Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Limits to Growth Was Right

Three good ones from The Guardian.

The first one speaks for itself and tells us something people paying attention already knew - that the "standard run" predictions of the Limits to Growth study are playing out, and according to that model things start going pear-shaped sometime between 2015 and 2020. According to that model, population growth peaks in 2030.

Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse

The original Limits to Growth can be found here:

This one does a good job of summing up the Neoliberal push to have a minimalist state, and how that actually results in corporations and banks becoming dependent upon the state to subsidize their activities while at the same time demonizing "scroungers" who turn to the state for aid:
Socialism lives in Britain, but only for the rich: the rules of capitalism are for the rest of us. The ideology of the modern establishment, of course, abhors the state. The state is framed as an obstacle to innovation, a destroyer of initiative, a block that needs to be chipped away to allow free enterprise to flourish. "I think that smaller-scale governments, more freedom for business to exist and to operate – that is the right kind of direction for me," says Simon Walker, the head of the Institute of Directors. For him, the state should be stripped to a "residual government functioning of maintaining law and order, enforcing contracts". Mainstream politicians don't generally talk in such stark terms, but when the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg demands "a liberal alternative to the discredited politics of big government", the echo is evident.

And yet, when the financial system went into meltdown in 2008, it was not expected to stand on its own two feet, or to pull itself up by its bootstraps. Instead, it was saved by the state, becoming Britain's most lavished benefit claimant. More than £1tn of public money was poured into the banks following the financial collapse. The emergency package came with few government-imposed conditions and with little calling to account. "The urge to punish all bankers has gone far enough," declared a piece in the Financial Times just six months after the crisis began. But if there was ever such an "urge" on the part of government, it was never acted on. In 2012, 2,714 British bankers were paid more than €1m – 12 times as many as any other EU country. When the EU unveiled proposals in 2012 to limit bonuses to either one or two years' salary with the say-so of shareholders, there was fury in the City. Luckily, their friends in high office were there to rescue their bonuses: at the British taxpayers' expense, the Treasury took to the European Court to challenge the proposals. The entire British government demonstrated, not for the first time, that it was one giant lobbying operation for the City of London. Between 2011 and 2013, bank lending fell in more than 80% of Britain's 120 postcode areas, helping to stifle economic recovery. Banks may have been enjoyed state aid on an unprecedented scale, but their bad behaviour just got worse – and yet they suffered no retribution.

Contrast this with the fate of the unemployed, including those thrown out of work as a result of the actions of bailed-out bankers. In the austerity programme that followed the financial crisis, state support for those at the bottom of society has been eroded. The support that remains is given withstringent conditions attached. "Benefit sanctions" are temporary suspensions of benefits, often for the most spurious or arbitrary reasons. According to the government's figures, 860,000 benefit claimants were sanctioned between June 2012 and June 2013, a jump of 360,000 from a year earlier. According to the Trussell Trust, the biggest single provider of food banks, more than half of recipients were dependent on handouts owing to cuts or sanctions to their benefits.

Much of Britain's public sector has now become a funding stream for profiteering companies. According to the National Audit Office (NAO), around half of the £187bn spent by the public sector on goods and services now goes on private contractors...
It's Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us in Britain

And finally, George Monbiot takes on Neoliberalism:
Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut, and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power. It is rapidly colonising the rest of the world.

[author of What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society Paul] Verhaeghe points out that neoliberalism draws on the ancient Greek idea that our ethics are innate (and governed by a state of nature it calls the market) and on the Christian idea that humankind is inherently selfish and acquisitive. Rather than seeking to suppress these characteristics, neoliberalism celebrates them: it claims that unrestricted competition, driven by self-interest, leads to innovation and economic growth, enhancing the welfare of all.

At the heart of this story is the notion of merit. Untrammelled competition rewards people who have talent, work hard, and innovate. It breaks down hierarchies and creates a world of opportunity and mobility.

The reality is rather different. Even at the beginning of the process, when markets are first deregulated, we do not start with equal opportunities. Some people are a long way down the track before the starting gun is fired. This is how the Russian oligarchs managed to acquire such wealth when the Soviet Union broke up. They weren’t, on the whole, the most talented, hardworking or innovative people, but those with the fewest scruples, the most thugs, and the best contacts – often in the KGB.

Even when outcomes are based on talent and hard work, they don’t stay that way for long. Once the first generation of liberated entrepreneurs has made its money, the initial meritocracy is replaced by a new elite, which insulates its children from competition by inheritance and the best education money can buy. Where market fundamentalism has been most fiercely applied – in countries like the US and UK – social mobility has greatly declined.
Sick of this market-driven world? You should be

Some good comments on that last one:

I live an almost possession-free, stripped back kind of life. But I experience my life as 'pure' and simple, in the sense that I feel attached to life, itself, in its purest condition, to being alive, to people, the air around me, thought, movement, the living world - rather than things.

I always bear in mind two cliched sayings: 'you can't take it with you' and 'life isn't a rehearsal". It seems to me that experiencing life through objects is sort of delaying the moment when you just - are.

The only way to describe this is, I suppose (to me, anyhow) - a vivid warm sky, green fields, lots of trees, open fields, simple paths - and oneself in that simple state of a tiny dot in the middle of the great landscape that is nature.

I am romanticising, perhaps. Sure. In fact I rarely get into the country. But that simplicity exists in my mind as 'who I am'.

Money, TVs, objects - stuff - I feel as though I left all that behind when I was young and ignorant, in my youth. It's completely irrelevant, to me, to have things. What's the point? I'm only going to die and it will all stay behind, representing me, when I have actually gone. Well - those things would not represent me, not at all.


Of interest, one of the main sources of the ideas of open borders for trade, etc – i.e. the neolib model – have their roots in Mongol society & empire of the 13th – 15th centuries. Prior to this, the Western model was feudalism, where estates were expected to be totally self-sufficient and with no external trade, other than to purchase ostentation to the glory of the Lord of the manor or the greater glory of Mother Church. So strange to say, as much as Thatcher & Reagan, we can also point the finger at Ghengis Khan, as anyone!


[B]efore the almighty dollar became king, people used to help each other without thought, partly because they had to, but also because there was a greater sense of "we are all in the same boat". communities worked together because they saw themselves as a group and not just individuals. 30 years ago one would know the names of every family living in the same block, and most off all the first names (an indicator of community spirit). these days, you'd be lucky if you know your neighbours names in most capital cities. history is full of examples of how this self-centered thinking, promoted by Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, designed specifically to sell market products to individuals, has altered the idea of community into that of individualism, a trend that feeds into the rampant neoliberalism sweeping the world today. but I digress...

Okay, I can buy an iPad and a telly, if I want. Great.

But I can't boil water with iPads. The privatised and mostly unregulated energy markets - those are really open to new competitors, aren't they? Competition just keeps pushing down my bills, doesn't it?

I can't live in an iPad either. The deregulation of landlords means I'm paying less rent than ever before, right? And the neoliberals seems quite happy to intervene in markets in order to bail out banks or 'Help to Buy' overpriced houses, so I'm sure they know what they're doing when they treble house prices in fifteen years and leave me with no alternative but to rent until retirement.

Look how well the 'market' in higher education works, with almost all universities charging 9k a year! Look how much return our young people are getting from their mortgage-sized 'investment' in skills! Graduate jobs today - with unregulated businesses offering zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships - are of course far better than the manufacturing or manual work available in years gone by.

In the last 35 years of market-based ideology living standards for the majority have fallen. I'd trade in my iPad for a final-salary pension or a house costing 3x salary in a heartbeat. My iPad mostly sits in the corner of the room in a shared house I pay a fortune to rent, unused.

    The only distinction between the two is that capitalism, even with all it's faults, has given even those in the bottom more prosperity than any other model.

And more mental illness.

I'm not going to argue with you about the level of "prosperity" but like George I just think there is too high a price to pay. You can't simply be "leaving aside all the faults of capitalism". They have to be taken into account. You're just trotting out the successful propaganda of the neo-liberals - " never mind anything else, show me the money"

Personally I don't strive too hard to make money and acquire possessions - I have lots of time off and do things like cooking and growing veg that clearly are not "efficient" in terms of time and money. But I think I'm happier that way and I find it really odd that people dismiss a slower less impact full way of life out of hand.

Personally I'll take sanity over the rat race any day, but I'd be happier if more people did the same, not just for their own sakes but because (IMHO) a society that reflects values such as sharing, conservation, taking time to do things properly, making time to talk to people, helping others etc etc makes for happier citizens.

It might be cheap oil that gave prosperity to the masses. We'll find out how good capitalism really is when it starts running out.

Unfortunately we are all victims of propoganda. The fact is that neoliberalism is rife with contradictions. Its proponents eulogize the free market whilst ensuring that the state enforces the powers of monopolies. The state has expanded considerably since the onslaught of neoliberal ideas. The problem is that this expansion has not been for the general benefit of society. Monbiot gives some examples of the nature of that expansion above.

    Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers.

The assessment and monitoring of individuals is most often directed by or enforced by the state. The contradiction is that neoliberalism would not exist without the support of large strong states. But these are strong states that force their populations to acquiesce to the powers of the market and uphold the short term gains of a select group of individuals at the expense of wider society and the long term future of humanity.

This is only one example of the contradictions inherent to neoliberalism and it is why it makes it so difficult to fight. It is hard to come up with a simple rallying cry - although Death to the Market would do me.

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