A Walk in the Forest After the Election

Lambert here: A lovely metaphor I wish I’d thought of. Be sure to read to the end.

By J.D. Alt, the author of The Millenials Money

On November 8, I happened to be complacently immersed in one of the important books now available to the human species—The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. On the morning of November 9, I realized that what I was reading not only offered a perfectly analogous explanation of what “happened” in the U.S. Presidential election, but also laid out instructive insights about what’s to come next.

To provide a highly simplified overview (please bear with me for a moment), forests of trees are highly integrated communities composed basically of three parts: the canopy, the ground, and the root-and-fungi structures below ground. The community grows and evolves very slowly, and once it is established certain inherent dynamics provide a long-term stability that is measured in centuries. One of the most crucial dynamics is the fact that the mature canopy, during the growing season, absorbs something like 97% of the sunlight falling on it. This means at the ground level, new trees—growing from the seeds dropped from above—receive essentially no sunlight for photosynthesis (which they need in order to produce sugars for growth). These baby trees are, in fact, “nursed” by the root systems of the parent trees around them. The nursing trees grow very slowly, biding their time until one of the parent trees dies and collapses. This leaves a gap in the canopy where sunlight suddenly streams through, and those baby trees fortuitously located below the gap begin to produce their own sugar like mad—and grow very rapidly upward toward adolescence. At the same time, in a healthy forest, the mature trees adjacent to the gap extend their own branches and leaves to fill the open space. Before this process is complete, the adolescent trees have several years of rapid growth, but when the canopy is re-closed, they have to stop and bide their time again. Once more, they are fed by the root systems of the parental forest. It isn’t until another parent collapses to the forest floor, that the late adolescent tree finally has the opportunity to rapidly grow into the gap of the canopy and become a mature member of the community.

If the forest is not healthy, however, the mature trees are highly vulnerable to certain events. Windstorms and ice-storms, for example, can bring down huge swathes of what appeared to be strong, mature trees overnight. In this light, we would have to say, in retrospect (although we’ve certainly sensed it for some time now), that the “neo-liberal American forest” was not in good health. Under its bark, its hidden structure was eaten away by the doubts, worries and insecurities of the 99% of the population whose incomes and quality of life were headed in the wrong direction.

The neo-liberal trees may have honestly thought they were feeding the 99%, but in fact they were starving them. A case in point, which has never been adequately accounted for, is the fall-out of the American mortgage crisis. The fact that, on the day of the election, 3.2 million families were still underwater in their mortgages—paying more each month to a corrupt banking system than their houses are worth, unable to sell, unable to move to make a new beginning and find a new job, constantly threatened with a downgrade in their credit rating, unmotivated or unable to make repairs or upgrades, living in neighborhoods blighted with empty windows and unkempt yards—the magnitude of that reality alone should have suggested there might be a lot of voters not much interested in maintaining the status quo. The fact that the neo-liberal Obama-Clinton coalition, from day one of the Great Recession, didn’t understand (or simply ignored) the devastating and insidious impact the housing collapse was going to have on the lives of the American middle class is still, from my perspective, one of the greatest miscues of modern American politics.

And so, the election-windstorm of November 8 sent huge swathes of the neo-liberal trees crashing. If the trees had been healthy—if they had been feeding all of their wood instead just a small percentage at the top—they might have withstood the winds. But they were not healthy. Everyone thought the election was about decency and temperament—and the fear of having a misogynist fascist in the American White House. But the real fear turned out to be the fear of having four—or maybe even eight—more years of neo-liberal, tone-deaf, neglect.

So now we suddenly and unexpectedly have a great big open forest floor bathing in full sunlight. The neo-liberal forest canopy is gone—or at least greatly damaged and diminished. One could conjecture (in this analogy) that some kind of Republican canopy still exists, or will quickly grow to fill the vast gap that’s been created. But the Republican trees—as I believe will presently become apparent—don’t really have a canopy of their own. What they had was merely intertwined with the one that has just fallen. In fact, they weren’t really trees at all, but rather an aggressive, twisting, clinging, strangulating vine.

When catastrophe strikes, and large swathes of the forest floor are suddenly laid bare to the sunlight, what happens? Peter Wohlleben’s book tells us that the first new trees to establish themselves will be species different than what has just been knocked down. They are “pioneer” species that are genetically adapted and designed to thrive in this situation—to take root and grow rapidly in the new conditions. The seeds of the “old” trees will sprout as well, but they will grow more slowly—as they are genetically disposed to do—and will quickly be over-covered by the canopy of the pioneers. It is the pioneer species which establish the first stage of the new forest.

We can imagine, now, there will be two kinds of pioneer trees competing to grow on our newly sunlit forest floor: conservative trees and progressive trees. The conservative pioneers will likely sprout and take off with a rapid excitement and vigor. But after their initial spurt they are likely to slow down and wither simply because they will be producing nothing of real sustenance for the middle-class forces that blasted down the old forest. They will only be unfurling the garishly colored negative leaves of the populist message―the anti-immigration, anti-LBGT, anti-government regulation leaves. These are leaves that will generate bile instead of sugar.

The progressive pioneers, on the other hand, may begin with more hesitation and lack of momentum. But they have the opportunity to sprout the productive leaves of the populist movement―the leaves that will promote and support local rather than global economies, that will nurture and empower local communities rather than national institutions. If the progressive pioneers successfully do that, if they actually begin to provide a real sustenance, begin to unfold actual greenery, bear real, edible and nutritious fruit for the 99%, they will inevitably begin to overtake the withering conservative sprouts. And who are these “progressive pioneer trees” that will, I believe, inevitably take over the open forest floor? They are the Millennial generation with the cooperative genes.

What is most interesting to consider is this: If Hillary had prevailed in the election, if the old forest canopy, with its hidden rot, had remained intact, the Millennial pioneers would have had to wait much longer to begin to grow and bloom. Their “opening”―their opportunity―has come much sooner than it otherwise would have. And, given what we now confront as a collective society, that can only be a blessing.

In seizing their opportunity, as they must, the most important thing the progressive-cooperative Millennials (and those who would encourage and assist them) have to keep in mind is this: They can no longer fall into the trap―as the Obama-Clinton neo-liberals did―of agreeing with the twentieth century, hard-currency, fiscal conservatives, that the U.S. sovereign government is broke, is over its head in debt, and cannot possibly afford to buy the goods and services necessary to improve the collective good. To the extent the Millennials and their mentors buy into that argument, to the extent they allow it to prevail, unchallenged by the simple logic and reality of modern fiat money, they will fail. They must, instead, boldly embrace the opportunities provided by MMT―the monetary system we’ve actually been using now for half a century―and they must shame and marginalize the economic pundits who strive to maintain the “ideology of money scarcity.” Only in doing that will they will be able to unfold their creative green leaves and establish a new forest canopy that is genuinely productive and equitable―that feeds all the wood, in other words, from the top to the bottom.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Ruben

    This analogy is poor because it thinks of the forest in isolation. In fact economies belong in an ecosystem of economies, there is immigration and emigration of trees, shrubs, grass, seeds, and animals from and to other forests, and the most important difference, the multiple economic forests are connected in a multidimensional space with dimension much higher than 4 as in real forests. I have raised before the problem of multiple interconnected economies on the MMT of the sovereign currency, to crickets. I can be illuminated.

    1. diptherio

      I’ll take whatever problems a fully-realized MMT fiscal program would run into over the problems that we have right now. Problems are a universal; the only real question is which set of problems you prefer.

    2. Anon

      To provide a highly simplified overview (please bear with me for a moment)…</blockquote

      You may have missed that caveat. The analogy (metaphor) does have some rough edges, but for the most part it is an apt description for understanding current economic/political events.

      A “story” can be instructive, even when not “true”. (See: Trump)

    3. John Zelnicker

      @Ruben – Yes, economies are deeply interconnected. One of the principles of MMT is that the sovereign fiat floats on the foreign exchange market so it will tend to seek an equilibrium level. This will effect the level of imports and exports which constitutes one of the three sectors in the sectoral balance model. But, for citizens, the important relationship is between the other two sectors, the government and the domestic non-government. The government needs to provide as much stimulus as necessary to reach full employment without over-shooting it. The level of net exports will affect the amount of stimulus needed, so it has to be factored in. But, otherwise, it’s not a critical variable.

      1. washunate

        That is a debatable sentiment, though, not a statement of objective fact.

        Some of us don’t care about the government and non-government sectors as aggregate amounts. Rather, we are interested in the distribution within the sectors.

        1. John Zelnicker

          @washunate – I am also very concerned about the distribution within the sectors. The two concerns are not mutually exclusive, but Ruben was asking macro questions. On a macro level the contribution of the government sector to the welfare of the non-government is more important than the level of net exports. And, that is a fact.

          1. washunate

            I’m not talking about net exports. I’m talking about private and governmental domestic sectors.

            That’s the critique that MMT has refused to address for years now.

            On a macro level, our fundamental domestic issue is inequality, not lack of aggregate size.

            1. John Zelnicker

              We’re talking past each other and we don’t actually disagree. The distributional issues are the most critical. They just weren’t part of the original discussion with Ruben and me. You brought them into the discussion and they do need to be discussed. I think the Jobs Guarantee concept goes a long way towards starting that discussion of distributional issues.

  2. Kulantan

    I think the whole metaphor is slightly tortured. Even so, speaking as someone who has spent some time working on the ground in conservation and ecological restoration, the idea that there is anything natural or inevitable about good “progressive pioneer trees” taking over is bunk. Most of my job was ripping out unwanted, non-native, pestiferous pioneer species (e.g. wild tobacco, lantana) to make room for the wanted pioneers (e.g. macarangas) and clear out the weed seed bank.

    The take away from my experience was that nurturing the “progressive pioneer trees” requires the mattock of organisation, the chainsaw of protest, the spray-pack of critical thinking and an awful lot if hard work.

    1. oho

      gosh, that sounds like an a lot of work.

      Can’t we just hang and protest in front of the Student Union? I’ll buy you a frappacino.

  3. Jeff

    A lovely metaphor, but only half an answer. One may admit that a large part of the parasitic canopy fell to the forest floor on Nov 8th, and that the large amount of sunlight opens a small window of opportunity for new forces (but caveat Gramsci: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters”).
    The issue is however with

    …and cannot possibly afford to buy the goods and services necessary to improve the collective good

    Our homes are so full of goods that we need to throw away new things to make place for even newer things. And we throw away so many things that even the landfills are full. We are not ‘consumers’, but producers of waste (solid, liquid, toxic, but waste).
    So there is an urgent need to stop buying (and producing) things that nobody needs. You may ‘need’ a smartphone, but you don’t need another smartphone every 8 to 12 months.
    ‘Services’ is mostly another word for crapification: Uber drivers, shoe-shine boys, bag-packers, hamburger-flippers..
    If we would be honest, we would recognize that our society (or at least ‘this’ part of the world) is advanced enough so that, on average, 1 hour per day of work would be enough to give everyone a decent living. That allows for time to read, to write, to talk, to contemplate nature. It would allow for time to travel, so you don’t need jets and cars and stuff anymore. Less cars that last forever free up even more time.
    What I don’t see yet is a way to move from today’s rat-race to tomorrow’s ‘slow-living’ model. And if we don’t slow down, it will all come crashing down (again), and the forest will turn to desert (climate change for all).

    1. Moneta

      Most of the quality of life we currently enjoy was developed by scientists of all sorts who do not work 1 day per week. Those who offer what we really need do not work 1 day per week… many chemists who worked on resins died of liver cancer.

      The reason why our lifestyle is still so high is because we’re exploiting oil and the ROW. Stop exploiting and we will all have to work a lot more.

    2. Robin Kash

      I thought not of consumer goods, whose purchase relies on an apparent willingness to maintain perpetual personal debt, but of common goods: infrastructure, parks, clean waterways, clean air, investments in renewables. These are what are being withheld for “lack” of money.

  4. Jeff

    A lovely metaphor, but only half an answer. One may admit that a large part of the parasitic canopy fell to the forest floor on Nov 8th, and that the large amount of sunlight opens a small window of opportunity for new forces (but caveat Gramsci: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters”).
    The issue is however with

    …and cannot possibly afford to buy the goods and services necessary to improve the collective good

    Our homes are so full of goods that we need to throw away new things to make place for even newer things. And we throw away so many things that even the landfills are full. We are not ‘consumers’, but producers of waste (solid, liquid, toxic, but waste).
    So there is an urgent need to stop buying (and producing) things that nobody needs. You may ‘need’ a smartphone, but you don’t need another smartphone every 8 to 12 months.
    ‘Services’ is mostly another word for crapification: Uber drivers, shoe-shine boys, bag-packers, hamburger-flippers..
    If we would be honest, we would recognize that our society (or at least ‘this’ part of the world) is advanced enough so that, on average, 1 hour per day of work would be enough to give everyone a decent living. That allows for time to read, to write, to talk, to contemplate nature. It would allow for time to travel, so you don’t need jets and cars and stuff anymore. Less cars that last forever free up even more time.
    What I don’t see yet is a way to move from today’s rat-race to tomorrow’s ‘slow-living’ model. And if we don’t slow down, it will all come crashing down (again), and the forest will turn to desert (climate change for all).

  5. KK

    A metaphor is not reality, it is a partial resemblance between two things. The US Eco-political ‘system’ may have similarities to a forest, but also a machine, a culture, a bee-hive, a prison, a lunatic asylum………

  6. PlutoniumKun

    It is indeed a beautiful metaphor. A few months ago I was walking and talking through a forest with a friend who is much taken by Wohlleben’s ideas (which are not in fact new, quite a few scientists have insisted on the ‘holism’ of ecosystems over many years – but they are very much on the fringe of mainstream thought). But it hadn’t occurred to me that it is the perfect metaphor for the western worlds current predicament.

    A lot of people have asked me why I was so cheerful on hearing about Trumps victory. This is exactly why. The horrible grind that 4 years of HRC (if she lasted that long) would be too depressing for everyone on the planet. I’m not American, but like everyone else in the world, we depend on US leadership, like it or not. Trump will almost certainly be a disaster (I held out a little hope, but looking at the crew gathering around him, even this tiny hope is now gone). But sometimes it takes a disaster to see real change.

    The problem of course is that sometimes the old, rotten system can stay on long after the roots have been destroyed. In any rational system, the neocons and their hangers on should have been routed after the disaster of the Iraq invasion. But no, the same idiots are still writing their newspaper columns, providing their ‘insights’ in academic and think tank papers, advising governments. Still consistently getting it wrong year after year, failing upwards all the time. The neolibs have vast resources still, and will only give up their grip on elite groupthink when they are pushed kicking and screaming into their no doubt lucrative retirements.

    The light is shining through the canopy – its up to everyone to make sure that a fresh strong new forest takes hold.

    1. Terry Mock

      The Powerful Tree Metaphor…

      The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet – http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/07/man-planted-trees-lost-groves-champion-trees-urgent-plan-save-planet/

      “It is a book about the science of trees and of forests, and about the unappreciated roles they play in sustaining life on the planet.”

      “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” – William Blake

      “This could be a grass roots solution to a global problem. A few million people selecting and planting the right trees for the right places could really make a difference.” – Dr. Rama Nemani, Earth Scientist

  7. bob k

    my question is this: why, if the seminal event horizon, was the foreclosure crisis, affecting mainly the middle/working classes, is the answer to be found with millennial, who were not affected directly but are the very essence of the mistaken identity politics which have failed? surely any progressive movement can be initiated by any sector – look at the 60s – but to be successful must be led by the working class. or am i missing something?

    1. cojo

      The foreclosure crisis did affect the millennial’s parents and hence themselves. More importantly for millennials is the student debt bubble. That is the more visceral seminal event that will turn them off of the financialized world we live in today.

    2. Big River Bandido

      The effects of the banking crisis caused by the housing bubble/crash have seeped into every aspect of American life with any connection whatsoever to the FIRE sector; “millenials” are directly affected on a number of fronts, and in some ways more directly than their elders:

      Health: “Millenials” are the ones most likely to lose in the shell game of health insurance and Obamacare.
      Education: the housing crisis feeds the loan-shark nature of college finance.
      Unemployment/Living standards: trade agreements pushed by the FIRE sector have constricted the opportunities available for young people, who have high unemployment rates.
      Politics: the phony “austerity” fetish and scarcity theory taints every public decision.
      Ecology: the coming catastrophe will affect them more than it will my generation.

      And yes, I agree with you that a true progressive movement will need to be centered on working-class people…or whatever the replacement of that will be. I’m just not sure how you could exclude the millenial generation from that description. They are far more likely to be our modern equivalent of “working class” than they are to be Zuckerberg.

  8. divadab

    Lambert – a very good metaphor that works in the Northeast forest, where the forest succession process is solid and not affected by invasives to any great degree. I’m presently at work thinning pioneer wire birch, popple, and balsam fir to allow maples, yellow birch, ash, spruce, beech, oak, and white pine to come up faster in a regenerating pasture in zone 4b mixed appalachian forest.

    However, in much american forestland, invasive species come on fast when the canopy is removed – in the northwest, himalayan blackberries form a thick network that can totally choke out any trees coming up. And southern forests have different invasives, as kulantan noted above. Requires intervention! Mechanical control is preferable but most forest companies and municipalities use glyphosate.

    SO, to take up kulantan’s extension of your metaphor – it’s a battle to protect and nourish the new growth – which takes work which creates employment. The corporatists employ chemical warfare – so even if they are “on your side”, their methods are anathema. It takes people using their bodies and their minds to do the proper job.

    Thanks, Lambert, for all you do. Excellent work!

    1. divadab

      I wonder if a reply will show up?

      Well yes but the original comment is still showing “awaiting moderation”

      Can anyone else see it?

  9. mk

    cooperative genes
    progressive-cooperative Millennials
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~ beautiful words/ideas, I’ve been waiting/hoping for cooperation, collaboration all my life, didn’t happen for me/us, hopefully will happen for Millennials/us

    We can cooperate/collaborate our way out of this mess, I hope we do.

  10. SoCal Rhino

    A lovely, optimistic metaphor. Would like to think we are seeing the beginning of a healing process rather than the vanguard of far worse news. A vision that contrasts with Michael Greer’s view that we are about to ride the energy ROI curve down into a slow civilization collapse. Perhaps the younger cohort will be more cooperative than their elders. I have a more pessimistic view of human nature, when I think ahead to long cycles of growth and clearing I think more of A Canticle for Leibowitz.

  11. JTMcPhee

    I’d say the notion that the neoliberal canopy has experienced any significant damage is a comforting myth. All the major parts of the “consensus” and its operating units are still very much in place and functioning. And the “biological” interplay and feedings and feedbacks, of the banking system, the “globalization” supra-post-national corporatist sodality, everything considered as “market,” and the Imperial doctrinal consensus that “the commons (the whole planet) all belong US” are very much still doing just fine.’

    Who owns almost all the wealth? Who makes the dispositive decisions on where the “sunlight” is going to fall, and which root systems of “neo” trees are going to be fed from the collective wealth and the remaining extractable resources of the planet?

    I don’t think a windstorm, an external natural event, resulted in the sort-of rejection of the sickness (from an ordinary powerless mostly impoverished atomized individuals’ standpoint) that some of those “forest giants” represented. The Dems are “reaching out” to the Reps in Congress. Bank stocks have taken off, as have the ‘defence sector’ monsters. “Privatizing,” of schools, public water supplies and other utilities, toll roads built with “public money, the Security Panopticon, on and on. Cold War Great Gamery still dominates “policy,” along with the clear intention to lock the shackles of global corporate rule around the ankles of all of us.

    The “forest” we live in, taking humans and our institutions as trees, has nothing of the enduring and stabilizing interactions the author assumes are present in soaring off with his analogy. Any of us will (to greater or lesser degrees) eat the lunch and live off the rotted carcasses of the rest of us, given “necessities.” Commensalism and comity and symbiosis, barring some vastly unlikely transformation of our nature, are at best rare and tiny parts of the mix.

    I suggest the author read up on the interactions and meta-stability of “jungles,” which from what I can see are a lot closer to a fitting analogy to what’s going on politically in the US — especially as “our” global jungle resources are being burned to CO2 and ash to fertilize one-season crops of consumer foods like avocados and McBurger meat… How do the living species that constitute a rain forest “rein in” the Fokkers, with their guns and massive front-loaders and fire, and their “it’s all nice and legal” legislation and plain outlawry, that demolish the conscienceless complexity, constantly evolving with successful species and behaviors exterminating less-so, of that kind of forest that appears sort of critical to all species’ survival in a biosphere most of us think of, if we consider it at all, as a birthright?

    And of course there’s the looting of everything and destruction of everything that is not immediately “profit-able,” so extractive factory fisheries dump the “by-catch” of billions of individual fish and other benthic organisms. And “we” collectively by action of the daily choices “we” make to burn stuff and dump “convenient” plastic sh!t in the oceans that it turns out are scarcely inexhaustible (though the economic drivers and feedbacks all sin toward taking the last “valuable bits” out of them, are doing what anyone paying attention knows is dead-end behaviors that expressed concisely are what “neoliberalism” is all about.

  12. Carolinian

    Interesting article and as one who thinks human events are all about Nature with a capital “n” the forest analogy is more than metaphorical. However I’d say he goes off the rails in trying to transpose this to our current political landscape. The notion that a healthy forest full of progressives and is the normal and stable condition flies in the fact of history. For those who doubt it I’d suggest reading Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. Indeed history in general suggests that nature “red in tooth and claw” is the usual human condition as well.

    Nature doesn’t make value judgments, it just lives. This is not to endorse the crackpot social Darwinism that misused Darwin and that provided a theoretical basis to some 20th century carnage. Hitler, after all, in the end disproved his own notions by putting a bullet in his mouth. Darwin also believed in group selection which was an idea that was dismissed in his day but now has wider acceptance. Societies are in competition as well as individuals and therefore we should forget about old ideologies and even labels and adopt a more mechanistic and practical approach. This was the lesson of FDR and the 30s. Whatever works. The problem with neoliberalism is not that it’s evil but that it doesn’t work. Worse than a crime, a mistake. So enough with the “virtue signaling.” One of Sanders recent proposals going forward was that “Bannon must go.” He has also endorsed the pointless protests that have followed the election. A plan is needed and this isn’t it. The current left needs to be a lot more like FDR.

    1. Moneta

      No white after labor day: Just one of a million sordid rules…

      A large percentage of the rules that make up society are from a bygone era, yet millions of people cling to these and judge others’ morality relative to their adherence to these sordid rules.

      Humans are deluded and in fact, to be a well balanced human, delusion is a must. So we are caught between a rock and a hard place.

  13. Wyoming

    Well that may have been what used to happen in a forest. Sounds sweet and all. But what happens in the forest today is there is no longer the water there used to be so the trees are weak and thirsty. The birds are gone and no longer fertilize the ground to nourish the roots and feed the trees. The fire comes, as it always does eventually. Only this time it burns much hotter due to the trees being weak and many more having died. So the ground is sterilized and the seeds do not sprout so much and there are almost no babies. The brush and weeds however thrive and soon carpet the ground. Fifteen years later when the forest should be a carpet of the young intermixed with the few adults which survived all one finds is an impenetrable sea of thorns.

    This is the reality of where I live. The forest no longer regrows as before due to climate change and the overpopulation of humans taking most of the diminished water supplies. Reality here and the future for many others elsewhere.

    Bedtime stories are for the children to keep their night fears at bay. Adulthood means you face reality and your fears not hide form them in pablum. We move into uncharted territory as a civilization and little that held in the past will hold in the future. We must take responsibility. We must adapt.

    1. Vatch

      Mycorrhizal fungi are crucial to the health of most trees. These root fungi have a symbiotic relationship with their host tree by helping the tree to absorb some nutrients that the tree’s root hairs have difficulty absorbing on their own.

    2. JTMcPhee

      Trump as fungus: is that a “good” thing, or a “bad” thing, by the lights of ordinary people (if such a category really exists), and does Trump look to be playing that niche?

      A paper on “The Role of Mycorrhizal Symbioses in the Health of Giant Redwoods and Other Forest Ecosystems,” http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr151/psw_gtr151_12_molina.pdf

      Abstract: The roots of nearly all land plants form mycorrhizal symbioses with specialized soil fungi. The mycorrhizal fungi serve as extensions of plant roots, taking up nutrients and water and transferring them to the roots. In return, the mycorrhizal fungi receive their primary energy source in the form of simple sugars from plant photosynthates translocated to the roots. Sequoiadendron giganteum forms a type of mycorrhizae referred to as vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae; seedlings inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi in nurseries can be two to three times larger than noninoculated control seedlings. Mycorrhizal fungi also function in soil nutrient cycling, and their hyphae and reproductive structures (spores, mushrooms, and truffles) are vital components in the complex forest food web. Management strategies that protect the biological component of the soil will ultimately protect the health and functioning of the entire forest ecosystem.

  14. stefan

    I live in rural Coos County, the northernmost county in New Hampshire, a county that has lost too much of its economy during the past 15 years, and a county that went twice for Obama but this last time for Trump.

    We are having a grassroots party meeting at the Dalton Town Hall this Friday night starting at 6:30. All are welcome.

    You can sit by yourself muttering online, or you can get together with neighbors in your community to articulate and advance your politics going forward.

    1. ambrit

      It’s not Lambert’s fault, nor, to the best of the general knowledge, the fault of any moderator on the site. The “regulars” here find the phenomenon you describe to be probably an artifact of Word Press, which is involved somewhere or other. “Skynet ate my bytes” will be the plaint heard most often. If one does run afoul of a moderator, fair warning is usually given. Be calm, and don’t despair.

      1. divadab

        It’s weird – my comment disappeared – then re-appeared headed “your comment is awaiting moderation” – and now has disappeared again.

        I put some time into it and this is a bit de-motivating.

        Oops – it’s back again – still “awaiting moderation”

          1. John Zelnicker

            @divadab – If you want to make sure you don’t lose your comment completely, type it in a word processor first and copy and paste it into the comment box.

    2. John Zelnicker

      @divadab – In my experience sometimes comments just disappear into the ether, eaten by Skynet. If it doesn’t show up at all after clicking the Post Comment button, this is probably what happened to your comment, unless it posted with the “awaiting moderation” tag. Then you have to wait at least 24 hours to be sure the moderator rejected it. (That’s the time frame within which our hosts promise to clear the moderation queue.)

      Edit: I see others explained this while I was typing my original comment. If it shows and disappears with the moderation tag, that might be due to reloading the page.

      1. divadab

        thanks. SO this is a purely mechanical process? I wonder what the trigger was because all of my comments but the main one are coming through fine.

      2. tegnost

        In the event the comment disappears with no mention of moderation I have had some luck hitting the “back” arrow then scrolling to the bottom, it’s usually there but sometimes if I try to repost it’s denied as an already posted comment, so as STO suggests, reword…Also important not to push it too much or you make yourself appear to be a spammer and skynet looks askance at more of one’s comments. It can help to look at moderated comments and try to figure out what triggered it like saying the same word multiple times, curses, asterisks and etc…

  15. Brian L.

    Has the soil been so depleted and poisoned that no healthy forest can grow for hundreds of years? The neo-liberal “trees” were already dying through loss of hosts to parasitize, the problem is they will be petrified, resistant to decomposing and giving back their bodies to others. Neo-liberal “trees” don’t care if others suffer their parasitic ways and they will poison the ground to maintain their insane advantages, even if it kills themselves.

    Back in the real world…

    “There is one, and only one solution, and we have almost no time to try it. We must turn all our resources to repairing the natural world, and train all our young people to help. They want to; we need to give them this last chance to create forests, soils, clean waters, clean energies, secure communities, stable regions, and to know how to do it from hands-on experience.” — Bill Mollison

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      IMVHO, this all keeps coming back around to economics, and the terrible outcomes of crap economic ideas.
      When the economic rules place more economic benefits on subdivisions than on parcels of wooded land, we end up with a mess largely driven by externalities and misplacing of the true impacts of activity.

      One thing the Millenials are going to need to take on is the whole issue of externalities and the terrible pricing built in via neoliberal economics. Without that, there won’t be a world left to live in.

      1. Brian L.

        Yes, bad economic ideas that have become a religion. It seems to me that the only thing to thoroughly overcome that religion would be a total breakdown of the socio-economic sphere which will not be pleasant. The elites may have been exposed, but they are still in power. I heard something recently about how Obama initially wanted to clip the wings of lobbyists but had to give in simply to fill government positions. I don’t know if that is true or not. But are we seeing the same dynamic with Trump? And would Congress ever voluntarily cut off the stream of lobbyist money and influence useful for getting themselves re-elected? D.C is an unprincipled, unethical, corrupt, cesspool. How do we change that? IMO, Trump won’t drain the swamp, even if he sincerely wants to, as the denizens are too powerful.

        IMO, it would be very advantageous to leverage MMT to provide a job guarantee directed at the things in Mollison’s quote above. I’d vote for that. But that is an unthinkable path for the power elites because it means giving up control of people and the planet’s resources. It means empowering people and acknowledging the biosphere’s intrinsic and systemic value, two concepts alien to exploitative capitalism and its D.C. sponsors’ worldview. I don’t see how we get there via D.C. It appears that it is on us to do those things and deal as best we can with the barriers that will be thrown up to try and stop us.

  16. Norb

    The salient point is that all is based on community. Multitudes of organisms, forming communities in order to live out their lives. Neither storm nor disaster will make a dent in the neoliberal worldview as long as their defining creed is profit and ownership of the entire planet. Their motivation is competitive and adversarial. There is no sense of responsibility for any stewardship of the planet. Starvation will be the only thing that ends their influence.

    While direct confrontation of the neoliberal worldview is essential, it is also becoming more apparent that the dire nature of the situation require the formation of isolated oasis of sanity and community not based on confrontation, but preservation.

    The slate needs to be swept clean in many respects. Cutting firebreaks in the path of the neoliberal firestorm seems to be in order.

  17. steelhead23

    Nice allegory, but there are existential threats to the forest – wildfire. Let us pray that the evidence of neoliberal failure becomes obvious to a sufficient number of millenials (and us senescent old growth) that we join together to fight the firebrands of capitalism – and win.

  18. Johnny Lunch Box

    No mention of sustained yield basis or the spotted owl. This metaphor does not include the root system. Its time for a huge fire to burn out fraud, corruption and greed. Death to the old canopy and to the sawmill with the corrupt. Time to reforest so new trees can survive with in their means on the natural soil with out the destruction of big rooted trees and the new forest should not breed like rats as the world has to many trees in to tight of space. The forest is wobbeling.

  19. JEHR

    What if the forest floor is toxic and the large trees are misshapen and sick? Where will the nutrients come from for a new generation?

  20. washunate

    What a bizarre metaphor. The neoconlibs aren’t old trees in the canopy needing to give way to younger trees. They are invasive species destroying everything they encounter (with no offense intended to invasive species by the comparison). The lack of agency in MMT analysis has been one of the striking features now for quite some time. The neoconlibs might have thought they were feeding the 99%? WTF? We are talking about warmongers and thieves.

    Or can educated liberals not bring themselves to say such taboo things?


    As far as the details, it’s notable that Alt continues to propagate the myth that something magical happened in the housing crisis. People were suffering long before the GFC. That more comfortable and educated Americans chose to ignore the suffering in no way proves it wasn’t there.

    “…twentieth century, hard-currency, fiscal conservatives…”

    One of the great ironies is that MMT itself falls in this camp. Why do we need a buffer stock at all? Why can’t we just give money to people in need, no strings attached? Because it would cause inflation? Golly gee, that sounds an awful lot like a twentieth century, hard-currency, fiscal conservative argument.

    And of course aside from that, there are no fiscal conservatives in DC. Do MMTers understand how out of touch it makes them look to talk about hard currency in an era where the federal debt is approaching 20 times its size when Reagan took office and the costs of decent housing, quality medical care, job credentialing, and so forth have risen dramatically? Meanwhile, the national security state is out of control, a subject Alt conspicuously avoids. Government spending there is undermining productivity and equity, not promoting them.

      1. washunate

        Ah, skippy, appealing to bond market jitters falls pretty squarely in that 20th century hard currency fiscal conservative mindset that Alt critiques, doesn’t it?

        And there’s an obvious solution to keep it budget neutral if that feature is desired: raise taxes on the rich and/or cut subsidies to the rich. Look at the scale. We could give the poorest 50 million households in the US $50k a year for only $2.5 trillion annually. [this is just hypothetical; insert your own personal preferences here.] That is not outside the scale of federal spending and tax policy. Just cutting “defense” spending, implementing universal healthcare, and eliminating loopholes in the tax code could fully fund that scale of a program. (Again, if we cared about changes to the debt level)

        As far as MMT, it absolutely requires a buffer stock. It changes advocacy from NAIRU to ELR/JG/whatever rather than rejecting the concept. A key part of the implementation is that JG jobs pay less than other jobs. That wage inequality is what (theoretically) keeps inflation in check, just like unemployment in NAIRU. Of course, in practice, we have seen massive inflation, but that failure of the entire premise is something MMT proponents have studiously avoided addressing for many years now.

      2. financial matters

        I think that a fundamental threat to US Treasuries as well as other currencies is their continued use to back unsound financial products rather than productive employment.

        With current central bank practices we’re seeing things like housing and stock prices rise rather than more fundamental improvement in the economy like jobs, health and education, retirement security, child care, climate change. I think that currencies that become more tied to these fundamental issues will be more successful.

  21. John Wright

    The metaphor is more than a bit strained.

    While I hope Trump might put a small crimp in the fabric of our political system, that remains to be seen.

    If the Bush-Kerry election was a choice between two C students from Yale who were members of Skull and Bones, this time we had a choice between two people from New York whose daughters are (were?) friends and also used the same Delaware tax loophole address.


    One measure of the result of the alleged neoliberal forest firestorm could be the number of people employed and the GDP attributed to the financial industry in the USA.

    Will this be approximately the same 4 years from now?

    Is Trump going to move America to a lower consumption, more equitably shared consumption economy?

    If the actions of George Bush the younger didn’t lead to real change to the USA political and economic systems in the aftermath, will Donald Trump, perhaps unintentionally start the firestorm?

    One can hope, but Americans have been fooled by the man from Hope, AR (Bill Clinton) and the “Hope and Change” candidate (Obama).

    1. TheCatSaid

      Interesting article. E.g.,

      Just eight days after stepping down as secretary of state in February 2013, Clinton registered ZFS Holdings LLC at CTC’s offices. Bill Clinton set up WJC LLC, a vehicle to collect his consultation fees, at the same address in 2008.

      A spokesman for Clinton said: “ZFS was set up when Secretary Clinton left the State Department as an entity to manage her book and speaking income. No federal, state, or local taxes were saved by the Clintons as a result of this structure.”

      The Clintons’ companies share the office with several of Trump’s companies. They include Trump International Management Corp and several companies that form part of Hudson Waterfront Associates, a Trump partnership to develop more than $1bn worth of luxury condos on the west side of Manhattan.

      Of the 515 companies on Trump’s official Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing, 378 are registered in Delaware, he revealed, after being questioned by the Guardian about why so many of his New York-based companies are incorporated in Delaware

      For those who didn’t know already,

      A report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, titled Delaware: An Onshore Tax Haven, said the state’s tax code made it “a magnet for people looking to create anonymous shell companies, which individuals and corporations can use to evade an inestimable amount in federal and foreign taxes”.


      The process of setting up a company in the state can be completed in just a few hours and requires less paperwork than registering for a library card in the state. There are more than 1m companies registered in the state – more than Delaware’s population of 935,000.

      Transparency laws, anyone?

  22. susan the other

    the millennials will have to be good conservationists. It’s hard when the trees can’t see the forest. This morning I listened to Yellen who sounded forthcoming and relaxed for the first time ever, and she seemed to be relieved about something. She spoke more openly but her ideology was same old same old. A few toads popped out, like how the economy suffers from insufficient productivity (aka profits) which is clear evidence that she is thinking in 20th century terms. She touted central bank independence from politics because all countries, she said, that took over the CB caused inflation and devaluation and got nowhere fast, economically – whereas if they had had an independent CB discipline maintained the value of the currency… as if that was the true role of the CB and if they did that then everything else would be fine… So the millenials will have to make a complete argument for sovereign spending to change that old attitude.

  23. oh

    The neo-liberals see neither the forest nor the trees. We need to be the hardy weeds that will choke them out.

  24. pslebow

    To those who clutch to cynicism – please offer something in place of the hope you reject. I like the metaphor but don’t see why MMT is the only flora flourishing when the dust clears. I’ve been lectured to that MMT is nothing more than an accurate description of reality – clearly a ‘description’ is not enough to usher in a renaissance. Even with a truly progressive new growth there is still the danger of a monoculture taking over. If this is indeed to be the rising of the Phoenix from the ashes, all manifestations of the evils the world has endured – discrimination, rights of the disabled, exploitation of non-human animals, capitalism, destruction of the ecosphere, etc… – must be addressed by a common consciousness and empathy – a sense of purpose. No one group has the corner on the “movement” if it does indeed take root.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > a ‘description’ is not enough to usher in a renaissance

      True. Harvey got blood circulation correct. That’s not a solution to hypertension, but surely it’s a pre-requisite to one?

  25. Gaylord

    Desertification will be the result of this election, as the imperatives of “business” wreak further havoc on the environment.

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