Halting Dynamics and Shifting Inertias

Written By: - Date published: 5:20 pm, January 7th, 2013 - 43 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Economy - Tags: , ,

Like many, I’ve been somewhat bemused and not a little angered that austerity is touted as a pathway to economic recovery. Like many, I’ve come to view both austerity and bail outs simply as means to put public monies and the control of public institutions into private hands – all the while diminishing the power of citizens on both an individual and collective basis. And I’ve been particularly irked that the National led government has tried to hitch NZ to the austerity bandwagon.

But anyway,  why consciously destroy or abandon real economic activity in a quest for power or/and wealth? Why not continue to build on whatever ‘real economy’ bases of power you posses? Idle speculation might suggest a lust for power, y’know… power for power’s sake. Or a reaction to, or recognition of impending peak resources in a world of growing population.

Following that reasoning, if the real economy was deliberately shrunk to postpone resource peak dates, and if that was done in conjunction with shifting the basis for the accumulation of money (and power) to more abstract realms, then current elites could do more than simply hold on to their power – they could augment it.

Shrinking the total size of the ‘real economy’ would obviously require excluding increasing numbers of people from access to resources and productive goods. But that wouldn’t be an issue. The goal would be the retention of power – of market share. And market share, rather than total market size, is what determines levels of influence and power.

And exploring this scenario further – where  market participation recedes from people – social safety nets could be diminished and destroyed because such things are an unnecessary drain on the accumulation of power and wealth that corporations and financial institutions desire.

Too cruel? Too unimaginable?

Think of Africa then, and the recurring situations where people have died while the resources to save them (food, drugs) have sat all around yet out of reach due to a lack of purchasing power. And then cast an eye on Greece where people are increasingly unable to afford food (it’s being sold at prices determined by global market rates that put it increasingly out of reach); where 1/3rd of the population have no access to health care and where cancer sufferers are being given cortisone injections (if they can get anything at all) because hospitals have no drugs any more.

And look at the effects of austerity spreading across Spain or the UK and Italy, the US and elsewhere….increasing levels of homelessness, poverty, joblessness and suicide. And manufacturing continues to be closed down, unions attacked and social safety nets torn away. Meanwhile, financial and corporate entities are posting record profits on the back of speculative ‘investments’ and trading strange and wonderful financial abstractions amongst themselves. And when hic-ups and crashes occur, in rushes our increasingly ‘enabling’ governments…some, like Italy run by unelected technocrats… with injections of  public monies to bouy them up. And then social welfare provisions and real economic activity are wound down further as a consequence in a self reinforcing downward spiral.

And in the interests of finding some reason behind all this lop sided pain and gain maybe a certain philanthropy shot through with a dash of pragmatism could be considered.

Classical economists are pretty insistent that it isn’t possible to reduce CO2 emissions at rates science demands to avoid “dangerous” or “extremely dangerous” levels of global warming. At least, not without crashing the market.  So, in the interests of preserving power, saving the world and (of course) the economy, the idea might be to exclude ever growing numbers of people from market participation in the hope that the denuded real economy ( presided over by the lords of the new abstract economy) will then deliver big enough CO2 reductions.

And everyone gets to live.

Just some live a bit better than others. But that’s always been the way. However, just to make sure – maybe fall back on all those ‘war against terror’ inspired restrictions of political freedoms and the increased scope and power of repressive agencies to contain potential reactions. And maybe let all of this unfold at a fast-ish yet still ‘boiling frog’ pace, so that any realisation that might fuel a reaction arrives too late. Maybe pick off sections of the population one at a time – an incremental process of demonising and ostracising should do the trick.

Okay,  I’ll confess to not believing what I’ve written…well, not with regards the volition. There is no cabal or committee of shadowy bankers or whatever thinking their way through all of this and working hand in hand with governments to enact policies to further some devious master plan for world domination.

The principle of  Occams Razor demands we opt for the simple explanation. And that is simply that the institutions of the bankers and financiers and government encourage a certain degree of ineptitude, defensiveness and stupidity. It’s not that bankers, financiers and government personnel are necessarily cruel and stupid individuals – though I’ve no doubt that some are. But when you work or are involved with an institution, you become subject to ‘institutional capture’ – meaning that you put your personal sensibilities aside and behave and act on institutional sensibilities.

So for example, there can be no peak in resources from a market driven institutional standpoint – there are only resources and profits to be derived from them. And when there are no resources well, there will be no profits. And that’s the real loss from an institutional perspective. The same applies to global warming. Even when global warming is knocking us all for six, institutional foci will still be on profit and economic performance only. And this institutional blindness is something that any and all personnel must adopt as their own if they are to maintain their position.

Banking institutions and corporations accumulate and have no sentience; no moral compass. They are just market driven institutions. Meanwhile, governments are just further institutions that manage the market economy such that it enables banking institutions and corporations to accumulate. And that’s something that must be preserved. And to reiterate;- people within those institutions have to behave accordingly.

The effect is more or less the same as some cabal devising a grand conspiracy and acting out on it. But it’s not a conspiracy. That would be far too easy to counter and deal with.

So the banking bailouts and the austerity measures and the ‘national security’ measures alongside the denial of both peak resources and global warming : these things are going to continue. And they’ll continue, not because of bad or stupid people, but because that’s the inevitable trajectory of both market driven financial institutions and the government institutions whose task it is to manage and protect that same market economy.

And it seems we have few options should we wish to successfully challenge both detrimental  institutional dynamics and detrimental institutional inertias. Keeping within the bounds of orthodoxy, our only option is to pile pressure on government. And historically that has meant bringing government to the realisation that it has more to lose by not acceding to social demands than it has by continuing to defend the socially unacceptable status quo.

43 comments on “Halting Dynamics and Shifting Inertias”

  1. Andre 1

    To paraphrase. More selfishness ?….

  2. karol 2

    Excellent reflections, Bill.

    And I agree that it’s no so much a carefully orchestrated campaign by the elites. It’s more what they do to maintain their power and privilege, given the resources and systems they have access to. They will then use whatever arguments they can get away with, to justify their moves.

    This has been happening since the 70s/80s & the (so-called) “neoliberal” shift. The philosophy was “free-market” and “small government”, but they use regulation and government control whenever it’s needed to maintain their power and position. Those that care, probably really do believe the PR of things like “trickle-down” and “lifting all the boats”. Others just care about their own self-interest, and if such PR terms work to keep the masses quiet, they’ll use them.

    Then they resort to the use of the term “pragmatic” which makes them sound in touch with realities. But the realities are to do with whatever works for them. They need to resort to such “pragmatic” solutions, because they are trying to work with dwindling resources and various unknown results.

    So, beware of any politician or leader who says they are being “pragmatic”. It means they are not considering what is best for all, and planning accordingly. It means they are doing whatever it is easiest to do, without upsetting the powerful and wealthy elites.

    I agree we need to pile on pressure on the government. But we also need to develop an alternative set of policies and an approach that works for the many – as IrishBill aims to do.

    • Bill 2.1

      But we also need to develop an alternative set of policies…

      This is true. And why I think Irish’s initiative is a good one. If a parliamentary party breaks with the neo-liberal consensus, and offers up genuine and solid social democratic policies, it would be a good thing. Just not sure it would be enough given the massive ‘either/or’ issues that are building up around any and all market bound orthodoxies* and demanding our attention (like AGW and/or resource depletion).

      * (ie, not just neo-classical or neo-liberal economic approaches)

  3. Rogue Trooper 3

    Wow! great solid writing Bill

  4. Colonial Viper 5

    Nice one Bill.

    The elite wealthy 0.1% of the world appear to have minimal vision and strategy beyond trying to game the economic system to increase electronic numbers in their virtual bank accounts.

    The concept of trying to build a civilisation to be proud of, a civilisation worthy of surviving? Way beyond most of these people.

    And it seems we have few options should we wish to successfully challenge both detrimental institutional dynamics and detrimental institutional inertias. Keeping within the bounds of orthodoxy, our only option is to pile pressure on government.

    Keeping within the bounds of orthodoxy…I don’t think that’s going to work, even in the best case scenario. John Michael Greer recommends instead focussing time and energy on yourself, on your family and on your local communities to build resilience. The gap between what can probably be achieved electorally and politically, and what is required in terms of socio-economic movement over the next 15 years is just too huge.

    What would it take to reduce by 80% the number of vehicles on the road by 2028? To reduce the extraction of fossil fuels in NZ by 80% by 2028? To nationalise all key economic infrastructure by 2028? To achieve full employment by 2028?

    When you drill down into it, none of this is possible in this timeframe particuarly “within the bounds of orthodoxy”.

    The Roman, Assyrian, Hittite, Egyptian, Parthian, Babylonian civilisations all came and went, as did the Caliphates. Almost nothing but echoes of their knowledge and culture exist today. We’re basically headed the same way, at breakneck speed.

    World population of c.1B-2B by 2100. And listening to Guy McPherson’s presentation in Petone earlier this year, that could be optimistic.

    • Colonial Weka 5.1

      I largely agree, although I would note that Greer is commenting from a culture with very different political and social systems than ours.

      We also need to keep any eye out for the wild cards within the orthodoxy that may appear from time to time and prove useful tipping points.

    • weka 5.2

      I largely agree, although I would note that Greer is commenting from a culture with very different political and social systems than ours.

      We also need to keep any eye out for the wild cards within the orthodoxy that may appear from time to time and prove useful tipping points.

    • Bill 5.3

      Keeping within the bounds of orthodoxy…

      Maybe I should have phrased that along the lines of – “Keeping within the bounds of orthodoxy for the sake of this post…”

      I agree that we need to essentially crash (or crash land) the market economy and halt the burning of all fossil fuels in about 17 years from now. Or much sooner if we are in any way intelligent. But ‘we’ aren’t going to do that and so will have it crashed for us by climatic impacts. By which time run-away global warming may well have set in, if it hasn’t already, meaning temperatures are headed for…well, anybody’s guess really.

      I do have my doubts as to whether there will be any echoes of anything to do with us in the future. 400ppm CO2 hasn’t been seen for about 15 – 20 million years. And I just can’t imagine things being that flash…or even holding at that state given feedback loops.

      Meanwhile, I really do wish McPherson would present something a bit more informative than just a list of conclusions. But hey.

      • Colonial Viper 5.3.1

        Maybe I should have phrased that along the lines of – “Keeping within the bounds of orthodoxy for the sake of this post…”

        Ahh, thanks for the clarification, Bill.

      • Are you kidding? Four hundred essays at Nature Bats Last, about half of which deal with pragmatic aspects of relocalization, and you want “something a bit more informative than just a list of conclusions.” Will you be a little more specific, please?

        • Bill 5.3.2.1

          I’m referring to your presentation style as seen on a couple of youtube vids – not your website.

          For me, your presentations lack supportive background information.

          For example – You say that comparisons with Thoreau’s notes on plants from 1840 tell us that temperatures have increased by 2.5 degrees C (I noticed that in your Petone presentation you do offer a caveat that was absent from a previous presentation I watched on-line). Anyway, effectively you are saying plants are telling us something different to what direct scientific measurements are telling us. But you offer no explanation as to why that should or might be. And I’m curious.

          You also present the conclusions of various reports without presentiing anything of the argument contained in them or pointing to where various reports are or may be flawed. And again, I’d like some indication of what’s what.

          Y’know, why does one report conclude that temperature rise will be around 1 degree C by 2100 (IPCC) and within four years other reports range from that to 6 degrees C by 2035 (IEA)?

          And on the IEA report, I’m sure Kevin Anderson, from the same report, quotes the IEA’s chief economist (Birol) as concluding a 4.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2040. Now Birol may be interpreting his own agency’s report incorrectly. But in that case, surely an indication of where and why he got it wrong is in order…simply making a bold counter statement and attributing it to the IEA anyway isn’t really helpful. (And given that 4.2 degees C is catastophic, I wonder as to why anyone would bother contradicting him rather than [as Anderson does] being simply quite clear on who is saying what.)

          http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cabot/events/2012/194.html

          As for essays dealing with pragmatic aspects of relocalisation – I’ll definately go and have a read since firstly, I have my own fairly well informed opinions on that front and secondly, am keen to reappraise assumptions and fill any ‘gaps’ in my knowledge/understanding.

          A broad take on that front http://thestandard.org.nz/if/ And a desciptive post seeking to reform a previous community based living arrangement written before I became aware of the full extent of current AGW (so obvious modifications in light of new info apply) http://thestandard.org.nz/trading-futures/

          • Guy McPherson 5.3.2.1.1

            Bill, I don’t have time or interest in walking through every projection and assessment. I’m hoping my presentations and writing will lead people to read the articles.

            However, as I often explain, more-recent assessments have access to more data and, importantly, increased computational power relative to older assessments. The IPCC Fourth Assessment from 2007 is irrelevant largely because of the latter factor.

            • Bill 5.3.2.1.1.1

              Hmm. Either the IPCC report and others (Hanson, Stern etc) resulted from a lack of computational power or (and it could be a combination of both) they quite conciously did not use available data.

              And I’ll come back to Anderson who unequivocably demonstrates that :-

              1 – they used very low p.a. increases of emission growth in their models in spite of having the actual data available. (1 – 1.5% p.a. instead of the 2.7% for the 20C and approx 3.5% for this century).

              2. they complied with the demands of classical economists to model for no more than a 4% p.a. reduction in emissions. (Larger reductions would, according to them, crash the market economy – no bad thing in my mind, but hey)

              3. (which follows on from 2) they employed unrealistic dates for the year of peak emissions in spite of knowing how infeasible they were being in setting down the years they did.

              4. they extrapolated from (unrealistic) ‘western’ emission scenarios and applied them globally ie, they ignored the (then) current emissions of China and the likely future emissions of China, India etc.

              And so on.

              Having said that, I’m aware that you attempt to cover much more ground than Anderson does in his Cabot presentation and so can’t do as thorough a ‘fisking’ as he did. And I can appreciate having neither the interest nor the time to go through every assessment in detail, but to better or more informatively signpost how unrealistuc assessments have come about would take a sentence or two – a moment.

              But in the meantime, thanks for taking the time out to comment on a relatively inconsequential blog from ‘the bottom’ of the world.

              • I’ve no doubt the IPCC willingly ignores abundant information. In addition. Moore’s Law indicates more than an eight-fold increase in computing power in five years.

                Thanks for your excellent point about adding a sentence or two about how unrealistic assessments come into the world. IPCC’s Fifth Assessment, already leaked, is another one that ignores important self-reinforcing feedback loops, as I indicate in my latest essay.

        • Colonial Viper 5.3.2.2

          Thanks as always for visiting NZ, Dr McPherson (and also The Standard!).

  5. Neoleftie 6

    Oh well said Bill.
    What I see is govt hamstrung by being caught up or simple a large actor within the embeddness of the current dogmatic economic system and it’s powerful and connected self focused influencers.
    What we need is a broadly connected social democratic entity guided by the left coalition with participants from organisation and individuals within society all focused on providing power and support to the left coalitions New Direction, it’s Next Way.
    CC opengovt on steroids.
    NZhui The Next Way. Open source, open involvement, creative, powerful inspirational that provides a build block, a focus and powerful connection across all streams of societial influencers.
    We need to counter the Tory imbeddness within society, the gradual creep to the dark side of this post investment capitalism. Time for labour to anti up.
    Time is now and ticking.

    • Bill 7.1

      You do know that was basically a critique of state communism, don’t you? Not saying some of the sentiments don’t apply, but she, great worshiper of the ‘free market economy’ wouldn’t have intended them to apply to our neo-classical market economy.

  6. Rusty Shackleford 8

    “And I’ve been particularly irked that the National led government has tried to hitch NZ to the austerity bandwagon.”
    How much did they cut the budget by?

    • Bill 8.1

      What area are you referring to? Public schools perhaps? Funding cut by $114 million.

      What non-austerity measures did or have the government released as policy?

      • Rusty Shackleford 8.1.1

        It’s a simple question. How much has the govt budget (ie. total govt spending) been cut by? “Austerity” would imply it has been cut by a lot.

  7. Rusty Shackleford 9

    “Classical economists are pretty insistent that it isn’t possible to reduce CO2 emissions at rates science demands to avoid “dangerous” or “extremely dangerous” levels of global warming.”
    Which ones? And why would you listen to an economist on climate science? That makes as much sense as listening to old Bill here talk about economics.

    • Bill 9.1

      Which one’s? Oh just all of the neo-classical school. They say that max reductions in CO2 emissions can’t be more than 4% p.a. without sending the economy into a tailspin. And that is why the compilers of major reports picked unrealistic peak years for emissions from out of someboy’s arse….to accomodate a 4% p.a. decrease in emissions. ( Apparently the only time country has had above 5% year on year reductions was the Soviet Union when it’s economy collapsed) And we need 40% before the end of 2015….according to the optimistic end of the science.

      Why were they listened to? Because the scientists they were talking at/to work on the cusp between scientists who collect data and government policy makers. And they felt they had to keep the policy guys (their pay masters) happy to keep the funding rolling and hold on to their positions. Or at least, that’s what some in the scientific community claim.

      • Rusty Shackleford 9.1.1

        Not a single name nor reference. Good to know.

        • Colonial Viper 9.1.1.1

          But what actual difference does it make to you Rusty if the top World Bank or IMF or OECD economist swore it were so?

  8. MrSmith 10

    Great piece Bill.

    And I wish I could share your hope, but lately see little hope, looking at our own behavior over the last 2000 years or so, then that should be enough to convince anyone we are are a nasty, selfish, conceited, hypercritical, greedy animal, and yes we can be kind, loving, charitable, forgiving, etc but deep down we mostly only want to protect and propagate our genes, like most other animals, but sadly we mostly still don’t even understand why we want to reproduce, let alone we are one of the animals.

    This doesn’t make me sad at all tho, in-fact I’m quiet happy watching it unfold, watching people dancing around praying for rain can be great fun and is cheaper than most other forms of entertainment.

    • Colonial Viper 10.1

      This doesn’t make me sad at all tho, in-fact I’m quiet happy watching it unfold, watching people dancing around praying for rain can be great fun and is cheaper than most other forms of entertainment.

      Especially if you have a comfy couch to perch from and beer in hand.

  9. Mike 11

    “There is no cabal or committee of shadowy bankers or whatever thinking their way through all of this and working hand in hand with governments to enact policies to further some devious master plan for world domination.”

    I’m not completely sure about that. For example:

    “Capital must protect itself in every possible way, both by combination and legislation. Debts must be collected, mortgages foreclosed as rapidly as possible. When, through process of law, the common people lose their homes, they will become more docile and more easily governed through the strong arm of the government applied by a central power of wealth under leading financiers.

    These truths are well known among our principal men, who are now engaged in forming an imperialism to govern the world. By dividing the voter through the political party system, we can get them to expend their energies in fighting for questions of no importance. It is thus, by discrete action, we can secure for ourselves that which has been so well planned and so successfully accomplished.”

    – Montagu Norman, Governor of The Bank Of England, addressing the United States Bankers’ Association, New York, 1924.

    • Colonial Viper 11.1

      😯

    • rosy 11.2

      Whoa. That’s wicked. Do you have a reputable source for that quote?

    • SHG (not Colonial Viper) 11.3

      That quote, or variations of it, has been bouncing around the nutty conspiracy circles since at least 1892. (“The Bankers’ Manifesto”). It popped up again in the thirties, and it has recently seen a resurgence thanks to rise of the Tea Party movement. BECAUSE IT’S ALL TRUE OF COURSE AND THE JEW-CONTROLLED MEDIA HAVE BEEN TRYING TO SUPPRESS IT.

      Seriously, if you believe that sort of thing you’re just the type of gullible moron who shouldn’t be voting anyway.

  10. venezia 12

    Good piece Bill. I clicked on the link for Spain in your article and discovered the action taken by the Locksmiths of Pamplona – not to cooperate in evicting people from their homes when banks foreclose on them. A small action which needs to be built on to stand up to the greed of these institutions.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      The entire machine stops when even a few of the small cogs decide to seize and jam. One of the messages of Fight Club.

  11. SHG (not Colonial Viper) 13

    I like the innovative way the thumbnail image for this story portrays a Jewish banker as a vampire, that’s a visual device that has never been used before, anywhere, ever.

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    2 weeks ago
  • Kiwis can’t sleep in your ghost houses, Nick
    The Government’s housing infrastructure announcement is another Nick Smith special – over-promising with no detail on delivery, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour helps older New Zealanders and low income families with winter heating bills
    Labour will further boost its commitment to warm, healthy housing with a Winter Energy Payment for superannuitants and people receiving main benefits, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “Everyone deserves a warm, healthy home to live in. But that’s ...
    2 weeks ago