Sunday, May 19, 2019

Economical?

Not too long ago the United Nations had a mock exercise in which it was discovered an asteroid was bearing down on the planet and an emergency response had to be formulated and executed in time. To deal with this extreme scenario they called in various experts. Most of these were, of course, scientists trained in various disciplines and physicists able to perform complex calculations. They did not, however, seek help from economists. They did not need to know how much it would cost to save the earth, whether it was economical; that calculation was both obvious and irrelevant.

Coincidentally, Jacobin magazine published a piece last January in which the author asks us to imagine that an asteroid is approaching earth. In this case the asteroid was a metaphor for climate catastrophe. The article makes the point that both political parties in the U.S. share an attitude of climate denial; one is simply overt and the other tries to obscure the fact with sympathetic sounding rhetoric. What the piece failed to articulate is that both parties and virtually all mainstream media rely on the analysis put forth by economists. These non-scientists make various claims about how much it will cost to stop climate catastrophe; how much it will effect the economy, how to maintain economic growth while slowing emissions, etc.etc. But again: why would we care one whit what it "costs" to save the earth? Without a planet there is no "economy". We need scientists to tell us what must be done and how to do it. Period. The cost is irrelevant and yet the attention it is given is indicative of the irrational system which rules our lives.

The best example of this absurd prioritization of "cost-effectiveness" is the Climate Leadership Council.This organization, clearly dedicated to protecting the sanctity of Markets ,boasts the backing of "3554 US economists,4 former chairs of the Federal Reserve, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors", etc. etc. We are supposed to be impressed somehow that the same non-scientist ideologues who got us into the crisis in the first place have stepped up to help solve it- cheaply of course, using "sound economic principles". This is code for no regulations- let the Market determine our fate.

At the heart of the fight between supporters of the Green New Deal and the Climate Leadership Council is the cultural power of "economists and experienced policymakers" versus science and the scientists whose research it is based on. If you just started with the scientific consensus and worked back you would ban fossil fuel extraction and deal with the economic fallout using the State as stimulus and safety net. If you want to preserve the system of profit, accumulation and unlimited growth, you turn to economists and their weak, too-little-too-late tax proposals.

The definition of economical is being careful not to waste, the very antithesis of capitalism, a system built on waste and excess. CLC economists fail at this most basic level. The real question is; if you are seeking data and analysis on which to base decisions about ecology, do you look to scientific journals or the Wall Street Journal?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Adaptation

The city of Missoula is making a good faith effort to identify and mitigate the impacts of climate change but those "futurist" planners can only imagine scenarios that fall within their collective experience. Local drought affects local farmers and local politicians can devise policy "fixes" to help. But what happens if you try to imagine global drought and its geopoliticl effects? What if we envision a 2050 where governance has broken down, where local warlords control all economic activity? Where all the pollinators have been destroyed, where methane is boiling out of a melted perma-frost and there is no grain market or copper market or beef market? How does a local taskforce plan for that level of collapse?

Should they be planning to stockpile guns? Naomi Klein tried to warn us that "this changes everything" but local policy wonks operate in a well-worn framework using a standardized playbook. We are told "our house is on fire" so we gather "stakeholders" who meet regularly and come up with documents. These get explained to the public which then submits comments and a taskforce comes up with policy proposals. It is time to panic and yet that is not a mode civic leaders are keen to embrace.

And this is where the ambiguity, so disorienting for the general public, begins. On the one hand we are told it is an emergency and yet the activity to address it looks like any " agency planning process", a forest plan, a recreation plan, a subdivision proposal etc..The local techno-managerial types seem to see a path through and it hardly feels like a "crisis". Just enact some forward thinking policies and mitigate the identified problems! You're welcome!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Handing Out Prizes

You know things are heating up when Pulitzer Prize winning NYTimes columnists start pontificating on climate change. Today we see a piece by big-time insider David Leonhardt bemoaning the fact that the carbon pricing scheme put forth by his Nobel Prize-winning hero economist, Richard Nordhaus, hasn't taken hold. Both of these famous "intellectuals" exist to promote "democratic" capitalism, making the apologetics on display a bit embarrassing, but of course blame can be directed at those silly conservative Republicans who don't know how to use "government" to correct market failure. It may be "politically impossible" he tells us.

The title of the article is Putting a Price on the End of the World but what he really can't imagine (you guessed it) is the end of capitalism. Or economic growth measured as GDP. The indefatigable Thomas L Friedman also has a column about climate change, claiming the issue is Trump's Achilles heel. I can't bother reading the article but I imagine it contains all the "new research" about green capitalism and 100% clean energy and all the millions of new high paying jobs and clean growth the Democrats should be promoting. Thomas loves all that optimistic stuff about progress and all.

Leonhardt notes "the middle class and poor have been struggling with slow income growth" and a tax on energy is not popular to voters. And stops his analysis there- a conundrum. Because as we all know, voters are not allowed to tax only the wealthy in "democratic" capitalism, after all, they are the investors and job creators and will go on strike. The answer of course (as always) is simply more growth.

Notice the euphoria over recent US economic performance: the stock market at record levels, unemployment as low as its been since the sixties, even ( sorry, Leonhardt) slight wage growth in certain sectors! Happy Days Are Here Again! Have you noticed any mention of emissions in this reporting? No. More income trickles down, more consumption, higher emissions and Trump's re-election all but guaranteed. If I can suddenly buy a new IPhone you know who I'm voting for! And if it sounds like the Green New Deal threatens that you know who I'm not voting for. Voila, Capitalist Democracy in a nutshell. Patiently awaiting my Pulitzer and Nobel prizes.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Class and Collars

One reason the discourse around class has become so muddled is the language around divisions within classes. If we simply use the Marxian distinction concerning ownership of the means of production things appear pretty straightforward. But reality in the 21st century doesn't conform to the simple formula. Instead we have such categorical disparities as "white, blue and pink collars" which (supposedly) denote the level of mental versus physical labor a worker performs. One might as well judge the callouses on peoples hands.

At some level we are supposed to then correlate these "collars" with upper, middle, lower and working class as objective distinctions, in this case generally based on income. So if these distinctions aren't murky enough, consider a woman wearing a blue collared shirt doing manufacturing, but she runs a complex piece of machinery and has a college degree. Now layer on the fact she owns several rental properties (as well as her own home) and owns stock in the firm she works for. Hardly a classic member of the proletariat, right?

Marxian dogma would have us believe that members of this "working class" would literally starve without the ability to sell their wage labor and that this source of their exploitation, their sheer desperation, is also the force that unites them in class belonging ( a "class-for itself") and eventually struggle. How does the terminology of "rank and file worker" sound to a young member of the gig economy who considers himself an associate, a team member highly valued ( both in status and monetary compensation) for his creativity and drive? At the level of subjectivity, this new worker can fully identify culturally with those in any any income bracket, can purchase luxury items and live well, even if on credit. It was Laclau and Mouffe's belief that

" the fullness of class identities of classical Marxism has to be replaced by hegemonic identities constituted through non-dialectical mediations.”

None of this is to suggest that class as a category has disappeared. But the issue of "fullness" is real and has to be considered. Jacobin Magazine tries to make the divide simple by equating capitalists with "the boss" but this is its own obfuscation. It ignores the hegemonic dimension of ideology and identificationor subject formation. When it comes to our social movements, so often focused on "centering the working class" in the leadership, it is going to be difficult to not look at shirt collars or pay stubs or cultural markers. Especially true in the climate movement, a persons level of exploitation or oppression may be less relevant to their level of engagement than other, less material factors.

A worker can have inherited wealth, can collect rent, and can own capital which she invests as well as collecting a wage. We can elide this truth by inventing new categories ie "professional- managerial class", "ruling class", "contradictory class" and we can call people traitors or "cultural lieutenants of the capitalist class" but the contradictions won't disappear.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Critically Support the Green New Deal

This was written by BC scholar Brad Hornick:



Brad Hornick

For many decades, scientists have warned that the window for the kind of widespread economic, political, and policy reforms required to avert ecological catastrophe is rapidly closing. Warnings from the scientific community concerning the threat of ecological collapse are universally built around the concepts of “thresholds” and “tipping points” which explicitly refer to threats to the physical preconditions that permit life in the entire biosphere.

These warnings posit a window of opportunity that if not responded to in a dramatic and urgent manner, will be surpassed. The stakes mark a divide between the remaining potential for the exercise of purposeful human action versus the extinguishment of that potential, after which an adequate collective response to ecological crisis becomes perfectly irrelevant as more extreme changes to the climate system become self-generating, locked-in, and irreversible.

So far, authoritative scientific evidence has done nothing to move the world away from a “business-as-usual” socio-economic model that is inherently destructive. “Faster-than-expected” impacts from global warming such as extreme heat and cold, drought, floods, fire, etc. have been met with promises of technological innovation and narrow policy instruments disciplined by neo-liberal capitalism – rather than more profound political engagement and proactive emergency planning.

Today’s political and moral calculus could not be more clear. We can either “give-in” to the ruling class that guarantees a world firmly on course for imminent, intractable and catastrophic ecological and social crisis, or we can begin to recognize our predicament, mobilize, constructively critique, support, and protect the vision for an unprecedented collective response commensurable to the threat.

The challenge is an immense one. Emergency response to a crisis means there is no longer any time for gradual, incremental or “non-disruptive” reductions in emissions. Meeting the obligations that many scientists now say are critical, getting to “net zero carbon” virtually instantaneously, requires more than an immediate shut-down the planet’s fossil fuel industries.

It also implies a radical retrenchment or collapse of the dominant industries and infrastructure based upon fossil fuel production, including automobiles, aircraft, shipping, petrochemical, synthetic fabrics, construction, agribusiness, industrial agriculture, packaging, plastic production (disposables economy), and the war industries.

Such massive structural changes in our industrial base will only be productively managed if society develops the resiliency and flexibility to withstand the challenges of social transformation. Most importantly, this requires an active participation of organized labor and environmentalists to ensure all people continue to have work, food, shelter and other basic needs met.

Political organizing around the Green New Deal represents a potential breakthrough for many – a recognition of the magnitude and urgency of the social and political changes that are required for civilizational survival. Inevitably, this call to action will require popular mobilization to compensate for the power of intransigent vested corporate and political interests.

The GND stakes new ground and proposes new battle-lines for the climate justice movement to authentically challenge the priorities of capitalism over people and the planet. It will be denounced as “radical,” “idealistic,” and even “socialist” by those intent on ratcheting-up the ideological battle. Supporters and constructive critics of the GND should prepare themselves to unapologetically lead the charge.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Taboo and Discipline

Nancy Pelosi says Ilhan Omar "may not have had a full awareness" of what her words about AIPAC might signify. In other words, she broke a taboo and had to be disciplined, personally, made an example of. But the "awareness" had to be reiterated to the whole society as well; we do not broach the subject of Zionism. In any form. There are ways you can speak of Israel but if you even infer Zionism you will be condemned for antisemitism. The gatekeepers have enormous influence, not just monetary (which is considerable), but culturally, thanks to a perpetual identity of horrifically wronged victim. The reparations demanded for the historical wrong is silence about their State and the ways that State is maintained.

This reiteration occurs every few years. Some person will mention Palestine, or the nature of a Jewish State, and they will be made an example of by the AIPAC crew, dozens of pro-Israel groups which include Christians or atheists who just want "support" from the lobby. Or someone like Larry Summers will pipe in as he did as Pres. of Harvard in 2005:
"Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in effect if not their intent." This was over folks calling for divestment. Judith Butler destroyed his argument in her great essay The Charge of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel and the Risks of Public Critique.

All this is old news, a thing we all know but most Americans disavow. The paradox is that the trope itself- associating Jews with money and influence, or with dual loyalty- is maintained by Zionists to be used specifically in these instances. They are the ones who weaponize it, as much as real anti-semites, and therefore perpetuate it.

Think of the way Trump goes on and on about Europe not paying their way for security. Try saying that about Israel.What if you said somebody famous loved both America and Mexico, the country where they were born. Would you have a powerful lobby come down on you demanding an apology for exploiting a dual loyalty "trope"?

Here is what Netanyahu, quoted in today's NYTImes: "Israel is a Jewish state" where Arabs have rights. Like the Pakistan is a Muslim state. Where everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Creeping Exposure

Capitalism is a herd beast, easily stampeded because everybody is following everybody else. And if it looks like they are headed to the exits, look out. Right now there are lots of sideways glances by those industries who have exposure to climate related risk. Many coal investors have pulled the plug in the last six months but of course those with a higher risk threshold see that as a window to extract even greater profit.

If you read the Business Press right now (the Economist, Forbes,Fortune, etc) you will see articles about new climate risk assessment companies starting up. They offer high-priced consulting on "preparedness" and when to make a move. Of course, nobody wants to incur the "first-mover disadvantage" in a market but neither do you want to be left holding the bag (stranded assets) when poop hits fan. Think especially of the insurance business and those biggies who insure the insurers.

Of course, government is getting equally nervous so they are setting up such instruments as the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority (Europe) and a Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosure, supposedly to protect shareholders and private investors. Since no one wants to hear the truth (that the whole system is racing towards a precipice) they instead engage in abstract "Climate Stress Tests for the Financial System" and other esoteric exercises to gauge liability and "exposure". Then there are the big credit rating agencies, the Moodys and S&P Global Ratings and such that give grades to countries