Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy Thoughts

A couple of brief hurricane notes. One is that of course this is going to have a negative economic effect as this article says –

Natural disasters like this are going to be one of many things that will cancel out any benefits of additional “growth” of burning more fossil fuels going forward. On the balance, sheet, they are likely to be negative – that is, whatever tenuous benefits of burning additional fossil fuels there are at this point will be eaten up by natural disasters, droughts, wider disease areas, etc. We’ve long since passed the point of diminishing returns. We’re probably in negative returns territory – we’re actually slowly losing what we’ve built during the age of fossil fuels. Things that are destroyed and rebuilt may be of inferior quality. Not always, sometimes new technology can be implemented, but by and large probably not. Thus, over time, we will gradually erode to a smaller, weaker economy and lower living standards, disaster by disaster (c.f. catabolic collapse). That’s the economic front.

On the political front, you’ll notice how disaster relief is perpetually under attack from the right wing/Republicans. People must not under any circumstances see government as anything but a problem and a burden to be dismantled and eliminated. Thus, after a disaster, people are left on their own to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” with no help from the government. Here’s Paul Krugman on the issue:
So let me just take a moment to flag an issue others have been writing about: the weird Republican obsession with killing FEMA. Kevin Drum has the goods: they just keep doing it. George Bush the elder turned the agency into a dumping ground for hacks, with bad results; Clinton revived the agency; Bush the younger ruined it again; Obama revived it again; and Romney — with everyone still remembering Brownie and Katrina! — said that he wants to block-grant and privatize it. (And as far as I can tell, even TV news isn’t letting him Etch-A-Sketch the comment away).

There’s something pathological here. It’s really hard to think of a public service less likely to be suitable for privatization, and given the massive inequality of impacts by state, it really really isn’t block-grantable. Does the right somehow imagine that only Those People need disaster relief? Is the whole idea of helping people as opposed to hurting them just anathema?
It’s pretty easy to see where this is headed, a government vacuum leading to destroyed communities being left to rot. Common purpose disintegrates and people are ever more atomized into warring tribes with the stateless elite as the beneficiaries. Government is “privatized” and sold off to extractive elites. All the productivity from the labor of billions around the world goes into personal bank accounts and sovereign wealth funds while the state withers away and leaves people to fend for themselves. It’s the divide and conquer the rich have been playing for decades: Why should I in Iowa pay for the hurricane relief for liberals and minorities in New York City? Why should I in New Jersey pay for tornado and drought relief for those evangelical crackers in the heartland? Everyone should just take care of themselves. Why should I contribute even one cent for anyone who’s not me? Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost! That is the prevailing attitude in America today, nurtured by the fortunes spent by libertarian billionaire sociopaths who equate this to “freedom.” The rich do not care –they can simply pack up and move. As Matt Taibbi put it:
Listen to Mitt Romney speak, and see if you can notice what’s missing. This is a man who grew up in Michigan, went to college in California, walked door to door through the streets of southern France as a missionary and was a governor of Massachusetts, the home of perhaps the most instantly recognizable, heavily accented English this side of Edinburgh. Yet not a trace of any of these places is detectable in Romney’s diction. None of the people in any of those places bled in and left a mark on the man.

Romney is a man from nowhere. In his post-regional attitude, he shares something with his campaign opponent, Barack Obama, whose background is a similarly jumbled pastiche of regionally nonspecific non-identity. But in the way he bounced around the world as a half-orphaned child, Obama was more like an involuntary passenger in the demographic revolution reshaping the planet than one of its leaders.
Romney, on the other hand, is a perfect representative of one side of the ominous cultural divide that will define the next generation, not just here in America but all over the world. Forget about the Southern strategy, blue versus red, swing states and swing voters – all of those political clichés are quaint relics of a less threatening era that is now part of our past, or soon will be. The next conflict defining us all is much more unnerving.

That conflict will be between people who live somewhere, and people who live nowhere. It will be between people who consider themselves citizens of actual countries, to which they have patriotic allegiance, and people to whom nations are meaningless, who live in a stateless global archipelago of privilege – a collection of private schools, tax havens and gated residential communities with little or no connection to the outside world.

Such people have no need of “disaster relief” other than as a profit center for their portfolios. Thus the once-powerful nations of the West erode into banana republics.

It’s easy to see where this is headed –a complete breakdown in any sense of common purpose or any ability to come together and accomplish anything. Such an attitude is not compatible with even having a country, and I can’t imagine how we will continue to have one into the indefinite future. Can anyone imagine such attitudes prevailing in the America of yore? What if we had taken that tack during the Depression? Would the US even exist as a nation today?

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