Posts Tagged ‘Karl Marx’
Three guest posts from Martin Lack of Lack of Environment, today Part Two
As previously mentioned, Martin came to the attention of Learning from Dogs when making a comment to the second part of my Sceptical Voices essay. This is the second part of an essay that Martin wrote that is worthy of deep consideration. Part One can be read here; the concluding Part Three next Monday, the 10th.
Can modernisation be “ecological”? – Part 2
What is the problem with Modernity?
The problem is that the accumulation of personal wealth has become the sole objective of many people in modern society; and perpetual growth is posited as a means whereby even the poorest might achieve it. However, the New International Version of the Bible records the Apostle Paul as having written, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” (1 Timothy 6:10); and economists and politicians have argued about this for centuries…
According to Jon Elster, it was Karl Marx that coined the term ‘money fetishism’ to describe the belief that money (and/or precious metals) have intrinsic (use) value rather than just instrumental (exchange) value, which Marx felt was as misguided as the religious practice of endowing inanimate objects with supernatural powers (Elster 1986: 56-7). However, the terms use value and exchange value were first put forward by Aristotle (384-322 BC) who, according to Daly, also recognised the danger of focusing on the latter (i.e. whereby the accumulation of wealth becomes an end in itself). Therefore, Daly suggests that the paperless economy (where no useable commodities actually change hands) is the ultimate destiny for money fetishism (Daly 1992: 186).
In 1987, the World Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED) was clearly keen to try and settle an argument and, therefore, made the following quite astonishing assertion: “Growth has no set limits in terms of population or resource use beyond which lies ecological disaster” (Brundtland et al 1987: 45). Instead, WCED gave us the much-touted – but ill-defined – concept of sustainable development (SD). However, in stark contrast to the WCED report, Carter much more recently observed that SD “…will require a fundamental transformation in attitudes to economic growth, consumption, production and work” (Carter 2007: 48). This appears to be a subtle acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Herman Daly’s insistence of the need for a move to a steady-state economy; precisely because infinite growth is impossible in a closed system.
A basic tenet of Daly’s thesis is that economic activity does not take place in a vacuum and that economic – not just ecological – collapse awaits us unless we recognise the limited capacity of the ecosystem within which we operate: “Of all the fields of study, economics is the last one that should seek to be ‘value-free’, lest it deserve Oscar Wilde’s remark that an economist ‘is a man that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’” (Daly 1992: 4).
On 22 December 2010, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme entitled “What Price Cheap Food” containing the startling revelation that, in the two years between 1 November 2008 and 1 November 2010, town planners approved applications for at least 577 new supermarkets across the UK. The programme also revealed that so-called “mega farms” (i.e. factory farming of cows and pigs – “dairy-go-rounds” and “sty scrappers” respectively) will be the next ‘big idea’ imported from the USA. The potential mega farm operators argue that there is significant scope for recycling and energy from waste schemes to be incorporated, although environmentalists would question (1) the wisdom of concentrating potentially polluting activities; and (2) the ethics of factory farming (which undoubtedly goes against the grain of green consumerism). However, although the potential for economies of scale cannot be denied, this could all be seen as symptomatic of what Daly called “growthmania“.
Growthmania versus Limits to Growth
One of the world’s most famous deniers of Limits to Growth arguments is Julian Simon, who once famously won a bet with Paul Ehrlich that the price of any commodity would reduce with the passage of time. Nevertheless, how can anyone deny that the Earth’s resource base or its capacity to accommodate human beings is anything other than limited? Quite easily, apparently: In 1994, Simon claimed that “humanity now has the ability (or knowledge) to make it possible to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years.”
However, the stupidity of such a dangerously fallacious argument was exposed 2 years later by Paul and Anna Ehrlich, who pointed out that at 1994 growth rates, “it would take only 774 years for the 1994 population of 5.6 billion to increase to the point where there were 10 human beings for each square meter of ice-free land on the planet!” Furthermore, they pointed out that if growth did not decline from 1994 levels, it would take only 1900 years for the mass of the human population to equal the mass of the Earth! (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1996: 66).
Fortunately, the UN now believes (May 2011) that the human population on this planet will probably stabilise by the end of the current Century at somewhere between 10 and 15 billion. The only trouble with that is that, we may well have already exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of the planet, and are therefore causing extreme stress to the global ecosystem; of which the most obvious symptom is AGW.
Daly, H. (1992), Steady State Economics (2nd ed), London: Earthscan.
Elster, J. (1986), An Introduction to Karl Marx, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ehrlich, P. and Ehrlich, A. (1996), Betrayal of Science and Reason, New York: Island Press.
A guest Post from Patrice Ayme.
(Well I say ‘guest’ in the sense that Patrice has very kindly allowed me to publish a post he recently published on his own Blog. It’s very much appreciated. I should add that the minor changes that I have made, in my editorial role, are gently to improve the clarity of this fine piece of work, not in any way to amend meaning. Ed.)
THE PRIVATIZATION OF MONEY CREATION IS THE ENGINE OF PLUTOCRACY.
To understand the present financial and economic crisis, we need the clarity of deep philosophy.
The situation is actually simple, in its grossest outline. To create public money, the money everybody uses (be it cash, electronic transfers, swaps, whatever) we use a private system, with proprietary money creating devices inside (say subprime, or derivatives). Civilization has never worked this way before, as the state previously was careful to stay the one and only money creator.
Now society, worldwide, uses a privately-managed public-money ‘system’ creating what is known as a fractional reserve system. [Wikipedia explanation of fractional reserve system, Ed]
That puts huge power in the hands of underground private individuals we don’t even know the names of. Those cloaked powers in turn corrupt the visible political socio-economy, from below. The whole metastasis is not even described, because intellectuals would have to do so, but most are paid by institutions subservient to the present global corruption.
We saw a similar situation in the Roman empire, when the intellectual class was at its richest, but its critical ability had been corrupted.
The modern banking system is a Faustian bargain (as in a deal with the Devil) with the bankers; in exchange for the immense powers the private bankers were given with money creation, they were supposed to loan it back to society for its development.
This worked reasonably well in the Nineteenth Century. But in the Twentieth Century, bankers observed they could support fascism regimes, and get away with it (only Dr. Schacht, one of the “Lords of Finance”, sat in Nuremberg tribunal, and he was exonerated). Now bankers think they can engineer a depression, and get even richer from it: just keep the profits, and make taxpayers pay for the losses.
By Patrice Ayme
Note 1: Paul Krugman observes, with many others, that the crisis of the West needs “intellectual clarity” to be resolved, and, meanwhile we are “overmatched“. I made preceding comment in answer to Krugman’s cogent remarks. (The New York Times had the kindness to publish what I wrote within two minutes! )
Note 2: HOW THE FINANCIAL CRISIS IS TURNING CIVILIZATIONAL:
China just established another train speed record for “unmodified’ train sets (481 km/h). OK, some will claim China stole a lot of Japanese and European technology. And some French engineers have sneered that the very high speed system in China is not as high performing as it looks (France has much higher average speeds, the highest in the world). However, this is not the point. The point is that China is trying very hard to progress and improve. Meanwhile some of the colossal technological edge of the West is eroding away quickly. The result will be world war, or global plutocratic peace (as plutocracy furthers its deal with China).
How does China improve so much and so fast? Because Chinese banks, the largest in the world, operate according to the fiduciary duty, the Faustian bargain, that the fractional reserve system ought to impose, and used to impose in the West.
Top Chinese bankers know all too well that if they cheated, they may end up with a bullet in their skull. China is led by scientists and engineers who turned to politics, but know that they cannot make mistakes in their calculations. Mao made many mistakes, and dozens of millions died.
The history of China, in the 26 centuries before that, was spoiled by a well meaning, but meek philosophy, which left too small a place to deliver progress of the material, and intellectual kinds.
Civilization is not about “leaving it at that”, the way Confucius mostly had it. Civilization is also about the dream, and implementing it. Indeed, civilization cannot stand still, anymore than a biker can stand still, because resources run out always (as Rome and the Mayas found out). Thus moving on is the price of sustainability. Progress is the price of sustainability.
Note 3: It may seem a curious thing that Karl Marx did not make a strident version of the preceding critique (instead he modestly accused tangentially bankers of “monopoly” powers).
But this Marxist discretion proves the point I alluded to above, namely that bankers were better behaved in the 19C. So Marx talked about other things.
Ironically, early American presidents had perfectly well seen the danger bankers posed, and worried more about them than Marx himself! And let no one call Andrew Jackson a communist: that would be serious mistake…
In the 21st Century, by capturing the states (USA, EU), and various institutions above them (IMF, World Bank, BIS), the bankers have established a monopoly of power early American presidents rightly feared (and Jackson, wounded at 13 by an English sword, later a proud carrier of several bullets, and a general in the field, feared very little). The wise know what to fear. The mentally simple just smile, thinking only about themselves, as they can’t think much further than that.
From the Ed.
Dear Readers, I really hope that you read Patrice’s post in full and in a quiet place where you could reflect on the meaning and underlying implications of what Patrice is saying. Those in the UK may have been able to watch a typically fabulous BBC Television series, Ancient Worlds. It’s still available on BBC iPlayer.
What comes out from the message of mankind over the centuries is that wonderful French expression plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more that changes, the more it stays the same thing. But where we are as we approach the New Year of 2011 A.D. is possibly at a cross-roads – and I intend to write a little more on this idea over the coming days.