A response to Changing the Conversation

8 12 2017

Ed. Note: Richard Smith’s article, Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse, which Saral is responding to this post, can be found on Resilience.org here, or here on DTM where I republished it. My only gripe with Saral’s essay is the total lack of mention of debt abolition…..  canceling debt is the only way forward when we start talking about what to do about all the job losses.

By Saral Sarkar, originally published by Saral Sarkar blog

In his article,1 Richard calls upon his readers to “change the conversation”. He asks, “What are your thoughts?” He says, if we don’t “come up with a viable alternative, our goose is cooked.” I fully agree. So I join the conversation, in order to improve it.

Let me first say I appreciate Richard’s article very much. It is very useful, indeed necessary, to also present one’s cause in a short article – for those who are interested but, for whatever reason, cannot read a whole book. Richard has ably presented the eco-socialist case against both capitalism and “green” capitalism.

But the alternative Richard has come up with is deficient in one very important respect, namely in respect of viability. Allow me to present here my comradely criticisms. It will be short.

Is only Capitalism the Problem?

(1) Richard writes, “Capitalism, not population is the main driver of planetary ecological collapse … .”. It sounds like an echo of statements from old-Marxist-socialism. It is not serious. Is Richard telling us that, while we are fighting a long-drawn-out battle against capitalism in order to overcome it, we can allow population to continuously grow without risking any further destruction of the environment? Should we then think that a world population of ten billion by 2050 would not be any problem?

I would agree if Richard would say that capitalism is, because of its growth compulsion, one of the main drivers of ecological collapse. But anybody who has learnt even a little about ecology knows that in any particular eco-region, exponential growth of any one species leads to collapse of its ecological balance. If we now think of the planet Earth as one whole eco-region and consider all the scientific reports on rapid bio-diversity loss and rapid dwindling of the numbers of larger animals, then we cannot but correlate these facts with the exponential growth of our own species, homo sapiens sapiens, the latter being the cause of the former two.

No doubt, capitalism – together with the development of technologies, especially agricultural and medical technologies – has largely enabled the huge growth of human numbers in the last two hundred years. But human population growth has been occurring even in pre-capitalist and pre-medieval eras, albeit at a slower rate. Parallel to this, also environmental destruction has been occurring and growing in these eras.

It is not good to tell our readers only half the truth. The whole truth is succinctly stated in the equation:

I = P  x  A  x  T

where I stands for ecological impact (we can also call it ecological destruction), P for population, T for Technology and A for affluence. All these three factors are highly variable. Let me here also quote Paul Ehrlich, one of my teachers in political ecology. Addressing leftists, he once wrote, “Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth]”. Note the phrase “whatever your cause”. Ehrlich meant to say, and I too think so, the cause may be environmental protection, saving the earth, protecting biodiversity, overcoming poverty and unemployment, women’s liberation, preventing racist and ethnic conflicts and cleansings, preventing huge unwelcome migration flows, preventing crime, fighting modern-day slavery, bringing peace in the world, creating a socialist world order etc. etc. etc., in all cases stopping population growth is a very important factor. Sure, that will in no case be enough. But that is an essential part of the solutions.

Note that in the equation cited above, there is no mention of capitalism. Instead, we find there the two factors technology and affluence. We can call (and we generally do call) the product of T x A (production of affluence by means of industrial technologies) industrialism, of which there has until now been two main varieties: the capitalist one and the planned socialist one (of the soviet type). Nothing will be gained for saving the ecological balance of the Earth if only capitalism is replaced with socialism, and ruling socialists then try to increase production at a higher rate, which they must do under the pressure of a growing population which, moreover, develops higher ambitions and aspirations, and demands all the good things that middle class Americans enjoy.

(2) Modern-day old-socialists do not deny the existence of an ecological problem. They have also developed several pseudo-solutions such as “clean” and “renewable” energies and materials, efficiency revolution, decoupling of GDP growth from resource use etc.

It’s good that Richard rejects the idea that green capitalism can save us. But why can’t it? “Because”, he writes, “companies can’t commit economic suicide to save the humans. There’s just no solution to our crisis within the framework of any conceivable capitalism.” This is good, but not enough. Because there are old-socialists (I know many in Germany) who believe that it is only individual capitalists/companies and the system capitalism that are preventing a rapid transition to 100 percent clean renewable energies and 100 percent recycling of all materials. Thanks to these possibilities, they believe, old-socialist type of industrialism, and even economic and population growth, can be reconciled with the requirements of sustainability. I don’t think that is possible, and I have also earlier elaborately explained why.2 Said briefly, “renewable energies” are neither clean nor renewable, and 100 percent recycling is impossible because the Entropy Law also applies to matter. What Richard thinks is not clear from this article of his. It is necessary to make his thoughts on this point clear.

Is Bottom-up Democracy of Any Use in the Transition Period?

(3) Richard writes, “Rational planning requires bottom-up democracy.” I do not understand the connection between the two, planning and democracy. At the most, one could say that for better planning for the villages, the planning commission should also listen to the villagers. But at the national level? Should, e.g., the inhabitants of each and every 500 souls village in the Ganges basin codetermine in a bottom up democratic planning process how the waters of the said river and its tributaries should be distributed among ca. 500 million inhabitants of the basin? If that were ever to be attempted, the result would be chaos, not planning. Moreover, how do you ensure that the villagers are capable of understanding the national interest and overcoming their particular interests? Such phrases are only illusions.

In his 6th thesis, Richard sketches a rosy, idealistic picture of a future eco-socialist society and its citizens. That may be attractive for him, me and other eco-socialists. But this future lies in distant future. First we would need a long transition period of contracting economies, and that would cause a lot of pain to millions of people spoilt by consumerism or promises of a consumerist future. We shall have to convince such people, and that would be an altogether difficult job. We should tell them the truth, namely that austerity is necessary for saving the earth. We can promise them only one thing, namely that all the pains and burdens as well as the benefits of austerity will be equitably distributed among all.

What to Do About Jobs?

(4) Richard writes: “Needless to say, retrenching and closing down such industries would mean job losses, millions of jobs from here to ChinaYet if we don’t shut down those unsustainable industries, we’re doomed.” And then he puts the question “What to do?” We can be sure that all people who wholly depend on a paid job for their livelihood, whom we must also win over, will confront us with this jobs question. Let me finish my contribution to this conversation with an answer to this question. 

There is not much use talking to ourselves, the already converted. We need to start work, immediately and all over the world, especially in those countries where poverty and unemployment is very high. We know that, generally, these countries are also those where population growth is very high. People from the rich countries cannot simply tell their people, sorry, we have to close down many factories and we cannot further invest in industrializing your countries. But the former can tell the latter that they can help them in controlling population growth. The latter will understand easily that it is an immediately effective way to reduce poverty and unemployment. A massive educative campaign will of course be necessary in addition to concrete monetary and technical help.

In the rich countries, contrary to what Richard perhaps thinks, it will not be possible to provide new equivalent jobs to replace those jobs we need to abolish. For such countries, reducing working hours and job-sharing in the short term, and, in the long term, ostracizing automation and labor-saving technologies, and using labor-intensive methods of production instead, are together the only solution. That is already known. Another thing that would be needed is to negate free trade and international competition. However, it must also be said openly that high wages and salaries cannot be earned under such circumstances. 

We eco-socialist activists must begin the work with a massive world-wide political campaign in favor of such ideas and policies.

Notes and References

1. Smith, Richard (2017) “ Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse.”

2. My views expressed in this article have been elaborately presented in my book:
Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices (1999). London: Zed Books,  and in various articles published in my blog-site


On abandoning effluence

23 12 2014

Some of you might remember that if ever there was a book that changed my life, it was Ted Trainer’s “Abandon Affluence”.  These days, I have a tendency to call it “Abandon Effluence”, as the planet chokes on waste of all kinds produced by our effluent civilisation, be it CO2 in the air or plastic in the ocean….

Today, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald prompted me to comment further on this.  Titled “Miserly Newstart keeps unemployed further away from jobs”, I could not help thinking “thank god for the unemployed”.  For two fundamentally and totally contradictory reasons.  Poor people can’t consume the planet to death, and poor people keep the economy afloat…  You won’t read that in mainstream media…

The morons in charge of our country right now seem to take great pleasure in denigrating the unemployed (and the disabled, and the sick, and anyone else who may have fallen on hard times) for not doing any of the “heavy lifting”.  The media loves to tell us that these dole bludgers live off our taxes (all monopoly money created out of thin air let us not forget) and we should therefore look down upon them as inferior people.  From the SMH:

Australia’s Newstart was comparable to benefits provided in the Southern European nations of Greece, Spain and Portugal, which have all been rocked by the global financial crisis and sovereign debt problems. So we’ve got southern European generosity even though Australia is richer than those nations and escaped the financial crisis relatively unscathed.

What the morons keep forgetting is that whilst these unemployed people may not be paying income tax, they do pay GST on almost everything they buy with their $500 a fortnight (including food, as most of these people probably buy processed food rather than fresh), and rent to their landlords who profit handsomely.  When you earn such paltry amounts of money, everything you get gets ploughed back into the economy and is counted as GDP.  I believe that the main reason the unemployed are so derided is because they don’t actually participate in growth, they simply don’t get enough to consume like those who work!  And they cannot get in debt, except with high interest rate credit cards…. and no doubts the banks love cashing in on that one, even if there are a few defaulters among them.

Unfortunately for the unemployed, nearly all of them do not realise what an opportunity unemployment really is.  They have been so brainwashed into thinking the Matrix is the only modus operandi that they find it impossible to think outside that box.  To be fair, none of the employed do either!

Imagine this…:  next month, all the unemployed wake up to themselves and decide to abandon the Matrix.  They each find one of the 800,000 houses that are empty at any one time in Australia, and squat there.  After all, Australia has a tradition of squatting, that’s how this nation began…!  Using their last dole payment (or two or three), they buy chickens and seeds, a few gardening implements, and start growing their own food.  They won’t need electricity because they won’t be watching TV or charging their smart phones.  They would surely have enough clothing already to keep warm if it’s cold, and most of them would quite likely own essentials like bedding etc….

Now I realise this is pure fantasy, but just bear with me a little longer…..  what would happen to the economy?

According to the ABS, there are 777,700 unemployed people at the moment in Australia, representing 6.2% of the 12,500,000 who make up ‘the work force’.  The underemployed number 14.8%, or another 1.8 million people, for a total 2.6 million people who presumably earn their $500 a fortnight’s worth of pound of flesh.  I make that out to be a total of (in round numbers) 33.8 billion dollars a year.  What, exactly, would happen to the economy if that much spending/consumption was removed from the economy?  Or the 3.4 billion in GST for that matter?  What of all those landlords who suddenly lose their tenants, causing a crash in the housing bubble?  What of the power companies that suddenly find themselves having to shut down 10% of their power stations?  Were the government to exile the unemployed, it would cause an instant depression…….

The reason of course there is any unemployment at all, is due to the very market forces the morons in charge constantly push on us.  If there were no unemployment, it would be an employee’s market instead of the current employers’.  In a labour shortage situation, any potential employee applying to fill a vacant position would be able to name his price (wages) and desperate employers would have little choice but to accept.  And we can’t have that now, can we…..  the labour market will not pay any more than is absolutely necessary.  So the morons in charge continue denigrating the very socio-economic sector they and their precious Capitalism created, even ensuring they mostly cannot get a job even…….  according to the SMH:

Morris and Wilson argue Australia’s current approach is counterproductive. Their study into the implications of life on Newstart found many recipients were so deprived they were ill-equipped to get work. Newstart’s very low rate was “scarring” the unemployed and making it more difficult for them to find a job.

If there were jobs to be had of course.  Furthermore, my imaginary scenario above will one day come to fruition; it’s only a matter of when really.  So many pundits are proclaiming that it will all start next year, like Paul Craig Roberts…

We need a reboot, no doubt about it, but first, we have to rid ourselves of the morons in charge.  Before it’s too late.  If it isn’t already of course, they all have their heads in the sand.

Talkin’ bout a revolution revisited

8 11 2013

GreedyI wrote this about a week ago in response to articles and comments written over at the Australian Independent Media Network regarding our infamous friend Russell Brand’s assertions voting was a waste of time…….  Having been published now, it’s time to also put it up here……  Enjoy.

To say Russell Brand has had an impact on the blogosphere would be the understatement of the year.  His notion that we should all stop voting has brought out all the people who don’t, those who are thinking about it, and those who think the whole idea is the abandonment of hard won liberty and democracy . . .The crux of Brand’s position on our systems of government really resonated with me when he told Paxman in that now infamous BBC interview “Well I don’t think it’s working very well, Jeremy. Given that the planet is being destroyed. Given that there is economic disparity of a huge degree. What are you saying? There’s no alternative? There’s no alternative? Just this system?”

The system (I call it the Matrix…) is indeed broken.  I was prompted to write this article by OzFenric‘s assertion that Democracy had been poisoned by Capitalism.  As it happens, I totally agree.  But how did this come about?  I’m old enough to remember when this wasn’t so…..  I’m starting to think that Capitalism really went berserk once Communism was defeated with the fall of the USSR and the demolition of the Berlin Wall.  Unconstrained by the cold war, Capitalism decided to take us lefties on, and not just take us on, but convert us.  And it largely worked.  At the last election, the Socialist Party garnered 0.07% of the vote . . . yet right wing micro parties did far far better than that.  Was winning the socialist ‘struggle’ meant to be ‘us’ becoming Capitalists?

With roughly twice as many years under my belt as Brand, I can remember all sorts of things he doesn’t even know occurred.  Trivial things.  Like the fact that in my twenties, one never heard about the stock market as part of ‘the news’.  Nor the price of gold or oil, unless of course we were having a less trivial oil shock because the US hit Peak Oil and the Arabs wouldn’t sell them their oil at the ridiculously low price of the time, causing gold to reach $800 an ounce . . . I remember those things, but I also remember not understanding them.  I was too busy having fun, and no I wasn’t doing drugs like Brand.  Once that crisis passed, nobody mentioned the price of gold or oil again; well not for another 10 or 15 years.  Now it’s a substantial section of ‘the news’.  Everyone seems fixated with money now, as if it was some sort of measure of wealth, instead of course being a measure of debt…..

A lot of things have changed in my sixty odd years.  I clearly remember us only having one car, a Renault that was so small the family couldn’t fit in it.  And the only reason we even had this car was that it was supplied to my father by his employer to do his work for them.  I remember having no phone (of any kind), no TV, no fridge, no Traction lounge, no house of our own, in fact we had almost nothing.  I remember an absolutely epic trip when I was seven years old, moving from the south of France to Belgium in my father’s Citroën (you know, the type they use in Maigret and WWII films…)  In this car we shoe horned my parents (someone had to drive!), my grandmother, five kids and all our belongings…  Everything.  One thousand kilometres with the boot roped up to stay shut and the roof rack having to be adjusted forward again every few hundred k’s because it was sliding backwards in the wind drag.  And trust me, we weren’t going fast.No affluence here, move along…..

With two more siblings born in Belgium, by 1963 my Communist parents decided they’d had enough, and sought asylum in Australia looking for a better future.  The rest as they say . . .

Looking back fifty years, it would be easy to say Capitalism was good to us.

There’s an old saying:  “If you’re not a socialist at 20, you haven’t got a heart.  If you’re still a socialist at 50, you haven’t got any money”.  That must explain why the Socialist Party only received 0.07% of the vote at the last election.  I don’t know why they bother.  I mean, you have to get at least 0.5% of the vote like the Motoring Enthusiast Party to have any chance of getting into the Senate…!  But I digress.

Raised in a Communist household, you’d think my future was sealed, but after ten years working as a public servant after leaving school, I decided to have a crack at Capitalism and started my own business.  During the eighties, which even though that decade started under the conditions of the aforementioned oil shock and the Howard induced recession, was one of the fastest growing periods known to Homo Capitalus.  I single handedly managed to grow my photographic studio from nothing to $150,000 a year turnover in just eight years.  I really thought I was made.  For a brief period, I even abandoned Socialism!  I was rich . . . well I felt rich.  In reality, I was seriously indebted….  This could never end, now could it….?  My naivety knew no bounds, but was soon enough shaken by the ‘recession we had to have’.  Much of my work came from advertising agencies which fostered insatiable growth and consumerism, and once people started losing their jobs, people stopped consuming, and advertising budgets collapsed.  As did my business.  Was this all that the much heralded Capitalism I had embraced meant to achieve?  Failure . . . ?

What followed, for me at least, was a mid-life crisis (you know, the one I was never going to have) entwined with the discovery of environmentalism.  Two books changed my life.  Ted Trainer’s ‘Abandon Affluence’, and the Club of Rome’s ‘Limits to Growth Report’.  I was blown away by the fact that the utter unsustainability of Capitalism had completely escaped my attention.  What was wrong with me?  How could I even have worked for the evil advertising industry?  Yet every man and his dog was hard at work, denigrating those anti growth books; we can’t have reality getting in the way of unfettered profits, now can we…..

At this stage, still full of optimism and wanting to change the world, I retrained in Renewable Energy technology, and joined the Greens.  I abandoned affluence and Capitalism, sold all my crap, rid myself of all debts, and downsized like you wouldn’t believe.

Whilst I at first believed our looming predicaments could in fact be fixed, what I really learned was that it was all too late.  Why I believe this would take far far more space than an article like this can allow, but it’s all relentlessly laid out in this blog.  The numbers simply do not stack up . . .

Since Capitalism converted all of us lefties to embrace affluence, the growth of the economy and population means we are fast approaching uncontrollable climate change.  In cyberspace, there are two kinds of blogs I now realise.  Those like this one (meaning the AIMN for whom this was originally written…) that debate politics and environmental issues – without really knowing the enormity of the predicaments looming on the horizon – and the doomerblogs, like mine, run by people who ‘get it’.  There’s even a whole bunch discussing ‘Near Term Human Extinction’, now known by its own acronym, NTHE.  Never heard of it?  Look it up . . . fascinating stuff, might even make you think voting is a waste of time!

“Getting it” is quite a process.  I’ve been at it now for close on twenty years.  I don’t expect anyone reading this to suddenly ‘get it’.  It’s all about the numbers; they simply do not add up . . . I just can’t say this enough.  Once you truly realise what ‘they’ have done to us, and the environment, once you truly understand the mathematics of exponential growth, once you understand what a scam the whole debt economy is, and once you realise that ‘they’ will do nothing about it (even though they know . . . ) because there are no solutions apart from ‘them’ losing their wealth and power . . . you too may well start thinking voting is a complete waste of time.

I don’t know what Brand knows.  I reckon if he came here for dinner, we could have a doozy of a conversation.  But Brand’s gut feeling is right.  We need a revolution.  It could so easily be a bloodless one too . . . What the next system needs to be like will be worked out after a serious shake up of the establishment.  Capitalism is doomed to fail, just like every other ponzi scheme ever dreamed up before it has failed.  There will be a lot of people walking around like zombies in the streets wondering WTF happened . . . and we the zombies outnumber ‘them’ a million to one (they are not really the 1% at all..), ‘they’ do not stand a chance.  ‘They’ are shit scared I reckon.  Hence all this cyber spying and neo fascist nonsense we are beginning to read about everywhere.  The next ism will have to be invented.  I don’t know how it will turn out any more than Brand does.  But everything’s about to change, and most people have no idea.  And they vote.  Still.