Yves here. I anticipate that readers will debate whether decline is inevitable. My short answer is that with the caliber of leadership we have in the US and abroad, it’s hard to see how we escape it. And we may be too far along a bad trajectory to change course in a big enough way.
But Jospeh Tainter, in his classic study, he Collapse of Complex Societies, had to concede that some societies were able to pull themselves out of a downward path, yet offered no guidance as to why they were different, save that their ruling classes acted to ward it off. Tainter was likely unwilling to examine these cases because he was dogmatic about the cause of collapse: it was the rising cost of complexity, in particular, the increasing cost of energy. He rejected culture as a cause of decline. Yet even if he is correct about how energy needs drive complex societies towards their own demise, that does not obviate the idea that better leadership and/or better social values can enable civilizations to adapt rather than fail.
And let us also not forget that the “things are going to get worse for you” story also conveniently diverts attention from the degree of rent extraction and looting that is taking place. US corporate profit share of GDP has been at record levels, depending on how you compute if, of 10% of 12% of GDP, when no less than Warren Buffett deemed a profit share of over 6% of GDP as unsustainably high as of the early 2000s. That higher profit share is the direct result of workers getting a far lower share of GDP growth than in any post-war expansion. So the increased hardships that ordinary people face is not inevitable, but is to a significant degree due to the ruling classes taking vastly more than their historical share out of greed and short-sightedness.
By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.
If you think of the country as in decline, as most people do, and you think the cause is the predatory behavior of the big-money elites, as most people do, then you must know you have only two choices — acceptance and resistance.
Why do neo-liberal Democrats, like the Clinton campaign, not want you to have big ideas, like single-payer health care? Because having big ideas is resistance to the bipartisan consensus that runs the country, and they want to stave off that resistance.
But that’s a negative goal, and there’s more. They not only have to stave off your resistance. They have to manage your acceptance of their managed decline in the nation’s wealth and good fortune.
Again: The goal of the neo-liberal consensus is to manage the decline, and manage your acceptance of it.
I want to turn the keyboard over to one of my favorite left commenters, Avedon Carol, proprietor of Avedon’s Sideshow, to explain. Her kickoff point is the identity-fight on the left, or as she calls it, an attempt to “actively divide us by making personal and tribal differences into the main show of the public political arena.” She offered her thoughts via email (emphasis hers):
Bernie Sanders wants to do these two important things:
- Create enough abundance for everyone so that there is far less resentment and bitterness to divide us.
- Empower us to be better able to fight for ourselves.
Clinton’s program for dealing with sexism and racism is … what?
As far as I can see, she’s offering, at best, a kind of paternalistic sympathy that does little to ameliorate the actual problems we face.
And yet, the Clinton campaign is attacking Sanders for some sort of weird and undefined insensitivity to issues of racism and sexism that is “proven” by an inadequacy of photo-ops and the fact that some of his supporters, just like some of her own supporters, say things that are sexist and insensitive.
And she is still talking like the DLC.
Corey Robin says when Clinton tells the truth, believe her:
“Amid all the accusations that Hillary Clinton is not an honest or authentic politician, that she’s an endless shape-shifter who says whatever works to get her to the next primary, it’s important not to lose sight of the one truth she’s been telling, and will continue to tell, the voters: things will not get better. Ever. At first, I thought this was just an electoral ploy against Sanders: don’t listen to the guy promising the moon. No such thing as a free lunch and all that. But it goes deeper. The American ruling class has been trying to figure out for years, if not decades, how to manage decline, how to get Americans to get used to diminished expectations, how to adapt to the notion that life for the next generation will be worse than for the previous generation, and now, how to accept (as Alex Gourevitch reminded me tonight) low to zero growth rates as the new economic normal. Clinton’s campaign message isn’t just for Bernie voters; it’s for everyone. Expect little, deserve less, ask for nothing. When the leading candidate of the more left of the two parties is saying that – and getting the majority of its voters to embrace that message – the work of the American ruling class is done.”
In Germany after WWI, austerity imposed by outsiders created the conditions for fascism to grow. We knew this. We were even taught this in school. And we certainly know just how good that is for women and minorities.
But in America (and Britain), that austerity is being imposed by our own leaders, and most effectively by leaders of the Democratic Party (and Labour Party) — the supposed “left” party, the party that was understood to support working people.
Clinton, like all of the DLC, talks like this “new economy” of decline is something that just happened, like it’s a natural force. They do not admit that it was a political decision to break the power of ordinary working people and put it back into the hands of the aristocracy. They pat us on the head and tell us they will try not to make it as bad as the Republicans will, but it will happen and there is nothing to be done about it.
And they actively divide us by making personal and tribal differences into the main show of the public political arena (only 7% of Americans claim never to have used birth control, so how is it a “Democrat” thing?) while behaving like the really big decisions that are wrecking our lives are none of our business. (Bank bailouts that were opposed 200-1 in calls to the White House from the public! Stopping the prosecutions of fraudulent banksters! HAMP instead of real home-owner relief! Secret TPP talks, for godssakes!)
As a woman and person of funny-color, I know who is being callous and insensitive toward me, and it isn’t Bernie Sanders.
To emphasize one of Avedon’s last points — bank bailouts — Clinton accused Sanders of being against the auto bailout by voting against a bank bailout bill, which she supported. An excellent piece of misdirection — she puts him on defense, when she should be on defense herself. Deeply dishonest, of course, but well-manipulated. (Seems to have cost her though, in Michigan, whose voters weren’t buying it.)
Again, the main point is this one from Corey Robin (emphasis mine):
The American ruling class has been trying to figure out for years, if
not decades, how to manage decline, how to get Americans to get used to
diminished expectations, how to adapt to the notion that life for the
next generation will be worse than for the previous generation, and now,
how to accept (as Alex Gourevitch reminded me tonight) low to zero growth rates as the new economic normal.
All you need to know. Both parties are giving away the store, cleaning out the cash register. Your lives will be very much worse unless you stop them. Yet both parties want you to get used to it, get used to being made poor. The Democrats want to soften the blow more than the Republicans — a kinder, gentler devastation if you will. A softer crash landing.
But either way, the goal of the neo-liberal consensus is to manage the decline, and manage your acceptance of it.
And that’s what this election is about — on both sides. Acceptance or resistance.
“Expect little, deserve less, ask for nothing.”
b-but she has a plan on her website!!!
Also: let me say I love the dynamic of the debate, or really, the whole primary in general:
Sanders: blah blah corporate inequality ding dong taxes!
Crowd: huge applause
HRC: What he said but even MORE, but also that won’t work.
And then the day after every debate:
Pro-Clinton shill: Yeah Bernie’s so unrealistic his plan is silly.
TV host: But what about Clinton’s agreeing with him?
Shill: Oh that’s realistic because she won’t ever do it. Duhhhhh. She’s just stealing his thunder. Think about it, fucking noob.
Please forgive likely future borrowing of your perfect summation, fitted even to the anglo-English attention span.
Free lunch isn’t possible in the long run, not in Europe, not in the US or Canada. But it can work long enough to get people elected. This started with FDR … and Bernie continues that tradition. Now that ACA stole Hillary’s original stalking horse … she has to ride into perdition with whatever nag is available.
Managing decline isn’t what it is about … unless you are talking about “our” decline. The Clinton’s aren’t managing “their” decline, they are pulling graft in hand and fist.
There doesn’t have to be a free lunch, and Europeans have gladly paid high taxes for good societal services. What is needed is an equitable distribution of the fruits of labor and invention. In America at least, the idea that their is not enough to go around is laughable. We have enough food for everyone to be fed, enough housing for everyone to have a roof over their head, and enough clothing and shoes for all to be kept warm. What we need are rational goals and rational limits, an understanding as reasonable people that there is such a thing as too much and it isn’t good for people to have it.
I especially agree with your observation on “too much”.
…and Europeans have gladly paid high taxes for good societal services.
Tax evasion in European countries is Natuonal sport!
To say Europeans enjoy social services is one thing, to say they gladly pay taxes is a fantasy. Heck, UBS built a banking industry modrl on it!
A great french satire on the subject:
I believe we have that same class of tax evaders over here, as well…
It may be a national sport in European countries, but like the NBA, America is where you go pro.
Post wont stick, so I’ll leave it at provide a link that supports the premise that personal tax avoidance at any economic level is more prevalent in the US than in Europe. I can support the claim that just the opposite is the case.
Then I will direct you to take a look at search on “the size of the shadow economy in industrialized countries…”
Thank you James for crushing the notion of a free lunch. That meme is exactly the one created and perpetrated by the ruling class and should never be used. Wait, come to think of it, it should be used. It should be used when talking about the siphoning off of public lands, public funds, and public institutions (from water to education) for the enrichment of the elites. One only look at the trillions wasted on the military and those who supply it to ensure that the elite have the military might to make the world bend to and become subservient to its desires.
the elite are not stupid. They know austerity trickles up pretty fast, so naturally they want to keep as much as possible. they are designing priorities for the world economy that will keep them in business, like the TPP; like ACA giving it all away to big pharma and insurance companies… so that any change we demand is a serious threat to their future. Just yesterday the IMF announced a new liquidity mechanism for countries with crappy economies (due to the IMF’s austere requirements which haven’t changed which is why they need to create liquidity, etc).
One of the most annoying tricks they use is “consumers”. Consumerism is their nose in the tent. Hillary promised in her last debate to “protect consumers”. How nice. But how? By promoting cutthroat efficiencies and devastatingly exclusive big-corp “productivity” – that’s how. She is sickening.
also it seems to me that our dear leaders have decided not to be recyclers; not to promote ingenious ways of recycling for the things we need. because that upsets the applecart as well. so they are actually protecting old fashioned exploitation-growth so they can continue to skim. they do not promote environmental cleanup, which could be a thriving growth industry in the best sense – again because their business model is extraction and cleanup is giving back. They haven’t got big oil under control yet because they are all stabbing each other in the back. And war is still their favorite enterprise. because it’s so productive.
A “re-generation” of the commons…..
Which is anathema to our system…..
If it took several hundred million North Americans a century to degrade the environment to its current sickly state it’s evident society could usefully employ an army of hard working, dedicated people to restore, replant, recover, fill in, dig out, pump out, seal, cut up, re-introduce (species), create migratory corridors, demolish and restore at least to a natural state every abandoned anything all over the country. Could employ millions for a decade or more. The finished ‘product’ would be fantastic for the national psyche.
Susan, I always appreciate your comments.
The question I ask myself is whether the decline was always inevitable, or was a self fulfilling prophecy triggered by a bout of pessimism on the part of our elites. I subscribe to the latter.
While not the technology optimist that some are, I suspect that western society could have followed a path of adaptation to diminishing resources, and investment in education sustaining innovation rather than militarism and economic looting.
Strange that back in Nader’s day, consumerism meant consumer-movement agitation for safe and quality products etc. Now it means endless purchase and one-time use of disposable or combustible stuff. It would be better to call that consumptionism, but I suppose consumerism is also now a term of art in its present meaning, right up there with intersectionality. So there is no changing it.
Perhaps it and the lifestyle it connotes could be opposed with the word conserverism.
From Mr. Levy Looking at this statement:
Modern Money theory tells us that taxes don’t pay for anything-they are used to stabilize the economy after the government spends money into existence. If the government spends too much and inflation heats up, a bit of discretionary taxation (where the taxes hit first on the people who are most able to bear the burden) can be imposed and bring inflation back under control.
Randy Wray explains the concept of what taxes are from a fundamental standpoint and then he goes into more detail in an article that was published here on NC
Better organized societies providing more and better distributed surpluses isn’t “a free lunch”, its civilization.
which seems to be waning…….in fits & starts…
Without full employment (which costs money), one needs strong policing (which costs money).
The devil makes work for idle hands is as true today as always.
Perhaps, but a lot of employment is diabolical work, as in socially useless or even destructive (eg. outbound call centre jobs, management consultancy, ‘strong’ policing) and/or as in failing to give the worker even barely adequate income and security. (Call centres again among countless other examples.)
Sure there are plenty of exceptions, but given just enough income and social infrastructure not to live in continuous crisis about next month’s medical bills or next year’s housing, many many people don’t feel that much need to plunder their immediate neighbours. If job discipline was the one thing holding innate human depravity back, wealthy pensioners would probably cause more mayhem than they do.
Did you read the article? That’s exactly what it’s about. And as for “there’s no free lunch in the long run,” that’s just a way to sound deep without saying anything at all. We’re a little too sophisticated around these parts to fall for that old line. What specifically are you talking about, because “free lunches” hasn’t been a campaign issue yet, that I’m aware of.
Free lunch? USians are paying $9 and change for what should be a $5.95 lunch, then getting handed a paper bag with a stale PB&J (well, 8 out of 10 do, the other two get an empty bag). If you argue with the cashier (insurance co’s) enough you can maybe have an apple and two carrot sticks. If you are really persistent you might get a napkin and a salt packet.
Americans already pay more for healthcare than just about anyone on the planet. Time to stop giving insurance cos and Big Pharma a free lunch *and* everyone else’s lunch money. The US could have a Canadian-style health *CARE* system for 2/3 of what you are paying now.
Better “Serious Adults” please.
Uh, as a taxpayer I have a RIGHT to weigh in on how I want my taxes spent.
Defense contractors, bankers, farmers and a whole host of other entities have gotten a “free lunch” so spare us the lectures on paying for stuff.
Bernie Sanders isn’t promising people free things by the way. He’s telling people that US should reshape its priorities and reshape how we deal with things so its a more equitable system. He’s pointed out, rightly I might add, that our health care system not only costs us more but has worse outcomes than most of the developed world. He’s pointing out that we’re wasting valuable potential by pricing our youth out of education. It’s something, by the way, that even a CONSERVATIVE leaning state has managed to grasp. The country gains absolutely nothing if our workforce remains ignorant as a result of systemic rent seeking from education profiteers(and I guess you must be anti education as a whole since we now give k-12 students a “free lunch”.)He’s pointing out that we don’t have to spend all our money on f 35s, we can and should keep our promises to the elderly. He’s pointing out that the system is broken and inequitable when a handful of people whose big claim to fame is their parentage(Walton progeny) have more than a third of the country. He’s not wrong. You are.
It’s beyond ridiculous that anyone would be arguing that what our tax money goes towards is a “free lunch.” Now, you are certainly welcome to argue that the Walton kids deserve to pay less in taxes than the people who actually labor at Walmart(via their stock options that are taxed at a wayyyyyyy lower rate than labor) but don’t insult people by arguing that doing so is suggesting that anyone is arguing that people should get a “free lunch.”
March 11, 2016 at 8:52 am
The thing is tax payers in this countryare paying for beef tenderloin and receiving a bread sandwich the way are “contributions” are allocated.
Thats the disconnect.
Oh, there’s something on the bread alright, but it comes from the wrong end of the bull.
@cwaltz, 3/11/16, 8:52 am – Excellent points, well said.
One very small quibble. The Walton progeny probably don’t get stock options which are usually used to pay executives working for the company. The Waltons do own a ton of the actual stock and the dividends from those shares (like stock options) are taxed much less than labor.
“Free lunch isn’t possible in the long run.”
An American colloquialism from the 1800’s, when some saloons offered free lunch to men who bought whiskey or beer. Some saloons didn’t, so in those places, no free lunch.
The term has come to be conservative code for, ‘nobody gets anything for free’ on the general principle that it just ain’t right. So welfare recipients have to look for work, or submit urine samples, or be limited to three months government help in any one lifetime, after which they can go die on the street. ‘That was good enough for Jerusalem 20 centuries ago, and it’s by God good enough now.’
When you were a child, and you wandered into the kitchen hoping for a peanut butter sandwich, did your Mom give you any crap about ‘no free lunch’ or tell you to get a job or get out? No, she fed you, she bought your clothes, she saved for your college if she could, and you had a couple decades of free lunch.
It’s called taking care of your own, and you probably spoil your own children and grandchildren with clearly communist plots like PBJ sandwiches and milk.
A nation that will not look first to the health and well being of its own people is no nation at all, but an enterprise bent on profit for the bosses, nothing else.
Ask yourself if the bosses are getting a free lunch, and you will have grasped that there is always a free lunch. It just isn’t shared, if the pigs get to it first.
Game, set, match.
Capitalism is all about getting a free lunch… by having your workers pay for it (or some greater fool in the stock market).
Corporate Socialism I think is a better tag for what you rail against. Capitalism/Socialism are the new red meat hot button words.
When I was younger “socialism” in effect not in name comfortably coexisted in our society.
I remember USPS deliveries twice a day. It was a big deal when Saturday service was reduced to once a day!!. We used to be able to go to the ubiquitous seasonal veggie stands called “The Farm” that were farm coop retail locations selling local in season produce. We had daily dairy product delivers from the dairy coop. Blue Cross Blue Shield medical coverage was a ubiquitous nonevent. Even the most functionally modest people were able to make a living wage.
The notion of replacing Capitalism with Socialism, as in converting our society from private ownership to state ownership of the means of production I doubt will be happening anytime soon here, if ever. Certainly I doubt in my lifetime.
Unwinding government misallocation of resources (File Under: egregious aspects of the MIC, socialization of financial sector failed risk, and other legislated thumbs on the scale to numerous to list) are the crux of the problem These are not by definition necessarily features of Capitalism. These are features of Abuse of Power and Nonrepresentative Government.
Unwinding Policy driven and Legislated resource misallocations to more sensibly realign resource flow to the abused middle /lower class income Quintiles (which will improve the velocity of money) are more realistic granular objectives to pursue than expecting some positive outcome to flow from just amorphously banging on about Capitalism bad , Socialism good .
Market discipline for the 99% (costs), socialism for the 1% (profits).
Capitalism is all about power and the exercise of that power. Money is just one a visible sign of that power. Mostly, the power is poorly exercised, ill-understood and consequently, in the long run, I suspect capitalism will fail, but I won’t hold my breath.
“A nation that will not look first to the health and well being of its own people is no nation at all, but an enterprise bent on profit for the bosses, nothing else.” Well said! A perfect answer to those who still think neoliberalism is rational.
In fairness to Jerusalem (“That was good enough for Jerusalem 20 centuries ago, and it’s by God good enough now.”)…Leviticus has several bits of advice that make permanent welfare a feature of ancient Jewish society. For example: Leaving part of the field un-harvested, so gleaners could go harvest their own meal.
And Leviticus 25:23 says “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.”
In other words, humanity’s ownership of the basis of power is temporary, limited, and certainly not divine.
Wouldn’t you like to hear the “Christians'” response to actual Biblical commands. You know, like not permanently owning what you own, or forgiving people their debts (Jubilees!), etc.
You have to work pretty hard to interpret the Bible as condemning gays or abortions, but this stuff is pretty straightforward. Of course the commandment against covetousness really melts the facistic Christians’ arguments. The U.S. has a covetousness industry.
CanadaCare isn’t a Free Lunch. It is pre-paid for by Canada Taxpayers. For example.
What actual free lunches can be cited against FDR?
And what about the lower-class-taxes-prepaid Free Lunches to the Upper Class over the last few decades? Are you willing to call those the Free Lunches which they are to the lucky Class Oppression beneficiaries?
Never have I seen such good responses to the old saw about “No Free Lunch”
James Levy & cwaltz remarks were particularly good.
This is the reason I read NC nearly every day.
Keep it up y’all.
Rentier class has been getting a free lunch for a long time now and intends to continue at the expense of the rest of us.
Where were you when the Bush administration was consuming free lunches for the military like they were going out of style? Their unfunded wars have dug us into a debt hole far bigger than anything Bernie is talking about, and Bernie’s plans address real problems that affect average Americans. So there’s always enough money to pay for counterproductive military adventures, but never enough to help save the middle class from extinction and to help the poor out of the poorhouse? But I do agree that the ACA and the Clinton’s are graft masters, the ACA is not “affordable,” it’s a huge giveaway to the insurance industry, and the Clinton’s trade policies continue to destroy the middle class and our ability to manufacture that could have a severe impact should an actual war ever break out with Russia or China. Do you really think China would continue to supply us electronics if we pissed them off, over, say Korea or Taiwan?
Great post. Good follow-on to yesterday’s post about Krugman. Thanks.
To retain the benefits of the third world and share them with the rest.
IN order to change our unsustainable fossil fuel-based economy to a sustainable economy that respects our planet’s living processes, we do in fact have to drastically reduce our material waste and excess, and yes, our standards of living. SO we are terribly in need of leadership on this. Leadership with societal aims and a sense of moral obligation.
That the ruling class is rather grabbing all they can from the current system reflects the sociopathic nature of our ruling ethos and the utter moral bankruptcy of our elites. That their anointed salesman is Hillary Clinton says a lot.
Bern it down!
Bern one down!
To paraphrase Marx, the specter of Jimmy Carter haunts the American political order. Carter gave perhaps the most honest speech of the last 50 years when he told us that we consumed too much, especially too much oil, and we would have to adjust to a more lean and efficient lifestyle. This was labeled “doom and gloom” and he was banished from the inner precincts of American power from that day forward. You saw it plainly by the way Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama acted around him and treated him like Typhoid Mary. The fact that the national narrative is that Carter told the truth and was a banished loser while Reagan lied like a rug and was “beloved” (I’m saying popular narrative here, not truth, so please bear with me) has informed every politician since the 1980s. Tell the Americans any hard truth and you are doomed. Lie and flatter them and you are golden. If, and only if, that narrative collapses do we stand a chance to ameliorating the looming catastrophe. One thing is clear: Clinton and Trump are not the people to do it.
Carter’s designs on social security and his other proto-neoliberal leanings didn’t exactly do much to energize his voting base–he wasn’t quite the pure-hearted Cassandra of the green counter-narrative either.
He didn’t have to be pure–but once he did tell us the truth, and he was vilified for it. I submit the lesson was learned by our political class: don’t tell the Americans the truth because they will hate you for it. I have seen little since 1980 to disabuse me of the belief that that perception is largely true. The popularity of Clinton and Trump among primary voters seems to confirm it.
I take your point that being truthful might be political suicide, but the other result of Carter’s management of the energy crisis was that we did, in fact, drastically reduce our energy consumption through most of the ’70s without noticeable hardship (there was a period of frustrating lines at service stations, but no mass starvation, huge increase in poverty or great pangs of deprivation that I was aware of living through that period). Of course, by the mid-’80s the crisis was long forgotten and extraction of profit from burning fossil fuel was ramped up again. But a lot of environmentalists point to that period as a proof of concept that we can significantly reduce our energy consumption without severely diminishing our standard of living.
I have often wondered why the 55 mph limit is not reinstated.
“Kirk!…You speak our sacred words”
Evidently you don’t live in the west, with its vast stretches of open roads. Try driving across Texas at 55 mph some time. Great way to fall asleep at the wheel through sheer boredom.
I did it all the time in the 70s and 80s. Never bothered me. But then I love a road trip.
Credit where due . . . the 55mph speed limit came in during the Nixon Administration, and save a lot of gas all by itself.
No cruise control back then! Except for tractors…
Gawd, I hated that. An arms race between the police and radar detector makers ensued and it legitimized the government concept of policing for profit and focused the ire of everyone against them. That has morphed into the monstrous police – surveillance state of today. The dislike or hatred of police was grounded in that era.
No one behind a steering wheel thought it made sense, unless you worked for an auto insurance company. Then they could raise rates willy nilly, because the cops were handing out tickets like confetti at a parade. They had proof that you were a higher risk because you drove 65 MPH on a highway designed for 90 MPH.
Nixon couldn’t have cared less. The 55 MPH limit didn’t affect him. His corrupt ass was flown around at taxpayer expense.
The reason it was instituted was that . . . with the cars of those days . . . 55 mph was the speed above which the car’s own air-resistance created by the car’s higher speed began increasing so much as to force the car to burn more gas to travel a set distance at over 55mph then it took the car to burn going that same set distance at or under 55mph. It was a gas conservation measure voted for by Congress and signed by Nixon in response to the Arab Oil Embargo.
Perhaps we could design cars to be so aerodynamic that the same sharp rise in air resistance with rising speed takes place at some much higher speed. Or perhaps we could impose a $5.00 per gallon tax on gas to incent people to drive just below the fast-rising air-resistance-increase speed so as to make the same amount of bought-and-paid-for gas take the car a further distance. Or we could just do nothing and let the oil deplete faster as we skydump the carbon faster.
It occured to me recently, which groups of people other than the Overclass with their oxygen-enriched bunkers would survive in tomorrow’s oxygen-depleted atmosphere? Probably Tibetans and highest-elevation Andean Indians. They are already genetically adapted to stripping less oxygen than the rest of us out of thinner high-altitude air. When we are all dead from oxygen-deprivation, the Tibetans and Andeans will inherit the low-elevation places.
Cars are significantly more efficient than they were in the 70s. I think a modern car can get 3x the gas mileage at 75 that a car in the 70s would get at 55.
Yes, but that is a rational argument.
Although I remember at the time having a car I really wasn’t interested in being in at over 55mph.. time marches on
An argument based purely on “fuel efficiency” should recognize that the power needed to push an object through a fluid I (air) increases as the cube of the velocity.
So what’s up with rolling back to a 55mph limit, why not a 15mph speed limit?
Still faster than walking!
Because in those big square states, 55mph is REALLY SLOW.
Implemented in concert with an expansion of high speed rail, this becomes less of an issue. And with modern cars being highly automated and computerized, speed limits enforced by police action are probably an anachronism. Just cap speeds internally and patrol areas with lower limits (or work out an infrastructural solution that communicates local limits to vehicles via wifi). Driving slowly is a drag, but so are paying taxes and bills. That shouldn’t be the overriding concern.
“Tell the Americans any hard truth and you are doomed. Lie and flatter them and you are golden. If, and only if, that narrative collapses do we stand a chance to ameliorating the looming catastrophe.”
Isn’t this life in general? How do you get a girl? How are you liked in the corporate office? No one likes anyone that tells the truth, thats why we have the saying “you are honest to a fault”.
I think that’s a well intended attempt to fearlessly look reality in the eye, but I don’t see any evidence that it is true. It is a matter of definitions. If “standard of living” is measured by useful consumption, as opposed to simply total throughput of raw materials, then eliminating “waste and excess” will not reduce our standard of living. (Waste and excess is, by definition, superfluous to our standard of living.)
I notice you use the plural form of standard… not clear what multiplicity of standards you have in mind, but if ‘standard’ means anything like ‘norm’, there’s a lot of room for increasing the standard of millions of Americans. Until inequality is solved, I don’t think it’s possible to calculate whether our actual standard of living needs to decline in order to become sustainable, though certainly our patterns of consumption need to change. It also matters whether one is talking about reducing the actual standard (mean?) of consumption or the aspirational standard of “the American dream”. It is true we can not rationally all aspire to live like Bill Gates.
But it is not true that inequality has to be left untouched and every individual has to decrease their individual consumption for society to become sustainable. And, we may need to lower our standard of living for other reasons, reasons of international justice, that have nothing directly to do with sustainability. But even if that is the case, there is no reason to expect that such a lowering of our standard of living would entail any necessary suffering or hardship. I recognize that you never suggested that it would, but a lot of people, I think, are under the misapprehension that lowered standards of living means more painful and less satisfying lives… which is not at all the case. Which kinda brings us back around to the point of this article… we are being managed to accept more pain and suffering as necessary when there is nothing necessary about it. Which, I think, goes a long way to explain why being asked to reduce our standard of living for sustainability does not generally fly with most people. It is, in my opinion, smarter to simply insist on sustainability, and let our standard of living fall where it may. With equitable distribution of resources, many individual standards of living will rise.
Agreed. I’m always fascinated when people assume that living a different lifestyle would mean a lower standard of living. Quite the contrary, things like walkable communities, shorter work weeks, more efficient healthcare, lower arrest and incarceration rates, a bigger passenger rail system, and less warmongering would actually raise the standard of living for most Americans.
It might mean a few less consumer goods, but most of us would trade having not quite so many clothes and shoes in our closets (as long as we have plenty) for a lot more time off of paid work and fewer bureaucratic hassles. Agree that changes in lifestyle are not necessarily equal to “a lower standard of living.”
It’s going to be a lot more wrenching than that – the entire economy is organized around the false fundamental premise that things are ‘good’ when everyone who can be employed is employed to extract/produce/consume as much as everything as fast as we possibly can. While I of course agree we can imagine an alternative that works sustainably, getting there is going to require truly revolutionary changes in values, macro to micro organization, concepts of work and employment, property rights, energy rights or some other means of measuring and ensuring both floors and ceilings on individual/household/municipal/State/National ‘footprints’, etc. And it has to work for the whole planet or it will be greeted with zero cooperation. It is going to take the sort of commitment and determination as a society typically associated with war – but in this case closer to building an ancient temple or great cathedral, the dedicated work of an entire generation.
Only one tiny quibble with any of this.
“As far as I can see, she’s offering, at best, a kind of paternalistic sympathy that does little to ameliorate the actual problems we face.
Would make that MATERNALISTIC, which is HER utility.
Don’t worry, children. Mama’s gonna take care of everything.
Think you mean Mommie Dearest.
“your gonna take that and like it….or else’
Also no wire coat hangers.
Maybe. But she’s totally male-identified. More like a mother keeping her children trapped in the household of an abusive father. Nothing maternal about it. The power of sexism and misogyny lie in their work as systems of domination. Systems have no gender.
Hillary Clinton is MOM from Futurama.
To put a finer point on Yves comment about the 10-12%share of national income going to capital. It seems that the entire component could be attributed to Intellectual property.
Labor Share Decline and the Capitalization of Intellectual
IP is another word for tax evasion…by giving “branding” some mystery long term value one can flip revenue to the lowest cost member of the commonwealth willing to do the most backflips and claim ex usa non taxable event…the jet passenger plane opened the door to this illusion of ibgybg…traveling from one continent to another used to force one to consider the fury of Gaia when crossing the seas for a week or two…today one takes a bus ride across the sky and can avoid the folks who might be upset about the princes “first night” rituals…
IP…branding…because sears is still the number one department store…we still use royal typewriters and nobody travels without seeing what temple hornday fielding has to say about that destination…
Realistically if we went back to capitalism we might be fine…what we seem to have today is corporationalist reroyalization…
And throughout the history of mankind…every once in a while…nations are lead by klunkers…
Right now we are having our edsel moment…
My simplistic formulation of our situation is: the earth’s fossil fuel bounty made the industrial era possible and normalized the unrealistic expectation that economic growth was desirable, perpetual and subject to human agency. Thermodynamic limits and ecological costs coming due -peak oil coupled with the exhaustion and overexploitation of other natural resources, dying oceans, climate chaos, etc- are bringing economic growth to an end. Sociologically, we seem incapable of operating in any other paradigm than that of class-conflict, with neoliberalism as the last stage manifestation of class relations. So we have a shrinking economic pie and an avaricious ruling elite hell bent on taking an ever increasing share of that shrinking pie.
Agree with the situation as depicted. We already see the jockeying for remaining global resources, including efforts by the strongest to actively prevent development of entire regions. We already have what amounts to a simmering global class war taking place within and among all the world’s nations, yet our leaderships so far absolutely refuse to engage.
A quick correction – Joseph Tainter. A must-read book imho.
Aargh, thanks, fixed!
Another note: many archaeologists now question or reject the utility of “collapse” as an interpretive framework. There are very, very few examples of demographic collapse in the archaeological record, and many presumed such cases (on the basis of, say, decrease in investment in monumental architecture or historical records) have been falsified by survey archaeology. “Collapses” are almost always of the system of elite control, not of the basic subsistence and lifestyle of the broader population.
The goal of the neo-liberal consensus is to manage the decline, and manage your acceptance of it.
So, how to bring this fact home convincingly to a majority of the voters? If Hillary’s role is to make the acceptance palatable (and assuming as is still probable that she gets the nomination), then logically the way to make it as unpalatable as possible is to vote for…Trump. This sort of argument–politique du pire, “the worse things get the better they get”–has been made elsewhere. The potential for disaster here is enormous, as 20th century history amply illustrates, but we don’t have to abroad for Horrible Examples. Look instead at Governors Brownback, Walker, Jindal and Snyder. All responsible for deeply reactionary policies, all triumphantly re-elected. Right-wing governance doesn’t “pave the way” for the Revolution or for much of anything else except more right-wing governance. H.L. Mencken probably got it right when he wrote (in 1920) that only if the US suffered a resounding military defeat would radicalism gain significant political traction–which is carrying the “worse things get” notion a bit too far.
So the alternative isn’t very inspiring, but may be the only way to go. Keep nudging Hillary leftwards (which Bernie has already partly succeeded in doing), put her in the White House, then keep on nudging. It has worked in the past with a malleable centrist Democrat considered a lightweight on the issues–“a first-rate personality with a third-rate intellect”: Franklin Roosevelt.
“manage your acceptance of it”
Kasich in October 15′: John Kasich told his audience at a forum that they were “going to have to get over” cuts to their Social Security benefits. (to existing retirees)
“Now what if I told you your initial benefit was going to be somewhat lower in order to save the program,” he continued. “Would that drive you crazy?”
When an audience member indicated it would upset them, Kasich replied, “Ok. Well, you’d get over it. And you’re going to have to get over it.”
There are variations on this Kasich theme with Clinton / Christie / Rubio / Cruz – The Goldman Sachs Candidates
Everyone “but”…… Bernie and Trump!
which is why the Establishment is trying to take them down
Trump said that the minimum wage is, as-is, “too high.” So he’s in the same camp, he only flatters his humble audience by zinging the political and intellectual (but NOT economic) elites. He also maintains that climate change is a “hoax invented by the Chinese to destroy our industry”, or did you miss that one–a statement so stupid it should have disqualified him from being elected dog catcher.
Mr Levy you said: Trump – “He also maintains that climate change is a….. “hoax”
Read it and weep Mr. Levy – the word Obama is not a noun it is a verb as in ObamaNation which means:
Lying to the Nation!
I call your attention yesterday at the WH podium Obama with Trudeau announcing new Initiative:
The Obama administration wants to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 percent to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The Interior Department has proposed a number of regulations on methane leaks, but it has yet to write a regulation governing such leaks from current oil and gas drilling on public land.
methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Warming in the Arctic is causing the once-frozen ground there, known as permafrost, to thaw across “millions” of acres. An immense amount of organic material is trapped in the permafrost, and after it thaws, bacteria can break it down, releasing methane or carbon dioxide, depending on how wet the area is. Dr. Walter Anthony is trying to determine how much the release of these gases will intensify global warming.
The answer to the how and why of this and this begins with bacteria in the mud at the bottom of the lake munching on dead plants and other organic matter. This releases methane gas. As the methane attempts to escape, it bubbles toward the frozen surface of the lake and gets trapped beneath the ice.
Although the winds which keep the surface of man-made Abraham Lake clear have made it a particularly good spot to see the bubbles, thousands of other lakes support this phenomenon according to Katey M. Walter Anthony, a scientist at The University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has identified similar patterns at natural and man-made lakes in Minnesota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Russia, Greenland and beyond. In Canada, Vermillion Lakes and Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park bubble beautifully too.
Wait, that thin reed debunks the notion that we are experiencing climate change? Really? That’s your case? And you still have to show that it was the Chinese who “invented” the idea, and then that they “invented” the idea to “destroy our industry.”
Good luck with that one.
what about – naturally occurring methane / or the word “organic” —– don’t you understand?
MILLIONS of acres – in the WORLD – all decaying organic bacteria !!!!
for my amusement and your edification – and in simple terms for your limited understanding – it has been going on for “Millions” of years – that is bacteria decay and release of methane
“all I have” – what do you have that overcomes the words – millions of years
Mr Levy – if you are unwilling to provide specific facts you lose the license to have an ….opinion!
why do you have any of these silly opinions?
do you have an education of some kind? – was it home schooled?
Crawl back under your bridge, would ya?
brilliant retort – you should get a literary agent and expand your reach
Have a few facts:
for millions of years!
wake up !
you’re being manipulated at best – try thinking how to limit decomposition of bacteria and come back – Methane is not understood by your maximum leader The ObamaNation – nor you!
Your argument is incoherent. You are correct that naturally produced methane is being liberated by the thawing of arctic ice and permafrost. This thawing and melting has been caused by the rise in arctic air and water temperatures associated with climate change. The Administration is trying to reduce the unintentional man-caused release of methane from oil and gas wells and pipelines. Please connect the dots so I can understand why the fact of climate-change-caused methane release is a rational cause to not attempt to reduce man-made releases?
I should know better than respond to Deniers on a Friday but, here it goes:
While methane “leaking” naturally into the atmosphere has been occurring for a long time the RATE of increased CO2 in the atmosphere has been correctly attributed to the recent (since 1900) burning of fossil fuels for industry and transportation. It ain’t caused by naturally occurring methane leakage.
While methane is a serious “greenhouse” gas (20x’s CO2), the quantity of methane leaking into the atmosphere pales in comparison to the quantity of currently emitted (by autos), and existing CO2. (The reason methane is such a serious “greenhouse” gas is that it degrades (over a number of years) to CO2 and water vapor. Water vapor holds heat and helps create a positive feedback loop.)
Senator Rubio, is that you?
It is man made global warming in the last few decades which has warmed the Arctic and Subarctic ( and Tibet too) enough that permafrost has begun thawing over just the last few decades. As it thaws it will release a vast carbon load which had been slumbering like Cthulhu for thousands of years previous. Once mankind has warmed the global enough to thaw all that permafrost, which will warm the Arctic enough to warm the upper and mid layers of the Arctic Ocean enought to warm up and release all the shallow seabed methane clathrates, then global warming will runaway to some higher level and it will be out of our hands to stop it.
So what exactly has been debunked here?
The political and intellectual elites are those who enable and justify the actions of the financial elites. This is why they are hated even more.
As for global warming, if one doesn’t understand the science (and most people don’t), the whole discussion of global warming looks an awful lot the elite telling the common people to lower their expectations: “You won’t get to own your own car, you will have to take the bus. You won’t get to have a big yard, you will need to have an apartment. You’ll sweat in the summer and shiver in the winter. Get used to it.”
So no matter what, the best you can do is always go with the lesser-of-two-evils. Wow, what profound analysis…
You are aware that you’re pitching the exact same line of thought that got us where we are today, right? What was that thing Einstein or AA says about “the definition of insanity”?
No question but that “lesser of two evils” is about as discredited as any approach can be. My argument was based on the assumption that like it or not, Hillary will be the nominee. I hope to hell she isn’t and I’ll be voting for Bernie in my state’s primary next month no matter what. But given the the two most likely GOP nominees are either Trump or Cruz (national disasters waiting to happen) it’s not so much a matter of the LOTE as it is of averting catastrophe for quite a few of our fellow citizens.
A bumper sticker with a photo of one of Hillary’s meanest nasty-faces and the phrase
” No you can’t!” might make the point of Hillary’s mission clear in a visible way.
some problems with your imagery…for sanders to nudge hillary left, he would have to be to the right of her, since he’s to the left of hillary, she is being made to chase him left, much to hers and her supporters consternation, so your image imagines a scenario not in evidence, but one that presents that as being the case. We’re not better off with clinton. She has presented no policy or plan to improve anything for anyone, but we can safely i believe assume that all things globalization and spreading the usian corporate culture worldwide will be the game plan. Do you have any examples of specific things clinton will or even might do to improve lot of the median citizen ($28,000/yr or less, pretty far below what any “important” person makes, and right on the bitter edge of the obamacare paradox, almost certain to be thrown into medicaid and thus clawbacks if a health problem arises, but expected to pay for private insurance with ridiculous deductibles until then basically insuring poverty for the median person in order to keep the medical/insurance industries subsidized) Look at inner city Detroit, this is what hillary and all the neolibcons have planned for us, hollow out our country making money somewhere else while being subsidized by us then getting all preachy about personal responsibility before stealing everything in a “public private partnership”. Bernie is already where I want (to the left of the hills) and I’m voting for that because I don’t consider suffering a necessity, and under hillary suffering will continue, if not get worse.
Hillary was never a progressive in her adult life!
Is it just me or does this sound like a Clinton endorsement justified by the argument that “sure, she’s an establishment centrist sellout shilling for the 1%, but we can work on that”. Or rather, we can “nudge” her in the right direction.
How’d that nudging work with Obama?
It’s telling that rather than discuss recent history you need to reach back to over 80 years ago to find an example of such “nudging” allegedly working – and then in order to make the comparison viable you need to resort to a false equivalence between Clinton and FDR and completely ignore the fact that the political landscape in 1930s America was entirely different than it is today.
The truth is Democrats only pretend to care what their base thinks at election time. Once in office they’ll sell out the base in a heartbeat, and then add insult to injury with taunts of “Whadya going to do, the other guys are worse!”
In order to break the cycle of violence people need to end their co dependent relationship with the Democratic party and realize that the party’s failures are not their failures or their responsibility. Clinton doesn’t want you help. Deal with it and move on.
‘It has worked in the past with a malleable centrist Democrat considered a lightweight on the issues–“a first-rate personality with a third-rate intellect”: Franklin Roosevelt.’
We are talking about Hillary Clinton here?
Yes, makes me think of lifeboats and the Titanic. They want us folks in steerage to drown, perhaps quickly, but at least quietly. The 1% get lifeboats, the 10% whose job it is to keep us quiet will find that their knuckles are bashed when they think it is their turn to pull themselves over the gunwales of the lifeboats.
Or another metaphor, we are the foam on the runway.
Could be. You are probably right that many of the elite can see no way out of this; that is, no way out of their own greed. It’s like the alcoholic who knows he/she is on a downward spiral and is taking their whole family and many friends, business and so on, with them but sees no way out and is willing to sacrifice everything and anything (in effect their humanity) for the addiction.
On the other hand, Gaius is saying, “Don’t fall for it”. Extinction (the outcome of such addiction) and all it’s attendant horrors (in getting there) is by no means a required part of the syllabus.
The notion that society must change, seriously reduce but also reconsider consumption (not only physically, but in our way of thinking, in our politics, our law, our learning) and so on, is absolutely correct, but that in no way means we must become destitute or miserable.
Unfortunately, that will require a coordinated effort. How will this happen?
As with other forms of imposed rationing, hoarders will have to be prised loose from their hoards. This will require governments (the lawful possessors of force) and so far, the hoarders are the government. I cannot see how this will end well for us, although I agree that it could.
Now that’s a bumper sticker ! “We are the foam on the runway”
Well . . . . can we destroy all the lifeboats before the Titanic sinks? If “us” can’t survive, why should “them” be allowed to survive either?
I see that the old Malthusian objections of limited resources have been raised again. Add to Malthus, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and you have the British philosophy of economics. As Michael Hudson has pointed out, this is just one of three major economic philosophies developed in the nineteenth century. The second major economic philosophy was the American System, often also called the American School of political economy. The third major economic philosophy was Marxism, which, be it noted, was created by a crank who spent his entire days sitting in the British Library living off hand outs from a rich British textile baron, and which philosophy, when put into practice, has always resulted in failed economic systems (because the philosophy, its defenders claim, was not applied in pure enough form).
As I wrote for Thanksgiving 2013:
The progress of human technology can roughly be summarized as moving ever further down 1) a spectrum of energy density and 2) molecular and atomic scale. From the rapidly diffused light and heat of burning wood twigs, we have progressed to concentrate fire in boilers, then in internal combustion engines, and are now mastering the techniques of directing and manipulating single molecules, atoms, and even photons. We can now perform surgery on genes, and arrange individual atoms. These technologies are all breathtakingly recent in the context of known human history.
The implications are enormous. Almost every economics textbook I have seen – and I have acquired quite a few and looked at many, many others for just this reason – begins with some definition or other involving the allocation of scarce resources…. arguments that resources are scarce is a smokescreen that prevents us from seeing how rich oligarchs manipulated national economies.
…. As Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler argue in their book, February 2012 book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think
We have the technology – NOW – in hand, to build multi-room residences that need only the heat of its human occupants and the heat vented by whatever electric devices are in use to stay warm enough to run around naked in during Scandinavian winters.
We have nano-engineered filters for making drinking water from the most heavily polluted sources; we have new materials which allow us to build photovoltaics without semiconductors, reducing the cost of solar energy by not one, but several orders of magnitude. We have the ability, I write again, to perform surgery on genes, and arrange individual atoms.
The use of these technologies to solve all known human problems is a mere engineering problem. We are at a point in history where we can give every person on the planet a decent standard of living. Not the wasteful standard of living of the contemporary USA, but enough that no person, anywhere, for any reason, need experience hunger or cold or deprivation or curable illness.
What we do NOT have is a financial and banking system willing to fund the use and commercialization of those technologies at anything but obscene rates of profit. The only real shortage we suffer from is a ruling philosophy of political economy that irrevocably and ruthlessly subordinates the financial and banking system to deploying these technologies on behalf of all mankind. Instead, we have rich pricks who have poured billions of dollars into promoting and propagating the philosophy that poor people deserve the hardships and indignities they suffer.
As they used to sing in the coal fields of Appalachia: Whose side are you on?
‘The use of these technologies to solve all known human problems is a mere engineering problem.’
Is demographic decline a “mere engineering problem”? Or the iron grip of the military-intelligence complex on 5 or 6% of GDP, which they proceed to flush down the toilet on value-subtracting global domination?
These are social problems. Whereas converting the entire U.S. housing stock to triple-glazed Passivhaus standards is a financial problem. And a mold problem, along the Gulf Coast. I’m not livin’ in no damned meat locker.
Among the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the technocrat is the one mounted on the White Horse of the False Prophet.
Yes, tis only an engineering problem. The obstacles you point to cannot be overcome by engineering. They are obstacles to applying engineering to otherwise solvable problems. That they cannot be solved obstacles which fall entirely within the province of political economy prevent the application of engineering solutions, is precisely the point I am trying to make.
The United States is hardly the only country on Earth. If, as you contend, these issues have all been solved, wouldn’t enormous benefits accrue to any one of the 190 countries that adopted these fantastic solutions you claim are all out there already? So why don’t they? Why would not a nation like China or Germany or Brazil or Russia or Japan, all nations with different political cultures and traditions than the United States, leap ahead and adopt these solutions?
Look at the boards of two or three multinationals. I suggest Royal Dutch Shell, RTZ, and BP. Keep in mind the span of their operations and influence.
Oh, and Barclays.
19 October 2011
Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world
“But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs).”
And for the gory details of how their rule is actually enforced: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the autobiographical book written by John Perkins published in 2004.
So, the super-entity may not result from conspiracy. The real question, says the Zurich team, is whether it can exert concerted political power. Driffill feels 147 is too many to sustain collusion. Braha suspects they will compete in the market but act together on common interests. Resisting changes to the network structure may be one such common interest.
What is the market price of a politician?
Interesting list of the 50 most interconnected. After what looks like 49 types of banksters and bullshit jawbs firms, someone finally makes something.
50. China Petrochemical Group Company
I think Tony is mostly right. I happen to believe that not just elitism and the economic power of the FIRE industry impedes our quest for long-term abundance, but property rights, particularly long-term intellectual property rights play a role in the difficulty in adopting and expanding such technologies. (Have you noticed that technology companies seem to spend as much in acquiring and defending intellectual property rights as they spend developing useful technology?) I encourage folks to look at how Benjamin Franklin viewed intellectual property rights. This is WAY off topic but if we are to achieve such a utopian lifestyle (economically equal, broad well-being, and environmentally conscious) we will have to consider changes well beyond universal health care.
What’s actually missing is a coordinated effort on the part of our leaders to work in this direction – they’re too bust manning the lifeboats. Big audacious goals have often required government investment and coordination, and the more cumulative technology becomes, the more this is the case. If we had left it to private enterprise (with a profit motive) from the beginning, would be ever have put a man in space? SpaceX only exists today because NASA existed then.
How many of these techno-solutions to material problems have indeed been adopted in the Scandinavian countries? Might technology in these countries be a partial demonstration of what Wikrent has said?
In other countries, those classes which profit from the problems will work to preserve the profitable problems. Those classes would have to be crushed, smashed, and beaten down into the ground before the engineering solutions could be applied.
You seem to have it backwards. In several paragraphs you make the case that the problems are already solved; in other words, there aren’t engineering problems any more, because the engineering is already occurring.
Yet it is doubtful that any of this will ever be accomplished, because the social, economic, political, and religious obstacles are too great. For example, the cost of demolishing and replacing millions of houses, apartment buildings, offices, schools, and warehouses with efficient replacements would be astronomical. The engineering is relatively easy, everything else is very difficult.
“The engineering is relatively easy, everything else is very difficult.”
“Gold is the only money, the rest is credit” – JPM
i’m an engineer. i wouldn’t be too sure of the “engineering will solve all our problems” bit. maybe if you’ve started hearing too much of the “innovation” sermons, but engineering is eventually mostly common sense. dont expect magic.
also engineering makes possible the mess that humans have created. its a tool. can be used for good or bad.
Thanks for the reality check. Nothing is easy, although some tasks are less difficult than others.
I am also an engineer and am skeptical about those who posit that engineering can solve the resource issues in the world.
The problem is of scale, whether it is potable water/capita or arable land/capita or available hydrocarbons to burn without exacerbating climate change.
When we have relatively few people living the high consumption developed nation lifestyle (maybe a 1billion out of 7 billion in the world) and yet many within this developed nation lifestyle still struggling, I believe we have a scaling problem for the other 6 billion who want a similar lifestyle.
Engineering can do a lot (for example, the transistor was a major improvement over tubes as far as energy usage and supporting reliable and complex designs impossible with tubes) but engineering has been presented difficult problems that it has not solved even when considerable time and resources have been available (hydrogen fusion as been worked on for 60+ years).
Some of this may be we are schooled to expect that every problem, like those problems presented in elementary school, has a solution.
Possibly with climate change and increasing population, assuming there is a painless technological solution “around the corner” is not at all realistic.
But then I also don’t believe there is a benevolent God who cares about human well-being and is waiting on the bench to step in if things get too bad.
Advanced civilizations have declined before, Rome had an early peak in population at 1.6million in the second century and was depopulated by 546AD
But the elite took care of themselves by high tailing it to Constantinople in 330AD.
One can wonder if there is similarity of the Roman elite to our political class.
A stunningly Marxist statement from a person who claims Marxism is bankrupt. That is the core: The subordination of all human endeavor to the profit motive.
No, it is entirely within the province of the one philosophy of political economy which has not been taught for about a century now: the American School. For example, Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper 15: “Is private credit the friend and patron of industry?”
Or, Hamilton in The Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, to the House of Representatives [on] Establishing the Public Credit, December 13, 1790:
“Public utility is more truly the object of public banks than private profit And it is the business of government to constitute them on such principles that while the latter will result in a sufficient degree to afford competent motives to engage in them the former be not made subservient to it.”
Thanks TW for accidentally demonstrating the thesis of this article via the comments. That is to say, people largely buy in to the idea that decline is inevitable. If I read you right, you are saying of course things could be better. I agree, humans have the ability to make it so. Whether we go in that direction is another question.
But I think it bears remembering that for people at the top of the heap, things are just peachy. This includes Obama, who has been a good boy and must be looking forward to cashing out. Why would anyone who benefits from the way things are want to do anything but reinforce the idea that the way things are is the way they must be?
It’s really not that bad for them, having people suffer some. When people are worried about financial survival, they are less likely to have time and energy to complain about our slide into a police state, the loss of the rule of law (now only for the little people), the loss of our privacy? And if things do get serious, the police will be there for them. Remember Occupy? Dissent from the status quo will first be dealt with by propaganda, but if that doesn’t work there are other methods. And the Marxists out there really want to give our apparatchiks in DC more power over our lives?
Well Marxist strictly speaking would want to take over the state apparatus. So no they wouldn’t want to give the current apparatchiks in DC more power over our lives, not at all. They know the current state serves the capitalist class (and that is undeniable), so it would need to be conquered via revolution to serve the working class. I mean if it’s really truly Marxist you are talking about.
But how common are they really? Now many people who are not Marxist realize the state will have power regardless, and try to push it to serve to serve the interest of the general population rather than a few capitalists, by means other than violent revolution. The verdict is out on how well that will ever work but …
The Marxists would merely use the state to benefit Party Member Marxists. The higher up the Marxist was in the ruling Marxist Party, the more material benefits ( and the more psychic benefits accruing to the excercise of vast and sadistic powers) would accrue to the Nomenclatura Marxist in a Marxist GoverState.
If we were one one-millionth as smart as you think we are, we would not be the existential threat we now are to every living system on this planet. To term this an ‘engineering’ problem when we’re talking about having created in one century a planetary-scale crisis caused by a species run utterly amok and created billions of copies of itself made out of cheap fossil energy is, well, how we got there in the first place.
I anticipate that readers will debate whether decline is inevitable. Yves Smith
Decline isn’t inevitable since technology continues to achieve more and more with less and less material and energy. Moreover, material is endlessly recyclable and the energy problem is well on its way to solution.
My short answer is that with the caliber of leadership we have in the US and abroad, it’s hard to see how we escape it. Yves Smith
Who’s fault is that? Socialism is not palatable to the population except when they are desperate. So why aren’t Progressives offering justice instead of blame the victim “solutions” such as a Job Guarantee? Why is the population only offered two bad choices?
Socialism is not palatable to the population except when they are
desperatetold the truth about what it is (they already know what a system of, by and for greed is).
Better “Serious Adults” please (and who let these poor tired consumer cliché pushers loose?)
Socialism does not work, except as a crucial ingredient in a mixed economy. Do you really want to organize the production and distribution of shower curtains on strict socialist lines?
David Ellerman, who was an adviser to Joseph Stiglitz, when the latter was at the World Bank, argues that Marxism is now used by capitalist apologists to confine the debate over political economy to carefully controlled bounds. Ellerman’s thesis is that “Marxists (and so-called “democratic” socialists) played into the hands of capitalist apologetics by accepting the public versus private framing of the question, and by arguing for public rather than private ownership of the means of production.” This makes it impossible to actually apply democratic principles to the workplace, because Marxists are stuck on the idea that large enterprises, because of their size and impact, have to be taken over by the state. The Marxists are unwilling to agree to private ownership of the means of production, even when the private owners are ALL the employees of an enterprise. In Marxism as a Capitalist Tool, Ellerman writes:
The solution is not pure socialism or pure capitalism. The solution is to democratize capitalism by forcing all corporate structures to include employee ownership and representation. Not having the entire society own the entire means of production.
read “progress and poverty” by henry george for what is the problem and the solution.
Gaius frequently “hits a nerve” resulting in the odd assortment of bile bytes. Remember how these, er, people (or scripts – not enough juice to be programs) used to literally wait up at night when Gaius published pieces on Global Warming just so they could be the first to pollute the comments section?
(they already know what a system of, by and for greed is). Brooklin Bridge
If Progressives are so anti-greed then it follows they’ll stop supporting government subsidies* for private credit creation since those favor the wealthiest at the expense of the poorest?
*Primarily, by limiting accounts at the central bank to a usury cartel consisting of depository institutions thereby rendering their actual liabilities as a whole toward the population to nearly nothing, and when/if physical fiat is abolished, to absolutely nothing.
Yep, it’s gonna be quite a sight if/when physical fiat, aka. cash, is abolished (except small denomination coins are OK since it’s fun watching the peons stuffing coins at the laundry mat?) and people realize they’ve been fully enslaved to a usury cartel.
In reply to Andrew: “Decline isn’t inevitable since technology continues to achieve more and more with less and less material and energy. Moreover, material is endlessly recyclable and the energy problem is well on its way to solution.”
Is it not really inevitable? And does what it achieve actually produce only good results?
If you stop and think about all the technology in a vacuum, it seems pretty good, if not amazing, but there are always two products in the output, the technical product, and scrap. The scrap is deadly and the list is huge (not to mention that a lot of the technical “products” are no better than scrap in and of themselves).
Needless to say,I can’t list all the deadly scrap, but think about things like non-stick pans, Monsanto, KBR and fracking fluids, deep pit and strip mining of coal, copper, silver and gold necessary for our tech, oil sludge and materials for our computers and cell phones, massive aerosol spraying, recently noted in MSM, on the West Coast to increase the effects of El Nino (and what we get to breathe afterwards), etc.
And speaking of water, the emptying of lakes for the last 50 years all over Central and Northern California in order to feed the technology (and lawns) of Los Angeles, essentially destroying the environment of thousands of square miles. And this is not unique to SoCal. It’s happening all over the world thanks to the technology of massive dam building and pipeline systems (and the materials and waste to build the infrastructure). Oh yeah… let’s not forget the massive strip mining of forests, and most of that strip mining is not used productively but just burned off polluting the atmosphere at unimaginable levels.
* EROEI is decreasing yearly.
* Potable water is decreasing yearly.
* Mercury and other types of poisons used in extracting materials necessary for technology are increasing yearly.
* Bio-poisons in our water and food are increasing yearly thanks to Monsanto, Dow, and other bio-tech/pharma Corps producing all these wonderful technologies.
* Plastic scrap killing our rivers and oceans.
* Massive and unsupportable human population growth.
* And the obvious Big One – scrap from burning oil that has supported the world’s huge population growth over the last 150 years or so that is crowding out every other species of life on our planet.
The results of all this are clear to anyone paying attention to the scrap output of all our technologies… massive die-offs of various species of mammals, insects, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, and various plants world-wide (I haven’t seen a crayfish, frog, or monarch butterfly, and other animal life in the section of Upstate NY where I live in years. All these were common as dirt when I was a kid – now the farm ponds all over that area are silent, even in the middle of the summer, thanks to agricultural scrap).
I’m no techo-phobe and I appreciate those that are working hard to actually fix technology without abandoning it, but it’s pretty obvious to me that there is no coordination anywhere on how to deal with these problems of scrap, and under our “free market” society the odds are slim to none there ever will be any coordination.
Take some time to watch the video presentation at PeakProsperity and get a better handle on why our politicians are telling us why we, the world over, need to accept less (we do). Where they are being completely dishonest are the reasons why and their non-“solutions” in attempting to cushion the serious change this entire planet is going through. Most of them are going out of their way to blame “the people” and protect the clearly failed Status Quo and capitalist-style technology that is, in many ways, just useless gee-gaws and lots and lots of scrap.
You missed a biggie: soil depletion, and another, accelerating species extinctions as an indicator of the effects of MOREism and “tech”. Gotta love the “efficiency” of externalizing onto “society” of all that scrap…
Good encapsulation. There is almost as much resistance from ‘progressives’ or those typically ‘liberal’ or ‘left’ on these crucial issues of what real sustainability would really entail as in the middle or on the right. Whether they simply haven’t read enough to grasp the gravity of the situation, or believe it too daunting for the population to engage on the political level, I just don’t know.
I know I’m late to this party and perhaps no one will see this, but…
It is an article of faith among neoliberal economists that various forms of capital can be “substituted” for one another. The basic idea is that if you manufacture something using iron, and you run out of iron (or the price of iron rises), manufacturing does not necessarily come to an end, because the iron can be replaced with aluminum or plastic or some other material that will do the job. The assumption of the economist is that market forces will drive producers to use the “best” material for any job. (“Best” meaning whatever will get the job done for the least cost.) This idea itself is open to argument.
In reality, whenever one material is substituted for another, the quality of the product changes. Anyone who has read a basic chemistry text (or played with wood, metal and plastic toys) knows that every material has unique properties. Steel cars and toys are not the same as plastic cars and toys. Material substitutions can be opportunities to improve products, using the different qualities of the new materials when the new materials are lighter, stronger, more (or less) ductile, etc, etc, according to what the product demands. But that doesn’t mean that every material substitution is ipso facto an improvement. There are many instances when an inferior material is used, producing an inferior product, for any number of reasons including, but not limited to, cost and scarcity.
New materials are often more expensive, not less expensive, and, thanks to the Jevons paradox, gains in efficiency are often rapidly lost when new resources are developed.
From this basic idea that one material may be substituted for another (under certain rather particular circumstances) economists have abstracted the notion that any capital stock can be substituted for any other capital stock without accounting for any degradation of production or the environment. They then took this idea one step further by claiming that any shortage of any resource can be overcome by the substitution of money for that resource (i.e., you can achieve the same results by spending more), and then went even further than this by claiming that any shortage of any resource can be overcome by substituting intelligence and imagination… what they call “human capital” which they treat as a capital stock exactly the same as an iron ore deposit. The end result of this process of abstraction is the absurd belief that material can be replaced with imagination, and since there will never be a shortage of imagination, there is no such thing as an insurmountable shortage of material. Human ingenuity coupled with neoliberal dogma assures us that all problems will be solved and all products will forever and ever improve. This is the basic mythology underlying statements such as the above.
All one needs to falsify this “theory” is to take a hard look around at what passes for products in our current marketplace. As others have pointed out, there may be some elegant designs to be seen, but there is also a mountain of waste and poison created in the process and the market is flooded with inelegant, and low quality, vastly overpriced products. It may be true that technology (at least in the recent past) has done more and more with less and less, but it is certainly not true that society does more and more with less and less as a result. We do more and more with more and more. Our energy appetite grows, it does not shrink. Material substitutions are costly, not cost saving. And product quality often suffers as a result.
There is a parallel between this discussion of capital substitution and discussions about peak oil or peak population. In the case of these later two, predictions of doom were made and then new oil reserves and new agricultural technologies came online, which has led some people to believe there is no natural end to this process…. that new energy will always be developed and new means to support an ever growing population will always be invented, so don’t worry, be happy. But it is a mistake to take a “lesson” from such a short historical period and assume it is a universal truth applicable throughout time.
All natural processes have limits. And while it is the core task of science to challenge those limits and find ways around them, eventually our understanding of nature itself reaches it’s own limits. I’ll be the first to pop open the Champagne when technology solves any of our existing problems. But I would never assume that just because we have lived through a period of unprecedented growth of knowledge, that such growth of knowledge is eternal and inevitable. Because we were able in the past to substitute aluminum for iron in some applications is not sufficient grounds to believe that there are, in principle no resource shortages, or that such shortages don’t or won’t matter.
“And let us also not forget that the “things are going to get worse for you” story also conveniently diverts attention from the degree of rent extraction and looting that is taking place. US corporate profit share of GDP has been at record levels, depending on how you compute if, of 10% of 12% of GDP, when no less than Warren Buffett deemed a profit share of over 6% of GDP as unsustainably high as of the early 2000s. That higher profit share is the direct result of workers getting a far lower share of GDP growth than in any post-war expansion. So the increased hardships that ordinary people face is not inevitable, but is to a significant degree due to the ruling classes taking vastly more than their historical share out of greed and short-sightedness.”
If the squillionaires decline, the rest of us can rise for a long, long, long (did I say long?) time, even if the economy overall was to decline.
As I’ve said many times, GDP and productivity has risen every year (except once for GDP). Tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people work on K street in Washington DC with one goal in mind – skew the rewards of the economy to the top, and the topper the better.
This is not some state of nature – it is a function of the policies, laws, and regulations put in place. The economy hasn’t been made freer or less encumbered by regulations is pure propaganda – the rules are just written for the benefit of patent holders, copyright holders, land holders, money holders, et al. Its not a matter or fewer rules or more rules – its a matter of who the rules benefit.
“The American ruling class has been trying to figure out for years, if
not decades, how to manage decline, how to get Americans to get used to
diminished expectations, how to adapt to the notion that life for the
next generation will be worse than for the previous generation, and now,
how to accept (as Alex Gourevitch reminded me tonight) low to zero growth rates as the new economic normal.”
I think the piece of propaganda that the rich have succeeded in most is making ANY discussion of distribution only spoken by gay, commie, sexist pedophile kitten bashers and puppy barbecuers who dare, DARE to mention that America is not great because the rich are not getting what they get by hard work, but by cheating and manipulation.
Really, lots of data that there is growth. There is only one problem – the fraudsters get most of it.
I always use a simple talking point with my friends who don’t quite understand or care about the particulars of global finance:
Imagine how different the aftermath of the financial crisis would have been if the trillions pumped into banks had, instead, been a $10K check cut to every American citizen.
So, yes, the “managed decline” is really another way of saying “y’all can take the hit while we suffer no consequences of our actions.”
Worse actually: “managed decline” is really another way of saying, y’all can take the hit while we derive the benefits of our actions.
Interesting, I’ve found that the typical person understands that pretty well. It’s our intellectual class that doesn’t seem to fully get why giving money to banks instead of average Americans isn’t exactly popular.
The closer you get to heaven or hell, the more things suddenly have to change. We’re getting pretty damn close to one of them and I don’t think it’s heaven so the good news is it will start getting better and the bad new is, after it gets even worse.
Yet even if he is correct about how energy needs drive complex societies towards their own demise, that does not obviate the idea that better leadership and/or better social values can enable civilizations to adapt rather than fail.
Well said, Yves. And we are in a paradigmatic moment to test that thesis. A dramatic shift to a green-energy economy, accompanied by the massive public works project needed to effectuate that shift, could simultaneously solve: 1) our energy conundrum; 2) global warming; and 3) income inequality. I say we give it a shot.
Avedon Carol manages to slip in a pro-growth message, and even attributes magical growth powers to Sanders.
Perhaps forgetting that the recent rates of industrial (and population) growth must cease, lest we fry ourselves off of the planet even faster. Duplicating the “growth”, and consequent consumption and waste output rates of the past few decades would be tantamount to collective suicide. Any politician that promises it, or
Equitable distribution is one thing (a very good and needed one, and may reduce resentment and bitterness), but Sanders is going to “Create enough abundance…”? Out of… the magical power of personal integrity? This sounds like the a flip-side rehash of the neoliberal mantras. If that’s the bottom line, the Clinton moxie sounds much better.
As for “Empower us to be better able to fight for ourselves”… I think this is also a slanted reading of Sanders, smacks of divine benevolence, personality cult. We can empower ourselves through candidates like Sanders… and Warren when she runs for whatever office office she’ll take on, and a host of others whose names may not be recognized, nor do they need to be. Sanders would be a feeble whimper in the wind without significant financial contributions; he did not make that, we made that. I’m not trying to discount the value of his character (a lifetime investment) or his candidacy, but it is not magical, and does not create power where there was none. Rather, it offers an alternative to violent and destructive overthrow which would otherwise become the eventual recourse.
Avedon Carol’s spin is worthy of Hillary’s own staff, but it’s just as much bullshit. And it’s not what my ears hear in Bernie Sanders’ statements, I hear carefully chosen goals, but not utopian promises. I hear attention to the fulcrum issues, and also appeals for continued support and solidarity going forward. But if that solidarity has the expectation of the fulfillments of the spendthrift dreams of the boomers and their parents, it’s doomed, not politically (this is very doable politically) but practically.
Thank you for this analysis.
Here is one countermove from higher up the financial food chain. Financier Asher Edelman suggests his class are slowing the velocity of money needed for prosperity. Answer, endorse Sanders.
Great read, very though provoking. Personally, though, I am far more optimistic about the future. I think it revolves around two observations:
1) Decline isn’t happening in the future. It’s already here. The majority of American households, right now, already have no meaningful stake in the financial wealth of the nation. This is hard to see because it is not randomly distributed. Younger households live in a very different world than older households. Change has already happened; our existing structure is already unsustainable. It’s like interracial marriage in the 1960s. It was unpopular amongst the establishment, but it was simultaneously inevitable to be accepted in the future because the older generations that were more openly racist would be dying off.
2) The problem isn’t in aggregate; it’s in the distribution. Younger Americans don’t want the materialistic lifestyle of the post-war boom. They don’t need groaf; they don’t even want it. They look around at car-dependent sprawl and see South Park and Columbine and global warming. It is not desirable. They want a revolution in values where we value time and community and togetherness and diversity and plurality. They don’t even understand the hate and vitriol and fearmongering from the authoritarian class, never mind agree with it. Occupy Wall Street and Ferguson and Snowden and Manning aren’t dangerous people who should be arrested. They’re rather tame expressions of how virtually all young people feel.
So it’s okay to live in a world where we make fewer cars and other ‘stuff’. Cars are noisy polluting money pits anyway. The freedom of the open road and the power of the American muscle car speak to another era to which young people today have no experiential or spiritual connection. Time, not stuff, experiences, not things, is the currency of the future. Togetherness – dare we say socialism – is coming.
That’s what the neoliberals want to prevent. They are delaying the day that we end the drug war and dismantle our prison system and stop backstopping the banksters and stop bombing foreign nations and stop corporate welfare and all the other hierarchical, top down misapplications of bureaucracy and instead implement universal healthcare and invest in wind and solar energy and rebuild our passenger rail network. They know all these things are coming and want to keep the gravy train of connected insider looting going as long as possible.
+1000. Change is here. The millennials are transitioning the US antiquated class-driven economic model and actively creating a ‘Nordic-like’ lifestyle. Minimalism isn’t a buzzword but how they think and incorporate green choices like you’ve pointed out. Buy a car? Why? Public transportation is their daily ride and Uber is their weekend designated driver. Many 25+ millennials are not willing to slave their lives away at work; rather, they choose ‘having a life’ over a couple extra bucks that they’re too exhausted to enjoy. They’re not into impressing friends with bank accounts, Mcmansions and expensive cars.
Trump, Hillary and their ilk don’t get it because they’re the Gordon Gecko generation. They’re busily trying to sell millennials the “American Dream” ticket. Too late buddy, sticking them with outrageous education debt and service jobs at Starbucks ended the American Dream. Hillary and Trump’s political spin is as effective with the millennials as herding cats. Sanders who started out as an grassroots activist gets it. He’s embracing the inevitable.
Case in point, thousands of UIC students along with other campuses came together and actively protested Gordon Gecko’s (Trump) rally at the Pavilion. Bodyguards swarmed Trump whisking him away thus cancelling his rally.
I must confess I didn’t think Trump was capable of creating a grassroots community of millennials by giving them a cause to protest and reject what and who he represents. Maybe cats can be herded after all. Thank you Chicago!
Apparently, you don’t know any millenials. They post themselves taking bong hits on Instagram and talk about the light up shoes they want.
There is something to the claim of an echo from the ’60’s in this for ‘progressive’ Boomers, and I wonder if part of it at least is the return of palpable feeling of existential threat posed by potential nuclear destruction for the generation that grew up with that prospect, and for Millenials, the certain knowledge they cannot punt.
Decline need not be viewed as a negative. It is a stage of life, for one thing. The slow decline can be accompanied by thoughtful rather than busy work for those of us who did not make the entrepeneurial grade. It is age tempered by acceptance and a heartfelt appreciation of time that is devoted to other things than the mindless tedium offered by most modern jobs.
China has risen and fallen many times – in many guises, many different falls and fails. I assume some have been rather messy – some moderately managed; more precipitated by external events that ended up ugly. Yes there are hard physical limits that dictate decline. Culture is the means by which the decline is viewed, and decline tests our humanity to cope or destroy.
It seems the invisible hand becomes quite visible and grabby when culture whithers.
Given the glee in the UK with which the present government, large cohorts of the population and the general establishment anticipate a return to some golden age of domiance over the general population of their own and other countries, they might we wise to heed the words of an enlightened Scot:
“…the best laid plan of mice and men gang aft agley.”
The enlightment is over. Will the lights go out? Is culture already morbid? No out-stretched hand amongst ourselves? Managed into 1 dimensionality consumption droids?
Don’t need no heaven, just trying to avoid hell.
The biggest decline in Chinese history was the Mongol invasion in which approximatrely 1/3 of the Chinese people were slaughtered and the country totally devastated.
A big part of this will be the denial and hiding of the fact that the decline even exists.
If the US enters a recession tomorrow (by some arguments it already has), this will never be openly proclaimed by the media or by any major agency, government or independent. The Soviet Union proclaimed progress and improvements for the entirety of its history, even as the machine began grinding to a halt. I see the west, in its proclamations to the public, heading down the same slow, choking road. Arguably Japan has already reached this destination.
The media is key to all this. The most understated story of the recession is how it cemented the transition of the Fourth Estate, into the new First.
I think the most awe-inspiring part of Stephen King’s The Stand was the way in which, back in 1976 when he wrote it, King portrayed the government. He showed a US government (and this before the Church Committee’s most devastating findings, which were probably only the tip of the iceberg) hell-bent on lying and stonewalling, ready and eager to kill anyone who would tell the people what was going on, and happy to use humans as guinea pigs in a way that would have made the Nazis catch their breath. What King saw then and we today try to avoid seeing is that under duress, elites will do anything. We all grow up on morals and laws and Constitutional lectures from our priests, parents, and teachers. At some times, and for some people, those things are sacrosanct and they hold up under stress. But that is not the norm. You see it today in France, with the wholesale evisceration of the “liberties” the people their proudly proclaim as what separates them from the “backward” “ignorant” “fanatical” Muslims. The pure hypocrisy of what is going on over there, and what would have happened had we had another 9/11 close on the heels of the first, is mind-blowing. To his credit, King got it a long time ago.
The first 9/11 did an enormous amount to dismantle what we once took for granted as a free people. That the cops would not shoot us on sight, for example. Things will get a lot worse if (when?) the present elites lose their grip. But we’ve been softened up.
Agree of course that TPTB will do whatever it takes to maintain itself. Given the powers and means they’ve acquired, you have to wonder whether a Sanders win would actually mean anything.
I will believe the people on this comment board actually mean what they say when signs begin to pop up in their front home windows about boycotting buying of foreclosures and short sales. Otherwise, it’s all just comments on a blog.
Quite simply, how? Where exactly do you think these signs will be effective?
The signs will be effective in every single home. And how do I come to this conclusion? I believe that many people need to see the solidarity with those of us who every day are putting our lives on hold to fight this “accepted decline.” Otherwise, its just a bunch of words on computer screens.
My own signs at first drew huge outrage from the neighborhood during Occupy, however now people still see me living in my house 7 years later and are totally in solidarity with my fight. And believe me, if you own property in this somewhat great nation, my fight is your fight. Dont think these crimes stop just bcuz you are paying some crook bank. The crimes are even more devious on the idiots who continue to pay.
What are we going to do? If people don’t buy the foreclosures and short sales, corporations will, and they’ll wait until the home values hit rock bottom thereby destroying values in whole neighborhoods. Or like in Detroit and elsewhere, they’ll wait for the homes to fall into dis-repair and then bulldoze them down and erect whatever isn’t affordable housing or just leave them as a wasteland. There are some corporations out there that own 1,000’s of rentals spread across the entire west coast. Government isn’t doing it’s job or else these empty homes would be owned by people that would take care of them. I remember as a kid you could buy foreclosures from the government for $1 if you fixed the properties up and lived there.
Okay then, buy up these crime scenes. Just know that you are buying someone elses plunge into darkness. I’m sure any family getting into the crime scene, formerly known as the real estate market, should be oh so karmic-ly challenged by starting out on a crime scene property which was someone elses’ plunge into darkness.
As one of the techno-optimists around here I believe the notion of “inevitable decline” is a purely ideological construct. History, particularly modern history, is full of inventions that would have been unimaginable to previous generations. The atomic bomb would be one example. Of course that doesn’t mean that we won’t decline but it doesn’t mean that we inevitably will either. The problems we face are indeed human ones and the urge for humans–spurred by deep instincts stemming from our evolutionary heritage–to act in ways that defy reason will have to be understood and dealt with. The truth is that both the left and right have unrealistic models of human behavior and it may be that all the old ideologies will have to be discarded. All of which is to say that the problem is not too much science but rather that there is not nearly enough. As this blog is constantly documenting, the social sciences in particular are full of unproven assumptions that become dogma. The politicians discussed in the above article are simply wedded to these dogmas and in typical human fashion are unwilling to change their thinking.
Here’s betting neoliberalism is on the way out regardless of what happens in the election, with the EU etc. People are capable of changing their thinking when self preservation–that prime instinct–is at stake. It hasn’t happened yet because the threat, for Americans at least, is not yet palpable.
interested in your optimistic thoughts – I have no idea if things WILL change, but I do think that they can change, and when they change they can change rapidly
“, it’s hard to see how we escape it. ”
Even with tech advances and advances on the horizon, human beings only get to choose two out of the following three: the environment, first world high living standards, geometric population growth (7+ billion people plateauing at, in the most optimistic scenario, 10+ billion).
The “decline” is relative to subjective experience of the past. Imagine if an adolescent just kept growing and growing… achieving adult size is not a “decline in growth”, it’s normal (and healthy).
To the extent that oligarchs and “intellectuals” think they are managing this on anyone’s behalf, they’re just profiteering. But a change of expectations is in order regardless. Bad management/government didn’t create the practical issues of global saturation, they just ignored or tried to spin them to personal advantage.
Managing and Management are an illusion. Any attempt to control a chaotic system is futility.
Leadership, setting goals, team building and allowing people to have the authority to manage their responsibilities is possible in a chaotic system.
Enough about declining living standards, back to the issues!
A friend just posted this on his FB page: (No idea where it came from.)
“War is when the government tells you who the enemy is. Revolution is when you figure it out for yourself.”
I think the Trump and Bernie voters have figured it out.
Neo-Liberalism is just raw Capitalism and that destroys itself.
A good quote from John Kenneth Galbraith’s book “The Affluent Society”, which in turn comes from Marx.
“The Marxian capitalist has infinite shrewdness and cunning on everything except matters pertaining to his own ultimate survival. On these, he is not subject to education. He continues wilfully and reliably down the path to his own destruction”
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Warren Buffett
The 1% have gone to war against the 99% (aka the global consumer base)
Globalisation always goes in phases of expansion and retrenchment into nationalism.
It is the desire of globalist elites to line their own pockets that brings an end to globalisation phases.
1) The expansion, with globalist elites lining their own pockets:
1920s/2000s – high inequality, high banker pay, low regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, robber barons(CEOs), reckless bankers, globalisation phase
2) The discovery that globalist elites are not half as clever as they like to think they are:
1929/2008 – Wall Street crash
3) The disintegration
1930s/2010s – Global recession, currency wars, rising nationalism and extremism
We have seen how the current globalisation works.
In the good times, prior to 2008, all we hear about are the wealth creators. How they are responsible for the boom and how they deserve to keep their rewards.
In the bad times, after 2008, the easy profits have gone and so have the wealth creators. It is up to national tax payers and national institutions (Governments and Central Banks) to sort out the mess.
The profits are privatised and the losses are socialised.
Unconditional bailouts for bankers and austerity for the people.
A globalist elite lining their pockets at everyone else’s expense.
What is there not to like?
A breeding ground for retrenchment into nationalism.
The globalist creditors will bring in nationalism across the world, they cannot help themselves.
Marx’s class struggle plays out ……
Capitalism is like Siamese twins at war with each other.
The 1% and 99% always fighting each other to get more, but if either side win they destroy each other.
The 1% were in the ascendency in the 1920s and blew it up with a Wall Street Crash in 1929.
The 99% were in the ascendency in the 1970s and blew it up with constant strikes making individual nations uncompetitive.
The 1% are in the ascendency again and have already caused another Wall Street Crash (2008) plunging the world into a global recession that seems without end.
The 1% haven’t worked out that they have gone to war against the consumers that buy their products and services.
Obviously this was all spotted by Marx a long time ago, but he had never seen the results of the 99% in power (Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, etc …). He came from a wealthy family and was only too aware of the greed, self-interest and hypocrisy in his own class. It doesn’t seem to matter which ideology you try and follow the psychopaths always end up in the positions of power.
Capitalism is an endless fight between the two sides, but neither side can win, to do so destroys themselves.
A more balanced approach is needed but the very thing that makes Capitalism work, self-interest and greed, ensures neither side is ever happy with their lot and always wants more.
I’m not sure I would describe Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin as the 99%.
Most revolutions are actually driven by disaffected members of the middle class who have the necessary spare time and broad intellectual outlook to realise things could be different.
Often the working class are not even aware of the limitations of their freedom in a socially stratified society.
In Pol Pot’s Cambodia they set about killing off the Bourgeoisie and so the 99% were definitely in the ascendency but the new leaders, taken from the 99%, became even more tyrannical than the ruling class they had exterminated.
Most revolutions descend into tyranny.
Once it is seen that a set of ideas are the only way things can be, any means are seen as acceptable to achieve the desired goal.
For this very reason, idealism that aims to achieve a perfect society has been seen as dangerous (Positive Liberty), it always seems to lead to tyranny.
Killing off the bourgeoisie consisted of killing 1.5 million people, roughly 25% of the Combodian population.
Revolutions happen when the Middle Class have nothing to loose – ie They are impoverished and have lost hope.
The US is doing a good job there.
A revolution needs able managers to succeed. The Middle Class provides the organization and management skills.
Are you trying to scare people from this inevitable revolution? Because it’s inevitable.
Revolutions do tend to descend into chaos.
Eventually a new order emerges.
After a while the system looks pretty much the same as the one before the revolution, a new upper, middle and lower class are established.
lower class – manual work
middle class – administrative and managerial work
upper class – as little work as possible
Two classes, one interminable struggle. What’s the point?
What’s the point of the cola wars? Two brands dominate the market, the larger brand can’t kill the lesser brand because of the antitrust problems that would ensue, so the “compete” for market share at the margins, and do everything they can to keep third or fourth brands from effectively competing for a substantial slice of the market? Two oligopoloists that each would like to become a monopolist, but can’t afford to.
What’s the point of the two party system? The main point is to keep third parties out, while the two parties continue to switch parts in the Punch-and-Judy show we call American politics.
Meanwhile, the lead politicians have graduated to post-Americanism. What part of “Clinton Global Initiative” do we not understand? Political leaders are Davos globalisits. National sovereignty and national loyalty are quaint symbolisms they exploit for their own benefit, to the detriment of a world population that mostly hasn’t awakened, yet.
These struggles are just as interminable as the perpetual wars between East Asia, Eurasia, and Oceania, and they are fought for exactly the same reason.
Technology is conveyed via neoliberalism as natural scientific evolution to which we must adapt while robotics create job death. I’ve never met a scientist who envisioned creating mass unemployment via a new-normal precariat. The state contracts job death via never-necessary collusion of private-public partnerships such as MIT where academia, the military, and neoliberal privateers conspire to diminish jobs, revenues, and prosperity that serve as impediments of the next Greek takeover from austerity-inducing debt.
An alternative theoretical frame is to argue that the neo-liberal consensus is a self-conscious effort by our modern public/private elite structure of power to transform itself in a fundamental way.
This relatively new prevailing neo-liberal order has replaced the “embedded liberalism” which emerged after WWII in which the state focused on full employment, economic growth and the welfare of its citizens as well as accepted a class compromise between labor and capital.
Using such a state modernization framework, neoliberalism is not about the management of decline but rather about the modernization (from the perspective of this elite) of the contemporary structure of power to better serve its own economic/financial/political and cultural interests.
More specifically, this kind of “modernization” involves a accelerated move towards the centralization of political authority, calls for continued modernization of the military, the more complete institution of market exchange values to accelerate economic growth and rent extraction for the elites and the increased deployment by the state of surveillance technology to suppress future social and political forms of resistance.
From such an angle the debates taking place in the 2016 elections primarily center around alternative forms of state modernization.
It the neo-liberal state continues its hegemony then the stage will be set for a revolution.
Well said, except I would disagree on this point:
Neoliberals do not want market exchange values. That runs directly counter to centralized political authority and rent extraction. Centralization of power and rent extraction are only possible if you prevent markets from clearing using various methods (IP law, bailouts for connected insiders, two-tiered justice system, allowing anti-competitive behavior, etc.). A competitive market has nothing for busybodies to do and nothing for looters to take. A competitive market is transparent and voluntary, not secretive and coercive.
(That’s not to say there’s somethinig magical about markets that means everything in society should be allocated that way. It’s just to point out that neoliberals cloak themselves in the language of markets to disguise their actual support for central planning.)
I can accept a lower standard of living in exchange for people in developing nations having their standards raised. That is sort of what is being pitched — what I can’t accept is the way Americans are being bled dry by companies who don’t pay taxes but loot the American citizenry. To these companies, the USA is just a bag of money they can put there hands into to grab whatever they want.
TPTB have been working to lower the expecations of the American worker for some decades now, but I think people have finally had enough.
“….people have finally had enough…”
Seriously? There have been over 14+ million people kicked unlawfully from their homes through illegal foreclosure with manufactured documents. I dont see any of those people or their “wide awake” neighbors rising up. What I see: a populace that continues to lean on their individual crutch, whether it be football, marijuana, booze or sex. Not much good for a revolution.
Thirty years ago I wondered if the sons and daughters of our political and financial class would start marrying their counterparts in other countries, as we know they do in ever increasing numbers in the US itself. I don’t have any data on the international part of the question but, if true, it would mean the people in charge of the US regard their role as being the head of an international corporation, whose managers are strewn around the globe, and whose children know each other better than they know their fellow national citizens. It’s getting harder and harder to deny that managing decline is the same thing as getting people to accept the increased cost of “rent” (a la Michael Hudson) in the form of lower real wages, lower quality health care, education, physical infrastructure, drug abuse, violence in civic affairs, financial fees of all sorts, and so on.
Decline is not universal, of course, in that it does not apply to our “leaders.” Isn’t that the point of getting people to accept the inevitability of decline–that they accept the decline in their standard of living so leaders can go on enjoying the party?
Trump feeds on the intensifying bitterness the reality of decline brings to most folks’ everyday lives. And the more people “accept” this decline simply by putting up with it, the greater their unspoken bitterness. Knowing their lives become ever more humiliating, but not knowing what or if something can be done about it, they direct their bitterness toward God-knows-who. Civility, as we see, is the face of a prosperous and legitimate society.
So our political class has been busy creating ties among like-minded people both at home and abroad, and it has insulated itself from the anger that more and more people experience, and express, every day. Our political class has built its own sterile social world, complete with sophisticated, though silly, social science that says this world is as God planned it, with second (third and fourth) homes, and with close friends–and capital–abroad.
What’s new is that the political class has not had to deal with this problem as a mass problem until now. It has taken thirty years for the anger to grow too hot and too widespread to pathologize simply as various failures of individual “losers.” Too many people just can’t pay the rent anymore.
Looks like we’re going to see shortly how and whether they can handle it.
I think the political and financial elites already view themselves as part of an international, post-national, ruling class. Davos international globalist. The nation state is such a quaint notion now, only unsophisticates are nationalists. Especially in “on the continent” in Europe, where nation-states are just trouble.
The alternative in Europe was the individual nation states regularly slaughtering each other.
How do nation-states not inevitably descend into tribalism and the associated bloodshed?
You really could use the proper noun: Aristocrats.
Now where’s my tumbrel when I’m going to need it? Perhaps a do it yourself timbrel? Or just a modern equivalent, a Chevy Truck.
So many decisions, so little time.
So Sanders as the sheep dog, HRC as the Whisperer, and Trump as the Great Satan?
I don’t know of any Neoliberal governments that had happy endings (poster child is Pinochet and Chile). Neoliberalism is a morally bankrupt ideology. Neoliberals are not likely to ‘see the light’ and give up their looted treasure and un-rig the system they worked so hard to rig in their favor.
IMO the Neoliberal capture of the US is getting long in the tooth. We are not filling stadiums with political prisoners and disappearing them yet. But there are lots of bad signs that didn’t exist even 20 years ago.
So many eloquent comments here. A lot to think about.
Through all of the parsing of the machinations of our “elites” to keep us under thumb, I just keep thinking about the old quote that “those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.”
Hopefully I’ll be long gone to the island fortress by then. The current mountain fortress has too many neighbors, and too close by.
A failure to recognise the true nature of Capitalism has led to the slump in demand through ever rising inequality.
The true nature of Capitalism has obviously been forgotten over time.
Today we think it brings prosperity to all, but that was certainly never the intention.
Today’s raw Capitalism is showing its true nature with ever rising inequality.
Capitalism is essentially the same as every other social system since the dawn of civilisation.
The lower and middle classes do all the work and the upper, leisure Class, live in the lap of luxury. The lower class does the manual work; the middle class does the administrative and managerial work and the upper, leisure, class live a life of luxury and leisure.
The nature of the Leisure Class, to which the benefits of every system accrue, was studied over 100 years ago.
“The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions”, by Thorstein Veblen.
(The Wikipedia entry gives a good insight. It was written a long time ago but much of it is as true today as it was then. This is the source of the term conspicuous consumption.)
We still have our leisure class in the UK, the Aristocracy, and they have been doing very little for centuries.
The UK’s aristocracy has seen social systems come and go, but they all provide a life of luxury and leisure and with someone else doing all the work.
Feudalism – exploit the masses through land ownership
Capitalism – exploit the masses through wealth (Capital)
Today this is done through the parasitic, rentier trickle up of Capitalism:
a) Those with excess capital invest it and collect interest, dividends and rent.
b) Those with insufficient capital borrow money and pay interest and rent.
All this was much easier to see in Capitalism’s earlier days.
Malthus and Ricardo never saw those at the bottom rising out of a bare subsistence living. This was the way it had always been and always would be, the benefits of the system only accrue to those at the top.
It was very obvious to Adam Smith:
“The Labour and time of the poor is in civilised countries sacrificed to the maintaining of the rich in ease and luxury. The Landlord is maintained in idleness and luxury by the labour of his tenants. The moneyed man is supported by his extractions from the industrious merchant and the needy who are obliged to support him in ease by a return for the use of his money. But every savage has the full fruits of his own labours; there are no landlords, no usurers and no tax gatherers.”
Like most classical economists he differentiated between “earned” and “unearned” wealth and noted how the wealthy maintained themselves in idleness and luxury via “unearned”, rentier income from their land and capital.
We can no longer see the difference between the productive side of the economy and the unproductive, parasitic, rentier side. This is probably why inequality is rising so fast, the mechanisms by which the system looks after those at the top are now hidden from us.
In the 19th Century things were still very obvious.
1) Those at the top were very wealthy
2) Those lower down lived in grinding poverty, paid just enough to keep them alive to work with as little time off as possible.
4) Child Labour
Immense wealth at the top with nothing trickling down, just like today.
This is what Capitalism maximized for profit looks like.
Labour costs are reduced to the absolute minimum to maximise profit.
The beginnings of regulation to deal with the wealthy UK businessman seeking to maximise profit, the abolition of slavery and child labour.
The function of the system is still laid bare.
The lower class does the manual work; the middle class does the administrative and managerial work and the upper, leisure, class live a life of luxury and leisure.
The majority only got a larger slice of the pie through organised Labour movements.
By the 1920s, mass production techniques had improved to such an extent that relatively wealthy consumers were required to purchase all the output the system could produce and extensive advertising was required to manufacture demand for the chronic over-supply the Capitalist system could produce.
They knew that if wealth concentrated too much there would not be enough demand.
Of course the Capitalists could never find it in themselves to raise wages and it took the New Deal and Keynesian thinking to usher in the consumer society.
In the 1950s, when Capitalism had healthy competition, it was essential that the Capitalist system could demonstrate that it was better than the competition.
The US was able to demonstrate the superior lifestyle it offered to its average citizens.
Now the competition has gone, the US middle class is being wiped out.
The US is going third world, with just rich and poor and no middle class.
Raw Capitalism can only return Capitalism to its true state where there is little demand and those at the bottom live a life of bare subsistence.
Capitalism is a very old system designed to maintain an upper, Leisure, class. The mechanisms by which parasitic, rentier, “unearned”, income are obtained need to kept to an absolute minimum by whatever means necessary (legislation, taxation, etc ..)
Michael Hudson’s book “Killing the Host” illustrates these problems very well.
When you realise the true nature of Capitalism, you know why some kind of redistribution is necessary and strong progressive taxation is the only way a consumer society can ever be kept functioning. The Capitalists never seem to recognise that employees are the consumers that buy their products and services and are very reluctant to raise wages to keep the whole system going.
This line at the end of the post bothered me.
This must be a sideways glance at Bernie Sanders; I can’t be sure but his detractors say the same thing.
Just to correct the impression that’s out there: These programs (and maybe others) are not about ‘giving away the store’: College tuition paid for anyone who wants it, Healthcare insurance for everyone and a minimum wage that gives workers enough to survive on.
If the comment is referring to those programs then the writer needs to read more about MMT.
No. In the context of the piece, you should read “…to the wealthy” as part of that observation.
“Both parties are giving away the store, cleaning out the cash register.”
I see things differently. First, the store is emptied already, the cash register is cleared; already the theft is complete. All that’s left to do is to pervert the course of justice.
Second, I see the American political process as a Punch-and-Judy show, in which the party giving the blows, and the party taking them, are two puppets on the hands of the same single puppeteer. The two parties are paid accessories-after-the-fact, hired stooge accomplices of the real defrauders, whose stooge work is to cool out us marks–manage our expectations, fool us into thinking that there is something to be gained by continuing to play the two party system’s games. Making promises that no one can reasonably expect to be kept: “I will bring your jobs back.” Why, Mr. Trump said he’d do so, on TV, this morning.
Managing decline, cooling out the mark–different words, same deed: Let the suckers down slowly.
And now we have the latest load of pseudo-scientific woo: Thermodynamic Economics. “Civilization is declining, and you’ll have to accept less, but it’s inevitable, it’s entropy!”
Nope. All manmade (“managed”), as the piece I hope points out.
The problem with a lot of Keynesians is that they are far too optimistic and think that low growth rates are a product of neoliberalism and too much inequality. The reality is that it’s pretty obvious we are entering an era of “secular stagnation.” Since the 1970’s, the world has been plagued by a crisis of overproduction/under-utilization of capacity in manufacturing (by this time, Germany and Japan had rebuilt themselves from the war). Any growth of the developed nations since then has been through bubbles–Japanese real estate in the 80’s, US stock market in the 90’s, US real estate in the 00’s, and various bubbles throughout Europe in the 90’s and 00’s–and was thus unsustainable. Japan was the first country to run into these problems and they have had low growth rates ever since. High employment and ordinary growth rates are a thing of Europe’s past, and things are clearly not well in the US, either.
Raising the tax rates of the wealthy and major deficit spending to fund social programs and the restoration of our nation’s infrastructure will improve the quality of life for the 99%, but it won’t get us out of the secular stagnation that is a reality due to global economic conditions (the aforementioned crisis of industrial overproduction).
In the short term, at the very least two but more likely four or even eight years, Clinton’s plan, moderating expectations while maintaining a deep abiding determination to get the economy to work for common people, is correct. If a Democrat gets into the presidency they will, by virtue of lacking even a simple majority in the House, be unable to pass any legislation. If you can’t pass any laws, possible not even pass a budget, you cannot make any changes.
It doesn’t matter how many citizens enthusiastically support the progressive cause. The electoral system works only so fast.
Of course, if progressives can maintain their enthusiasm over what realistically looks like a four year slog against GOP obduracy and without any serious accomplishments we will have a major shot at taking over and making Bernie’s fondest dreams come true. Happy times are coming if we can hang on.
In that context Clinton’s plan to trim sails and hang on makes a whole lot more sense than building up expectations in a situation which it is virtually impossible to see the dreams come true.
“The problem with a lot of Keynesians is that they are far too optimistic and think that low growth rates are a product of neoliberalism and too much inequality.”
Yes, we have overcapacity, but such vast inequality contributes to the overcapacity by suppressing demand. Further, this extreme concentration of wealth is precisely what is creating the bubbles – too much passive money chasing the tiniest bit of return.
“The reality is that it’s pretty obvious we are entering an era of “secular stagnation.”
But isn’t this due to mismanagement at the highest level? Over-investment in capacity to produce commodity products (automobiles are a prime example of over-capacity for decades now according to industry analysts) which BTW intensely utilize depleting resources?
Again, wiser governments which we not controlled by short-term focused producers of these over-produced commodities would have pivoted to more *sustainable* industries, and I do not mean that in any environmental sense, but purely in an economic one. Try outsourcing pre-natal care, STEM education, or the kind of fundamental research developed at CalTech to China. The US could be expanding its lead as the world’s uncontested exporter of IP rather than at risk of losing this position.
Finally, how does overcapacity or “secular stagnation” come to be? This isn’t the weather. This can occur in modern times I believe for only one of three reasons: 1) corporate management across an entire sector is extremely dumb (unlikely) 2) a government’s primary goal is short-term creation of jobs of any quality 3) short-term managerial incentives (ie, quarter-to quarter stock performance)