniff, you know I worked real hard. Shucks. Just puttin it out there.

              1. anon y'mouse

                too fancy for me. now I feel stupid. and I’ve managed to decipher Aristotle and Kant!

                can you undress it a little from its fancy clothes and say it bare-bones?

              2. Paper Mac

                “And suppose we do, in some lovely future. It doesn’t mean that you can get people to understand those answers or to agree with them or even to peruse them. Maybe you can, or maybe it takes a PR-machine.

                The whole thing sounds crazy optimistic. (I mean, you want to codify human is’s and oughts? Then, you want to get everyone on the same page about that?) To put it another way: Better get on it! I wish you all the best, though.”

                That’s not what I’m saying. “Answering the questions” means delineating the regime of sense we’re discussing. If you can’t answer the simple questions “what do you value” or “how do you reason”, how can you talk policy?

                1. anon y'mouse

                  so do you understand this to mean:

                  these discussions are endless backstage ramblings on how many angels dance on pin’s heads, and what we really just need is to decide upon a problem, dress it up properly for the public, and then solve the darn thing or not. no one will ever come to any agreement about the backstage stuff; people have been arguing about that kind of stuff for centuries.


                  that’s what I got out of that.

                  1. Whistling in the Dark

                    Yes, except I am suggesting that you don’t need to dress anything up. Just, you know, do the numbers and details for people, and then tell them about it… so, yes, a simple suggestion that I went wild with: details instead of slogans and ideology.

                2. Whistling in the Dark

                  “That’s not what I’m saying. “Answering the questions” means delineating the regime of sense we’re discussing. If you can’t answer the simple questions “what do you value” or “how do you reason”, how can you talk policy?”

                  Yes. It is a worthy undertaking. Let’s focus on “justice.” I’ll start:

                  Well, the desire to define the term has arisen out of — let me posit — a sense of the thing’s violation (negative mode, here). But that alone is not sufficient to motivate our present task: we have also found it expedient — let me posit — to talk about the thing which has been violated in order to rally people to its defense. Hence its linguistic designation, and all. But perhaps we make our goal into some positive thing instead of correction of the perceived wrongs (and we could try to express why these things are wrongs? maybe that would help, dunno?) we have diverted our energies into something other than what inspired them: a wrong. I put this forward as an idea to forestall questions of definition and ideology. (Focusing on the details of the problems might be the thing to do. Actually, this blog is pretty great at the “shining a light in dark corners” thing! It is now struggling to grope its way to some “positive” platform, and this out of a sense, I think, that things are about to get rolling one of these days, and it would help if we have some things readily articulated for people to talk about as we rebuild in the wake of upheaval or rebellion.)

                  Back to coded gobble-dy:
                  You know, say there was a sign posted in the middle of the desert marked “justice,” sitting at the junction of 3 roads. Some travelers approach the T, and they are at a loss to say which direction the sign is pointing. So, they have to make a choice, despite the efforts of the surveyors which came before them. :)

                  Back to more positive efforts:
                  What we really need is better data, right? We need a team of anthropologists (and there are plenty looking for work, heh) to tell us exactly what this thing a “human” is, so that we may better engineer a sustainable habitat for one. We have all of our needs (let’s quantify them!) and we hold as axiomatic our continued existence as a species. Helps? But this is not my best suggestion:
                  Here is a concrete request: how much would “single payer” cost each individual taxpayer? Can’t we crunch the numbers? Sorry, I am lazy and I haven’t looked, so it may be out there. But I just wanted to put forward a question that I think is more urgent than saying what a human is. Not that I completely disdain that either, despite what I said above. I would gladly read anything you had to say abou the latter, but I would be incredibly grateful for the former, adn other things like it.

                  Thanks fellows.

              3. sue

                Let’s observe actual history; 2011, German government decided to create 1/3 “renewable energy” program, to be completely implemented by 2020. They surprised themselves, accomplishing their goal by 2013. When asked HOW (not abstract “why”=historical imperative) they were able to so accomplish, appropriate government official confided, “We have publicly financed elections, not encumbered by “special interest.”

                (all ramblings aside)

      3. Whistling in the Dark

        “my guess is that it would involve co-ops on a large scale. that every element of living would involve mutual work and responsibility, from one’s living space to food to daily work to…..?”

        …to… sex! … Can-o-worms-time.

          1. Whistling in the Dark

            It’s not your fault, but you misunderstood (more likely: I failed to convey) what I had in mind. I don’t think we can solve all problems ahead of time through, you know, thinkin about them. I just want to work on some immediate things that address issues. And, as vaguely stated: I would like to do some things which means my giving less $$ to the yucky system of today, but I need help doing so. But it is silly to ask for such a thing on a general forum, I admit. But, indeed, my concern of the other day remains topical: health care. It would be neat to crunch some numbers, big and small, and bring a fairly precise and ready package to people for consideration: As in, you may not like Marx much, but if he can save you money, then I guess he’s not so bad after all, huh? It’s not like this is a good reason for correcting ills (saving money) but, if it is feasible, then, yes, it is feasible. BUt it takes someone far less lazy and far more productive to do what I am asking: less ideology, more details. The detour into hammering out an ideology, I am gently suggesting, is a waste of energy and worse. Do people need to work out a way to communicate their findings? Yeah, sure. But I am hoping the “selling” (ideology) won’t be necessary. Just, you know, maybe it will sell itself, once you have a tangible package.

            We could start a “future travel agency.” Want to plan your dream earthly-stay-cation and that of your children and your children’s children? We can get you there. Just take a look at the line of packages we have: a) Positivist utopia, b) dictatorship of the proletariat, c) neo-primitivism, d) environmental-catastrophe-adventure-package, e) world destruction and bodily ascendance of the non-hypocrites (oops, this includes almost no one, including myself), f) mild-mannered middle class survival as far as the eye can see (oops, sorry, we just ran out of that popular package), g) scifi dystopia. So, we flesh these out and let the all-knowing consumer have a go at it. Of course, I am joking. Something very tangible and even small is called for; otherwise we may be asking and promising too much.

            Okay, I have said far more than enough. Best of luck in all your endeavors! I will be rooting for you, and, you know, maybe you will succeed in shooting the moon after all. :)

            1. anon y'mouse

              if laying out ‘the truth of the matter’, as in numbers, works, then why do we have the troubles that beset us on all sides today?

              obviously, the problem is not just a matter of having the correct numbers. it is, unfortunately, a matter of who holds the biggest microphone and how they can spin their particular set of numbers to the public to ensure mass acceptance of a product which is ultimately harmful to that public and benefits the seller(s).

              you act as though it were as easy as “laying out the options and let people sensibly choose which option is best” (please correct, if that restatement of your position is wrong). that is not at all true. for one, the greatest example being Global Climate Change—although most scientists accept it, there are strong factions holding out. guess what? no matter what the numbers say, those people are arguing that they don’t mean what they say. due to the uncertainty and complexity that the issue is mired in, the numbers can be interpreted differently depending upon what you are inclined to believe already.

              this is not a problem of finding the accurate set of measures. for one, there AREN’T ANY, although in the issue you cite–medical care–a discrete issue that is somewhat more manageable, those numbers probably do exist somewhere and can be ‘worked up’ correctly to put forward to the public. the problem again, in that specific instance, is that the vested interests are still holding the biggest microphone, they are the only one on speed-dial to the emperors’ bedrooms, and the country has been largely ideologically slanted against “government intrusion” for the last few decades, perhaps the last few hundred years even.

              if everyone were rational, doing as you suggest would not be a problem. IF the numbers of such complex matters could be determined. the problem that then arises is that people do not want to believe what ‘science’, math or rationality tell them. in other words, the patient walked into the doctor’s office expecting the all-clear, and instead he got the terminal cancer notice.

              so, the issue of ideology and propaganda must be addressed, for one because as you noted above—the skeptic comes along and has their own stream of this to vent at the issue, plus large pockets and big microphones, and all you have is your piddly little hope for social justice, world peace and humanitarian concern.

  5. Jackrabbit

    Ian Welsh also laments the defeat of the progressive bloggers whose principled message was by-passed in 2004 and 2008. OTOH Chris Hedges foresees an inevitable revolution – driven by principals that congeal around people’s dissatisfaction. How can Hedges be correct if social principals were so easily defeated in 2004 and 2008?

    What cam e to mind as I pondered this is the story of the man that asks a women if he’ll sleep with him for a million dollars. Initially, she is flattered but hesitant. “Maybe,” she says. Put he ardently presses her for a decision. Impressed by what she thinks is his earnest and genuine desire, and enticed by the prospect of a windfall, she agrees. Then he asks if she’ll sleep with him for a hundred dollars. “What kind of woman do you think I am!” she replies angrily. He answers: “We’ve already established what kind of woman you are, now we’re just negotiating a price.” She slaps him.

    This ‘joke’ seems to encapsulate the neo-liberal/Obama bait-and-switch. Relying on unsustainable promises and craven self-interest.

    It is a mistake to think that those who are so dupe-ed or con-ed have given up their principles. But until there is a slap – restoring of values and accountability – it seems unlikely that Ian Welsh’s vision for a better world has any chance.

    1. jrs

      Not sure if Hedges sees revolution as inevitable, when he sees a revolution happening he IS BEING OPTIMISTIC (ie the alternative, that status quo with endless human suffering until not that distant human extinction, is worse).

    2. Paul Niemi

      It was pounds, not dollars. The man who said that was George Bernard Shaw, and I forget who the lady was.

  6. Clive

    One of the best bits in Econned was demoted to an appendix (Appendix I Why Neoclassical Economists Use a Robinson Crusoe Economy to Represent the Demand Function) — presumably because is was, as Paul Krugman would say, definitely wonkish.

    What that section did for me was, for the first time I’ve seen it comprehensively and reasonably systematically debunked, teach me how the long-established economic “models” which, certainly all my adult life, I’ve had proffered as explanations for why an economy is the way it is and why capitalism has to work the way it works.

    And yes, in a stilted artificially constructed vacuum (like Crusoe’s island), the equations do (mostly) stack up. But as the chapter pointed out, go in even the most trivial way beyond a static, highly prescripted dynamic like Crusoe on his island (e.g. me saying I will, having gotten used to espresso coffee never, ever, even if you paid me, go back to instant granules, I’d rather drink water/tea/juice if there’s no choice) and the whole thing falls apart.

    If it crashes and burns because I and a proportion of the general population don’t like instant coffee any more, goodness knows how shredded “conventional economic thinking” becomes in the environ of our current Fin de siècle

    I’m hoping for some future Christmas present that there’ll be an “Econned II” which expands on some of these themes. To which, I’d probably get told in view of the torture it takes to write and get published “well if you want it Clive, you can jolly well sod off and write it yourself”.

    1. Clive

      Just realised that in my waffle above I didn’t explain why this was relevant. It was because, in Ian Welsh’s “new thinking”, the frame of reference was still almost totally skewed to “old” measures such as the need to “demonstrate” a Return on Capital Employed. If you’re going to apply yesterday’s definitions of successful outcomes to solutions for tomorrow’s problems, you’re kind-a doomed from the start.

      Return on investment or return on capital calculations (such as Ian Welsh seems to be still needing) are just as phony as theorems based on one bloke living alone on an island.

      1. Dan Kervick

        It doesn’t seem to me that there is anything wrong with the concept of return on capital employed. But it is a mistake to think that the only way to apply this concept is in terms of the measurable market return to private firms from the sales of goods and services produced by the employment of capital held by firms.

        There are different kinds of capital, and it is held by different kinds of owners – sometimes commonly or publicly. And there are different kinds of value produced by our various activities. In seems to me that to say that we should think in terms of a return on capital employed is only to say that we shouldn’t use up resources of any kind unless the value produced by so using them is greater than the value destroyed in using them up.

        Its worth thinking about the importance of new ways of quantifying and measuring value, so that we can get beyond the standard accounting measures and extend our abilities to make rational decisions about our social choices without leaving the best and most important things in life out of the measurement.

        I’m terrified of the direction that Obama’s new higher education proposals are going to take us. The sorts of metrics they are proposing for measuring performance in the achievement of outcomes are so crude and mercenary that if they are adopted they will transform “higher education” into nothing but a mass, post-secondary job training program.

        1. anon y'mouse

          “In seems to me that to say that we should think in terms of a return on capital employed is only to say that we shouldn’t use up resources of any kind unless the value produced by so using them is greater than the value destroyed in using them up.”

          exactly! redefine profit and re-orient its purpose to be as widely distributed as possible. what use is buying some guy a new yacht? that kind of profit the world can’t afford anymore.

          1. Thisson

            Well, the market provides a means for calculating the value created, and without this mechanism one has to “guess” at how to allocate resources. This is Ludwig von Mises’ “economic calculation” problem.

        2. Carla

          “The sorts of metrics they are proposing for measuring performance in the achievement of outcomes are so crude and mercenary that if they are adopted they will transform “higher education” into nothing but a mass, post-secondary job training program.”

          Too late.

          1. anon y'mouse

            sadly, I would agree with you. the only thing preventing this from becoming the absolute and only truth are the values of the people involved (the teachers, the professors) can’t help but shine through.

            once those generations holding those values are replaced, we are doomed.

            and scarily, some of these ‘everything can be measured & only what can be measured is valuable’ types are very upbeat, persuasive, chirpy and seemingly happily productive persons. rather than the morose, contemplative types that will critique the structure and improve people’s understanding of just what we are all caught up inside.

            see Giroux’s latest peace at Truth-out


        3. sue


          Are you conflating education with return on capital employed? As you note, Obama’s education policies are decadent. However, mustn’t one describe goals

          European education goal involves creation of taxpayers for social systems.

          U.S. goals are defined in applicable measure-“CURVE” grading system. This means there will be (NFL-like) a few “winners”, a few “losers”, and majority mediocrity=cheap labor force.

          That is certainly the goal intended, notwithstanding our ability to admit truth.

      2. Thisson

        Unfortunately, perhaps, “return on capital” is important because without it there is no incentive to save. Savings is deferred consumption of today’s resources. A hamburger today is valued more highly than a hamburger tomorrow. In order to forgoe the consumption of today’s hamburger, one must have confidence that they will receive more than one hamburger tomorrow.

        “Return on Capital” is also the proof that an efficiency was created by investing savings into capital to increase production. This increased production is the value created by savings. Without this creation of value, savings serves no higher purpose.

        1. James Levy

          If you recall your Bible, Joseph told Pharaoh to store up surplus in the six fat years so all could survive the six lean years. The value of surplus can be a store against hard times or unexpected circumstances. It need not be privatized as profit, with all that entails. The Bush tax cuts as a wonderful example of why privatizing surplus can be a really bad idea.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Not sure about that. The only people who might think they could make it as hunter-gatherers are probably gun range types who shoot game birds once in a while. I’d hazard most serious hunters know how hard it is and how much they depend on modern tools (not just guns but knives and refrigerators).

      1. ambrit

        Don’t forget to add to that, “back to the land” neo-farmer types. Farming is d—-d hard work! It is also quite dependent upon external factors like weather, available labour, trading spheres, etc. It can be done, but a quite serious change in ‘lifestyle’ is required.

        1. Brian

          Well said. If you farm forget about holidays or regular hours or a stress free life. You are at the whims of weather and biology. I grew up on a farm and it was not a pleasant experience. I find Michael Pollan’s books particularly annoying in this respect.

          1. anon y'mouse

            would this be true if we increased the humanpower cooperating to produce a particular yield? I mean, actually reduce ‘productivity’ in this realm deliberately? can we afford to so do?

            why does every move to increase ‘efficiency’ of one element or another always seem to result in some kind of slavery. what if you and 3 of your co-farmers could trade off?

        2. craazyboy

          I sure think learning to hunt buffalo is gonna be hard. Plus I worry about 2nd order effects like the number of hunters far exceeds the number of game.

          Then I think maybe the way to go is find a good sturdy plow woman, get married, and farm the land. But then I worry maybe a plot of farm land won’t be available either.

          This is quite a perplexing conundrum.

          1. anon y'mouse

            I don’t know what the ratio of acres to humans supported is utilizing permaculture or horticulture or hunt-gathering is. do you?

            hunter-gatherers existed when we were content to let the land and its ecosystems support a huge variety of different plants and animals. meaning, we were only skimming off a small part to support ourselves. naturally our numbers were smaller than. there is no way, with true hunt-gathering, that we could support 8 billion people. productivity levels are not there, and we would be eating every single thing available in the landscape with nothing left over for other animals, etc.

            we are doing this now with our ag-farm monocultures. it’s just less obvious to us. the more our numbers increase, the fewer other species get to absorb sunlight energy to keep themselves going.

            so anyone who thinks that infinite numbers of people is possible in a world of scarce energy is fooling themselves, and those who are content for a merely HUGE number of people should then accept the logical result of this: no more wildlife, no more plants that don’t suit our individual purposes (don’t even know if that’s possible without massive ecological destruction, hence oxygen destruction). unless we suddenly developed both infinite energy, and a way to turn that energy directly into food and goods, ala Star Trek’s food replicator.

            1. craazyboy

              Down here in the desert we gots plenty of sun, but I think we’d go thru our gecko population in about 2 hours. Then we would have to move up the food chain to rattlesnake, or take the scorpion-bug detour.

              1. Brooklin Bridge

                Snakes first! Eat the bugs kills the snakes so you loose both and anyway the snakes are tasty.

            2. sue


              True, but let’s not fall into latest scapegoat for economic disaster-overpopulation. Blamegame politics is to be expected-just as during 30’s depression era-that is what political theater devolves into.

              It is easy to view scapegoat-blamegame-distraction for what it is, no matter inherent realities.

              Rightwing advocates began asserting overpopulation as “our problem” the minute their own manifest destiny dreams collided with results of their actions.

              1. anon y'mouse

                overpopulation is a problem, regardless of who is advocating for it or their reasons. I understand what you mean. the conversation is slanted against “Mexicans who have 6 children in the family” instead of the real problem, which is first world living standards—one American child consumes what 37 Mexican children consume. is any parent willing to ‘take the hit’ on that and reduce their standard of living?

                the environment can’t take 8 million of us driving cars 30 miles each way to work, living in a suburban hub where all necessary goods are shipped in via truck from hundreds to thousands of miles away, running 5 televisions in different rooms of the house, and running our clothes driers in the height of summer because our gated community views clotheslines as ‘unsightly’ and downmarket. that said, the energy wastage chart Yves put up a few months ago showed that most of our wastage comes from electrical production itself, and the rest from transportation.

                at any rate, I would like the whole world to be able to live at an equitable standard, without significant damage to the environment upon which we and all other living things depend. that doesn’t mean that it is the ‘most pressing’ issue in the overflowing sinkful of issues, and it certainly should not be used to say that certain segments of society deserve to be alive, or to live at a certain standard, over others. but to deny that it IS an issue because some racists or some classes want to use it to maintain their own supremacy is to deny reality ultimately.

                it is a denial that is negatively impacting the entire world in a significant way, proof of which comes in every day even onto this website.

    2. Malmo

      I’ve not met or read one libertarian pinning for a hunter-gatherer/neo-primitive way of life. I also see nothing wrong with looking back (even looking back fondly) on what comprised 99% of human history– a history that was largely comprised of non violence, contrary to Hobbesian myths. At the very least, the idea of cooperation existent in that time span is worthy of study and admiration. That doesn’t imlpy one need front for a radical status quo ante in their admiration for a way of life that had a hell of a successful track record in propogating the species. For me all that it means is that I want a return to authentic rather than the monsterous synthetic community we now mostly inhabit of people who know and care for me rather than the disconnected and bloodless abstractions foisted on us daily in the name of “bureaucratic society” whether it be 300 million or 7 billion strong. Peace, harmony and individual fullfillment on a mass scale will never be acheieved under the conditions given us by the strong arm of the super-state. I’m all for synthesizing (read: incorporating the best of both worlds in light of present realities) a kind of neo-primitivism with contemporary living arrangements, perhaps on the E.F. Schumacher model among others. Contrary to most on the left, right and center, small is beautiful, and a damn site better for one’s mental and physical health too.

      1. ambrit

        Dear Malmo;
        I would suggest that such an arrangement as you describe starts with a handicap in the form of the ‘economy of scale’ needed to support large populations. As the lady mentioned above, the question of the ‘carrying capacity’ of the planets biosphere comes into play. You mentioned “300 million or 7 billion strong” in your comment. My question is; how do we get to that 300 million population figure? I don’t remember offhand the figure for a stable human population on our terrestrial globe, but it is surely much less than the present world population. How do we get there? That’s the challenge. I’ll go out on a limb and say that if we don’t get there ourselves, Nature will do it for us. And, as most people, especially those of us who have lived through any of the weather related disasters of the last decades, know; “Mother Nature is a B—h.”

        1. Malmo

          @ ambrit

          I’m Jay Hanson pessimistic today so I’m leaning towards nature determining the outcome. I still, however, have a glimmer of hope that a needle can somehow be threaded through collective action rather than a doomerish bunker menatlity that leads to inaction. I, for one, enjoy many of modernity’s fruits (material benefits specifically). I also can’t imagine a transition to a way of life involving the grind a daily manual labor for all. At the same time I’m so terribly depressed as I witness all the inequality that breeds grossly broken lives for so many that I know and don’t know personally. Drugs, alcohol, depression, violence, anger, loneliness, anomie, etc, etc seem to be a necessary function of the technocratic, industrial society. That’s why I’d like to see a synthesis which allows us to marshall what’s best from both worlds. I don’t know exactly what that means in a practical sense, however. I’m searching for a way to transition, but I’ve never been satisfied we get there of our own volition. It always comes back to nature dictating the script. I’m not giving up hope, though. I just wish I could see a glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

        2. anon y'mouse

          sustainable level of population in numbers would be heavily reliant upon the standard to which they believe they should be kept.

          those ‘what is your footprint’ type of websites, which may well be using sham calculators, suggest that we need 5 earths for everyone to live at U.S. levels. that suggests that we should reduce our pop. by that much if we expect to have cars, computers, and MRI machines and so on.

          the way I -quick & dirtied- the calculation was to look back a the population level before we industrialized. earth was about 1 billion pretty steadily for hundreds of years, and that seems to be what we can expect the earth to provide without mechanical/industrial/fossil fuel applications.

          can we focus our energy use on a smooth descent? can we use the energy where it is absolutely necessary (keeping people fed and somewhat comfortable) while doling out birth control and making sure they know that they don’t have to have children as the ultimate retirement policy?

          what are our current productivity levels really able to sustain, even with all of the environmental costs? and why are we telling old people that we can’t afford to keep them anymore?

          1. J Sterling

            I have a different quick and dirty method for sustainable world population, one that takes account of technological advance: when was the percentage rate of world population growth at its highest? The answer is the sixties and early seventies, when the population increased from 3 to 4 billion at an annual rate of over 2.0% per year.

            Never before or since have so many people thought “hey, you know what we should do? Start a family!” and had that work out for them without children dying, and with the older folks not dying so much. I know this was being driven by carbon extraction, but I have an optimistic hunch that that part can be replaced by renewables instead.

            Admittedly, this back of the envelope guess doesn’t take account of the possibility that we may hurt the planet so badly that it ends up with less ability to sustain a human population of 4 billion or even 3 billion than it had in the 1960s.

            1. anon y'mouse

              huge numbers were living at that 50s-60s tech level, and yet huge numbers in Africa, china, india and south America were not.

              unless we can replicate that standard of living for everyone, I don’t feel comfortable saying that it can be done sustainably nor do I feel politically justified in preaching for it.

              which is why we should (the scientists, engineers, etc. not me, some unemployed 37 year old late-blooming college student) determine how everyone can live at the same level of comfort and do that reliably over many lifetimes in a sustainable fashion.

              I grant you that it may not be so low as an 18th-19 century standard of living, but doubt it will be as high as the 1960’s, either. not unless we also simultaneously bring our numbers down, in a rational and humanistic fashion.

              1. Malmo

                The emerging world wants to be like America, materialism and all. That’s an equation for certain environmental disaster, that makes the mess we are in now pale in comparison. The American Dream is the world’s dream. Something’s gotta give.

      2. Mcmike

        Indeed. While we can never go back, there is certainly no harm – and much to be gained – by trying to understand what worked for humans in its first two million or so years of existence. (And discern perhaps what went so wrong in the last 10,000).

        This is an idea pursued quite well by Paul Shepard (Nature and Madness, Coming Home to the Pleistocene), who articulates where the breakdowns might be, and raises the notion that we are in fact genetically wired to certain ways of life (generally, nomadic, small-group hunter-gatherer).

        It is not necessarily “noble savage” romanticism, it’s a fact of our evolution, all of it.

        It is also explored more popularly by Quinn’s “Ishmael,” which while in danger of being a bit too pop-ish, still remains the best explanation yet of why Judeo-Christians chose such a lousy creation myth. Think of all the creation myths through history, and then think of our Adam & Eve story…. [cliff note version]: all people are unworthy.

        1. anon y'mouse

          I won’t argue meaning with you, but perhaps interpretation.

          disclaimer: I am not a Christian, and my family was not either. we all have been raised in the western Judeo-Christian tradition, though and are naturally familiar with its myths.

          your critique of the Adam & Even foundation is not something I can argue with (yeah, you sinners are screwed. suffer for all eternity! yuck). but I would like to share with you my own small interpretation of that myth.

          it is that when we came ‘out of the jungle’ and started living on the land as if we were extracting its goods, when we stopped being an animal (of a different sort, admittedly) among other animals, seated naturally in a natural environment, that is the moment we ‘ate of the tree of knowledge’ and became the extractive madmen that we are today.

          in other words, we were living in a natural world of abundance. the tree of knowledge was of a civilization based around agriculture and hierarchy. we were not a species in harmony with our own environment anymore, taking what was widely available for our use and leaving the rest for other species. we became hoarders. you can see that in the garden—we could eat of anything we wanted and run around naked (yes, I know hunter-gatherers did have some clothing but it was a lot less than we are used to). after that, no more. someone might see my wifes/husbands goods and not be able to control themselves? minemine, downdowndown, backbackback (daffy duck in the tomb of Aladdin, sorry!).

          this hoarding has resulted in the ‘profit’ impulse we now have, except that it has been abstracted to financial rather than purely resource.

          hopefully I made that clear enough.

          1. Malmo

            @ anon y’mouse

            Good stuff. I agree with your characterization. I remember reading a similar account by Fredy Perlman or maybe it was John Filiss?

            1. TimR


              In the Garden of Eden story, the serpent symbolizes the pantheons of our Early Civilization cultures. He is demonized in the story, thus demonizing all previous gods, and opening the way for a new, all-powerful, male god. Yahweh curses the serpent and condemns him to crawl in the dust, and thus Yahweh is established as the one and only true god, master of the universe.

              This new monotheistic Grand Story changes our relationship to nature, our relationship to divinity, and it changes our understanding of nature itself. Instead of a dynamic balance of interacting forces, nature becomes hierarchical, under the command of a single divine mind. Instead of merely respecting and honoring the various gods, as we did earlier, we now find ourselves subservient to the new all-powerful god. And instead of being in balance with the rest of nature, we are now told, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it”.

              In only 80 verses, the first three chapters of Genesis, our entire world was turned upside down. A pattern of dominance is established, with us subservient to Yahweh, and nature subservient to us. Thus the pattern is set for dominance in society, under the control of an alpha male. These 80 verses establish an all-time record for history’s most effective and damaging piece of propaganda.

              This new Grand Story makes it quite clear that we were better off in the Garden, in our harmonious innocence, in our state of grace. There is no pretense that what followed has been a cultural improvement. The onset of hierarchical civilization is correctly identified as being our Fall from Grace.

              The story also tells us that we cannot return to the Garden, and that it is our own fault we cannot return, because we failed to follow Yahweh’s commands. Thus it is our own fault that we find ourselves in bondage under the new hierarchical regimes that have been imposed on us.

              The Garden of Eden story is a transition story, an explanation to the conquered of why their own Grand Story must be abandoned, and why — through their own fault — their nature is to be in subjugation. The story tells them they are sinful — that there is something wrong with them — because they ate the forbidden fruit. Therefore they have no standing to challenge the hierarchy that dominates them. They need the hierarchy to take care of them and keep them from going further astray. And it is a transition story that masquerades as a creation story, in order to conceal from us our true nature and our true destiny.

              Consider for a moment the Santa Claus myth. This is a myth that is to be taken as truth by children, and which adults know is only a myth. The Garden of Eden story is like that. It is to be taken as truth by the peasants, while the ruling elite know it is only a myth. In the story we read, “Therefore Yahweh God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken”. Elites know they have never had to stoop to till the ground.

              1. Mansoor H. Khan


                The islamic version is not so harsh. Yes, The garden of eden was lost but that was part of his plan to help develop man (his soul) further. Also, in the islamic version every sole is born sinless but will sin on earth as it exercises free well.

                Also, per the islamic version when souls were created angels complained;

                “Oh Allah you have created a being who will shed much blood on earth (with his free will and all)”.

                Allah Replied:

                “Yes. But you do not know what I know”.

                Allah’s reply means (in addition to other things) that he (allah) will guide men (and women) to do beautiful things too (like science and art and charity and mercy and justice) and worship him and love him and get to heaven.

                People have to stop loving the creation more than the creator and seek divine guidance (via the scripture) for satisfaction with this life and a good life in the next phase of life (after death).

                more at;


                Mansoor H. Khan

                1. skippy

                  @People have to stop loving the creation more than the creator – Mansoor

                  Sorry Mansoor but history predates that view. The view you espouse is the war like dominate one that ran rough shod over weaker views.

                  skippy… genetic analysis might crack this nut one day and we might not like what we find ergo: what if successful sociopaths had more children than empathic humans.

                  1. mansoor h. khan


                    Yes. War is a problem. But modern warefare is a bigger problem with its terrorism (killing of civilians and damage of civilian property).

                    Conflict between good and bad is built into the life on earth by the creator. Again, this life is a test. It is designed such that it should be very hard for a “good hearted” person to fall in love with it. This is the incentive to find the creator.

                    Per Islam: “A believer is like a traveler never really at home on earth and is always dreaming about his retirement in heaven”.

                    Mansoor H. Khan

                    1. anon y'mouse

                      I am not attacking your religious beliefs, but attitudes that you describe can be used to justify the status quo.

                      it is the kind of thing that we in the west have long heard from our own religions: “the poor will always be with us” and so on.

                      to accept that the world is a place where we encounter evil and grief is not to acquiesce to it, nor give up fighting against it. if one does that, they become a party to it even if of an unwilling hostage variety.

          2. Mcmike

            That was sort of Quinn’s take, with a twist (for those who have not read Ishmael).

            Here’s this Judeo creation myth, which says that humans are flawed and sinful and banished from Eden. And it is pretty much the opposite of most creation myths, which say that we are the special people and the center of our universe and all that good stuff.

            And he wonders who the heck would make up a stinker like that?

            And he decided it was actually made up by the nomads to descibe these new sort of people – the pastoralists – who stay in one place, and have too many babies, and hoard, and are all warlike and stuff.

            So, the only way the nomads could make sense of it was that these newbies had insulted God.

            And in a historical irony, the newbies adopted it for themselves (lacking, I suppose, a better story).

      3. Brian


        Where is your evidence for non-violence in hunter gatherer societies? Humans are mammals, and intra-species violence is a feature of every mammal of which I am aware. Evolution is not pleasant.

        1. Malmo

          The evidence isn’t necessarily that there was absolutely no violence–I’m sure it has always existed– but the Hobbesian notion attending it is pure fantasy, which was my point. I do know this much, reputable anthropologists, such as Sahlins and Kintz, demonstrate very convincingly that cooperation rather than conflict was the primary mechanism that ensured our species propagation pre civilization.

        2. Mcmike

          Actually, intra-species violence is pretty rare in the animal kingdom.

          There’s a lot of ritual and bluff combat, and some ratting of antlers, but in fact very little outright violence of the sort that leaves one party wounded or dead.

          1. Vatch

            I think you’re right that actual intra-species violence is rare in most mammalian species, but I’m afraid it is rather common in the “higher” primates, with the exception of the bonobos. See the book Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, by Peterson and Wrangham. It’s a rather disturbing read. For early human warfare, see War Before Civilization, by Keeley. There’s plenty of room for disagreement on this topic, but I strongly doubt that early human societies were idyllic paradises.

            1. James Levy

              Gwynne Dyer in his wonderful book “War” changed his mind on this based on evidence that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. He believed when he initially wrote the book that pre-history was more or less a story of largely peaceful groups wandering through a wilderness. The best guestimate we have today is that hunter-gatherers lived in a state of perpetual low intensity warfare with other bands. The similarities we see with chimp bands is striking. Studies of in-group, out-group dynamics and early history and literature points to the non-human status of “outsiders” with few restraints or taboos about killing them. Just check out the Book of Joshua if you want a primer on genocide.

              This led Dyer to the conclusion that if these assessments are correct, and war is in out nature, then we are bound to exterminate ourselves in the long run. Of course, my money is still on an asteroid strike or a bioweapons lab accident, but I’m hoping like hell I’m wrong. I’m hoping just as fervently that culture and defeat nature and we learn how to live in peace.

              1. Malmo

                I don’t think there’s even remotely a universal consensus among academics to support Dyer’s view, especially among antropologists, whose job is far more tied to exploring the particular question at hand. Marshall Sahlins would certainly disagree irregardless of the so called shift alluded to in the 80’s and 90’s:


              2. Yves Smith Post author

                Not sure re any generalizations. Look at modern encounters with Australia’s aboriginals v. the Maoris. My understanding is the abos were pretty much slaughtered, they weren’t at all good at combat, while the Maoris were fierce. Perhaps just denser population leading to more resource competition and hence a need to develop fighting skills?

  7. middle seaman

    Pretending and posing doesn’t substitute for elaborate thinking and analysis. “New Ideology” is a pretension to add a substantial theme or way of thinking to the society. Somehow, Marx, Gandhi and others didn’t claim “new ideology,” they just brought their ideas up.

    Predicting an ominous change in economic paradigm subjects itself to the perils of prophecy. A popular saying: predictions are very difficult especially about the future. There exists also the old Hebrew statement: after the destruction of the Temple, prophecy was given to the dunces. We all do it. It’s very tempting. We should realize that we find ourselves wrong most of the time.

    1. Clive

      I agree. I spend a lot of time trying to think my way through the questions raised here in a series of thought experiments (and not infrequently inflict my trial balloons on readers of this blog’s comments).

      In trying to resolve the problem of “who rules, and how”, I have on occasions suggested that the English aristocracy did indeed act as benevolent despots and something similar — a ruling class kept somewhat in check via social pressure — might have some sense in it.

      My old sparring partner from Mexico would, if s/he were here, quickly spring into action with a (not unjustified) counter argument that it wasn’t all Jeeves and Wooster, in many many instances there was far too much of the despot and not nearly enough of the benevolence (s/he wouldn’t put it like that and would take half a page to say it, but that would be the drift).

      But still we wouldn’t be any closer to an answer.

      I, for one, have no wish to be the CEO of a large enterprise. I’m not nearly ruthless enough to make the hard decisions required, certainly not willing to put in the stupid hours seemingly needed or, if truth be told, proficient in the intellectual skills it demands. Someone has to do that sort of job though, and if they can do it and do it well, they deserve to be rewarded fairly for doing it.

      Conversely, I’m not at all keen on labouring in a potato field. Physical work is for me boring and tiring and if I’ve got some abilities in the mental department (e.g. language skills) then I’d like to be able to use them, and get a suitable reward for doing so. So working in a collective farm and extolling the idealised virtues of the endlessly poor but honest working class isn’t really my thing either.

      Yes, whatever I seem to come up with is wrong. In some way or other.

      My head hurts.

      1. anon y'mouse

        “Someone has to do that sort of job though, and if they can do it and do it well, they deserve to be rewarded fairly for doing it.”

        why does someone HAVE to do that particular job? can we afford capitalism anymore on this planet? what is ‘profit’ if not saving resources for future use? what use is that ‘future use’ if it is merely to build some guy a new boat house on his private island?

        I don’t think we can afford ‘profit’ anymore. as we move into a world of genuine scarcity due to ecological limits, perhaps we need to move into an attitude of abundance and let people do what they would otherwise want to do even without compensation. if the only motivation for ‘innovation’ or hard work is money, we’re going to get the greedy types on top. that is just a given. it is a system designed for greedy types to move through.

        if we want enlightened, proper governance types to move to the top naturally through their desires and skills, we need to design a different society. one not based around the motivation of ‘more money’ or increasing profit or such things.

        1. Clive

          Apologies, CEO was an extreme example. Here’s a list of several, socially useful things people have as occupations, which I couldn’t even begin to do:

          * Physician (of and description) — I’m not academic enough and not cur out for live-and-death decisions
          * Business owner with employees — I’m rubbish when it comes to effective people management which is a real skill and an onerous responsibility
          * Social worker — I’m way too judgemental of people and would keep telling them what I think they should do rather than encouraging them in finding their own way
          * Law enforcement — some people will always break the rules so you’ll need some other people to apprehend them. Exercising physical force on another is not something I’ve ever been able to do so, again, I’d be hopeless at it.

          That’s just for starters. If not everyone could (let alone would like to do) every job society requires, then the ability to reward differential contributions must be part of “the system”. If some sort of utopian thinking suggests that people are happy to not be rewarded differentially for different contributions, that’s a hard sell where I’m concerned.

          But… I could be wrong !

          1. anon y'mouse

            not arguing with you there. not all of us have the same skills and talents and get the same kick out of certain activities, although I think we are more malleable in that regard than we really allow ourselves to be for a number of reasons, many of them status (and therefore, money) based.

            but I don’t agree that we -need- to motivate each other to do things based upon money, or incrementally how much more money we can offer someone to do something. examining incentives are useful, but using primarily monetary ones have resulted in the society we have now. why isn’t a garbage worker worth what a middle manager is? who is really maximizing their utility for the rest of humanity? we would be lost without the former, and yet a lower number of the latter probably would not make us suffer too much (not denying that managers have utility, but a lot of the work they appear to do is political–imposing the commands of above on the workers below and such).

            i question a society built upon trying to con people to do things with greater financial rewards. if all were comfortable and free, wouldn’t people naturally gravitate to what they find interesting? people usually find interesting the things that they also have some skill in, so it would be almost a natural progression. also, i think we need to do away with seeking to place ourselves into a status of hierarchy. that way justifies treating the lower orders (who usually did not end up there through any conscious choice nor natural deficit, regardless of the propaganda spewed constantly) with contempt and telling them that they should be grateful that we allow them to survive.

            people who survive on less than they really need to thrive are providing the rest of society with a subsidy, and it is paid for daily in the quality of their lives and their inability to self-determine what they would be best spending their lives at. driven by necessity, these individuals only ‘fall into’ something that suits their natural inclinations by luck, it seems. many of them are not living up to their full potential, not because they chose not to, but for a lot of interconnected reasons only some of which had to do with ‘the poor choices they made.’

            1. Malmo

              I don’t mean to be flippant but I think a garbage worker, a carpenter a seamstress et al are worth every bit as much as a tenured economics professor at your local Ivy League institution and beyond.

            1. Clive

              Ha ! But actually, that’s a good one. Not everyone could bring themselves to do that job. Not exactly highly skilled, but definitely should carry some sort of premium because if the ickyness factor.

              For me, the process of death doesn’t freak me out, my belief system is that the person’s work here is done and it’s time for them to rest. Burial rituals help those left behind, so I’d be glad if I could ease their burden in some way. Give some sort of closure. But certainly not a task for everyone and you couldn’t “force” people to do it.

      2. Michael Fiorillo

        Why not both? City and country, mind work and hand work?

        Lewis Mumford, whose writings (see in particular “The Pentagon of Power”) anticipated so many of our current dilemmas, wrote eloquently of creating a world where the two informed and enriched each other.

    2. sue

      However, it was not at all difficult to *predict*, having allowed credit card lobbyists (Bush-Cheney; 2005) to re-write bankruptcy laws, that millions of Americans would go bankrupt.

      It is also today difficult to imagine they did not know *reason* they re-wrote bankruptcy laws.

      Obviously, they knew exactly what was going to happen, being integral in the process.

  8. MikeNY

    Great piece, Yves.

    “Democracy does not scale well.” I think this is right, particuarly when a government locates vast powers at the federal level. It becomes impossible to oversee or control it. I certainly feel pretty powerless wrt ours.

    I hypothesize that one of the best ways to reduce population growth is to distribute resources more equally worldwide, since it appears that rich people are less “philoprogenitive”. I am implicitly assuming that we are at a level of worldwide production where all people could live with decent food, shelter and healthcare; I could be wrong. I also grant that there may already be too many people on the globe for human life to be sustainable. Still, I think for reasons of ethics and for preservation of the species, we have to move toward greater equality.

    How to make my comment coexist with my hypothesis, I don’t know.

    1. Banger

      The World Bank has been arguing this for decades. The education and liberation of women, for example, will lower population growth and stimulate innovation and economic growth.

    2. anon y'mouse

      exactly! we need to move to an attitude of abundance, or at the very least, security.

      if I don’t have to have children as my fail-safe retirement plan, and I have other things to do with my time that are fulfilling, why have them?

      food, health, and education dispensed to everyone. and birth control, lots of birth control. hopefully of the mechanical and not simply hormonal variety (destroys waterways).

      like you, I simply wonder if we have the goods to do this. the question of political will is something I won’t even go into. we see the battle lines being drawn now over SSI in this country. how is everyone justifying to themselves that we had enough resources to support grandma yesterday when she was 62 and doing part time work at walmart shelving items, and yet we don’t have enough resources to do it today now that she is 67 and given up even that job to spend her remaining years with the grandkids? why is our political discourse trapped in “we don’t have enough to go around”? is there some underlying truth to this that is being kept from the public? or is it simply that old Americans aren’t needed anymore. old Indians, Chinese, and central americans will do–they’re younger and work harder.

      the upper corporate echelons didn’t rename the office of “Personnel” to “Human Resources” for nothing.

      1. hunkerdown

        Sort of. The underlying truth is that resource flows are becoming harder to maintain (thus all this fracking business instead of just poking a hole in the ground like we used to).

        “We don’t have enough to go round” deserves a lot more unpacking than I can offer just this minute. But mentally adding “and preserve our class privilege and lifestyle” will get you much closer to the crux of that argument, I think.

  9. dingusansich

    Democracy as practiced is more label than description. It’s a system ostensibly based on popular sovereignty but practically a method by which elites manage the masses. The U.S. is closer to a democracy of dollars than voters. This is well known. To change that it will be necessary to rejigger the power distribution. The overall aim is to diminish the power of political (or corporate, for that matter) managers and the nondemocratic patrons that can direct them. But how?

    Reform of political funding is necessary but paradoxical, since change depends on agents who benefit from the current system. A complementary reform is something closer to direct democracy. In the U.S. system, representatives have great power because once elected, they vote as they see fit, which may have less to do with public will than self-interest. That could change with two reforms: if the function of representatives were to carry out public wishes as determined by frequent polling, in effect mini-elections; and if a representative’s vote required something closer to consensus rather than a majority—without consensus, however defined, the representative must abstain. The latter matters because it can remove divisive, hot-button issues from debate while allowing for progress on issues where there is widespread agreement.*

    As often noted wryly here, areas of agreement exist amid controversy and disagreement—take leftists and libertarians as one example—but that agreement leads to no political power, sometimes perceived as a characterological lameness. It might make sense to put aside explanations that look to political personality and focus rather on those that look to the structure of representation, an evolution of democracy from brand to something nearer a functional reality. It’s no guarantee of outcomes, but its potential is to broaden the distribution of power, and conceivably that might effect welcome changes elsewhere.

    *For the moment set aside problems of scale in representative assemblies, in which a small community with consensus could gain undue power; rules can (albeit imperfectly) anticipate such problems.

    1. hunkerdown

      A lot has been said on the topic of control fraud, and the answer rarely is to impose more controls. The answer is, far more often, to impose binding recourse, the kind with teeth.

      I’ve had a certain fantasy of repurposing Bitcoin as a secure, instant voting system. If on one fine stroke of 12:01am some official finds their approval rating below (say) 25%, that fact alone instantly voids their authority and compensation, just like Team Romney on that fateful Tuesday night.

      But until such time as it is understood at a cultural level that these people are to be managed, not followed, and certainly never trusted blindly, methinks variations on the status quo are about as good as it gets.

      1. sue

        Interesting-we can’t reference-say (testing) “We Steal Secrets”. Wonder if this is local website issue, or of higher “order”..

  10. drb48

    Spitballing about what a better world would look like and how we might get one is all well and good but if history and experience are any guide, nothing will happen until the collapse of the existing system compels it. And collapse it eventually must for all the reasons mentioned – too many people, finite resources and the fact that growth can’t continue forever. But our masters of capital will fight to the last to preserve their wealth and priviledge. Always have. Only a global apocalypse is likely to change that equation and probably not even that. In “Soylent Green” the masses were reduced to scrambling to eat the corpses of the dead produced by the Soylent Corp.[the “Soylent Green” of the title] while their corporate masters continued to consume what remained of the dwindling actual food production. While it may not get to that specifically, the power relationships are about what I’d expect.

    1. Clive

      I disagree drb48

      There’s been quite a few examples of normal, unexciting transitions from the old way of doing things to the new. Not all of them needed Charton Heston.

      For instance, at the end of WWII, a victorious Winston Churchill, esteemed leader and national hero having steered Britain through her darkest hour got a right royal thumping in the general election which followed. In, by a landslide came a very — hard to overstate how true “red” they were — socialist government in the form of the Labour party.

      I’ll skip the longform history lesson, but suffice to say, few aspects of society were left untouched by the policies they introduced. National Health Service, universal secondary education, cripping taxes on rentier capital (death duties), state pensions. I could go on.

      No blood in the steets, no revolutionary fervour, no mass uprising. Just a quiet but near-universal realisation — enacted through a democratic process — that there was simply NO WAY that having gone through what the country had just gone through would people be content to passively slip back into how things were before. A rigid “them and us” mentality would no longer stand.

      Of course, the worker’s paradise came a bit unstuck once the socialists discovered how tricky *wealth creation* — as opposed to *wealth redistribution* — was in practice. So in the end, another example of how today’s solutions are only biding their time before becoming tomorrow’s problems.

      But anyhow, my point is, there’s an example of what I can only describe as a paradigm shift happening quite uneventfully.

      1. Banger

        Exactly! This notion that only Nature or some “outside” overwhelming force (revolution, chaos et. al.) can save us from ourselves (whatever that is) just muddies the water. I’m sure we’ve all see how, for example, some crisis hits and, more than likely, people will cooperate, achieve extraordinary feats of ad hoc organization, display courage and enjoy the hell out of the effort. What is required to solve this situation we find ourselves in is to start connecting whether it is connecting the dots (it is not forbidden by the Bible or the Vedas) or connecting with other people. The trick is opening up our awareness enough to see that we are actually very connected.

        1. susan the other

          Since it’s halloween, I’ll just add this. Fukushima. It should be our benchmark of reality. Speaking of what is practical and doable, why don’t we address, head-on the devastation and extreme danger to the entire planet? Yes the environment has been trashed in a million places, but Fukushima is going to be the test of a new era, should we survive it. Nothing like the grim truth of a situation to focus our attention. What is needed is an international effort. Experts. Equipment. People willing to sacrifice their lives for the rest of the world. It’s serious. And this effort should become our model for life going forward. If we are lucky enough to even go forward. But, strangely, no one is allowed to mention this disaster.

          1. The Black Swan

            The deafening silence on Fukushima is frightening. We keep getting inundated with fear stories about AGW, yet Fukushima is happening right now and is infinitely worse than Global Warming. So the question of the day is: why isn’t Fukushima talked about? Why isn’t the international community stepping up to help try and resolve this mess?

            I have an idea, there is no money to be made from cleaning up Fukushima. Unless it is a worldwide effort, Japan is going to be financially destroyed and they would rather look away then face the hard facts.

            1. anon y'mouse

              couldn’t the silence be because a natural conclusion to solve all of our problems going forward is to go full-scale nuclear?

              i took a 3 term enviro-science course. it was intended for non-hard science types to familiarize themselves with the various interconnected symptoms. after our segment on energy, a few of us were discussing and one guy says “it’s pretty bad when you come away from a sober look at the world energy situation thinking that the solution is Nuclear.” and this guy was definitely a greenie. it was the conclusion we were all left with (perhaps deliberately by the textbook–i never rule out any conspiracy! ha).

              the silence could also be more practical. if that happened over there, then what can we say about all of our nuclear facilities over here? danger, will robinson!

      2. Christopher D. Rogers


        Agree with all you have written and lament greatly at what we have lost – how to answer this loss I do not know. Still, I hope one day that those poisoned by their daily diet of propaganda can one day waken from their slumber.

        God knows I try, and get toasted for my Socialist principles – the good new is that I’m actually a child of the UK’s post 1945 social contract and was born and bred in Monmouthshire, the home of one Nye Bevan – so have been lucky, whilst still under 50 to have personal contact with those who knew him in the Valley’s and those who followed in his footsteps, most notably Michael foot.

        However, the society and country I was raised in has huge social fissures, just posting on local media websites gives you a clear understanding of the damage wrought in our nation by Margaret Thatcher and all those who followed in her wake – I really do get shocked, seems like we have our own Teabagger fruitcakes as they suffer them in America.

        Anyway, as a concerned Socialist, its been a long journey, but I at least have embraced Plaid Cymru in Wales who actually are promoting the type of small egalitarian society I’d like my daughter to grow-up in – regrettably, both PC and the Greens are on the fringe and tribalism and self-centredness is evident, even is supposed left-leaning Wales.

        I still believe in Democracy, but understand well it prospers better in small-national states at ease with themselves, rather than larger states – hence, its a pity in the US at least that we don’t see some swing of the pendulum back towards State Rights and full participatory democracy as witnessed after the US Declaration of independence and creation of a Confederate form of governance.

        Just my two-bobs worth, but it would be easier for Jill Stein to make a breakthrough at a more local level, rather than on a national level – of course the two-party duopoly would need to be dismembered, which is achievable if money was removed from the equation.

      3. Chauncey Gardiner

        Thank you for this informative comment, Clive, although I suppose one might argue that it was the effects of the war that was the catalyst for change in Great Britain at that time.

        I share others grave concerns about the seeming inertia surrounding developments in Fukushima. Perhaps there is little that can be done, but I would like to hear from some folks who are truly knowledgeable about it, and to form a reverse Manhattan Project in a combined global initiative in cooperation with the Japanese if that offers possibility. Ironic, no?

        Regarding: … “Of course, the worker’s paradise came a bit unstuck once the socialists discovered how tricky *wealth creation* — as opposed to *wealth redistribution* — was in practice.”…

        May I make a fairly minor suggestion that you consider substituting the term “Value creation” for “Wealth creation”? IMO the terms are not interchangeable, and in reality “Wealth creation” is most frequently merely another form of “Wealth redistribution”, only in a direction other than that you perhaps intended to portray.


        1. Clive

          @ Chauncey

          Yes, you express that for more accurately than I did. “Wealth” is a very loaded word and the use of the word “Value” is far more appropriate to the point I was attempting to make there.

          And +100 on your note that “wealth creation” *is* in most, perhaps all, cases “wealth redistribution”. That statement is simple but a powerful illustration of how, not infrequently, current thinking produces so much misunderstanding.

    2. Dan Kervick

      It seems to me that we need something in between spitballing, on the one hand, and organizing and funding election campaigns on the other hand. There has to be an organizing effort aimed at transforming the way people think, and mobilizing them on behalf of some definite social agenda or plan.

      And we need an organizing effort that somehow specifically targets the power of conventional opinion elites and the institutions that fund them. If the same corporate media organizations retain their power to tell people what to think, they will continue to use that power to crush the psychological and political resistance plutocratic power.

      By the way, contemporary media don’t just propagandize people with news shows. The entertainment sphere now tends to present a ruthless and aggressively capitalistic vision of society through its so-called “reality shows”, almost every one of which promotes intense interpersonal competition and mocks pro-social values. The world as seen through those shows is a world of struggling, hustling, lonely winners and losers, always engaged in some race, game or contest, punctuated by required bouts of narcissistic bragging and despondent self-loathing and despair, and valorizing personal triumph and domination. They are the sick psychodramas of a sick society. I don’t believe it is any accident that corporate-owned media companies prefer this kind of entertainment.

      How about some alternative shows in which a bunch of initially squabbling, angry and suspicious people are organized into a team, not to defeat some other team, but to contend with some real-life common problem. The shows end happily as the problem is solved, and the participants discover their capacities for mutual respect, democratic deliberation, esprit de corps, teamwork and group commitment – maybe even for love and fraternity.

      It doesn’t matter what politicians we plug into the slots if the conventional wisdom doesn’t change. There is no reason to think that Elizabeth Warren, for example, will pursue policies radically different than present policies if the center of popular opinion gravity doesn’t change much.

      Mass movements can successfully counter concentrated wealth and authority; but they have to have a broad and emotionally deep consensus and a clear but simple vision.

      1. dingusansich

        Agreed on consensus. But it’s not a consensus of a universal, harmonious we. It’s consensus that accepts controversy and disagreement as fundamental, and to an extent irreconcilable, not because that’s desirable but because it’s a better picture of reality. Also, a popular consensus built despite peripheral, off-the-table disagreement will exist among powerful competing, contrary interests that possess the means, particularly through wealth, to influence opinion. That’s simply the political ecology as we know it. If the aim of reform is to change the dynamic with an opposing democratic power, strategically it’s necessary to anticipate how divide-and-conquer tactics will weaken such an effort. It’s not an entire social agenda that’s needed. That’s a quixotic goal. A better focus: the means to express power democratically.

        It’s essential to build a flatter political infrastructure that’s less dependent on an 18th-century model of representation, for which the technical means for a widely distributed popular democracy didn’t exist. That’s not a guarantee of wise decisions or better outcomes. A democracy of ignorant, shortsighted narcissists may certainly be as destructive as the state as we know it. But it may be an incremental upgrade on what somebody called the least bad form of government.

        However it almost surely requires some uncomfortable ideological alliances and a willingness to set aside disagreement for a common good, and against common opponents. For democratic power it’s unfortunately necessary to organize in the absence of uniformity. Us vs. them best serves nondemocratic sources of power. Nothing will finally resolve such differences. What’s needed and perhaps possible is a workaround.

      2. Malmo

        Are you implying that life imitates art rather than the other way around? Since I never have watched those shows you speak of I’ll trust your descripition. There does seem to be a kernal of truth contained therein, thus their popularity, no? From my experience with people in everyday life these shows do come off as exaggerations, yet the basic tensions attending interpersonal relations, especially at the workplace, are very real.

        I wonder if this is more an Americancentric matter? Still, I see much cooperation amongst people too. At least on the surface. Maybe I’m just in venues where this takes place to a greater degree? Still, I get your drift on the hyper-capitalistic impulses of rabid competetion that many times brings out the worst in us. One way to clear where miseducation has taken us would be Alfie Kohn’s book, The Case Against Competetion. It should probably be required reading for all high school age students, especially those partaking in the sports cuture..

      3. Carla

        This is what you made me think of, Dan Kervick — a wonderful play I saw two decades ago: “Our Country’s Good” by Timberlake Wertenbaker. I saw it in a tiny community theatre in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. And at the end, with tears flowing, I told the (wonderful) director: “THIS is what I go to the theatre for!”

        Here’s a capsule review of a recent London revival:

        “Every now and then a new play comes along that becomes an instant modern classic. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good is one such drama. First staged 25 years ago, this rich, warm play, with its impassioned advocacy of the humanising power of art, became an immediate hit. Now Max Stafford-Clark, who staged the original, has mounted a fleet-footed revival, and the play has lost none of its punch… Huge themes roll around the stage – about art, social injustice and inequity, punishment and reform. But Wertenbaker also paints a vivid picture of an impromptu community improvising their way forward… This is a playful but profound piece of theatre: didactic, yet complex; angry, yet charged with hope… Stafford-Clark’s fine, nimble cast rise to this admirably, with Dominic Thorburn standing out as the earnest director Clark. A modern masterpiece, lovingly revived.”
        Sarah Hemming, Financial Times, 5 February 2013

        Thank you for reminding me of “Our Country’s Good.”

      4. hunkerdown

        Great call on the reality shows. I think gamifying things like chores, visiting businesses, civic service, etc. allow people to play along at home.

        I seem to remember there was a recent post not too long ago, on a site with a design suspiciously similar to NC, about a temp worker playing a vaguely gamified job bidding system and earning pathetically low sums, and of the careful weighing of costs and pay she had to make.

        (It is instructive to note that Soviet-designed video games did not have high score tables, but did award free play for exceptional game.)

      5. Nathanael

        Dan: worth noting, the mood of current entertainment has shifted away from backstabbing “reality” shows — to “little guys versus the rich executives” plots. Even the “reality shows” have that element now. The fantasy is always that there is a savior, a Robin Hood, who will help the little guys out against the rich executives.

        This change in the zeitgeist is one I was expecting, but it took a lot longer than I expected. There’s a second change in the zeitgeist which I’m expecting, but I have no idea when it’s going to happen; that is the “There is no Robin Hood; we have to team up to defeat the executives, and it will be grim” change.

        This has happened before. It will happen again.

  11. katenka

    I’m a relocalizer, and think that no matter what, communities need (as much as possible) to have control over at least their minimal subsistence needs. This, to me, is non-negotiable…but also of course not exactly sufficient in and of itself! I think there are some pretty serious “what is it exactly that we’re trying to do?” questions that we (“we” here is “everyone”) need to wrestle with beyond that. We’ve populated (well, overpopulated) the Earth with people, so yay us and congratulations, but now what?

    I want to push on to the moon and Mars and beyond; this requires a pretty substantial level of organization of people and resources, meaningfully beyond what I think I could get out of any Dunbar-number-type communities. But I know people who just want to sit pat and make Earth a wonderful place to exist for as long as it holds out. There’s nothing wrong with their objective, or mine, but they are somewhat at odds (while there are also plenty of joint purposes and objectives along the way to be found). (There are also, of course, people who just want to subjugate others, and all sorts of other goals besides.)

    We may not have to (and doubtless will not) agree on what it is we’re trying to build towards, and a lot of people I suspect might have trouble articulating or admitting what it is they want, plus all the mixed objectives. It also does not resolve plenty of “how do we do that” questions. It does, however, provide more structure, and some very necessary context.

  12. avg John

    Interesting, but I am leary of armed force to address enviromental problems. Who is going to decide who gets to pollute and who doesn’t. And would we have NWO military forces invading our country?

    On a different note, Yves I have a suggestion. I wish you would use italics for source quotes in your articles. It would just make it easier to read. At least for me (hope that doesn’t sound to “me, me, me” ).

  13. Banger

    It’s great that you are focusing on these macro issues by asking many of the questions we should be asking–for me I go a little further–we need to ask more basic metaphysical questions. Who are we? What do we want? What is truly important? What is the meaning of life? What is the nature of consciousness? Are we actually seeing things as they are? Many questions abound and the all need now to be addressed.

    There was a brief era when these questions seemed pressing: the 1960’s. And then the scope and grandeur and strange happenings (1968 comes to mind) kind of changed the focus. I think we need to focus on those question before we start talking about the political economy for some very simple and obvious reasons. If we don’t understand who we are or where we want to go how can we possibly answer the question of governance and the role of the state? I say “no” but I believe we once could because people in society usually shared the same assumptions and mythology ruled–but since the 18th century that is no longer possible–we have deconstructed (if we are honest and thoughtful) everything and must build a new conceptual framework to move from where we are–I believe we are at this impasse not because the evil financial speculators, in league with the national security state (my personal bete-noire) but because we don’t know who we are or what we want to do, from a collective point of view, which is why the awe-inspiring irrationality (or is it?) of the Tea Party has popped up like a bad-dream.

    I do not agree that “overpopulation” is a problem. I believe in the “more the merrier” approach. At a practical level, more people means more creativity and societal growth if each person alive were, indeed, able to fully grow into his or her glorious potential. I’ve seen what life is like in the third world and I can only say that the beauty and perspectives of many of these people is a value in itself that, if we were open, I would guess we would find greate value in. For example, think of how we have grown musically from all the many indiginous musics that inform contemporary music, even Pop music.

    If each American were to live using the energy of a Bangladeshi then the problem of overpopulation would, basically, go away. Indeed, if the technology that would be required to use such light footprint then much less energy would be needed globally, abundance would be generally available (through the exploitation of technology) and thus world population growth would resemble the rate of growth in the first world. Essential to this is technology–I believe we have reached a point where we can leverage technology to provide physical abundance (if that’s our goal) to all– what we see as technological advancement can be represented by a $1 bill in one hand and, in contrast, representing our actual technological capacity to $1000 which represents the actual power of technology today–I say this because we are only using technology to exploit “the economy” so that a technology is useful if it fills some artificially generated needs (the modern world makes normal human interactions difficult so it uses mobile devises to virtually fulfill this need to connect) and yet does not disrupt the current power-relations (economics is always political) by increasing consciousness or a feeling of empowerment.

    The intense political struggles that are coming from the fact few people know what to do with life so civilization has to devolve into following more primitive urges for power and domination which, if you think about it, occurs when people are stressed, hurt, fearful, and alienated (think about people you know). T

    here is no way to stop these struggles without addressing what is causing these struggles to fester–and these are the issues of creating some kind of new framework that allows for diversity while, at the same time, making sure society prospers. The idea current a few decades ago, i.e, “the end of history” believed that the world of neo-liberal economics and liberal democracy was that structure. Of course that is now, obviously, a joke but it is useful in beginning to deal with the issue of what we want to build and unless we know what we want we’re just going to stumble in whatever emergent structure evolves. For we can be sure that a new paradigm will emerge whether we want to be aware of it or talk about it or not.

  14. John Mc

    Here is how I was disappointed with Welsh’s list.

    First, the progressive left (of which I readily identify) has not done enough over the last few decades to earn the ability to do much more than make a list. This needs to be front and center. Actions gains rewards.

    While I agree with Welsh that ideology needs to be embedded in complex solutions for change to occur (everyone need not share the “completeness”. Symbols, stories, art,and narratives are central engagement strategies as not everyone is going to read David Harvey, Chris Hedges, Paolo Freire, Randall Wray, Philip Mirowski, Eugene Debs, Edward Said, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben or this blog.

    So, in my global “we”ness, I presume to offer that we need to demonstrably act with an ideological strategy that has depth, accessibility and with unpredictable creativity. There are two places or locations in my mind (albeit I am open to suggestions) of where to start for a better world.

    They are:

    1) Prosecute criminals for banking/financial FRAUDS
    – Hire Bill Black as Chief Regulator
    A. New Federal Agency for Negotiated Settlements
    B. Break up the large multinational banks
    C. Put in a new funded regulatory structure
    1. S&L Model for 21st Century
    2. Train regulators/judiciary/FBI
    3. Prevent Banks from Growing over 20%
    4. Mandatory Jail time for CEO’s (fraud)
    a) Use & Amend Sarbanes Oxley
    D. CFPB Liaison – Educate Public on Fraud Recipe
    E. Fund New Economics Programs with Penalties
    1. Heterdox Expansion
    2. Revolving Door Reversed
    a) Regulator/Agency Cross-hybridization
    – Avoid Cash Settlements
    A. Three Strikes Rule for Fraud
    B. Amend Binding Arbitration Agreements
    1. CEO/BoD Responsibility Must Assumed
    – Extend FIRREA – Statute of Limitations to 15yrs
    – Establish 90% Clawback Rule
    – Enhance Corporate Whistleblower Program
    – Continue Muckraking Investigations
    A. High Frequency Trading
    B. Manipulated Markets & Indices
    C. Weedout High Level Ponzi’s Processes
    A. Accounting Control Frauds
    B. Appraisal Fraud
    C. Origination Loan Fraud
    D. MERS & Document Destruction
    E. Identify future Ponzi’s/Predations
    1. Pensions
    2. Social Security Chained-CPI

    *** The ideological goal would be to centrally bring back trust to the marketplace over an extended time (the opposite of the paper mache Geithner approach).

    Trust is incremental and not (all or none). As a result, trust would be regulated back into our financial culture. This would be a tremendous accomplishment for the left in terms of action and symbology. A new Pecora 2.0 creates would create pride in public service. Also, rallying around Dr. Black, would bring an energy like the feel-good direction of following an Atticus Finch of the Financial World.

    I am sure there are very bright people here who can add to this or challenge some of these assumptions, but I stand by the progressive left needs to act in a way to build incremental trust around protecting the public from large multinational corporate fraud.

    2) Take fines/penalties from Wall Street Fraud and use them for next/concurrent phase: The Public Prosecution Fund for Damage to the Ecology”.

    It is essential the left tie the crimes of financialization and crony capitalism to environmental damage perpetration. I do not know how, but we need active, organized and resistant pockets that deal with:

    1) Oil Spills (Kalamazoo, Texas, Gulf, California)
    2) Fracking & Natural Gas Exploration Damage
    3) Mountain Top Mining (Appalachia)
    4) Water Sequester, Equity, & Commodification
    5) Radiation, Nuclear Power, Changing Climate
    6) Food Production, GMO/Monsanto, Adulteration
    7) Sea Level Rise, Acidification, & Plastics
    8) Temperature, Alaskan Methane, & CO2 Levels
    9) Anti-boitic Resistant Bacteria
    10) Over-prescribing anti-depressants(child/adults)
    11) Public infrastructure (levees, bridges, roads)
    12) Resist Surveillance Society (medical records, NSA)
    13) More ideas (media/technology/health)

    *** The point is to reverse financialization’s impact by using criminal settlement money, public funds to set new agendas that will destabilize the oligopoly’s hold on the corrupted court, executive, legislative and agency systems.

    I do not have 44 ideas nor is it very well thought out beyond an hour or two on the internet blog, but for me the biggest ommission is not directly energy/public anger precisely where it needs to go (follow the money). Thank you for your patience in reading this.

    1. JEHR

      John, you should perhaps read about how to make a list of ideas using letters and numbers. There are rules that guide such listings and they include indenting minor items that come under major headings.

      I attempted to make a listing of your ideas and they didn’t compute. Usually you cannot have one item by itself on the list (e.g., a)).


      1. John Mc

        Granted, the organization of a blog posting box outcome is much different than my word doc effort, to my dismay.

        Nonetheless, I appreciate your editing time and advice.
        My regrets in submitting a lot of ideas in a catywampus manner. However, I do think a Pecora 2.0 is needed with a respected national figure to disassemble bank fraud.

        All the best,

        1. AbyNormal

          and here i thought/hoped you were incorporating some of that ‘creative’ solution swirl’)

          i’ve copied your list and appreciate the time and idea’s in your share…i’ll be sharing it.

          unfortunately, i don’t see how we can get past your first suggestion…for example: folks unable to pay traffic fines are looking at incarceration…not the monsters we’ve backstopped.

          “Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape. ”

          Thanks JMc
          William S. Burroughs

          1. John Mc


            “unfortunately, i don’t see how we can get past your first suggestion…for example: folks unable to pay traffic fines are looking at incarceration…not the monsters we’ve backstopped.”

            First few steps are always the most difficult. One advantage is that we have a template for how it was done in the past under similar conditions (capital’s concentrated power). Lastly, all it takes is a spark or one big conviction. Edward Snowden is prime example of how one person can alter the conversation and control a dialogue.

            Will forces of inertia take root? Mostly, many of us want to believe our efforts will end in success. And I could not agree with you more about incarceration, impoverishment, and systematic predation. They are discouraging. Freire’s work here might be very relevant in terms of imprisonment, organization and breaking the ‘culture of silence’ and organically creating moments of ‘critical consciousness’.

            Love the Burroughs quote, btw, Aby!!!!

            1. John Mc

              Apologies for the double post, but I remembered another idea. Evelynn Glenn’s writing reminds us of a term that often is not used enough called “relationality”.

              Briefly, it is the idea that binaries or dichotomous categories (btw, Jon Stewart did a funny bit on this last night – CNN & good/bad) make their meaning in relation to another. In other words, white by itself has little cultural meaning in this society without black, rich-poor, good-bad, name the dichotomy etc…

              Her point is that it is our job to create connections (complex) or relational connections between the vacuous labels. Specifically, I read her to mean that my wealth is directly “related” to another’s poverty. Our families’ resources are a result of some other families’ sacrifice. And our countries’ rise is to be considered “in relation” to all of those countries we have indebted (see John Perkins book — Confessions of Economic Hit Man).

              According to Glenn, we have to tie the incarcerations for speeding tickets, or pot to the lack of elite prosecutions. And we need to repeat it over and over to those that are suffering the greatest inequalities.

              “Your poverty is directly related to that CEO over there”.

              1. AbyNormal

                excellent point and Susan The Other mentioned getting on the same page with definitions…for a sane start.

                you mentioned ‘Capital’s Concentrated Power’…if you change that to Debt’s Concentrated Power, i think you’ll see we have a ways to go. if ‘they’ continue us down this destructive path then your list will be a strong starting point. i’ve been looking for that ‘spark’ for years…’they’ keep manipulating failures to ‘their’ benefits. my gut whispers, your spark will ignite from an economy with nothing left to lose…one we arrogantly brushed aside.

                an Aby relationality: Our joblessness is gifted to us by the job creators tax cuts!

    2. Nathanael

      Worth noting: Fracking is actually a finance scam.

      Fracking for natural gas is actually unprofitable, pretty much universally. (Fracking for oil can be profitable.) This is because the natural gas runs out very quickly. It never pays for the cost of drilling the well.

      The frackers are not in the oil & gas business. They are in the land scam business. They buy some mineral rights, drill a well, frack it, announce large first-day production, and then *sell the land ASAP* to some big oil company. Then they walk off with the money. The big oil company takes the loss when there turns out to be very little gas there.

      Land-flipping is explicitly the financial plan of Chesepeake Energy, as stated in their annual report (though of course they leave out the part about it being a scam) — drill, frack, *sell*. They wouldn’t be land-flipping if the land actually had profitable gas. But they are land-flipping.

      Fracking is a finance scam.

  15. Dan Lynch

    I enjoy Ian’s blogs because he makes me think. He must have made you and a lot of other people think, too, because it’s generating a fair amount of buzz.

    I don’t always agree with Ian, but that’s OK. He sometimes comes across as arrogant, I dunno if that is his personality or just his writing style, but for the purpose of blogging it’s not that important (Lambert has an arrogant streak, too, yet I appreciate some of Lambert’s blogs because of the content and because they make me think).

    When Ian says “we know what must be done” I interpret “we” to mean the progressive elites like Ian. As for the masses, they need to be led. As for our ruling elites, they are psychopaths.

    I interpreted Ian’s “44 points” blog as “here’s some of my ideas to chew on.” I did not interpret the 44 points as a bible to live by. :-)

    None of us can predict the future, but that doesn’t stop us from talking about the future and making guesses.

    My own feeling is that our country and our civilization is approaching some sort of turning point. The government is dysfunctional, the economy is dysfunctional, global warming looms, and god only knows how many more nuclear incidents like Fukushima are out there waiting to happen. I don’t know how things will turn out. Suffice to say we live in interesting times.

  16. Adam S.

    [ad hom –lambert]

    Yves said: Oh, and back to an en passant observation: is anyone willing to talk candidly about overpopulation? The only solutions appear to be indirect, like cutting social safety nets to get perceived-to-be unproductive old people to die faster. That’s also insufficient to deal with the underlying problem of how unsustainably large the human population is now, and close to nothing is being done to curb or reverse growth (and the related economic challenges, even if we were to face them head-on, that people who are not working age are perceived to costly in economic terms, when that suggests both our metrics and our approaches are sorely wanting).

    The idea that overpopulation is the most pressing problem of today is one of the most odious and misinformed opinions that I consistently come across in the blogosphere.

    Hear me out: if we were at a tipping point of overpopulation, 100% of our resources would be going towards producing food and water. We would literally not be able to support more people on the planet. Here’s a hint: we have so much food that we’re shipping so much of it overseas that we’re destroying local economies. And add to that, there’s still starvation – not because there isn’t food, but rather because the excess food being generated is either being wasted or misallocated (fifty-foot pizzas anyone?). And don’t get me started on water wasteage.

    No, instead, what we’re experiencing is the direct confrontation that the social norms of America’s capitalist federal democracy are incompatible with the challenges caused by changing population trends.

    Take suburban America. If you want to find the definition of a waste of resources – look no further. For example, the suburban sprawl that I live in is nothing more than a gigantic concrete badland. Its amazing to me that this is acceptable. Now you might say that this – a region filled with shopping malls and gigantic spans of roads and concrete – is a symptom of overpopulation, but rather it is a symptom of unplanned capitalism supporting a culture of people who want to think they live in a rural state-of-being as independent, island in a stormy sea, puritanical self-made people. This is instead of confronting the reality that as society grows, the very nature of humanity requires we be smarter about using resources and work together to elminate waste. And, create a social reality that allows us to contribute to and enjoy the fruits of society’s progress.

    For what else can we do but enjoy in the end? We certainly gain little from the acquisition of material goods. We all return to the earth at some point.

    Those ‘perceived-to-be unproductive old people’ that you seem to sneer at (either that or my sarcasm meter is broken – though your blog has featured a decided uncomfortably poe’s law libertarian bent over the last few weeks) should be understood to be the output of a system that extends people’s lives, automates work, and produces FAR more material output as it takes input.

    All of this is to say that the issue of the day is social resource allocation. Do we use social resources (government) to enforce a system of unfettered private aquisition? Or do we use the drive of private acquisition as oxen to plow the fertile fields of earth much like those in the 50s did?

    I wouldn’t be so hard on Welsh either. I get what he’s trying to do with defining his ideology – he’s trying to come up with an idea of society that individuals and organizations can work towards. A society that accepts the realities of the world we live in, with more old people, with less labor, with private acquisition run amok – and define those mores that will harness these harsh facts and use them to better the world.

    1. Vatch

      Human overpopulation IS one of the most pressing problems facing humanity. The only reason we in the industrial countries aren’t reduced to subsistence is that billions of other people are living in abject poverty. If all 7 billion humans were to live at the level of North Americans, we would need 4 Earths. If we were all to live at the level of Western Europeans, we would need 2.5 Earths. There are some very eye-opening graphics at this web site:

      But the solution is not an increase in the rate of deaths, and it infuriates me whenever anyone suggests that this is what population activists desire. What’s needed is a reduction in the rate of births. Sadly, that runs into the brick wall of numerous religious dogmas, and I don’t see an easy way to overcome their superstitions.

      1. anon y'mouse

        it also runs into attitudes like this one:

        in other words, none of us can afford to go without an offspring to take care of us, or reliance upon making enough working in the ‘free market’ to save for retirement.

        because tokens of productivity, and having -rightfully earned- them in someone else’s eyes, is more important than not letting little old ladies starve in the streets for lack of sufficient SSI income.

    2. anon y'mouse

      I suggest to you that you re-read Yves original post.

      there is a reading comprehension mixup somewhere here, leading you down a lot of angry alleyways that I believe you would get agreement on from almost all here, except the few that think that old people live too luxuriously and thus we can’t afford pensions as they are anymore because pensions are the real problem of all of our financial ills in the world, or those that think that the ability to save sufficiently during their work years earns some people the right to live longer, or something. don’t quote me. I may be totally abusing their real views.

      suffice to say, if I may be presumptuous, those types are definitely in the minority around here.

      1. Adam S

        I did go back re-read what Yves wrote, and perhaps I was a set off by the whole overpopulation thing and this following paragraph:

        “But that isn’t what Welsh seemed to be doing. What troubled me about his latest piece was its combination of confidence (as opposed to modesty and soliciting reactions and input) in combination with it having internal contractions and a lack of precision of language. But perhaps the biggest shortcoming was trying to finesse the question of governance.” Link.

        Now I don’t dispute that there are some of the inconsistencies in what Welsh wrote, and some of his ideas seem to stray too close to the status quo. But to criticize someone for having confidence in one’s own opinion angers me. It is one of the perennial problems with the progressive movement and is why it seems like the left is constantly being rocked on their heels by an onslaught of misinformed opinion. (Also, I don’t recall Teddy Roosevelt being unconfident while smashing trusts.)

  17. b2020

    “Rational people sell out.”

    That was his central proposition in his second post. I was not taken then, and I am still not. History, repeat, farce – combine with Kurt Valentin’s “Everything has been said already, just not by everybody, yet.”

  18. Jess

    “I’m not very good at lying anyhow, so I’m severely disadvantaged from a competitive standpoint in the selling out market.”

    LOL! True, but still humorous. And boy are your readers thankful for it!

    1. Banger

      Most people do not want to live a lie and it is these people that need to come together. The system currently rewards falsity, lying, greed and selfishness–we have to see that as the cause of our problems. We stop rewarding these things when we start asserting deeper cultural values.

      1. psychohistorian

        The lie that we are being forced to live is that competition is a better survival factor for humanity than cooperation.

        1. John Mc

          Ah… we go to the heart of it. This is where the Social Darwinists crawl out of their cocoon, see their shadow and cause 6 more decades of winter.

  19. susan the other

    One practical action would be for our ostensibly capitalist society, our venerable Congress, to actually define the terms Capital and Profit in today’s context; and after that little exercise in cluelessness which will have us on the floor laughing, then define the new term Derivative. That would be interesting. Cause derivatives are a form of anti-capitalism as far as I can tell from all the noise. They are a mechanism to make a profit from risk taking without having invested in the underlying enterprise. Where is the capitalism in that? And once our beloved Capitalism is shown to be all politics all the time, it shouldn’t be too hard to try something sane for a change.

  20. Andrea

    Good critique of the Welsh piece.

    Part of the problem imho is simply one of form, this bullet point approach is not suited to so many large issues at once. It is more of a ‘scribble’ list of issues /points that the author should /wishes to/ might .. address, which then should have been pared down and integrated somehow.

    Welsh’s difficulty – as anyone’s – is how are Governance and the Economic System to be integrated together, joined somehow?

    In of course, some reasonable fashion, whatever that is? Right now we have a crazed patchwork, be it we in the world, or we citizens in a particular country. Finance is out of control, that is clear, it must be reigned in. But beyond that it is hard to say much, as the relationship between the two supra-ordinate controlling systems are, oh a long list, murky, not well understood if at all!, hidden, unstable, rigged to favor monopolies, rent extraction, bubbles, scams, etc. So the relationship goes from covert ‘fascistic’ melding to uneasy co-existence and co-optation to some quarrels or fights between the two.

    Energy, population, food, agriculture, climate, all those vital topics, should be subsumed – many would argue – under Governance and not Finance (seeing Finance / Banks / Stock market / money system(s) – various aspects, definitions – as merely profit-seeking, while in fact it controls ‘development’ – resource extraction and labor to a large degree.)

    I’m kicking in open doors a bit, but this is the relationship that must be examined first. Picking around the edges with for ex, a tax on fuel won’t do the job.

    Then one hits the problem that Governance is local in many ways. One shoe does not fit all. People need to feel invested in their communities, to have some roots and control, or the illusion of it, e.g. being happy with a benevolent dictator (etc.) France is not Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, or South Africa. All have different cultures, different ideas about fairness, sex (social issues), taxes, the environment, foods that are acceptable, fair interest rates, development, and on and on.

    Globalization proceeded forward under the auspices of Big Biz/Finance which somehow managed to impose a clumsy template, weakly and inefficiently opposed both, on occasion, by Governance (of all kinds, from Chirac to Khadafi) and the ‘people’ wherever they could have a say. (See e.g. the EU treaties being voted nay but that not being taken into account.)

    All over the world, this local based opposition was, and is being, squashed. Of course that affords great opportunities for arms sellers, human trafficking, etc., and that is not a minor issue…if the cracks are wide open some will spill into it…

    More fundamentally, Governance is under too many contradictory pressures. Stopping here for now.

  21. Chris Rogers

    How come our posts are vanishing again – I posted a response to Clive on the post 1945 UK settlement and its gone AWOL.

  22. Cassiodorus

    Generally, the problem with ecological measurement that involves assessing “overpopulation” and “ecological footprint” is that such concepts measure the symptoms of an underlying problem without any fundamental thinking about what or whom is directing the processes under scrutiny.

    Let me suggest an analogy here. If we were to analyze a factory, for instance, we wouldn’t get far if we were merely to look at all of the people working at the machines. We might come to the conclusion that what peoeple naturally do is to work at the machines, without reference to who is directing the supervisors, who owns the factory, how the product of the factory is used as a commodity in a set of marketplaces, and so on.

    “Population,” then, does not make any sort of legitimate sense as an “environmental problem” unless we take a look at the human contribution to the environment, and to who is directing the “population” to do what. As far as I can tell, the population has largely been objectified as a working class, and is being directed by an owning class to produce commodities for the purposes of capital accumulation. So here’s a question: what happens when the “population” is freed up to make some other contribution to the environment than to turn it into an array of commodities? (In short, what happens if we eliminate “more capitalism” from the “population” equation?) Do we get a better environment? I should hope so.

    “Environmental footprint” is a concept of a different sort, because it takes a look at the human contribution to the environment. Unfortunately, it does so from only one angle — people are conceived only as takers, without reference to what they give to the environment. So here’s a question: what happens when we look at “environmental footprint” for its role in the “(hu)man-nature metabolism” which goes back conceptually all the way to Marx? People reshape the environment to suit their needs, of course. Is this always to be conceived in a predatory fashion, or are people also capable of ecological management?

    Perhaps one of our big questions here should be one of who is granted responsibility for ecological management. Should the ecological managers be the exploiters, who are doing it to amass more money and property for themselves? We’re going down that route now, and the train wreck at the end doesn’t look pretty.

  23. dude

    I so love this site, Yves!

    Welsh: If you want a society, then, which is prosperous and egalitarian, with the proceeds of increased production going to everyone and not just a few, you must have an internal structure of power which gives ordinary people quite a bit, makes concentration of power in private hands difficult, makes the government unable to use too much power against its own citizenry while (and this is the important bit) still being able to defend itself externally, and able to resist internal putsches.

    Yves: From the Greeks onward, the question of how to provide for the stewardship of society to provide for stability, decent outcomes for ordinary people and limiting corruption in the ruling classes has vexed philosophers and thinkers.

    There was a country which tried this, using a grass-roots oriented delegate system, designed to incorporate large portions of the populace in political, social, and economic planning, with worker self-management and self-investment in social needs. It was greatly pressured by outside economic forces and actors; in decision-making, citizens often focused on local and regional advantage to the detriment of other citizens and regions; the “political class” saw personal advantage in appealing to local and regional prejudices; and the federal government had neither the power nor the institution supremacy to effect needed, even desired, reforms. Though for many years, they did have a dictator-lite who achieved great progress and a fair amount of citizen satifaction.

    You know the place. Yugoslavia. Only 24 million, very diverse people, most of whom did believe in “Brotherhood and Unity”, until they didn’t. Lord knows I agree with an awful lot in this post, but humans being what we are, I can’t say I’m hopeful in seeing a workable, rapid, positive change, especially at the scale of the United Empire of America.

    Anyway, my rainy-day vent for the afternoon.

    1. Nathanael

      In ancient times, the concept of the “Mandate of Heaven” or something equivalent was a critical one. The powerful who failed to do their job (for instance, failed to feed the people) had clearly lost the “mandate of heaven”. Without legitimacy, it became totally OK for people to organize to overthrow them.

      The concept of legitimacy of government remains significant. We may have to have leaders, and those leaders may often be venal and self-serving, but if they know their legitimacy will be destroyed by making certain moves… they don’t make those moves. Or they get overthrown.

      The problem we have is that a certain group of greedheads have started ignoring all the social norms regarding legitimacy, and simply think that they have the right to rule regardless of anything. This has been tried before by King Louis XIV-XVI of France; it is not a good long-term strategy.

  24. The Black Swan

    I would recommend the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson as a good place to start seeing what an alternative to capitalism would look like.
    All businesses ran as co-ops. All services that are essential for life can not be run as a for profit industry. Each community is more or less energy and food independent. Each community can live by its own set of rules. The only national body with any power is an Environmental Court that ensures that each community doesn’t take part in activities that threaten the livelihoods of other communities.

  25. Hugh

    I have said this in the past, but you counter the power of money with the power of organization. We need to build a movement together. It must have a simple, clear program of what we are for and what we are against. It must describe the society we want for ourselves and each other. Members of this movement must both participate in it and commit to it and each other. The movement can create a political party and recruit candidates from its membership. The party and candidates are there to fight for the movement’s program. No compromises. This is not about sharing power with the old order but transferring power to the new.

    So the question we should be asking is what kind of a society do we want. My suggestion was a society that could be described with words like just, fair, equitable, and decent, a society where citizens are provided with not just the basic necessities of survival but the building blocks for a meaningful life, one based on respect and privacy: good job, housing, food, healthcare, education, and retirement. Job should be taken in its broadest sense of work or service to society. There is much work that needs to be done to make such a society and address the existential problems which will confron us in the 21st century: overpopulation, climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. We need to rebuild our industrial base and our communities to reflect these realities. We need to take care of our old and our young, and those in between. If we are to labor, isn’t it better to labor for something worthwhile? isn’t it better to build than merely consume?

    1. DakotabornKansan

      Where are the movements that move from criticizing society to changing society?

      How do we build such movements in the first place?

      How will they organize themselves? Who will be their leaders?

      Where and how do activists find common ground and tolerate one another long enough to make some tangible political gains?

      How do we ensure the viability of such movements?

      The resistance movements this nation needs require a means to stay organized and effective.

      By adhering to an ethic of leaderlessness and structurelessness, movements set themselves up for failure. It is those groups which are in greatest need of structure that are often least capable of creating it. The result is a take-over by elitists who only run movements into the ground.

      “The more unstructured a movement is, the less control it has over the directions in which it develops and the political actions in which it engages. This does not mean that its ideas do not spread. Given a certain amount of interest by the media and the appropriateness of social conditions, the ideas will still be diffused widely. But diffusion of ideas does not mean they are implemented; it only means they are talked about.” – Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness

      ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’ @

      The rejection of structure is a rejection of taking responsibility for self-governance.

      We can no longer allow the tyranny of structurelessness.
      “Grassroots organizations grow stronger to the extent that their leaders go out and engage more people. It’s all about building as broad a base as you can. The right seems to get it much more about being committed and cooperating with other committed people, and going out and evangelizing. There is an evangelical spirit in their movement that is a great strength to them. And there hasn’t been a whole lot of that on the liberal side.” – Marshall Ganz, founder of the Leading Change Network, a global community of organizers, educators and researchers mobilizing for democracy

      1. anon y'mouse

        you’re not wrong. the problem is, structure also usually implies hierarchy. it implies interlocking rings of power, and thus controls within for power. we are trying to do AWAY with this very thing, due to the problems it has caused.

        and yet, if everyone ‘does their own thing’ then we are going to be lost.

        your point re: evangelism is what we should be trying to work out now. what is our brave new vision, however ‘silly’ ‘utopian’ ‘carebear’ ‘kumbaya-singing’ it is? it’s not like Christian people started with much more than a itinerant faith healer/preacher and some myth about resurrection thrown on top. it doesn’t have to be elaborate.

        we could have a place for everyone. the problem is, to many people that implies -and everyone in their proper place- kind of ranking. do you think it would be possible to get the benefits of structure without sacrificing true democracy? what if that ignorant soandso who doesn’t believe in evolution wants to join up? what if they join up in sufficient numbers to sway the direction of the party/structure, for lack of a better term? are we going to stand FOR everyone, or FOR some specific set of values, or some SPECIFIC desired future?

        and if leaders are necessary, how do we make sure that they aren’t simply mouthing the words and using the power granted them to do what they want done? how can we make them responsible to the public? we have that problem now, and are trying to (desiring to, anyway) overturn it, I think.

        1. psychohistorian

          The problem of leadership in a positive direction at this time, IMO, is that the global plutocrats have and continue to be VERY effective at eliminating any individual or collective of intelligent opposition.

    2. Ché Pasa


      The fact is, these movements exist now, but they seem to go unrecognized because they don’t necessarily fit one or more of your (or someone else’s) parameters.

      I often use the evolved Occupy as an example of a movement that exists and is carrying on right now — but it is operating deliberately outside and apart from the political system.

      It doesn’t fit one of your parameters (it’s delibertately outside the political system and operates apart from and often in opposition to it) so it goes unrecognized. There are many other examples I could name, but it’s the one this site says it supports with that little banner in the corner.

      The evolved Occupy is integrating and cooperating with dozens of other activist movements all the time, and it is through this constant interplay and interaction that something like the ideal you’ve often described will be achieved, with the exception that it may not ever become a distinctively political movement.

      What may result is something that parallels but is distinct from the “establishment” and essentially sidesteps it — rather than trying to take it over or overthrow it in a revolution.

      1. Nathanael

        Historically, such establishments of “parallel government” DO overthrow the “old government” in a revolution…. eventually.

        First the new “parallel government” must become *independent* of the old government. Then it must become *more valuable* and *more competent* than the old government. Then it must become *more popular* than the old government. Finally, it becomes *more powerful* than the old government. Then it is ready to throw out the old government.

        Feudal lords continued to pay lip service to the Roman Empire for hundreds of years after imperial control had, in practical terms, vanished. I can think of other examples if I try.

  26. Timothy Y. Fong

    Organizationally, it always seems to come back to “who will guard the guards themselves.” I question whether liberal democracy as currently constituted is capable of doing so.

    Indeed, the professional class of educated middle-class people who are supposed to provide oversight, so often have little experience with interpersonal violence. In fact, it is purposefully removed from their experience. Yet, they are supposed to keep the guards from taking over. Sure.

    The best depiction of this that I have seen recently is the film Elysium. Warning, spoilers ahead. Check out the relationship between Secretary Delacourt, President Patel and the mercenary leader, Kruger. Patel cannot keep tabs on Delacourt, and while he is “concerned” about the deaths of the illegal immigrants, he presides over a system that keeps many poor and a few wealthy and isolates. But it makes him uncomfortable, so he outsources to Sec. Delacourt, who is the civilian in charge of Defense. She likes to think of herself as making the tough decisions that keep Elysium safe. She dresses well and appears presentable at parties. But she’s not about to get dirty down on Earth. Instead, she outsources, to Kruger, the ex RSA soldier turned mercenary. Kruger of course is an adrenaline junkie, enjoys BBQ , and destroying stuff (people, cars, etc) and flipping out. But what’s to keep Kruger from reaching for the crown himself? Delacourt’s dismissive sarcasm and mastery of political infighting? Patel’s hand-wringing?

  27. Jim

    Yves stated:

    “From the Greeks onward, the question of how to provide for the stewardship of society to produce stability, decent outcomes for ordinary people, and limiting corruption in the ruling classes has vexed philosophers and thinkers. How to do this NOW is in my mind the essential question…”

    Significant Federal government expansion since the Great Depression was predicated on the need to regulate an otherwise devastating capitalist crisis and reintroduce some degree of social justice.

    The professional apparatus of the Democratic party using the powers of an expanded Federal Government was able to present itself to the public as well-intentioned and wise professionals who were capable of applying logical procedures in complex bureaucratic structures (increasingly private and public) to secure the public interest.

    But this same apparatus now faces a crisis of legitimacy because it no longer serves the public interest and consequently can no longer present itself to the general population as defenders of the underdog against the predatory capitalist/financial interests of 2013.

    Does such a development open the possibility that the traditional/left progressive community might again become capable of shifting it perspective on the supposed benevolent role of the State in American politics and begin to pay closer attention to other streams of radical thought like populism, decentralization and more genuine forms of federalism/regionalism?

    In the hope of creating “decent outcome for ordinary people” is the traditional left/progressive community also capable of potentially shifting its conception of power away from its current obsession with power solely as an apparatus of control to be continuously condemned—to a conception of power that also provides a foundation for the individual to become more self-enhancing and self-forming(to hopefully move out of passivity).

    This latter conception of power could open the door for beginning another shift—this time from a class society (where vertical differentiation is expressed through dominance, repression and privilege) to a society where vertical differentiation might (as with some of the early Greeks) be expressed primarily in terms virtuosity, achievement and new forms of asceticism.

    1. anon y'mouse

      the greeks were interesting men, but what are you saying here? they knew full well that their ability to attain such achievements was built upon the backs of slaves, craftsmen (whom their value system came to despise) and various non-voting others to keep the whole thing going. this allowed them the freedom from want, time, space and energy to devote to purely non-functional ‘knowledge seeking’ and art.

      some of the things I’ve read suggest that they knew and understood it. i’m not saying you believe we should be patterning ourselves after the greeks. I think any structure that is vertical is in danger, as the value system will decide who is more or less worthy according to whatever it deems valuable. we need to do away with this very thinking, at least on a societal level. the question remaining is, is this possible? and, as you say, if power is to be accepted as a necessary, how are we to ensure that it is used wisely, for the general good?

      1. Jim

        Although the traditional left/progressive community does not like to discuss the vertical, I would argue that for all societies the vertical is fundamental.

        Every infant looks above to its mother. Fathers and grandparents are likewise “up there.”

        The looking up of children to their parents and adults in general, especially to cultural heroes gives rise to a pronounced vertical tension/dimension in social structure.

        1. anon y'mouse

          I get the sense that what you are saying is that the ‘striving to become’ is a good thing. I don’t deny that. the problem is, strive to become what?

          human development, parents, teachers and other primary caregivers, and all GOOD psychological or spiritual counselors, strive to reduce the need in their charge’s life for their services. the goal is, or should be, to allow the individual to outgrow such people. “I’ve lead you as far as my skills can take you. now you must fly, little bird!”

          you proposed certain values to strive for. the values must be very carefully chosen, otherwise you get people saying what we have now “you have not made yourself valuable under this current system of what is most valued, therefore you are valueless”. I don’t argue for NOT having values, so we are not at odds here. but what I am against is the verticality that places some people above as gods—gods can never be overcome or superseded. teachers, mothers and so on can in certain ways. the person learns to live their life, perhaps not in the same way that their caregivers did but hopefully in a better way by absorbing the lessons that those caregivers dispensed both consciously and unconsciously.

          do you get my rambling here? the danger is holding people who have reached the pinnacle of the value system as gods, ‘authorities’ who can never be questioned and so on. as we have put ‘free market’ neoliberalism in place. it is a god, for all intents and purposes, thus its values and logic now underlie and drive all that we do and all that we strive for.

          it’s way beyond my power to set up a value system that would not result in some people being the ‘losers’. and those are the people we do need to identify first because, given time and opportunity for the social system setting its pace by those values, those individuals are going to be dehumanized in various ways and subjected to a lot of crap for reasons that they may not have had any control over.

          to make a really crude analogy, it would be like setting up something like not being color-blind as the favored state. everyone who is color-blind would be a second class citizen automatically.

  28. Ian Welsh

    A bullet point list like that is not suited to explaining the reasons for each point. Each of those points could have an essay written on it alone, most could have a book written on them. I’m glad you took the time to engage with some of them, that’s about as much as a list like that can do: convince people to think on it.

    Some specific clarification:

    It is rational for individuals to do something that is not in the social interest. The classic example is the Keynesian decision to cut back on spending: it makes sense individually, but if we all do it we cut our throat.

    In game theory it is rational to betray in many cases, you will personally wind up better off. If everyone is betraying (or too many, there’s a fairly low “capsize” point) you cut the throat of your society. (See “financial collapse”)

    As for knowing what to do, just not doing it, it was epitomized by ACA: we know how to fix healthcare much better than that – many countries have done it. But instead, ACA. The problem wasn’t knowing how to make sure everyone get good healthcare for the lowest cost, we know that, the problem was doing it: America didn’t.

    Likewise we know we have to get off hydrocarbons, and to a we know how to do a LOT of it (though not all). And those things we know how to do, we are mostly not doing, or doing far more slowly than we could.

    We know that high marginal tax rates on the rich produced the best economy of the past 100 years (arguably in history) and we are not doing them. This question may be argued, but it is only argued because rich people fund the argument: the empirical evidence is clear, we’ve run a 40 year experiment in decreased tax rates and we’ve seen what they do.

    To be sure there are problems where we don’t know what to do, but since we aren’t even fixing the problems we do know how to fix, I don’t think that’s the primary issue here.

    I could continue, but hopefully you get the point.

    1. John Mc

      In Ecological Theory, we call this (the point you are making) the difference between first-order and second-order change.

      1. Nathanael


        What we lack the ability to do is to fix the political, or governance, problem, and failure to fix the political problem is preventing us from fixing any of the other problems.

        What’s the analogue in ecology?

    2. Lambert Strether

      Maybe what we need is a “neo-radical thought collective.” The neo-liberals did pretty well for themselves with that model. Granted, we’d have to think beyond our lifetimes, but then that is what we ought to be doing, no?

  29. Andrew Watts

    Russell Brand is talking about a return to the collectivist values of the working class. These values were rejected en masse when the middle class became enamored with left-wing radicalism in the 1960s. Activism soon followed this trend and quickly evolved along the individualistic lines of middle class values. This was not the product of American culture as it equally infected our European brethren.

    In the present day this has caused the French working class to begin to abandon the left wing and embrace Le Pen. There is a very real possibility that former Socialist political strongholds will turn into bastions of a National Front party that combines a nationalistic foreign policy with a socialist domestic policy. The inevitable result for Europe is that far right-wing parties (Please don’t sue me Ms. Pen!) will quickly arise that will be devoted to a program of political obstructionism that will destroy the European Union.

    The United States has seen this process partially play out as the New Deal coalition fell apart. The American working class began to abandon left wing politics as their concerns were ignored under the Carter Administration. The first wave of these defections were the so-called Reagan Democrats. For a brief time the anti-globalization movement reversed this trend as liberals allied with labor, but the movement failed in the wake of 9/11. The latest incarnation is the Tea Party which contains former Kucinich supporters and other social democrats who allied themselves with libertarian Ron Paul supporters. Only to see their movement hijacked by operatives of the Republican Party.

    I cannot honestly take anybody seriously who does not recognize the reactionary nature of the time period we live in. As more time goes by I realize how the left-wingers must’ve felt in the wake of the Revolution of 1848. The best that might be hoped for is a rear guard action that salvages the remaining political successes of the old Left. While we wait for a Bismark-style revolution from above.

    1. Nathanael

      Reactionary? Au contraire.

      The reactionary period started in the late 70s, as you have noted, and remained severely reactionary through the 1980s, moderately reactionary through the 1990s, and severely reactionary again through the 2000s.

      We’re *leaving* the reactionary period and entering a new left-wing period. We’re just at the very cusp of it, though. Compare, say, 1963 here with 1848 in Europe, and we’re in the equivalent of *1898*. Everyone crowed about the stability of the world system in 1900, but it was blasted to hell in 1914. The cracks were already showing before 1900, and far-sighted observers had noted them.

  30. D. Robie

    Your website came highly praised. I tried to subscribe…
    But SERIOUSLY????
    I swear to GOD NONE of you have any idea what MOST of us are going through or what we desire!
    Suddenly I was confronted with a litany of questions that had only the most coincidental connection with any of my daily life. Even though, as i age, my hopes of continued survival, much less any sort of legacy for my children, are based almost entirely upon all the “information” gleaned from “experts” such as you.

    1. AbyNormal

      seriously? you ‘gleaned’ all that from a single page visit??
      why don’t you begin with the archives on the left side of this page…

      “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

  31. Anarcissie

    I don’t want to sound like a denialist or anything reprehensible like that, but I think it’s pretty obvious that one has to operate like one, because if the apocalyptic predictions about global warming and population and other threats to human life are accurate, than even extreme measures taken in the immediate future will hardly avert catastrophe, and in any case there is no public will to take such measures, at least not will strong enough to overcome the elites and their political, military, and industrial machinery. I just have to hope they’re not quite accurate, that we still have some time.

    What I’m doing these days is attempting to shift the culture. I think we require an anarchistic, communistic, ‘autonomist’ culture. Toward that end I have interested myself in recent years in working with Food Not Bombs, free stores, squats, and the like — because I think you have to materially show people what you’re theorizing when deeply embedded cultural principles are the issue. I spend at least one day a week doing this, sometimes more, waiting for something to work. Usually I think nothing much is happening, but every now and then there seem to be some changes, some movement, at the margins of things. ‘Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,’ I guess.

    In any case I don’t know what else to do. It is clear that capitalism has fully solved the problem of democracy: buy off or threaten away any representatives who don’t submit. Thus I no longer see much use in contributing money and time to regular political parties and candidates. It is also clear that capitalism (or, if it degenerates into that, renewed feudalism) will simply destroy the world. The qualities that fit one to be a member of the ruling classes are exactly those which are the most destructive to the prospects of continued human life. The capitalist state does not choose to be regulated or humanized. I am trying to convince people to abandon it, one by one.

    1. katenka

      I’ve been volunteering with FNB too, and a couple religious organizations that distribute free meals (I am an atheist, but they put up with me). I like that these establish routes for food that would otherwise be wasted to get it into the hands of people who need it. My bigger interest, though, has been learning to garden: not just distributing the food but cultivating it. One way or the other we need, in my view, local production and local control of at least a bare subsistence for people, and that is something that some of us can just go out and at least start to do!

  32. anon y'mouse

    the problem is not that we have no solutions. the problem is that we have too many problems.

    see how the conversation diverged above onto all sorts of interesting worthwhile avenues. I am guilty of personally dragging my hobby-horses in at every opening.

    the problem is, we need to select one problem or simply a handful of related problems (that can’t be solved without each other) and then set to work. the problem is not that the left has no ideas, no philosophies, no manpower, no knowledge, or any of the other. the problem is that there are so many vital issues that rate as Absolutely Top Priority Number One right now, that we all get distracted.

    what is the problem that must be solved before we can even begin to solve our other problems? power, in all the wrong hands? inadequate democracy? lack of representation? money in politics? are these one or related problems? how can we begin to solve them?

    must we have the broad-based vision of what we are working towards as a society as a prior condition? none of us agree on our utopia. I am not afraid to call it a utopia, but simply recognize that utopias, as all ideas, are as individual as the minds that they occur in.

    what Mr. Welsh tried to do was lay out some ground rules. it seems a valiant attempt. we should lay out some hard limits. some things we will not accept. some things that we absolutely are on the same page about. and one of those things that we (royal “we”, or merely present company?) must agree upon is the proper order of things. the necessary conditions to make the other things even possible to discuss, let alone determine.

    1. dingusansich

      Re several posts above: It’s less a total plan or vision that’s requisite than a strategy by which numbers (of people) can contend with numbers (of balance sheets). It should be grounded in an acknowledgement that disagreement is inevitable and at times unresolvable. Without that understanding, because of internal opposition or inability to construct alliances (e.g., a pro-democratic left can’t engage a pro-democratic right), potential for power comes to nothing.

      A comprehensive vision or plan of the left, if such a coherent entity were to exist (it does not), would not gain adherents elsewhere, and the likeliest outcome of a search for such a plan is irrelevance. It may make more sense to look for areas of consensus, however minimal, and build on those while setting aside the irreconcilable. It’s agreeing to disagree, not to come to a futile middle ground but to advance only those areas of strongest belief, registered as consensus. That’s a way forward. Otherwise the politics and public relations of divide and conquer are child’s play to entrenched interests and opponents of democracy.

      That’s not meant as the elevation of process over results but a recognition that without another process, a reimagining of democracy, and barring catastrophe or singularity, reformist outcomes are uncertain at best. What Occupy, to speak of a plural movement in the singular, got right was the need for a politics of consensus. Reform, revolution, call it what you will, needs a popular grounding if it’s not to turn into the new boss, a reconfiguration of the old problem of elite power. A next move might be to leave the encampments and occupy the state by rejiggering representative democracy itself. That doesn’t preclude commitment to other issues, many of them urgent. Instead it frames a space where positive initiatives might have a chance, or maybe less harm can be done.

      What’s needed finally, as in at last or perhaps as in at the outset, is a means for the transmission of popular will and desire. In other words, a way to cultivate, assert, and tame power. As always, the question is, What will it take to recode an unresponsive and corrupt political system? Best, though not very satisfying, answer: Persistent struggle (groundwork understanding and action) and … happy accident (opportunity, or plain old luck).

  33. Roger Erickson

    I have to disagree with Yves, and side with Welsh here.

    [‘So I challenge Welsh to produce a list of what he thinks “must be done” in concrete enough terms to guide action’]

    The myth that we can know what to do ahead of time is PRECISELY what gets us into the most trouble.

    We have zero, net predictive power. Yet we have seemingly unlimited adaptive power. That’s the reality. It is apparently why evolution exists.

    The same conclusion has been stated in other words, from military science. “No plan survives contact with [reality].”
    [“Moltke’s main thesis was that military strategy had to be understood as a system of options since only the beginning of a military operation was plannable.”]

    So, in reality, it’s all about adjusting, not predicting.

    How do we prepare to maintain and even increase our ability to adjust? By practicing OUR OWN AGILITY, not by trying to guess what might happen.

    This lesson is repeatedly re-learned by all who struggle with difficult tasks.

    Another example. “We know not of the future and cannot plan for it much.”

    “But we can … determine and know what manner of men we will be, whenever and wherever the hour strikes …”

    Today, we still cannot predict challenges future contexts may hold, but we can try to determine what Adaptive Rates we can muster when challenges arise.

    In summary, our material tasks are never our chief problem. Rather, our ability to RE-ORGANIZE ourselves to solve those tasks is the 2nd order question, and a more accurate wording of our core challenge.

    It doesn’t stop there, of course. Adaptive Rate is supported by a nested series of nth-order support, each of which builds up the flexibility and agility needed to adjust hierarchical systems sooner, rather than later. Infinite component flexibility is the achievement that would deliver continuously accelerated, systemic Adaptive Rate.


  34. Reuben Kincaide

    Why attempt to tackle overpopulation when it’s so much more politically expedient to just let Mother Nature sort it out?

  35. XO

    Haven’t read the thread, so if this has been brought up, previously, I apologize.


    “We know much of what must be done. We know we need to do it. We have not done it. That suggests this is not a “practical” problem.”

    Fukashima would seem to be a microcosm of this phenomena — the inability to solve a practical problem.

    If “we” (in this case, “we” meaning anyone who could be affected, and that could be all of “us”), can’t manage a dire physical problem we have created, we don’t have a prayer of effectively managing more etherial problems such as economics, distribution of resources, and/or government.

    Perhaps we are Easter Islanders on a grand scale.

  36. charles 2

    This post is so good that I fought my earlier procrastination on the funding campaign and sent some dough in the tip jar. First time I read in here an honest description of the real problems lying ahead.

    Please note that the “tiny group of super-rich and a technically skilled elite” is as aware as you are of these problems, and that the “law and economics” strategy coupled with extremely robust enforcement (security apparatus and armies) is precisely their answer to these challenges. They are more likely to have read Robert Heinlein’s The moon is a harsh mistress than Le Guin’s book. The eradication of the middle class is not a bug but a feature : If it becomes not needed to build things and fight wars, thanks to automation, it become irrelevant to the elites.
    I am rational enough to admit that it is the most consistent framework proposed so far, but I still struggle emotionally with this state of affairs. This is why I totally share your frustration when proposed alternative solutions fail so crudely to pass the reality test.

    Regarding “localization”, the american super-rich and technically skilled elite may like to see itself as global, but I think they are in for a rude awakening : there are super rich and technically skilled people in staunchly nationalistic places across the world (China and Russia of course, but also Japan, Germany, Brazil and a few others) and they are not inclined to put their chips in a common pot as far as the great game referred above is concerned, because fighting foreign elites helps to placate disappearing middle class discontent at home.

  37. VietnamVet

    This is an excellent post. A belief in a better life was the foundation of the prosperity after WWII which was built on education and good jobs. Large families needed for growing food and elder support became archaic.

    Student Loan Debt, 20% youth unemployment and off shoring jobs has stalled dreams of a better life. Today the reigning ideology is simply “every man for himself”. Grab the money while you can. If government has ceased to serve its citizens; one response is flush it down the toilet. The other is to seize control again and provide the education, health care and jobs that the people need.

  38. vegas mike

    Tony Jundt once said you to have some association with an extremist group to understand 20th Century politics. In the 60s I knew a lot of old communists and Trotskyites. From this experience, I learned that you can separate hard ideological thinking from a conspiratorial style of politics.

  39. Brooklin Bridge

    Wasn’t the US federation of states an attempt to address the problem of scale confronting Democracy? But this so called loose federation of independent states obviously bowed to emerging economic and corporate interests long before the sun even broke a sweat on the 20th century, never mind the 21st.

    Gandhi loved the idea of cottage industry and small scale self/democratic government and indeed, conceptually at least, it solves so many problems. But defense isn’t one of them in countries that, unlike Switzerland, don’t have natural protective geographical boarders. Humans seem predisposed to want to take from others what doesn’t belong to them, so defense isn’t exactly a moot point.

    Science and technology (not to mention civilization, art, culture) is another area that doesn’t work well in the cottage alone. It requires large scale in terms of everything from education, to resources for testing (think CERN) to industry for implementation. Without it, however, it is hard to preserve what medical and other positive advances science has made. With it, on the other hand, (mixed in or perverted as some would argue with some of our less desirable characteristics – and it’s not evident they can be separated) we seem to be in a head long rush toward self imposed extinction.

    Are cottage industry and large scale knowledge and cultural systems mutually exclusive? How does one design, or how does it evolve, a social/political system that obtains the benefits of both without incurring the penalties?

  40. dingusansich

    Re several posts (apologies for erroneous reply placement above): It’s less a total plan or vision that’s requisite than a strategy by which numbers (of people) can contend with numbers (of balance sheets). It should be grounded in an acknowledgement that disagreement is inevitable and at times unresolvable. Without that understanding, because of internal opposition or inability to construct alliances (e.g., a pro-democratic left can’t engage a pro-democratic right), potential for power comes to nothing.

    A comprehensive vision or plan of the left, if such a coherent entity were to exist (it does not), would not gain adherents elsewhere, and the likeliest outcome of a search for such a plan is irrelevance. It may make more sense to look for areas of consensus, however minimal, and build on those while setting aside the irreconcilable. It’s agreeing to disagree, not to come to a futile middle ground but to advance only those areas of strongest belief, registered as consensus. That’s a way forward. Otherwise the politics and public relations of divide and conquer are child’s play to entrenched interests and opponents of democracy.

    That’s not meant as the elevation of process over results but a recognition that without another process, a reimagining of democracy, and barring catastrophe or singularity, reformist outcomes are uncertain at best. What Occupy, to speak of a plural movement in the singular, got right was the need for a politics of consensus. Reform, revolution, call it what you will, needs a popular grounding if it’s not to turn into the new boss, a reconfiguration of the old problem of elite power. A next move might be to leave the encampments and occupy the state by rejiggering representative democracy itself. That doesn’t preclude commitment to other issues, many of them urgent. Instead it frames a space where positive initiatives might have a chance, or maybe less harm can be done.

    What’s needed finally, as in at last or perhaps as in at the outset, is a means for the transmission of popular will and desire. In other words, a way to cultivate, assert, and tame power. As always, the question is, What will it take to recode an unresponsive and corrupt political system? Best, though not very satisfying, answer: Persistent struggle (groundwork understanding and action) and … happy accident (opportunity, or plain old luck).

  41. dp

    Re: “The fatal assault has actually not been via the ballot box but via a well-funded “law and economics” movement that began in the 1970s and with surprising speed has produced a very business friendly judiciary that has gutted a lot of case law and even legislation that used to protect ordinary citizens).”

    I’d like to be better informed about this, as I have only the barest and most passively osmotic of a sense of how this came to pass — more than the average citizen but not enough to really put the narrative together — any great articles for the layperson on the evolution/stakes of the Posnerization of US jurisprudence?

  42. Saddam Smith

    Great post.

    I just want to echo Yves’ objection to this:

    A regular rate of return of 5% is reasonable.

    5% growth equates to a doubling time of 14 years. If we agree to 5% returns, the economy has to keep up with that financial growth to prevent inflation and other effects. Do we want the economy to double in size every 14 years? Can the planet afford that?

  43. Saddam Smith

    Secondly, this is a vital observation:

    America’s system of checks and balances has broken down as industrial and technology revolutions have overwhelmed it

    Change has been too rapid for institutions to adapt to. However, the existing PTB have been sufficiently well-placed to capitalise on the opportunities rapid technological change has thrown up. The great danger is that the extractive and (monetary) profit-seeking dynamic that drives modern society is made too frenzied by these opportunites. It’s a heady mix of power, ‘wealth’ and greed that is its own dynamic, and is likely incredibly intoxicating and addictive to its beneficiaries.

    What needs to change are elements that are fundamental to the current system. In other words, the depth of change required to wisely and sustainably incorporate our new technological reality (I include the growing awareness of earth as a living system in that) into a new system will actually spell the end of today’s PTB. And because TPTB control the debate via their control of media, the whole show grinds destructively on. The last thing they want is to no longer be The Powers That Be.

  44. John McKeown

    Yves asked > “talk candidly about overpopulation? … indirect”

    Yves, further reducing birth rates (which globally have been declining but not fast enough) is achievable. Global “unmet need” for family planning could be fully met with additional $4 billion. Last year’s Summit in London hosted by DFID (Dept. for International Development) made progress toward belatedly meeting commitments made at the UN Cairo conference to give access to family planning for all.

    Fully meeting “unmet need” would avert circa 53 million unintended pregnancies each year (Lancet, and Guttmacher Institute), compared to global annual net increase of population which has been 75-80 million each year. Further demand for Family Planning promoted culturally e.g. radio soap operas exploring issues, is effective. Also people liberated by hearing alternatives to pronatalist interpretations of religious Scriptures, e.g.

    regards, Dr J P McKeown

    Karan Singh in his autobiography reflected: “In 1974, I led the Indian delegation to the World Population Conference in Bucharest, where my statement that ‘development is the best contraceptive’ became widely known and oft quoted. I must admit that 20 years later I am inclined to reverse this, and my position now is that ‘contraception is the best development’.”

  45. Furzy Mouse

    excellent and rigorous deconstruction of the “44”…I got a headache reading it…think it was written in a bit of a frenzy…we all need a good sharp focus…thanks Yves..

  46. Bob Jones

    Was reminded of it when Yves brought up Swizerland and another commentator mentioned ‘small is beautiful’ a bit back, but I think this sort of discussion could benefit from more awareness Leopold Kohr’s ‘The Breakdown of Nations’. (from 1957, prior to the fall of the USSR, anticipated both that our current situation eerily well)

    Short version: pretty much any political system works fine up to a limit of about 10 million people, past which every system starts to fall apart. (with increasingly worse results as populations go north)

    1. anon y'mouse

      we need a semi-official Radical Thought Collective reading list.

      my scratch paper is running out of scratch!

  47. Nathanael

    “Oh, and back to an en passant observation: is anyone willing to talk candidly about overpopulation?”

    Everyone except the religious nuts.

    It is *known* that if you give women the right to decide how many children to have, and the practical ability to decide how many children to have, the birth rate will drop below replacement rate within a generation. Just do it.

    This requires educating women, giving them full legal rights, giving them the ability to have economic independence, and of course making birth control universally available and close-to-free.

    It’s quite straightforward — apart from dealing with the political opposition.

    The opposition, the forced-birther movement, comes from (a) various religious groups, (b) various racists who want to “enlarge their tribe”, and (c) evil men who want to force women to bear their children whether they like it or not. Group (c) seems to dominate the leadership of groups (a) and (b).

    I do not know how to deal with the forced-birther movement.

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