Thursday, 23 November 2017

Tory Budget – Taking from the Needy to Give to the Rich



The Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, confirmed in yesterday’s budget statement, that we shall have an eighth year of Tory government austerity measures, and with no end in sight. The forecasts for UK economic growth have been revised downwards by the independent Office of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), and these predictions could well be worse, depending on how Brexit ends up. It is basically a budget of (un)steady as you go, and more of the same.  

The ideology that underpins the austerity agenda, that is, cut back on public sector wages and welfare benefits, privatise what is left of the public sector, and cut taxes for corporations and more wealthy individuals, is to be maintained. Never mind the lessons of capitalist history, particularly the 1930s, that you can’t cut your way out of a slump, the government persists in forcing more misery on the majority of the population.

Since 2010 when the Tory led government took power, despite all the savage cut backs to public spending, the budget deficit, what we get in from taxes less spending has still not been eliminated. Target date after target date has come and gone, but the deficit remains. Hammond did at least ditch a target date altogether yesterday, but it was becoming an embarrassment anyway with so many promises failing to materialise over the years.

Even worse the government’s debt has nearly doubled since 2010, because growth has been suppressed by these austerity policies, and we are in a downward spiral, whilst we await some mythical upturn in the world capitalist economy. All this and the gung-ho approach to Brexit that many Tories seem to want. Ironically, they think their strong suit is economic competence.

The 1% public sector pay cap remains in place for the vast majority of public sector workers, with inflation rising, this amounts to a further pay cut, on top of the seven years of impoverishment these workers have already had to put up with. There will be no let up in the introduction of Universal Benefit either, which means further cuts for those on welfare benefits, whilst no attempt is to be made to make the rich pay their fair share in tax.   

The politics behind this budget was meant to somehow appeal to younger voters, with gimmicks like the discount railcard for people aged 26 to 30, as though they are not fully grown-ups by this age. But there was also the emphasis on housing that was at heart of this budget’s attempt to woe younger voters. Affordable housing is of course a massive problem, especially in London, but it is not clear to me this has been addressed by changes to policy announced yesterday.

The £44 billion announced for house building is really only about £15 billion of new money over five years, and it appears that this will be used to pay building firms to build homes, in cities mainly, but will these be affordable to most people? Construction companies want to maximise their profits, so are that not really interested in building low cost social housing. Presumably most of these houses will be for sale, which doesn’t solve the problem of housing affordability. There was no mention yesterday of social housing, so we have to conclude that the thrust of policy will be building homes for sale.   

Hammond has allowed local authorities ‘wth the most demand’ to borrow more against their Housing Revenue Account, which may lead to more social housing being provided, but the sums involved will not make a huge difference, (£1 billion for the whole of England) given the scale of the crisis.

The rabbit out of the hat policy, traditionally at the end of the Chancellor’s speech, was to exempt first time buyers from stamp duty tax on properties worth up to £300,000. For properties costing up to £500,000, no stamp duty will be paid on the first £300,000. This highlights the Tory obsession with home ownership over social renting, and will make little or no difference to the housing crisis. In fact the OBR have said it is likely to lead to prices rising for ‘starter homes’.

Some people will benefit, but only those who can afford to pay a deposit, running into tens of thousands of pounds in most cases. How the government will know that people are ‘first time buyers’ and qualify for the exemption is difficult see too. It could well be that this tax break will be abused by wealthy parents, as another tax saving perk.

Typical of the Tories, what is being dressed up as helping young people to get on the housing ladder, is in fact a direct tax take from the less wealthy and given to those from more wealthy backgrounds.      

Tory austerity does work for some, and this budget is another example of the few gaining at the expense of the many. 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse



Written by Richard Smith and first published at Common Dreams

On Monday November 13th, climate scientists from the Tyndal center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia presented their carbon emissions research to the UN climate negotiators at Bonn Germany. The data were shocking: After three years in which human-caused emissions appeared to be leveling off, global CO2 emissions are now rising again to record levels in 2017. Global emissions are on course rise this year by 2%. China’s emissions are projected to rise by 3.5%. 

These may sound like small numbers but to climate scientists these are huge because if we’re to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Centigrade, those emissions need to be falling sharply, not just leveling off, let alone rising. Colorado State University climate scientist Scott Denning said “We’ve got to cut emissions by half in the next decade, and by half again in the next two decades, as well. The fact that it’s going up is like a red flag flashing light on the dashboard.”

The same day, the journal BioScience published a letter by more than 15,000 scientists from around the world that looks back at the human response to climate change and other environmental challenges in the 25 years since another large group of scientists published the 1992 “World Scientists Warning to Humanity.” 

This time the scientists wrote in part: "Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse." If we don’t take immediate steps, “soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. " The goal of the letter, said William Ripple, distinguished professor in the college of Forestry at Oregon State University, and lead author of the new warning, is to "ignite a wide-spread public debate about the global environment and climate."

Ripple is right. We need a conversation, a global public debate about the global environment and how to save the planet, and we need to begin it right now.

As if on cue, in yesterday’s New York Times, Professor Benjamin Fong launched a broadside placing the blame squarely where it needs to be. The problem isn’t public ignorance, it isn’t bad politicians, it isn’t even bad companies:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

Changing the conversation

For far too long, polite conversation, public debate and consideration of policy initiatives have been subordinated to the imperatives of capitalist reproduction, above all profit maximization. Profit maximization and job creation go hand in hand and crucially depend upon economic growth. All “reasonable” solutions to the crisis of global warming take that as their starting point, a fundamental principle that cannot be challenged. This is the unspoken premise of carbon taxes: Carbon taxes do not threaten growth. 

They’re simply another cost of doing business, another tax which moreover can be passed along to consumers. This is why ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and most big fossil fuel companies support carbon taxes as the lesser evil (cap and trade is the greater evil precisely because a cap would threaten growth, which is why cap and trade are not acceptable to business and why such schemes have all been either rejected outright as in the United States or so watered down as to be useless charades as in Europe, British Columbia and elsewhere). The oil companies are not looking to put themselves out of business. Industry and IEA studies project that global demand for fossil fuels will rise by 40% over the next few decades and the oil companies intend to cash in on this growth. To do so they need to deflect criticism by being good citizens, paying their carbon taxes, contributing to the “solution” or at least appearing to do so.

The problem is, we live in an economy built on perpetual growth but we on a finite planet with limited resources and sinks. To date, all efforts to “green” capitalism have foundered on this fundamental contradiction: maximizing profit and saving the planet are inherently in conflict and cannot be systematically aligned even if, here and there, they might coincide for a moment. That’s because under capitalism, CEOs and corporate boards are not responsible to society, they’re responsible to private shareholders. CEOs can embrace environmentalism when it boosts profits, as with energy efficiency, recycling, and new “green” products and the like. 

But saving the world requires that the pursuit of profits be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns—and this they cannot do. No corporate board can sacrifice earnings, let alone put itself out of business, just to save the humans because to do so would be to risk shareholder flight or worse. Profit-maximization is an iron rule of capitalism, a rule that trumps all else, and this sets the limits to ecological reform within capitalism—and not the other way around as the promoters of “green capitalism” imagined.

To save the humans we know we have to drastically cut fossil fuel consumption. But “Keep It in the Ground” is not just an abstraction and not just about future supplies. If we’re going to radically suppress fossil fuel consumption in the here and now as we must, then this has to translate into drastic retrenchments and closures of industrial plants across the economy—and not just of coal mines, oil and gas companies but all the fossil fuel dependent industries: autos, trucking, petrochemical industries, airlines, shipping, construction and more.

What’s more, the global ecological crisis we face is far bigger than just fossil fuels. We’re not just overconsuming fossil fuels. We’re overconsuming every resource on the planet, driving ourselves and countless other species to extinction. Ultimately, if we really want to save the planet, we’re going to have to shut down or at least drastically retrench all kinds of resource-hogging, polluting, unnecessary, unsustainable industries and companies from fossil fuels to bottled water, from disposable products to agrichemicals, plastic junk to military weapons of destruction.

"There’s no point in chanting 'Keep It in the Ground' if we don’t have a jobs program for all those workers whose jobs need to be excessed to save those workers’ children and ours. This is our dilemma."

Take just one: Cruise ships are the fastest growing sector of mass tourism on the planet. But they are by far the most polluting tourist indulgence ever invented: Large ships can burn more than 150 tons of the filthiest diesel bunker fuel per day, spewing out more fumes—and far more toxic fumes—than 5 million cars, polluting entire regions, the whole of southern Europe – and all this to ferry a few thousand boozy passengers about bashing coral reefs. There is just no way this industry can be made sustainable. The cost of the ticket for that party boat cruise is our children. The same can be said for dozens if not hundreds of industries, thousands of companies around the world. We can save these industries, save capitalism, or we can save the planet. We can’t save both.  

Needless to say, retrenching and closing down such industries would mean job losses, millions of job losses from here to China (pdf).  Yet if we don’t shut down those unsustainable industries we’re doomed. What to do? There’s no point in chanting “Keep It in the Ground” if we don’t have a jobs program for all those workers whose jobs need to be excessed to save those workers’ children and ours. This is our dilemma.

Planned, managed deindustrialization or unplanned, chaotic ecological collapse

Capitalism cannot solve this problem because no company can promising new jobs to unemployed coal miners, oil-drillers, automakers, airline pilots, chemists, plastic junk makers, and others whose jobs would be lost because their industries would have to be retrenched—and unemployed workers don’t pay taxes. So CEOs, workers, and governments find that they all “need” to maximize growth, overconsumption, even pollution, to destroy their children’s tomorrows to hang onto their jobs today. Thus we’re all onboard the high-speed train of ravenous and ever-growing plunder and pollution.

And as our locomotive races toward the cliff of ecological collapse, the only thoughts on the minds of our CEOS, capitalist economists, politicians and labor leaders is how to stoke the locomotive to get us there faster. Professor Fong is right: Corporations aren’t necessarily evil. They just can’t help themselves. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do for the benefit of their owners. But this means that so long as the global economy is based on capitalist private/corporate property and competitive production for market, we’re doomed to collective social suicide and no amount of tinkering with the market can brake the drive to global ecological collapse.

We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. They require collective democratic control over the economy to prioritize the needs of society and the environment. And they require local, national, regional and international economic planning to re-organize our economies, to provide new jobs to replace those jobs we need to abolish, and to rationally and fairly redeploy resources to those ends. 

In a paper I wrote for The Next System Project last year—"Six Theses on Saving the Planet"—I laid out my argument for ecosocialism as the only alternative to market-driven ecological collapse in the form of six theses:

Capitalism, not population is the main driver of planetary ecological collapse and it cannot be reformed enough to save the humans.

Green capitalism can’t save us because 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.

The only alternative to market-driven ecological collapse is to transition to some sort of mostly planned, mostly publicly owned economy based on a global ‘contraction and convergence’ around a sustainable level of resource consumption that can provide a dignified living standard for all the world’s peoples while leaving enough for future generations and other species.

Rational planning requires bottom-up democracy

Democracy requires rough socioeconomic equality – which requires that we abolish extreme differences in incomes and wealth and enforce those rights already in theory guaranteed to us in the Universal Declaration of Rights (1949) including the right to work at fair compensation, the right to equal employment, the right to adequate food, housing, medical care, education, social services, and a comfortable retirement.

Far from “austerity,” an ecosocialist future offers us liberation from the treadmill of consumerism, from the fetishism of commodities. Freeing ourselves from the toil of producing unnecessary and /or harmful products and services would free us to shorten the work day, to enjoy the leisure promised but never delivered by capitalism, to redefine the meaning of the standard of living to connote a way of life that is actually richer, while consuming less, to realize the fullest potential of every human being. This is the emancipatory promise of ecosocialism.

For some readers, my arguments may raise as many questions as they answer. Fine. But if we don’t change the conversation, if we don’t deal with the systemic problems of capitalism and come up with a viable alternative, our goose is cooked.  So if not ecosocialism, then what? This is the public debate we need to be having right now. What are your thoughts?

Richard Smith is co-founder of System Change Not Climate Change.org

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Just Transition from Climate Change and Unemployment



By Joseph Mathunjwa and first published at Daily Maverick

The global economy is facing numerous structural challenges. With the looming fourth economic revolution characterized by even more technological development and mechanization, the future of productive labour is bleak. Most unskilled and semi-skilled workers are likely to lose their jobs. Even some skilled workers are not spared from this emerging catastrophe, as numerous job categories – such as brick-layers – are increasingly becoming redundant.

This points to the urgent need for planning, for conscious investment in job-rich, growth opportunities that enable economies to build productive capacity in labour intensive sectors. One way of achieving this is to strengthen wage led growth, which, in turn, stimulates aggregate demand through enlarged household incomes. Without a dramatic increase in the wages of mine workers, farm workers and all employed people in our country, we will never be able to deal with South Africa’s most urgent problems: inequality, mass unemployment and poverty.

Since unemployment is the greatest determinant of poverty and income inequality, we can expect these, too, to worsen. Already, in 2015, 30.4 million people, that is, 55.5 per cent of the population live on less than R441 per month, or less than R15 per day. The fact that 10% of South Africa’s population earn around 60% of all income, points to South Africa’s widening inequality. Even more alarming is that the richest 10% of the population own at least 90–95% of all assets.

With these terrible statistics in mind, it becomes redundant to repeat what we have been saying as a trade union for a long time, namely, South Africa urgently requires the redistribution of wealth.

Wage-Led Development?

When the millions of working people in our country can afford what the few take for granted – a television set, a washing machine, dining room table, etc – we create the conditions for developing the economies of scale that can sustain local industries from the intense competition coming from a globalized economy. In this way, we will be able to make in-roads into the almost 10 million people who are out of work, out of income and out of dignity.

The importance of the climate jobs work the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) has been leading is that it identifies where the jobs can be created. As AIDC’s latest research – One Million Climate Jobs, subtitled Moving South Africa forward on a low-carbon, wage-led and sustainable path – makes clear, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs in championing low carbon development, as the complimentary strategy to a wage-led development path.

The AIDC’s solidarity with AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is greatly appreciated. It is a solidarity based on a shared approach and conviction of the urgent need to confront the numerous challenges facing our economy, the people whose needs the economy is supposed to meet and the sustainability of human life on a planet heating to unsustainable levels.

Global Warming and Union's Role

However, AMCU is a trade union representing mine workers and construction workers. These workers are embedded in the very industrial processes that are at the centre of contributing to global warming and other environmental problems. It is inescapable that, if we are going to move decisively to a low carbon less polluting economy, it is going to be at the cost of coal mining, coal fired energy plants, coal to liquid gas, etc. Unless jobs are offered to our members in clean industries, they would never voluntarily agree to the shutting down of mining and energy industries. It would be like asking them to commit suicide.

We are, of course, aware that doing nothing about global warming also represents a long road to destruction. However, as you must be aware, many of our members would prefer to take the long road, based on the illusion that we can postpone the inevitable.

Yet AMCU cannot be expected to bear the costs of dealing with the climate crisis. This is why we need a just transition to a wage-led, low carbon economy; a negotiated transition that is the outcome of careful planning by government, business and labour; a transition that guarantees affected workers a decent, alternative job and wage. It is only on this basis that you can reasonably expect any worker to be won to the fight against global warming and of doing something to halt the climate crisis.

Since many of our members have a close relationship to the land, many have first-hand experience of the impact of climate change. The recent drought we have experienced in the northern parts of the country has exposed many workers to the reality of climate change. We must use this as a basis to deepen the consciousness of workers on the nature and scale of the climate crisis we are facing and will face in even more extreme forms in the future.

Regrettably, there are still no discussions between government and labour on mitigating the climate crisis and negotiating a just transition to a sustainable climate and less unequal society.

Indeed, the current actions of government – or should I say non-action of government with respect to the impact of the economic crisis – where thousands of mine workers are losing their jobs, sets a very bad precedent for managing such a just transition. The government is not even mitigating the economic crisis, as far as workers are concerned. Many companies are embarking on retrenchment processes and additional thousands of workers face job losses.

Hence, as AMCU, we need to link with other trade unions and social movements to force government to deal with the current economic and climate crises. In the first instance, we need to fight for a moratorium on retrenchments. To this end, we have applied to NEDLAC for a Section 77 notice to undertake mass action. We await the certificate for protected protest action in order to elevate this issue and expose the threats that it poses for our economy.

Recently, the corrupt bosses of Eskom tried to manipulate the trade unions to support nuclear and coal fired energy by announcing the closure of five coal fired power plants. This was a cynical manoeuvre to use the fear of job losses to keep alive plans for the expansion of coal and nuclear energy, as opportunities for further looting. The renewable energy industry was blamed for the resulting job losses in coal fired energy. Heavy propaganda is being directed at trade unions to get them to endorse nuclear energy, in the belief that this will create jobs.

Government's Role

We will not allow ourselves to be manipulated into supporting the looting ambitions of the predatory elite. We believe South Africa has great potential to build a significant renewable energy industry, as indicated in AIDC’s Million Climate Jobs research.

We need to pressure government urgently to implement just transition strategies. A state-driven renewable energy programme, prioritizing job creation in manufacturing all the inputs and infrastructure for wind and solar plants, is required. Government must incentivize investment in the manufacturing of renewable energy inputs, such as wind masts, solar cells, not to mention solar water geysers

We must demand that government invests in creating jobs in areas that also meet the immediate needs of our people. One such need is housing. The Reconstruction and Development Programme proposed that government invests 5 per cent of GDP in a massive housing programme. If government were to build houses instead of outsourcing them to profiteers (so-called developers) we could strengthen the resilience of working people in dealing with the deepening climate crisis. How much better if those houses are built in an energy efficient, environmental and climate conscious way. Not only would they be built with solar water geysers but could have embedded solar panels providing most of the electricity needs of the household and then some. This could lay the basis for energy co-operatives that could sell surplus energy to local government.

As AIDC has indicated, there are many things that can and should be done to deal with both the economic and climate crises. In this regard, I would be amiss if I did not mention the importance of forcing mining companies to invest in rehabilitating the environmental damage they have created and left everyone else to fix. This long-neglected rehabilitation could create many decent jobs and help absorb miners currently being thrown out of work. Rehabilitation would restore the quality of our soil, water and air, which by themselves are important interventions to address the climate crisis.

Comrades, we are facing a deepening political crisis. Unless we address this and get rid of the gangsters who run our country, we will not be able to do anything to address the climate crisis. As AMCU, we are prepared to collaborate with all progressive forces in undertaking these urgent life and death tasks together.

We look forward to further collaboration with AIDC and all involved in the Million Climate Jobs Campaign. •

This is an edited version of the speech delivered at the formal launch of the research report: One Million Climate Jobs, in Cape Town on 1 November 2017.

Joseph Mathunjwa is the President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). He was expelled from the National Union of Mineworkers in 1999. Three thousand workers, at the Douglas Colliery where he worked, went on a 10-day underground strike in solidarity with him. AMCU was formed, shortly afterward, when these workers resigned from NUM.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Let's Just Admit It: Capitalism Doesn't Work



Written by John Atcheson and first published at Common Dreams

In almost every way you examine it, capitalism – at least the relatively unconstrained, free- market variety practiced in the US and supported by both parties -- has been an abysmal failure. Let’s take a close look some of its worst failings.  But first, it must be admitted that when it comes to exploiting people and the planet for the purpose of generating apparent wealth for the few, it has been a smashing success. 

More about that notion of “apparent wealth” in a moment, but now, the specifics.

The logical end-point of a competitive system is an oligarchic monopoly

A recent report  by UBS reveals that the global march of economic inequality is accelerating.  The report found that the billionaire’s share of wealth grew by nearly 20 percent last year, reaching a level of disparity not seen since 1905, the gilded age.  Interestingly, the first gilded age followed decades of uber-free market laissez-faire policies, just as today’s gilded age has.

Not surprising, really. Empirical evidence shows that without constraint, markets will proceed toward a winner-take-all status. In short, monopolies and oligopolies. For example, the United States has had three periods of prolonged laissez-faire economic policies, and each was followed by extreme wealth inequality and the three biggest economic crises in US history, such inequality causes.

Oh, but the magic of competition makes companies compete for our dollar, so they can’t afford to exploit us, right? Not so much.

The magic elixir of competition doesn’t work—for the simple reason that there isn’t much competition anymore. Having convinced folks that regulation is bad, the Oligarchy is in the midst of a frenzy of mergers that is giving a few large conglomerates control of many of the major market sectors.

Derrick Thompson, in a recent article in the Atlantic, lays out some of the grim statistics that illustrate the trend. As Thompson writes,

To comprehend the scope of corporate consolidation, imagine a day in the life of a typical American and ask: How long does it take for her to interact with a market that isn’t nearly monopolized? She wakes up to browse the Internet, access to which is sold through a local monopoly. She stocks up on food at a superstore such as Walmart, which owns a quarter of the grocery market. 

If she gets indigestion, she might go to a pharmacy, likely owned by one of three companies controlling 99 percent of that market. If she’s stressed and wants to relax outside the shadow of an oligopoly, she’ll have to stay away from ebooks, music, and beer; two companies control more than half of all sales in each of these markets. There is no escape—literally. She can try boarding an airplane, but four corporations control 80 percent of the seats on domestic flights.

The consolidation of the media is yet another example; just six corporations now control 90 percent of the market. And of course, there’s the inconvenient fact that the “too-big-to-fail” banks that were a major cause of the 2008 Great Recession are now bigger and fewer.

This concentration of market power translates into lower wages, fewer jobs, and higher prices – exactly the opposite of what the neoclassical economic theory embraced by capitalists tells us will happen when we remove regulatory constraints – and exactly the opposite of what the Republicans’ trickle-down myth says will happen. Or what the neoliberal Democrats tell us, for that matter.

But it also gives the wealthy control over our political system, and the people have gotten wise to it.  That’s why a little over a quarter of the eligible voters were able to put Trump in power – most of the rest of us are completely turned off by a political system that’s clearly for sale and so, increasingly, many do not show up to vote.

That control has expressed itself in policies that result in extreme income disparities between the increasingly few haves and the expanding have-nots. Today, just five people have as much wealth as the 3.8 billion people comprising the least wealthy half of the world’s population, and nowhere in the developed world is the problem as acute as it is in America.  The system is rigged, and our belief in capitalism and the power of the magic markets is what allowed that.

Now, about that “apparent wealth”

We measure our wealth in currency.  But currency is simply a surrogate for real wealth, which is based on natural capital and labor.  The problem with this is that natural capital is limited, while the amount of currency is limitless.  For example, the value of the derivatives has been estimated to be as high as $1.2 trillion, or nearly 20 times the size of the global GDP.  So what?  Well, since:

currency is merely a claim made against real wealth, not wealth itself; and
currency has the capacity to grow infinitely; but natural capital, the source of real wealth is finite …

That means we are creating claims on natural capital that exceeds the planet’s capacity to provide it.  In short, we are essentially creating debt for future generations and calling it wealth creation.

So-called externalities exceed the size of the global economy

Economists have long recognized that not all benefits and costs are mediated in the marketplace, and they refer to these as “externalities.” Typically, an externality is imposed on a third party that is not part of a transaction, such as people suffering asthma from pollution.  The way we have dealt with these in the past is to use regulations, taxes, subsidies and property rights to try to internalize externalities – that is, to impose a price on them.  

But neoliberals and conservatives have been backing off that approach and the Trump administration is in the midst of a frenzy of regulatory rollbacks that is unprecedented.

But the costs of this denial are staggering.

Because what has become obvious in the last few decades is that so-called externalities actually exceed the size of the global economy.  That is, the value of things which we don’t price or exchange in the market but which impose costs on society is much larger than those that we do. For example, a team led by Robert Costanza found that the annual value of just seventeen “ecosystem services” exceeds $142.7 trillion dollars in 2014 dollars. 

To put that in perspective, the global world product—the total value of all goods and services measured in the market—was only a little over $78 trillion that year. Thus, our entire economic system routinely ignores values that are nearly twice those we measure. That’s one reason Costanza et al. also determined that some $23 trillion worth of “ecosystem services” had been destroyed between 1997 and 2014, and not a single penny of this vast sum was registered in conventional macroeconomic accounting.  Worse, capitalists called this wealth creation.

Ecosystem services include such things as pollination from bees; flood control from wetlands; incubation of fisheries in coral reefs, among others.  In fact, the maintenance of atmospheric oxygen – a fundamental prerequisite of life – is an “ecosystem service” we don’t price and take for granted.

The big granddaddy of all externalities is climate change, which would cost future generations as much as $530 trillion dollars if we don't take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And yet conventional economics is totally blind to this staggering amount.  Indeed, the practice of discounting the future, a commonly accepted convention in economic theory, actively discourages the kind of responses needed.

So there you have it.  We embrace capitalism, a system which leads inevitably to oligopolies, monopolies and obscene income disparities; a system which confuses currency with wealth, encouraging unsustainable consumption of natural capital, the source of real wealth; a system which considers the life-sustaining value of natural systems as “external” to our economic concerns

To make matters worse, our capitalist belief system relies on an infinitely growing economy in a finite world – a folly of monstrous proportions.  And now, with Trump, Ryan and the rest of the wrecking crew, we are doubling down on the uber-free market system that is, literally, killing us, and the Democrats, as usual, mumble lame protestations, and suggest half-measures, too afraid to take on the Myth of the Magic Markets, or to cross their campaign financiers.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Why are the UK Establishment so Terrified of a Corbyn Government?



Attitudes may be breaking a little in the UK establishment, with British employers groups starting to warm to the relative certainty of Labour’s stance on remaining in the European Single Market and Customs Union after Brexit, compared to the chaotic approach of the Tory government. 

Business leaders also like the idea of Labour making huge investments in infrastructure, at a time of record low interest rates. This is probably more of a reflection on the hapless Tories though, than any ringing endorsement of Corbyn’s Labour, but it is happening all the same.

Even Tories are breaking ranks. Tory member and journalist Matthew d'Ancona, writing about the Tory Party's predicament in The Guardian, says:

‘I can think of far worse things than a left-wing Labour victory that such oligarchic arrogance might eventually spawn…..In truth, their worst enemy is not Corbyn, but the stultified inertia of their own government, and its leaden inability to see how unbelievably awful it is.’

But there is a substantial proportion of the UK establishment that is very worried about what a Labour government would mean, in terms of taxing corporations and wealthy individuals fairly. Led by the ring-wing media, the Telegraph, Mail, Express and Sun, they are trying to create hysteria amongst the public, about what a Corbyn government would be like. With some success it would seem, as I wrote last month on this blog, posing the question, ‘Why are the Incompetent Tories at around 40% in the Opinion Polls?

At the 2015 general election, the then Labour leader, Ed Miliband (dubbed Red Ed, of course) on a much more modest soft left platform was called a Marxist, and all kinds of calamity forecast by the same media, if he won. At this year’s general election, the same accusations and more were thrown at Corbyn, but with much less success though. The barrage has continued ever since.

Re-nationalisation of public services would fell one of the magic money tree scams that fill capital’s coffers and a modest (0.5%) Robin Hood tax on financial transactions are further concerns to the elites.

But concern is not just on the financial front. The media has tried to paint a picture of Labour as anti-Sematic, with little evidence to support it, but the casual observer wouldn’t notice that. This is conflated with Corbyn’s years-long support for the cause of Palestinian self-determination, and wider foreign policy concerns, such as his distain for the arms trade with Saudi Arabia.

Corbyn’s lack of support for NATO and his personal distaste, at least, for Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, are also cited as demonstrating his unsuitability for prime minister.

Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency MI6, writing in The Telegraph said, “the leader of the Labour Party is an old-fashioned international socialist who has forged links with those quite ready to use terror when they haven’t got their way: the IRA, Hizbollah, Hamas. As a result he is completely unfit to govern and Britain would be less safe with him in No 10.”

Dearlove appears to be oblivious to fact that the UK’s foreign policy in the middle east of recent years is the cause of most of our foreign affairs woes, including international terrorism. The situation in Northern Ireland was resolved through dialogue, although it is now in peril if a hard Brexit takes place. Relations with Russia are also at their worst since the end of the cold war. Hardly anything to be proud of and certainly no justification for a status quo approach.

So, establishment opposition falls into broadly two areas, class war against any significant redistribution of wealth downwards in the UK and fear of foreign policy changes that have existed for decades and are a part of the geo-political order, backed by the US and its allies around the world.

By historical standards, what Corbyn’s Labour is proposing is not anywhere near Marxism or even some of the more radical polices of Labour governments past. It is a measure of how far to the right politically the centre ground has shifted, that what is quite tame social democratic positions are painted in such extreme colours.

The truth of the matter is, what Corbyn represents is a small push back against the class war winners of the last nearly forty years, nothing more. And certainly nothing for the vast majority of people to worry about, who will benefit from such policies. Nothing could be worse than the shambles the Tories are making of the country.

Nothing at all.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A No Deal Brexit Should Lead to a General Election


    
The ‘concession’ made by David Davis, the Brexit Secretary yesterday, to allow a vote in Parliament on the final deal negotiated by him for our withdrawal from the European Union (EU), is no concession at all. Davis said that any deal he negotiates will be put to a vote on a take it or leave it basis, and leaving it, will mean we crash out of the EU without any deal.  

More than this, if no deal is negotiated in the end, there will be nothing for Parliament to vote on, so that will be that, crashed out without our representatives having even a limited say in this important matter for the country. There will be numerous amendments submitted to the Brexit Bill, aimed at stopping the government in its tracks over the next week or so, but what if the government defeats these amendments?

We should remember that the country was offered the option of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ at this year’s general election, and it was promptly rejected by the electorate, with the government losing its majority in the House of Commons. 

The government is only kept afloat by its deal with the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) ten MPs, and although the DUP is all for Brexit, the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU at the 2016 referendum. The ten MPs that were elected in this year’s general election, were elected because of the Northern Ireland political situation generally, and was nothing to do with Brexit as such.

For the government to claim that it has any kind of mandate for leaving the EU without a deal, is a perversion of what mandate they do have on the issue. But because the Tory Party have effectively been captured by a minority of its MPs who actually want a no deal Brexit, and probably are backed by a majority of the Tory Party’s aged membership, they appear to be unwiling to make any concessions.

A no deal scenario would presumably mean that a hard border be re-established between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The DUP are keen to avoid this, so there is no guarantee that the DUP will not support some of the amendments to Brexit Bill, in which case the government will be defeated in Parliament.

Then there are the Tory rebel MPs, maybe as many as twenty or so who want to avoid a hard Brexit and reports suggest they will not back the government’s take it or leave it offer. Should the government be defeated over the next week as the debate in Parliament proceeds, the government could well fall. But the other option would be for them to cling on, by withdrawing the Brexit Bill for now and instead pursue a no deal in negotiations. To all intents and purposes this looks like what they have been doing since Article 50 was triggered by Parliament anyway.

This would provide a dilemma for the DUP and for the Tory rebels. Will they just watch the car crash of a hard Brexit in horror, but powerless to stop it? Will they put loyalty to the Tory government above what they think is best for the country? Are they so terrified of a Corbyn led Labour government that they let the government get away with it? If they conclude that the interests of country come first, they will have only one option left.

If we get into the situation where the government is heading for a no deal Brexit, either through incompetence in the negotiation process or by wilful negligence, then the opposition parties should put down a motion of no confidence in the government in the House of Commons. 

The DUP and rebel Tories would need to support the no confidence motion for the government to lose, which in turn would lead to Labour being asked if it can form a government. If after a maximum of two weeks, Labour decides it cannot form a government, then a general election will have to be called.

There is no other way to proceed, if MPs want to avoid the cliff edge Brexit which it appears the government is seriously courting. For rebel Tory MPs particularly, it will be hard to bring down their own government, but this matter is so serious it demands that a stand be made. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Ecosocialism - The Dynamics of Capitalism’s Destructive effects on the Biosphere



Written by Kris Forkasiewicz and first published at Capitalism Nature Socialism

Introduction

Ecosocialism is a radical social theory and variant of red-green politics. It documents the connections between the dynamics of capitalist relations and their destructive effects on the biosphere, including human life. Given the ecosocialist commitment to Marxian analysis, it is also dubbed ecological Marxism.

Ecosocialism is constructed through a series of critiques: critique of “green” economics, liberal environmentalism, and other “within-the-system” remedies to ecological degradation; critique of deep ecology and bioregionalism; critique of classical socialist politics and of “actually existing socialisms” etc. (see, e.g., Kovel 2007). But it is capitalism―in its multiple, interwoven expressions―that is the ecosocialist’s primary focus and starting point of conceptualization and praxis.

Capitalism and Ecological Devastation

For ecosocialists, capitalism is an irremediably expansionist, productivist order responsible for the emergence of a fundamental rift in the metabolic relation between human society and the rest of the natural world (Foster, B. Clark, and York 2010). Originally parts of a complex whole, the two come to be increasingly separated with the maturing of capitalist relations as the driver of a socio-ecological crisis.

By the force of capital, all external boundaries―be it ecological, economic, cultural, geographic, biological, even ontological―are reconfigured as mere barriers to be overcome new jumping-off points for expansion are established: In Marx’s words, “capital is the endless and limitless drive to go beyond its limiting barrier“ (334). Capital is “caught in the cycle of ‘grow or die’ that characterizes accumulation under the terms of relentless competition” (Kovel 1995: 32). If capital ceased to increase, it would cease to be capital, i.e., money used to make more money.

Commodifying the natural world, capitalist relations reduce the variegated richness of its forms into mere stuff for appropriation and exploitation. This violation proceeds by squeezing the multidimensional complexity of the world into a one-dimensional fodder for capital. Intrinsic value (wealth unconnected with the efforts of labor) and use-value (nature transformed by labor) are forcibly erased and replaced with exchange value (with money established as the measure of all things).

In addition to the sea of individual and collective misery this brings about, capitalism causes severe ecological disarticulations, which are brushed aside for as long as possible, leading ultimately all the way up to ecosystemic breakdown of planetary proportions (Foster, Clark, and York 2010).

In one sense, capital may seem like an alien force, wholly autonomous and external to human/natural activity―and it is, in the sense that it alienates humans and other beings from their lifeworlds in myriad ways. More importantly, however, it is through the life activity of human and non-human bodies that capital propagates itself. Capital is, in essence, a nexus of exploitative social relations whereby the surplus produced by labor is appropriated by owners/managers of the means of production.

The Contradictions of Capitalism

Capitalist development produces a complex of interrelated structural contradictions leading to accumulation crises, where capital stumbles on its own destructiveness (O’Connor 1997; Kovel 2007). The first contradiction, theorized by Marx, consists in capital being pitted against labor which it must systematically exploit as a prerequisite for continued accumulation.

The rising rate of surplus value thus extracted puts barriers in the way of future accumulation which depends on the sale of goods and services back to producers in a system of unequal wealth. This leads to a crisis of overproduction. In addition to this “first” contradiction of capitalism, ecosocialists have theorized a second, in which capitalism undermines itself by destroying the ecosystem―including human society―upon which it depends, i.e., degrades the conditions of its own reproduction. This, in turn, is said to lead to a crisis of underproduction (O’Connor 1997).

The way capitalism overcomes accumulation crises does not eliminate its essentially contradictory character; it merely enables further expansion by modifying and adapting the social and physical infrastructures necessary for accumulation to continue (transformations of labor and other social relations, technological innovation, and public bailouts of failed capitalists are good examples). It thus sets in motion processes that lead to more extensive and deeper future breakdowns.

Thanks to its immense elasticity, capital is able to turn vice into virtue and can profit from the ecological destruction its operations cause. This happens in myriad ways: through invention of new financial instruments like carbon emissions trading which provide new spaces of speculation and profit; through profitable increases in efficiency of energy use that allow for increased extraction and use of energy (the so-called “Jevons Paradox” [see Foster, Clark, and York 2010]); and through the development of whole new industries working on technological fixes to mitigate pollution resultant from past economic activity and to facilitate further growth.

With these processes firmly in place, “the overall result [of the system’s operation is] additive and combinative” (Kovel 2007: 287, n. 12). While the appearance of the system (the particular solutions and forms it assumes, also in terms of infrastructure) changes, the root of capitalism in the processes of accumulation persists. In this way conditions are created for the crises to follow, and for ever more of the biosphere to be sacrificed in the process. Instead of being combated, global warming is adapted to, with new opportunities for growth sought in the changing climatic conditions (Foster 2002).

Ecosocialism, Carnality, and the Animals

Capitalism does not exhaust the formula for systematic objectification, commodification, oppression, and exploitation―neither that of whole ecosystems, nor that of nature’s countless sensuous beings, including humans. That is to say, it cannot be equated with the condition of unfreedom as such, in which the sentient beings of the world are presently caught, a condition which precedes capitalism both chronologically and substantively.

However, capital does provide a central if elusive nexus through which that condition is maintained and proliferated, and constitutes arguably the single most powerful alienating force shaping daily life (see, e.g., Kovel 2007). It is this feature of the capitalist world-system that increasingly gathers numerous critics, activists, and social movements―including, in a progressively overlapping manner, workers, aborigines, ecologists, feminists, and anarchists―around a vision of a more egalitarian, sustainable, and fulfilling post-capitalist form of life.

Unfortunately, ecosocialists have been slow to accommodate an animalist perspective into their outlook. The concrete, live body is easily lost in a globalized system of exploitation which pulls at the very roots of life, manipulating its tiniest building-blocks, or eradicating it wholesale, forming a global mess which seems to call for an antidote of abstract theorizing and schematic generalizations. The latter may offer comprehension of the crisis in a general way, but it is the vulnerable, animal body―sometimes a horse, sometimes a human, sometimes a sow―that encounters the capitalist juggernaut and registers its full, crushing impact.

It is to their credit that some ecosocialists acknowledge the recuperation of free sensuous experience as crucial to a sane life: one group of authors recently remarked that “to recapture the necessary metabolic conditions of the society-nature interaction what is needed is not simply a new social praxis, but a revived natural praxis―a reappropriation and emancipation of the human senses and human sensuousness in relation to nature… [a] natural praxis… that encompasses human activity as a whole, that is, the life of the senses… [where] the senses ‘become directly theoreticians in practice'” (Foster, Clark, and York 2010, 230 emphases in original). An ecosocialist future is possible only if the human survives as an animal.

From an animal liberationist standpoint, these hints of reclamation of the naturalness of the human animal for its free expression constitute significant progress over the age-old devaluation of earthly life. As such, they are a stepping stone towards a full-fledged materialism that ecosocialists professes to endorse. This insight into the centrality of embodiment will remain incomplete, however, so long as the human is perceived in isolation and the ideology and practice of human species-imperialism is not overcome.

Human uniqueness, itself internally differentiated, has nothing particularly unique about it, and constitutes but one mode of world-making among many equally unique others. But a sense of species-humility, implicit in the ecological insight that Homo sapiens is merely a piece of a much bigger puzzle, is mostly lacking in ecosocialist literature and discourse. And yet, it is only when ecosocialists perceive other, non-human earthlings as equally deserving of an opportunity to develop their specific potentialities in free rapport with one another and with the surrounding ecologies, that ecosocialism will assume a proper liberatory scope. For this to happen, much ecosocialist theorizing will have to overcome the humanist-speciesist bias that has lingered over socialism since its inception as a modern movement in the Enlightenment.

[Originally published in Ferrari, Arianna, and Klaus Petrus, eds. Lexicon der Mensch-Tiere-Beziehungen. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2015.]

Literature

Foster, J. B. 2000. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press.

———. 2002. Capitalism and Ecology: The Nature of the Contradiction. Monthly Review 54        (4), September. http://monthlyreview.org/2002/09/01/capitalism-and-ecology.

———, B. Clark, and R. York. 2011. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Kovel, J. 1995. Ecological Marxism and Dialectic. Capitalism Nature Socialism 6 (4),        December, 31-50.

———. 2007. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?         London and New York: Zed Books Ltd.

Marx, K. 1993. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, translated by Martin Nicholaus. London: Penguin Books.

O’Connor, J. 1997. Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford    Press.

Pepper, D. 1993. Eco-socialism. From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. London and New   York: Routledge.

Further Reading

Benton, T., ed. 1996. The Greening of Marxism. London and New York: Guilford Press.

Capitalism Nature Socialism. Quarterly Journal. London and New York: Taylor & Francis.

Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine. New York: Monthly Review Press.