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Worrying about unsustainable growth is the selfish tantrum of rich spoilt brats

by Jerome a Paris Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 04:22:51 AM EST

... or so wrote one of the economics editors of Le Monde, in a column last week: L'obscure lubie des objecteurs de croissance.

"Chacun comprend qu'une croissance infinie est matériellement impossible dans un monde fini", affirme dans son programme le Parti de la décroissance, né en avril 2006, et qui organise, cet été, plusieurs marches prosélytiques. Car il s'agit de remettre dans le droit chemin les pauvres pécheurs consommateurs. "La décroissance est d'abord une désintoxication, une désaliénation, un désencombrement."

"Everybody understands that infinite growth in a finite world is impossible", claims the degrowth party, born in April 2006 and which organises this summer several events to proselyte its ideas. Because the point is to bring back sinning consumer flock to the rightful path. "De-growth is first and foremost a deintoxication, a desalienation, a disencumberment"


The author does not respond (of course, how could he?) on the main argument provided, but focuses instead on presenting the people trying to give visibility to that idea as a sect, intent on "proselyting", passing jugement on "sinning consumers" - i.e. sanctimonious, moralising bores (probably with totalitarian tendencies). Degrowth is thus presented as an ideology, a belief, which can thus all the more easily be dismissed that it is a depressing one.

Les objecteurs de croissance (...) profitent aussi de la perte de vitesse, chez les altermondialistes, du combat contre le libéralisme, moins mobilisateur depuis que ce dernier n'est plus incarné par les Etats-Unis mais par des pays émergents comme la Chine, l'Inde ou le Brésil.

The growth objectors also take advantage of the fact that anti-globalizers are on the decline now that free market ideas are pushed by emerging countries like China, India or Brazil and not by the USA.

Translation: they're just sore losers. Now that their anti-globalization antics have been shown to be nothing more than thinly disguised anti-Americanism, they need a new cause.

Note the underlying arguments: (i) China, India and Brazil are successful because they are growing, and thus it is hard to argue against that, and (ii) that growth is caused by free market policies.

Les "décroissants" se proclament humanistes, mais ils ne croient pas en l'homme. Leur pessimisme leur fait dire que l'humanité ne sera pas assez inventive pour trouver des énergies de substitution au pétrole ni assez raisonnable pour éviter un désastre écologique. Mais ils laissent à son sort le milliard d'êtres humains qui vit avec moins de 1 dollar par jour.

"Degrowers" claim to be humanists, but they do not believe in man. Their pessimism makes them say that mankind will not be inventive enough to find substitute energies to oil nor reasonable enough to avoid environmental disaster. But they leave to their own devices the billion human beings who live with less than a dollar a day.

Strange pessimism there - thinking that man can do better instead of doing more. Again, the ad hominem attacks on Degrowers's "claim" and their supposed assertions about mankind. It is all the more ironic that the examples chosen, that degrowers don't believe that the oil and environmental crises can be solved, are not even acknowledged as crises by the mainstreamers. Isn't the only way to solve a problem to recognize that it is actually there and to look for solutions in the full knowledge of what may go wrong if nothing is done? If the very basic assertions that resources are running out or that the environment is being gravely disturbed are flat out denied, then there is no crisis and no need for optimism or pessimism? Or is optimism simply denying the crisis? The article is inconsistent, if not dishonest. In fact, describing the degrowers as pessimists (and blaming them for world poverty to boot) reflects a very real ideological choice - that of the "grab what you can" economy - resources, and of course, wealth.

Si les économistes ne croient plus à l'idée, dominante dans les années 1960, selon laquelle une croissance forte est une condition suffisante pour vaincre la pauvreté, ils s'accordent en revanche pour dire que la progression du PIB est une condition nécessaire. "Il est impossible de faire reculer la pauvreté s'il n'y a pas de croissance économique", résume Humberto Lopez, coauteur du rapport de la Banque mondiale "Poverty Reduction and Growth : Virtuous and Vicious Circles". "Une politique de réduction de la pauvreté sans croissance n'est pas viable, ajoute l'économiste Pierre Jacquet. Pour produire des biens publics et promouvoir des objectifs sociaux, il faut un flux de ressources nouvelles, et donc de la croissance."

(...)

Selon certaines simulations, l'extrême pauvreté [en Chine] sera éradiquée dans quinze ans si le PIB continue à progresser au même rythme. Le scénario catastrophe par excellence pour les objecteurs de croissance.

Economists no longer believe in the idea, dominant in the 60s, that strong growth is enough to eliminate poverty, but they agree that increases in GDP are a necessary condition. "It is impossible to lower poverty without economic growth", summarises Humberto Lopez, coauthor of the World Bank report "Poverty Reduction and Growth : Virtuous and Vicious Circles". "A policy of poverty reduction without growth is not viable", adds economist Pierre Jacquet. "To provide public goods and fulfill social goals, an input of new resources is needed, and thus growth.

(...)

According to some projections, extreme poverty in China will be eliminated in 15 years if GDP growth continues at today's rythm. The worst possible scenario for growth objectors.

The poverty argument is milked for all its worth. First of all, there is the fallacy that only growth provides new resources. Yearly GDP (with all its flaws as a tool) is the yearly addition of value to the economy, i.e. new resources. Growth is the acceleration of resource creation, not its speed (as explained earlier in this diary: Wealth, income, growth). Zero growth only means you have as much resource as last year, not that you have none. Use more of the yearly amount to investment rather than consumption and you do more for public goods than otherwise. Second is the fact that GDP is an imperfect instrument, as we have already abundantly discussed.

But most of all, the argument is dishonest because saying that there are not enough resources on the planet to sustain a Western lifestyle for 6 billion humans or more does not mean that you actually want to deny any progress to the have nots (in fact, it says more about the sacrifices expected of the current haves). Saying there isn't enough for all and that we must learn to share better does not mean favoring poverty, it simply means that our current model will NOT solve poverty either, because it cannot. Chinese growth may be reduce poverty in China (an assertion that would need more substantiation, as studies appear to show that most gains on that front came in the 70s, from agrarian reform, and not in more recent years, which have mostly seen the enrichment of the coastal urban minority), but it is only making our global resource problem worse because of the way it is happening.

So the author reaction is one of typical denial: shoot the messenger and the bad news will go away - or even better, blame the messenger itself for the bad news ('the degrowers love it that billions in the poor world are poor and want to keep them that way')

Au-delà des préoccupations écologiques légitimes qui sont les siennes, il faut prendre la doctrine de la décroissance pour ce qu'elle est, une théorie élaborée par des individus habitant des sociétés prospères. Une lubie de gosses de riches parfaitement égoïstes. Mais cela va généralement ensemble.

Beyond the legitimate environmental it carries, we have to understand the doctrine of degrowth for what it is: a theory developed by individuals living in rich societies. The capricious idea of perfectly selfish spoilt kids. They usually go together.

Shoot the messenger - but slander him first.

Display:
Thank you Jérôme. Degrowth theory has its imperfections, partly because it is a young doctrine. But degrowth is not the mother of all evil.

And the "only people who don't live in rich societies are allowed to come up with radical ideas" is an argument I get tired of seeing. Being poor in a rich society is not as bad as living off 1$ a day, but it's not necessarily easy either. Why can't I be allowed to support discussions around degrowth? Because I live in France (on a super low budget)? Am I de facto a spoiled brat?

I have no objections to rich kids coming up with radical ideas. Gautama was born of the highest descent ... it's precisely this opulence that made him more aware of the world's problems (once he noticed them). Being a rich kid can make you all the more sensitive to other people's plight, as you know what you have that they don't. And at least it gives you time to develop your ideas, seeing as how you don't have to survive all the time.

Bah, anyhow I'm kind of used to being attacked all the time for things I do or think:

  • Being a vegetarian means you always get mocking comments at dinners (example: I'm sitting with people outside, during summer. A bee starts poking at one of their ham sandwiches. Someone says: "Hey Alex, if a bee feeds off a ham sandwich, doesn't that mean that you can no longer eat honey?").

  • Not having a driver's licence and riding a bicycle means you get honked at all day by impatient drivers, and get scoffed at by your peers for having "no independence". Even though you carefully decide each move in town, such as "not pressing on the pedestrian traffic light button, so as not to make dozens of cars stop with their engines running while you cross - and instead crossing at your own risk and peril without turning their light red".

  • Not having a mobile phone means you get all sorts of unpleasant remarks from technicians who need to do some intervention in your house, or from company people who need to meet you. Such as "You don't have a mobile phone? Jesus that sucks. Makes it harder for me.". "No it doesn't", you say, "I'll be at home all day, don't worry".

  • Eating any amount of organic food means you get all sorts of "pff they use the same water that's loaded with chemicals to grow their stuff" or "organic food is madness, all you get from an apple tree are ugly apples and very few of them, thank god this is not the norm".

  • Running regularly means you accelerate the ageing of your body.

  • Cutting your own hair means you put barbers out of a job and end up with unequal hair (why should hair lengh be equal??).

  • Wearing tongs is bad for your back.

  • Supporting the exploration of degrowth doctrine means you're a spoiled brat / rich kid.

etc etc
by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 05:08:50 AM EST
No sweat, Alex. Just tell them you've got two screens.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 08:33:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just one comment so far... are you all trying to tell me that I should stick to being on holidays?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 08:05:43 AM EST
Nope, that's what you get for posting things that are hard to disagree with.

Was he talking about a specific group with specific aims or about the whole idea of sustainability?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 08:16:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He attacks a small group called the Degrowth Party, and also names the well-known figures José Bové, Yves Cochet (Green deputy), Nicolas Hulot (TV ecologist), and Hubert Reeves (French-Canadian astro-physicist and science popularizer).

He appears to accept the notion of environmental disaster, but not that humanity is stupid enough to run smack into it. We shall, of course, invent ways out. So he doesn't accept the idea of finite resources. Free lunch tomorrow.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 08:51:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So he doesn't accept the idea of finite resources.

Which is why he's an economics editor and not an economist.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:00:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]

The author doesn't even get his basic facts right, he claims here that the degrowth party was born in April 2006, but this is untrue as I already wrote a diary on it in November 2005. Well, actually, it's not totally untrue either, as the charter & bureau was finalised in April, but the party was born before that!

ps: this is a fine example of a Convuluted Ego Self-Flattering by Commander Alex in Toulouse

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:09:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The funny thing is that he writes that we'll solve the environmental disaster but that his whole story only makes sense if you refuse the idea that current growth is causing the disaster in the first place....

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:14:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I expect he would say growth is not to blame, but industrial activity that is in need of appropriate adjustment...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:05:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I've quoted more thna half of a fairly short article (but one given editorial prominence in the paper and on the website), and it seems to be a "look at what the crazy left/caviar left (mixed up in one) is doing now".

They dare question growth? They must be deluded wackos - and they are heartless bastards.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:01:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're the PhD economist, how do you decisively refute this?
They dare question growth? They must be deluded wackos - and they are heartless bastards.


Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:33:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a discussion I regularly have at work, when I explain that I use the fact that I work fast to do my day's work in a few hours - and then use the "saved hours" not to get more work done, but to use for myself.

Productivity is used not to produce more, but to work less.

This is of course easier in a job where your performance is evaluated by outcomes rather than by the time spent on doing any task, and where you organise your own time. Also, you must have the discipline to train your bosses and your clients from the very beginning, but it can be done.

The thing is - you have to get out of the "more is better" mindset. The funny thing is that most people don't believe me when I tell them how I spend my day at work - whether they don't want to or they find it inconceivable, I don't know.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:28:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is this the secret behind your prodigious online output?  If so, thank you for revealing this mystery which I have often pondered!

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:48:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How do you make what I feel so guilty about doing sound so rational and ethical?  I want your conscience.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 01:26:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm certainly not going to argue with your take on Le Monde's ridiculous attack on supporters of the doctrine.  I am, however, very skeptical of the doctrine.  The short answer is that I think it's impossible to manage properly.  If growth is zero, what will be the result of (say) productivity gains?  If you fix the size of the pie, who benefits?  Those are the questions that, I think, a reasonable editor would've asked.

GDP growth is not the only factor in poverty reduction, but it is a factor, and it is not unreasonable to bring up China.  Even if recent years have simply seen gains largely among the coastal minorities, they're still gains, and the budget surpluses will allow China to lend a hand to the poor farmers out in the rural provinces.

Or, to take another example, the combination of strong growth and increased spending on social welfare under Kennedy and Johnson led to significant reductions in poverty.  (The two went hand-in-hand.)  Again, GDP is not the only factor, and perhaps, in some cases, not even the most important, but it is a factor.  It allowed Johnson to spend a lot without sending the debt-to-GDP ratio through the ceiling -- or, as my father likes to say when talking about Bush's spending, "Growth covers a multitude of sins."  The 1990s boom led to a reduction, as well, although it, obviously, jumped up again as the recession set in and continued on.

I'm in agreement with Le Monde on the point that humans can, and will, find a way out of the energy crisis and environmental threat.  But, as I pointed out to Miguel on Sunday, we're not using all of the tools at our disposal -- the tax code being the most important, in my opinion.  People respond to incentives, but we're not providing them with those incentives.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:21:37 AM EST
That is I think an important point about China, and other Asian economies as well. Whatever the problems in income distribution that have occurred, there are a substantial number of people with a standard of living that is substantially higher than it was a generation ago. That is something that cannot be dismissed out of hand.
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:43:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A lot of the Chinese improvement pre-dates globalisation and is in fact probably attributable to land-reform. So it's all quite subtle.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:51:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The shift of manufacturing industries and their related technology from the US and Europe to China is a major contributor to the rising middle class incomes.
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:58:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm in agreement with Le Monde on the point that humans can, and will, find a way out of the energy crisis and environmental threat.

Can? Yes. Will? A lot of powerful people are trying very hard to avoid it.

Unless one counts mega-deaths as a way out of the energy crisis.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:54:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If Bob Geldof wasn't able to do anything to make poverty history, what makes you think

will solve the environmental crisis?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:58:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm going to add i to the ratings system to deal with people like you.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:04:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Please do. This would be truly excellent. Or malicious. Or both.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:29:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as the energy crisis is concerned, humans have no choice.  Oil prices are not going to come back down.  Just last month, Toyota surpassed Ford to become the second-largest seller of cars in the US.  Sales of small cars are growing rapidly, while sales of SUVs are falling rapidly.  Now consider the consequences of throwing a billion Chinese on the roadway.  If peak oil is, in fact, what we're seeing (and I think it is), then the price will only fall if demand falls, and that's simply not going to happen unless prices rise to a point at which oil no longer makes sense.

Now the environmental threat is a much more complex story.  As I've said, I think coal represents a much greater threat than oil in the long run, because there is so much of it.  The good news is that, in the US, we're talking about the political problem of losing states like West Virginia, or red areas of Pennsylvania, if we try to push coal away.  "When ya ain't got nothin', ya got nothin' to lose," as Dylan put it (the one line in the song, aside from the chorus, that I understood).

What I think will make the difference is a fight between different business interests combined with a growing understanding here that global warming is, in fact, a real and present threat.  (Think of it as the silver lining in the Katrina catastrophe.)  Knowing how politics works, the green energy producers are not going to simply sit outside of the lobbying arena -- not when Congress hands out money in the way it has been for the last few years.  I think people -- voters/consumers -- are also better able to make the connections today, and are more willing to make the sacrifice: They know that the hottest years in human history have all taken place in recent years -- 2005 being the hottest, if I'm not mistaken.  They know that global warming leads to warming waters, which, then, lead to stronger hurricanes and the destruction of New Orleans and the Mississippi coastline, for example.

And, finally, tying in with that last point, there seems to be an explosion of news coverage on the subject going on.  The news magazines and channels are covering the issue much more.  Trusted sources like Tom Brokaw are now out campaigning, for all practical purposes, on the issue.  The message is finally out that the debate over whether we're causing warming really is over.  (Even Bush was forced to admit it.)  My sense is that we're finally waking up to the issue and recognizing that so much of what we hate about the world today is connected: Oil and brutal regimes, brutal regimes and terrorism, oil and warming, warming and the destruction of lives and wealth, oil and the rising cost of living, and so on.

So it's by no means a certainty that we'll get our shit together, but I think we're in the beginning stages of what will become a massive transition.  Even many leading Republicans are waking up to the issue -- Hagel (with whom I often disagree but do respect), McCain, etc.  I maintain that we could get this done -- meaning largely off oil and into clean energy -- within a decade if we built the proper incentives into the tax code and regulated what (say) automakers are allowed to build through the CAFE standards: Massive cuts for green energy consumers and businesses, steep Pigouvian taxation for polluters, and so on.  Surely this isn't more difficult than the science of putting a man on the moon, and we managed to get that done within a decade.  And, at the same time, we could put our foot on the throat of countries like China and India by threatening to cut off trade or legislate high tariffs if they don't move to clean energy while also assisting them in developing that infrastructure.

We already know how to do it.  We know the science and the economics.  It's now simply a matter of putting policies in place that will allow us to do it faster than the market would on its own, in my opinion.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:51:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would imagine that you would agree that changes in the way we consume energy have to be permanent in order to provide any real solution. Between issues like rising oil prices and global warming there is certainly a changing public consciousness. However, I can clearly remember the energy crisis of the 1970's. There was a mad rush to DO SOMETHING about it. All those good intentions soon evaporated. Why would it be any different this time?
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:04:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the prices also came down and remained fairly low from the mid-'80s onwards.  They're not going to be low again.  We're already starting to see the effects.  Inflation is now running at over 4%, which will make the Fed seriously consider raising rates.  Bernanke is almost required to do so, at this point.  The core rate is going up, as well, which means that energy prices are now filtering into other goods and services.  That's what the Fed fears.  If this continues, rates will continue to rise, and an already-slowing economy will be pushed into recession.  Wage inflation seems to be starting to kick in, too, from what I've heard (although I haven't looked at the index, honestly), and that will only increase pressure.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:15:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I certainly find it implausible that there will be anything other than a long term rise in energy prices. However, what I question is an assumption that the political response will necessarily be constructive. I can see politicians resorting to all sorts of gimmicks to get the monkey off their backs until they are out of office. The American public has a strong tendency to fall for snake oil and quick fixes.
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:25:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see what the snake-oil peddlers might come up with, though.  Falling for quick fixes is not a fault limited to Americans.  It's universal in democratic politics, because the best strategy is almost always to promise everything without addressing costs.  Everyone wants quick fixes, and everyone is prone to forcing themselves to believe that the quick fixes will work.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:31:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Corn oil, shale oil, government subsidies, invade another country with oil that they don't need and we do.
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:35:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The invasion idea is clearly a foolish one, anyway.  Production in Iraq is still a joke, as far as I know.  We've handed out subsidies, and, still, the prices continue to rise.

None of those are going to work, and the people will not be fooled by them for long, if at all.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 01:58:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not for a moment disagree with you that these are foolish ideas and that they are not going to solve the problem. However, what I do disagree with is your seeming assumption that being a foolish idea means that it won't be tried. I think that politicians have had many sucesses at fooling the majority of the American public for long periods of time. I offer two examples. Vietnam and Iraq.
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 02:03:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The government didn't fool the population for very long on Iraq.  Bush approvals on it fell below 50% even before the election, briefly ticking upwards after Saddam Hussein was captured.  Kerry simply didn't capitalize on it.  Read the polls.  Approval for the Iraq War is higher in Britain than in America.  I don't disagree about Vietnam, but even this eventually left the government in shambles.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 03:40:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We are still in Iraq with no prospect of leaving. We are now on the verge of becoming more deeply embroiled in conflicts in the middle east. I see no reason to think that America will suddenly become rational and reasonable. It is the very deep seated belief that we are morally entitled to live better than anybody else in the world that has gotten us into such conflicts. It is that same belief that will prevent us from coming to terms with the adjustments necessary to change the patterns of our greedy energy consumption.
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 03:48:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is the very deep seated belief that we are morally entitled to live better than anybody else in the world that has gotten us into such conflicts.

Whose deep-seated belief is that?  Yours?  If it were the case that Americans generally believed that, then wouldn't it have made more sense to close our doors to (say) immigrants of the late-19th to early-20th centuries?  Is that why we continue to allow China and India to develop manufacturing bases at the expense of our workers?  Would the Bush administration attempt to prey upon Americans' idealism when talking about Iraq and democracy if Americans thought in the way you suggest?

And unless I'm missing something, I seem to remember Americans falling for the Iraq War based on WMDs, not based on some load of bullshit about Americans being a greedy people who feel entitled to live better than everyone else.  George W. Bush starts a war in the Middle East, so somehow the high-schooler flipping burgers at McDonald's is greedy?  I don't see it.  But, until you've demonstrated that I'm wrong, speak for yourself, and stop lumping all of us under your mindless little labels.  It's truly sad that so many are so incapable of serious discussion these days.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 04:27:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's too bad that some people find it necessary to resort to ad hominem insults.
by Richard Lyon (rllyon@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 05:49:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Really?  I don't recall attacking you in my comment.  I attacked your labels and your blanket statement about Americans.  But I suppose your comment works if you'd prefer to not address my point.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 09:03:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I maintain that we could get this done -- meaning largely off oil and into clean energy -- within a decade if we built the proper incentives into the tax code and regulated what (say) automakers are allowed to build through the CAFE standards: Massive cuts for green energy consumers and businesses, steep Pigouvian taxation for polluters, and so on.  Surely this isn't more difficult than the science of putting a man on the moon, and we managed to get that done within a decade.

The Moon-landing project was easy, or at least much different. All it took was siphoning off a fraction of the U.S. federal budget and spending it on a bunch of engineering work -- scaling up rockets, building hardware that had already been half-designed, and so on. The hard part was getting all the parts put together and working, which required a lot of smart people, management competence, and visionary enthusiasm (now, why is space so stagnant today...? Oh, right).

This is fundamentally different from wrestling with the politics of auto manufacture and tax policy. If you want a success that parallels the Moon-landing, you need to look for an engineering project that would make an immense difference.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 03:57:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't fix the size of the pie - you fix the size of the ingredients. You can always make it tastier, or better.

The point is to use productivity gains to have as much with less work and less resources rather than having more with more (even if the rate of growth of one - resources -  is less than the other - consumption)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:36:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed! Doing more with the ingredients can make a vast difference. Technology today is mostly crap.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 04:00:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Crossposted on dKos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/8/3/85054/55611 for more exposure for ET...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:23:53 AM EST
Just to second the link.
The conversation on dKos has many interesting points that haven't been raised here.

Most people seem to understand the concept of finiteness (economists excepted). So the questions are:

  1. Will the industrialized west have to scale back?
  2. If yes, will it be soon or will I be able to live my life without sacrifice?
  3. If no, then which magic bullets will generate enough raw materials to cope with increased demand (both from rising population and rising standard of living)?
  4. Will these magic bullets be ready before catastrophe strikes or will there be mass suffering first? (Catastrophe is defined as something which impacts me negatively directly.)
  5. If change needs to happen sooner rather than later how is it going to handled? The rich will never give up their wealth without a fight, so is the enemy going to be the third world or mother nature?
  6. Given the unwillingness to sacrifice, is there anything that the minority who are most worried about the future can do to prevent the disaster which they expect?


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape
by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 01:09:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's tiresome is that this imputation of rich-kid elitism in people he disagrees with is fired off from the comfortable pages of a rich-kid elitist newspaper, Le Monde.

Must be nice to be Pierre-Antoine Delhommais (sounds rich-kid elitist, doesn't it?). He gets to defend an economic system that directs most of the annual added wealth into the pockets of those who already hold an unfair share of the standing stock of wealth, while his conscience is clear because World Bank economists tell him he's aiding the cause of the poor. The rising tide lifts all boats and rocks Delhommais to sleep.

However, there are plenty of people on the centre-left (and even not so centre), who hold this kind of view: productivist, pro-industry, anti-ecologist. In my experience, they are not open to debate. (Delhommais's dogmatism is a case in point). It's as if there were two churches, two belief systems, on the left, one which integrates (and has integrated over the last 30-40 years) the notion of a finite planet into its worldview, the other which seems incapable of it, or steadfastly refuses to try.

The first lot seem to me to hold views that are closer to reality (sorry kcurie ;)). But the second are far more numerous and have the lines of argument most people want to hear.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:35:28 AM EST
However, there are plenty of people on the centre-left (and even not so centre), who hold this kind of view: productivist, pro-industry, anti-ecologist. In my experience, they are not open to debate.

Stalinist five-year plans, anyone? Great Leap Forwards?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:38:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep. That's why I said not so centre. We're talking about a historical tradition on the left.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:46:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Saying there isn't enough for all and that we must learn to share better does not mean favoring poverty

This is the heart of the problem, isn't it (at least once you accept the premise that the planet's resources are finite.)

In already wealthy countries, the year upon year increase in consumption of natural resources must be brought to 0, at least; i.e. GDP growth would have to be brought to 0, or even lower (unless of course we figure out a way to increase GDP without increasing resource consumption).  This will allow poorer countries to continue to grow economically (which will inevitably increase their resource consumption -- again, unless they figure out a way to increase GDP without increasing resource consumption), thereby helping the billions of people who are currently in poverty to obtain higher standards of living on par with people in wealthier countries (assuming of course a fairly equitable distribution of the resulting wealth -- a huge assumption, I know.)

The key is that even if growth and resource consumption continue to increase in poorer countries, globally the rate of resource consumption must not increase, and if possible, should decrease, eventually to the point where the world economy consumes resources at a constant rate within its planetary "budget" of sunshine and what resources we can recycle in a sustainable fashion.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 09:56:17 AM EST
(unless of course we figure out a way to increase GDP without increasing resource consumption).  

There are lots of ways of doing that. In fact you could probably increase GDP while decreasing resource consumption, at least in the short run: economic activity in the pursuit of more efficient consumption would generate GDP while reducing resource consumption. This doesn't work in the long run, of course.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:01:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Resource use already grows slower than GDP. But it still grows. Actually, resource use by industry is declining despite increasing output, but resource use growth is a lot more correlated to overall household consumption growth in that sector (sadly the biggest of the economy).

Companies and big organisations actually behave better in thatrespect than individuals. They have better incentives (costs), however flawed or imperfect these are.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 10:54:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's pretty trippy.  My prejudice was that business investment was responsible for most resource consumption.

I guess that supports Drew's point above that

we're not using all of the tools at our disposal -- the tax code being the most important, in my opinion.  People respond to incentives, but we're not providing them with those incentives.

with respect to getting people to consume in a more resource-friendly way (assuming he was talking about households/private individuals).

By the way, is your point about resource use by industry declining true globally, including in developing countries?

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:40:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand I really don't believe that negative growth is inevitable, and no use for those saying that average Westerners need sharp declines in their standard of living.  On the other hand I do agree that there is no way for the world to consume resources at the rate Western countries do, meaning that if poor countries are to stop being poor, Western countries need to consume less resources.  That means lots of changes in behaviour, some with a negligible effect on actual lifestyle, some with moderate ones, but no need for drastic ones (an example of the negligible effect ones is to use far more efficient cars - if you switch from a 15 mpg to a 50 mpg car that's an immense efficiency gain with a minimal effect on lifestyle, more public transport and a change in zoning to discourage sprawl while encouraging higher density living is a moderate change in lifestyle; going less crazy in cooling/heating is another negligible one with big potential gains; shifting electricity production from fossil fuels to renewables has zero effect on how people live).  The problem is that articles like this one either explicitly or implicitly say that we don't need to do anything at all.
by MarekNYC on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:43:00 AM EST
I had not heard of the Décroissance party until reading this diary.  Assuming Le Monde's summary of their ideology is accurate, I cannot essentially disagree with their conclusion.

It is one thing to suggest that the world economy as currently constituted does great ecological damage.  It is quite another to suggest that the ecological damage cannot be reversed without limits to the standard of living.  Dire predictions of running out of resources, ecological disaster ensuing etc. have been made before and have not come to fruition.

The barriers to environmental sustainability are not economic, they are political.  There is no technological reason we should not have been able to, say, implement the Kyoto accords.  The reason is that there is a politically powerful oil industry blocking the way.

But do we need an oil industry specifically?  No.  What we need is energy, and giving all the world's people a Western standard of living, entirely through sustainable energy sources, can be done, and would be if there was the political will to do it.

There is no tradeoff, in the long run, between economic growth and environmental sustainability.  It is usually the right wing that claims there is, and pushes to sacrifice the environment.  Now we have pockets like Décroissance on the left that want to sacrifice growth.

How about neither?

by tyronen on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 02:56:49 PM EST
Point 1/ GDP is denominated in "deficit-based" money.

Point 2/ with the exception of cash, which is interest-free, this Money is created as (interest-bearing) debt by "credit institutions" aka Banks/Building Societies etc as a multiple of their Capital base in line with BIS requirements.

Point 3/ "Economic Growth" is necessary to create the "wealth" or "money's worth" exchangeable for the further Money required to meet repayments of both capital and interest on these debts.

My understanding is that Interest on Debt is exponential, hence the money supply curves look the way they do.

Therefore a deficit-based monetary system is unsustainable. As is GDP growth.

Am I wrong, or is this how it works?

Best Regards

Chris Cook

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Aug 3rd, 2006 at 05:02:46 PM EST
Standard of Living means a lot of different things.

Right now, for example, Americans have tons of cheap plastic and electronic crap at their disposal, but very few can swim in any local water (beach, lake, river) w/o fear of contaminants or pollutants.  They have tons of cheap lousy food readily available, much of which contributes to various national-scale health problems which in turn burden the medical system and inflict tragedy on families;  is this a "high standard of living" or a "low standard of living"?  They spend more per capita than any other nation on health care, yet get less for it than other nations.  They have more cars per capita than any other nation, and spend millions of hours (collectively) stuck in traffic and billions of dollars annually subsidising this "private" automobile system (remember the true cost of a gallon of gasoline as mentioned in the Chi Trib feature article?)...

Which is a higher standard of living -- wasting N hours per year stuck in traffic jams in a luxury SUV, or wasting far fewer hours, possibly reading or surfing the web en route, and spending far less of one's annual income on transit, by riding light rail, bus, or heavy rail to work every day?  If the object is to display expensive consumer goods and conspicuous consumption of resources then the SUV solution is the higher standard of living.  If the object is to conserve resources and have more leisure time, then Plan B looks better.

Another note:  the standard of living for Chinese peasants has not held steady while the coastal urban elites have advanced, i.e. a net gain for China as a nation.  The livelihoods of peasants and their living conditions have deteriorated sharply since the land reforms of the 70s, as Peter Kwong's recent reporting from China documents.  Peasants are seeing their communal resources of land and water contaminated by reckless, unchecked industrial colonisation (i.e. using the countryside as a "sacrifice zone" for filthy industries whose profits are funnelled off to the urban cores);  and the neoliberal agenda, Chinese style, as adopted by the current government has revived a level of corruption and nepotism in rural government and administration not seen since the days of the mandarins.  Land reform is being rolled back in some area, foreclosures and confiscations are taking place;  dirty deals and mailfist tactics are being used to displace farmers in favour of carburbs and factories. And then there's desertification which is eating away at Chinese arable land at an alarming rate.  Most of the tens of thousands of public demonstrations taking place in China each year are rural and led by angry peasants.  They're no fools, they know when they're being cheated.

As with the industrialisation of England, China's new "leap forward" enriching the new middle class is being made directly at the expense of the rural peasantry.  They are being herded by Enclosure and by environmental vandalism off the land and into the cities as a refugee class, a pool of wage-slave labour.  The notion that somehow the middle classes are leaping ahead while the peasants are merely waiting their turn -- i.e. one segment moves ahead first, then another, like a centipede walks -- is imho nonsense;  it seems blazingly obvious that the urban elites are replicating the classic core/periphery dynamic and making their "upward mobility" yardage by stepping firmly on the faces of their rural co-citizens and shoving them down into greater and greater misery and poverty.  Which is how "globalisation" is working generally;  to the detriment of the poor and peasants, indigenes and farmers, and to the benefit only of a relatively small percentage of the population in each "advancing" country -- including the US, where the resource and income gap between classes has reached proportions not seen since the "roaring 20's".

A rising tide can only "lift all boats" if there is an ever increasing supply of water.  Otherwise, high tide here means low tide over there.  In a zero sum game, someone has to lose for someone else to win spectactularly.  The history of industrial capitalism is based on one set of people losing spectacularly -- indigenes, the S Hemi, peasants -- and another much smaller set of people winning spectacularly -- Anglo/Euros, N Hemi, landowners, rentiers, technocrats.  Sometimes I wish the pro-growthers would just suffer an  honesty attack and admit what they stand for and what they're doing -- imprison or starve all the peasants and steal their land, forests, water, minerals, oil, fish, and "view lots".  But of course, like all imperialists before 'em, they prefer to pretend they're just doing it for the public good :-)  The mission civilisatrice has become the mission economique -- instead of bringing the gospel of Jesus while robbing the natives blind, we'll bring them the Gospel of the Chicago School while robbing them blind.  Plus que ca change.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Aug 4th, 2006 at 02:04:46 AM EST
by Sandwichman on Sat Aug 5th, 2006 at 10:53:06 PM EST


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