A Non-Socialist Alternative to Today's Capitalism

The eternal return of the limits to growth


In the latest issue of The New Scientist, Yale University's Gus Speth says he seeks a non-socialist alternative to today's capitalism as a way to put a stop to economic growth. Speth is a contributor to the magazine's special issue detailing "The Folly of Growth." Economic growth is folly because "our economy is killing the planet." Speth outlines his vision of his "non-socialist alternative" in The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (2008). Among other things, Speth argues that the "environmental agenda should expand to embrace a profound challenge to consumerism and commercialism and the lifestyles they offer" and "the democratization of wealth." The "alternative to endlessly pumping up an environmentally destructive economy" includes measures that "address the need for good jobs, income security, and social and medical insurance." To save the earth, Speth also advocates political reforms including "a minimum of free television and radio time for all federal candidates meeting basic requirements, reducing the perks of incumbency, bringing back the Fairness Doctrine requiring equal air time for competing political views and so forth."

Another contributor is Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey and the economics commissioner on the United Kingdom's Sustainable Development Commission. Jackson declares that we cannot rely on renewable technologies to help us avert climate change without sacrifices to our lifestyles. To show why sacrifices will be necessary, Jackson candidly calculates how much carbon dioxide human beings will be allowed to emit in 2050 to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million. According to Jackson, producing $1,000 worth of goods and services today emits half a metric ton of carbon dioxide. Adding it all up, some 28 billion tons are currently emitted and that must be reduced to only 5 billion tons by 2050.

Assuming 9 billion people by 2050, that means that each person can emit only 0.6 tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is lower than the average emissions in India today. In fact, if one divides the 1360 pounds of carbon dioxide annually allotted in 2050 to each person by 365 days per year that means each person would be allowed to emit only 3.6 pounds of carbon dioxide every day. That is the equivalent of burning less than a quart of gasoline or one-and-a-quarter pounds of coal per day. Burning that much coal would keep a single 60 watt light bulb lit for nearly 20 hours. According to some calculations, producing half a cheeseburger would exceed an individual's daily carbon dioxide quota. But in fact, Jackson says, it's much worse than that.

Assuming no economic growth for the next four decades, Jackson's calculations imply that people will be permitted to emit only 0.1 tons of carbon dioxide for every $1,000 of GDP in 2050. What if global economic growth proceeds at current rates? Jackson calculates that that would mean producing $1,000 of GDP emitting only 0.03 tons of carbon dioxide. That is equal to 66 pounds of carbon dioxide which is slightly more than burning 3 gallons of gasoline or 23 pounds of coal. Jackson calculates relentlessly on. Assuming that humanity wants to pursue the goal of global poverty eradication, he eventually reckons that "the carbon content of the economic output must be reduced to just 2 percent of the best currently achieved anywhere in the European Union." His upshot? "It is time to stop pretending that mindlessly chasing economic growth is compatible with sustainability." (Note that Jackson's carbon calculations are very similar to those reported in Russell Seitz' article "Carbon-Based Prohibition" in reason's August/September 2008 issue.)

An addtional contributor to The New Scientist special issue, Susan George, who is chair of the board of Amsterdam's Transnational Institute, advocates "ecological Keynesianism" as the solution to excessive economic growth. She specifically cites the U.S. war economy of the 1940s as a model for how to proceed globally. How would George pay for ecological Keynesianism? That's easy—tell the world's 10 million richest people who hold $40 trillion in "investable cash" and their banks that "they must devote X percent of their loan portfolios to environment-friendly products and processes at below market interest rates." George recognizes that that these eco-friendly investments will underperform, but she suggests that banks "can make up the difference by lending to big greenhouse gas polluters at 10 percent." George is even more ambitious, declaring, "The environmental crisis provides an ideal opportunity to get the global financial system under control. Taxing international currency transactions and other market operations needs only political determination and some software." As compensation for the expropriated, George suggests creating an Order of Carbon Conquerors and giving "them shiny green-gold silk rosettes for their buttonholes."

George evidently thinks that the $40 trillion in "investable cash" is being hoarded under Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's mattresses, rather than being used to finance other productive activities. And just who would decide which environment-friendly products and processes should get George's concessionary loans? And how can she be so sure that "big polluters" will borrow at 10 percent anyway? Maybe they will just generate internal cash flows and self-finance while merrily continuing those activities that George dislikes.

Another anti-growth guru in the special issue is former World Bank ecological economist Herman Daly, who claims that "we are heading for environmental and economic disaster." Why? Because "the scale of the global economy is approaching the limits of what our planet can cope with." Daly discerns certain signs of these impending limits. "As the oceans are emptied, forests shrink from logging and levels of pollutants and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rise, the environmental and social costs of further growth are likely to intensify until we reach a point at which the price we pay for each unit of extra growth becomes greater than the benefits we gain," writes Daly. Daly is right that the oceans are emptying, some forests are shrinking, and some pollution increasing, but he gets his diagnosis wrong. Those things are happening not just because of capitalism's rapacious urge for economic growth, but because those resources are unowned in open access commons available for anyone to grab or abuse. Capitalism is "blind to [these] environmental costs" because they have been excluded from its ambit.

For example, Science just published an article in September pointing out that private property in fisheries actually halts their collapse and promotes sustainable harvests. And what about shrinking forests? It is true that tropical forests are shrinking in poor countries in which such forests "belong" to the government. However, a 2006 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that "among 50 nations with extensive forests reported in the Food and Agriculture Organization's comprehensive Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005, no nation where annual per capita gross domestic product exceeded $4,600 had a negative rate of growing stock change." Daly blames deforestation on logging, but the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research points out that the "main threat to tropical forests" comes from slash-and-burn agriculture practiced by poor farmers who have no other option for feeding their families. The result is the loss or degradation of some 25 million acres of land per year. As Jesse Ausubel, the director of the program for the human environment at Rockefeller University says, "The last 15 to 20 years have seen a widespread reversal in forest trends." The chief exceptions are Indonesia and Brazil. And air pollution trends? They have been declining in developed countries for nearly three decades.

Capitalist economic growth is what has paid for both the technological progress and the compliance with regulations that have made environmental improvements possible. Daly is correct that greenhouse gases continue to accumulate, but can he be so sure that "each unit of extra growth becomes greater than the benefits we gain" from burning fossil fuels to produce energy?

So what might a "non-socialist alternative to today's capitalism" look like? Well, the New Scientist's editors describe how following Daly's economic prescriptions could set the developed countries on a path to a "sustainable society" by 2020. In the new society, "scientists set the rules." Growth is allowed, but "only as long as it doesn't breach the limits set by ecologists." In other words, ecological central planning. For example, during this transition, a new carbon tax makes "petrol-fueled travel prohibitively expensive."

In addition, in Daly's world, bank reserve ratios are raised substantially and commercial lending declines. Interest rates fall to very low levels. In Daly's 2020 ecological society, "we can't maintain full employment," but he tells us not to worry, because now "people work part time, generally as a co-owner of a business rather than as an employee. The whole pace of life is more relaxed. Incomes are lower but we are rich in something that many of us had never experienced before: time." Daly adds that we will have to stabilize our population, "and that includes immigration rates as well as birth rate." This will put pressure on the pensions system, but finally the economists have something to do; they are "busy working out what contributions will be needed to make it sustainable."

Daly, however, does accept that the value of goods can increase by means of technological innovation. But he fails to understand that this concession overthrows his assertion that humanity must settle for a steady-state economy. For example, Jesse Ausubel and Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station researcher Paul Waggoner show that technological progress is helping humanity to wring ever more value out of less physical stuff. For example, they report that the average global consumer, including those in China, increased affluence by 45 percent while using only 13 percent more energy in 2006 than in 1980. Without China, the average consumer increased affluence by 34 percent with little change to energy use. In addition, the average global consumer only consumed 22 percent more crops while richer consumers actually used 20 percent less wood. Between 1980 and 2005, the world's farmers nearly doubled crop production while increasing cropland only 7 percent. If farmers around the world produced crops as efficiently as American farmers, global cropland could be cut in half.

Technological progress and changes in consumer behavior are both offsetting the ecological impacts of population growth and increasing affluence. "An annual 2-3 percent progress in consumption and technology over many decades and sectors seems a robust, understandable, and workable benchmark for sustainability," concludes Ausubel and colleagues. In other words, human creativity is producing more wealth through economic growth by progressively decoupling it from physical resources and the natural environment.

Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki complains in the special issue that economists "believe humans are so creative and productive that the sky's the limit." As Ausubel and others have shown, there is considerable evidence on the side of the disparaged economists. Finally, the New Scientist contributors demand that we keep our hands off nature, while they are disturbingly eager to impose policies that would be the moral equivalent of bulldozing the world's economy.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. And how is this not socialism??

  2. Haha I remember that abortion of a show!

  3. I’ll have to go look at Daly’s article, but based on what I have read from him previously, it seems that Bailey is not giving a quite accurate account of his ideas.

    But who knows, maybe he changed his views or got stupid since I last read his stuff.

    Sustainable or steady-state economics does not equal static economics. There is not a conflict between steady-state economics and technological innovation increasing value. The “steady-state” part of the equation has more to do with the volumes of materials that flow through the system…not the value of the processes or products that those materials produce.

  4. NM,

    The conflict arises when “the volumes of materials” are controlled by gov’t fiat rather than the laws of supply and demand. Controlling supply will directly effect the price or “value” of the product or technology.

  5. It all boils down to some people who are unable to run their own lives all getting together and telling other people how to run theirs. Like this guy I knew who drove an old Toyota that would create oil slicks everywhere it parked, but would tell me I was destroying the Earth by driving a Dodge.

    There is a way to efficiently allocate resources that takes into account scarcity. It’s called a “market”, and availability of resources is measured in what are called “dollars”. It ain’t a perfect system, but it beats the hell out of central economic planning.

  6. There is only one form of capitalism. Austrian. The Chicago schoool monetarists, the crony capitalists, the neocon fascists, they are all socialists. The NAZI (national socialist) party is lumped in there too.

    There is no role for the state in the economy. None. nada. zip. zilch.

  7. Right. A non-socialist alternative. Right.

  8. nonPaulogist,

    I have two economics professors this year who are adamant that only the government can save us from this crisis. One is very outspoken on the need for further regulation in the financial sector. (sigh)

  9. Capitalism as we know it has nothing to do with a free-market. A genuine freed market would probably look more like Speth’s “steady-state” economy than it would the modern corporate-state capitalism that so many reasonoids and other libertarians find themselves unwitting apologists for.

  10. To claim that the global economy can perpetually grow on a finite planet is mathematically equivalent to claiming that we could have a $65 trillion, steady state economy on a perpetually diminishing landmass, so that some day we could cram it all into Reason’s editorial offices on Sepulveda Blvd., leaving the rest of the world a designated wilderness area. The wild-eyed dream that we can forever reconcile economic growth with environmental protection via technological progress stems from lack of due diligence in investigating the relationship between economic growth and technological progress. I’ll summarize it here as a “chicken:egg spiral” of economic growth – at current levels of technology – and the technological progress that raises the bar for more growth. It’s the macroeconomic equivalent of Jevon’s paradox (which isn’t so paradoxical after all). Or view it as the evermore efficient ratcheting of ecological integrity out of the system and the liquidation of our natural capital stocks and funds. But no use reinventing the wheel (so to speak); rather, see the article when it comes out in the December issue of Conservation Biology:

    Czech, B. 2008. Prospects for reconciling the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation with technological progress. Conservation Biology 22(6): In Press.

    Meanwhile, those with some common sense and some concern for posterity can e-sign the CASSE position on economic growth at:

    Brian Czech, Ph.D., President
    Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy

  11. CASSE-
    There is a fatal flaw in your argument. Efficiency can increase. Fritz Haber’s discovery that nitrogen can be removed from the air to create fertilizer effectively triples the amount of humans that can be fed on available airable land. If you limit population growth, you limit the number of people who can potentially solve the problems of population growth.

  12. @CASSE

    Your theory of a 65Billion Reason office is at best a mistake, at worst a complete distortion of reality.

    You can’t have 9 Billions people living in that space, so what’s the point?

    Earth is a lot more complex than “It’s space, and an acre is always equivalent to another acre”

  13. These “engineering” calculations ignore the limitless supply of energy available from hooking a dynamo up to Julian Simon as he rolls in his grave, endlessly.

  14. [quote]To claim that the global economy can perpetually grow on a finite planet is mathematically equivalent to claiming that we could have a $65 trillion, steady state economy on a perpetually diminishing landmass, so that some day we could cram it all into Reason’s editorial offices on Sepulveda Blvd., leaving the rest of the world a designated wilderness area.[/quote]

    Really, this sounds silly to you and me, people living in the 21st century, but it isn’t as far fetched as it seems. Imagine telling someone from the year 0 AD that all the combined raw arithmetic ability of every person in the entire world could be contained on a laptop, or that one could hold 1000 of the largest libraries on a compact disc.

  15. Casse,
    The malthusian argument has be proven wrong over and over – why should anyone believe it now?

  16. nonPaulogist | October 28, 2008, 7:58pm | #

    There is a fatal flaw in your argument. Efficiency can increase.

    There is a fatal flaw in your argument. Efficiency is limited by thermodynamics. According to UN estimates, the world population will peak at roughly ten billion towards the end of this century. Given reasonable estimates of best-case agricultural and renewable-energy efficiencies, that ten billion will be about all that it is possible to sustain. There is only so much arable land and only so much light hits the ground.

  17. Marc-
    that is bar none the funniest thing I’ve heard today. Kudos, amigo.

  18. Chad-

    Yes, thermodynamics limit carnot heat engine efficiency, but the big fucking star called “the sun” is not being utilize at even ).000001% efficiency, so piss off.

  19. It’s embarrassing to admit how much this shit scares the hell out of me.

  20. Malthus, Machiavelli, and Pop-Ecology

    [True] Ecological science, like all science, is relativistic, evolutionary, and progressive; that is, it regards all generalizations as hypothetical and is always ready to revise them. It seeks truth, but never claims to have obtained all truth.

    Pop ecology, or ecological mysticism, is the reverse in all respects. It is absolutist, dogmatic, and fanatical. It does not usually refer its arguments back to ecological science (except vaguely and often inaccurately); it refers them to emotions, moral judgements, and the casual baggage of ill-assorted ideas that make up pop culture generally. Ecological mysticism, in short, is only rhetorically connected with the science of ecology, or any science; it is basically a crusade, a quasi-religion, an ideology

    …..It is my suspicion that the usefulness of the ideology to the ruling elite is no accident….The tax-exempt foundations which largely finance Pop Ecology are funded by the so-called Yankee Establishment — the Eastern banking-industrial interests of whom the Rockefellers are the symbols. If this Yankee financing is not “coincidental” and “accidental” (based on purely disinterested charity)–if the ecological-mystical movement is serving Yankee Banker interests–a great deal of current debate is based on deliberately created mutual misunderstanding

    …Consider the following widely-published and widely believed propositions: “There isn’t enough to go around.” “The Revolution of Rising Expectations, since the 18th Century, was based on fallacy.” “Reason and Science are to be distrusted; they are the great enemies.” “We are running out of energy.” “Science destroys all it touches.” “Man is vile and corrupts Nature.” “We must settle for Lowered Expectations.”

    Whether mouthed by the Club of Rome or Friends of the Earth, this ideology has one major social effect: people who are living in misery and deprivation, who might otherwise organize to seek better lives, are persuaded to accept continued deprivation, for themselves and their children.

    That such resignation to poverty, squalor, disease, misery, starvation, etc. is useful to ruling elites has frequently been noted by Marxists a propos pre-ecological mysticism; and, indeed, people can only repeat the current neo-puritan line by assuming that the benefit to the Yankee oligarchy is totally accidental and not the chief purpose of the promulgation of this ideology.

    “I don’t think humanity deserves to survive,” stated one letter to Co-Evolution Quarterly. ….The only rationale for continuing the neo-puritan Lowered Expectations, in the light of these data, would be (a) to prove that Fuller, Gabel and their associates have been fudging or corrupting their figures–a demonstration none of the eco-puritans have attempted; or (b) a blunt assertion that most of humanity deserves to live in misery.

    …For perspective,it should be remembered that the ideology of Lowered Expectations arrived on the historical scene immediately after the upsurge of Rising Expectations. That is, after the Utopian hopes of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, almost as if in reaction, an employee of the British East India Company, Thomas Malthus, created the first “scientific” argument that the ideals of those documents could never be achieved. Malthus had discovered that at his time world population was growing faster than known resources, and he assumed that this would always be true, and that misery would always be the fate of the majority of humanity.

    The first thing wrong with Malthus’s science is that “known resources” are not given by nature; they depend on the analytical capacities of the human mind. We can never know how many resources can be obtained from a cubic foot of the universe: all we know is how much we have found thus far, at a given date. You can starve in the middle of a field of wheat if your mind hasn’t identified wheat as edible. Real Wealth results from Real Knowledge, which is increasinng faster all the time.

    Thus the second thing wrong with Malthus’s scenario is that it is no longer true. Concretely, more energy has been found in every cubic foot of the universe than Malthus ever imagined; and, as technology has spread, each nation has spontaneously experienced a lowered birth rate after industrializing.

    Unfortunately, between the 28th century inventory of Malthus and the 20th century inventory of Fuller et al., the Malthusian philosophy had become the pragmatic working principle of the British ruling class, and a bulwark against French and American radicalism. Malthusianism-plus-Machiavellianism was then quickly learned by all ruling classes elsewhere which wished to compete with the British for world domination. This was frankly acknowledged by the “classical” political economists of that period, following Ricardo, which led to economics being dubbed “the dismal science” Benjamin Jowett, an old-fashioned humanist, voiced a normal man’s reaction to this dismal science: “I have always felt a certain horror of political economists since I heard one of them say that he feared the famine of 1848 [in Ireland] would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do much good.” In fact, the English rulers allowed the famine to continue until it killed more than two million.

    In the 1920’s, Karl Haushofer studied Malthusian-Machiavellian political economy in England with Prof. H.J. Mackinder–whose coldblooded global thinking coincidentally inspired Bucky fuller to begin thinking globally but more humanistically. Haushofer took the most amoral aspects of Makinder’s geopolitics, mingled them with Vrill Society occultism, and forged the philosophy of Realpolitik, which Hitler adopted as part of the official Nazi ideology. the horror of the Nazi regime was so extreme that few ruling classes dare express the Malthusian-Machiavellian philosophy openly anymore, although if is almost certainly the system within which they do their thinking.

    As expressed openly by British political economists in the 19th century, and maniacally by the Nazis, Realpolitik says roughly,”Since there isn’t enough to go around, most people must starve. In this desperate situation, who deserves to survive and live in affluence? Only the genetically superior. We will now demonstrate that we are the genetically superior, because we are smart enough and bold enough to grab what we want at once.

    Since the fall of Hitler, this combination of Malthus and Machiavelli is no longer acceptable to most people. A more plausible, less overtly vicious Malthusianism is needed to justify a system in which a few live in splendor and the majority are condemned to squalor. THIS IS WHERE POP ECOLOGY COMES IN.

    The pop ecologists now state the Malthusian scenario for the the ruling elite, since it sounds self-serving when stated by the elite. There is an endless chorus of “There isn’t enough to go around…Our hopes and ideals were all naive and impossible… Science has failed…We must all make sacrifices,” etc., until Lowered Expectations are drummed into everybody’s head.

    Of course, when it comes time to implement this philosophy through action, it always turns out that the poor [those making $200,000 or less] are the ones who have to make the sacrifices, not the elite. But this is more or less hidden, unless you are watching the hands that moves the pea from cup to cup, and if you do notice it, you are encouraged to blame “those damned environmentalists.” Thus, the elite gets what it wants, and anybody who doesn’t like it is maneuvered by the media into attributing this to the science of ecology, the cause of environmentalism, or Ralph Nader.” “The Ultimate implications of eco-mysticism are explicitly stated in theodore Roszak’s “Where the Wasteland Ends”. Roszak argues that science is phychologically harmful to anybody who pursues it and culturally destructive to any nation which allows it. In short, he would take us back, not just to a medieval living standard, but to a medieval religious tyranny where those possessing what he calls gnosis — the Illuminati — would be entirely free of nagging criticism based on logic or experiment.

    The Inquisition would not try Galileo in Roszak’s ideal eco- society; a man like Galileo simply would not be allowed o exist. the similarity to the notions of Haushofer and the Vril society is unnerving.” “(On the Vril Society, see L. Pauwels and J. Bergier, “Morning of the Magicians”. On the parallels between the Vril society and Roszakian pop ecology, see the excellent novel, “The Speed of Light”, by Gwyneth Cravens.)

    Or consider this quotation from Pop Ecologist Gary Snyder, ‘But what I’m talking about is not what critics immediately call ‘the Stone Age.’ As Dave Brower, the founder of Friends of the Earth, is fond of saying, ‘Heck, no, I’d just like to go back to the 20’s.’ Which isn’t an evasion because there was almost half the existing population then, and we still had a functioning system of public transportation.” (“City Miner”, spring 1979)

    In short, Snyder wants to “get rid of” two billion people. Those who believe that none of the Pop Ecologists realize that their proposals involve massive starvation for the majority should consider this question profoundly. Benjamin Jowett, who experienced horror at the deliberate starvation of one million Irishmen, would have no words to convey his revulsion of this proposed genocide of millions.

    In this context, note that the only ideology opposing eco- puritanism usually well-represented by the mass media is that of the Cowboys-new Western wealth, which is still naive and barbaric in comparison to the Yankee establishment. the cowboy response to Pop Ecology, as to any idea they don’t like, is simply to bark and growl at it; their candidate, now in the White House, is famous for allowing vast destruction of California’s magnificent redwoods on the grounds that “if you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.” Other and more intelligent criticisms of Pop Ecology, such as have come form some Marxists and some right-wing libertarians, are simply ignored by the media, with the consequence that ecological debate–as far as the general public knows it–is, de facto, debate btween the Yankees and the Cowboys. Once again, it may be “happy coincidence” that keeps the debate on that level is just what the elite wants, or it may be more than a “happy coincidence.” “George Bernard Shaw once noted that an Englishman never believes anybody is moral unless they are uncomfortable. To the extent that Pop Ecology shares this attitude and wishes to save our souls by making us suffer, it is just another of the many forms of puritanism. To the extent, however, that it insists that abundance for all is impossible (in an age when, for the first time in history, such abundance is finally possible) it merely mirrors ruling class anxieties. “The ruling class elite shares the “robin Hood” myth with most socialists; they do not think it is possible to feed the starving without first robbing the rich.

    Perhaps these ruling class terrors and the supporting cult of Pop Ecology will wither away when it becomes generally understood that abundance for all literally means abundance for all ; that, in fuller’s words, modern technology makes it possible to advantage everybody without disadvantaging anybody.

    In this context, look for a minute at some very interesting words from Glenn T. Seaborg, representative Yankee bureaucrat, former chairman of the Atomec Energy Commission. “American society will successfully weather its crises and emerge in the 1990’s as a straight and highly disciplined, but happier society. Today’s violence, permissiveness and self-indulgence will disappear as a result of a series of painful shocks, the first of which is the current energy crises…Americans will adjust to these shortages with a quiet pride and a spartan-like spirit ”

    Is it necessary to remark that phrases like “highly disciplined” and “spartan-like” have a rather sinister ring when coming from ruling class circles? Does anybody think it is the elite who will be called upon to make “spartan” sacrifices? Is it not possible that the eco-mysticism within this call for neofascism is a handy rationalization for the kind of authoritarianism that all elites everywhere always try to impose? And is there any real world justification for such medievalism on a planet where, as Fuller has demonstrated, 99.99999975 percent of the energy is not yet being used?

    We live in an age of artificial scarcity, maintained by ignorance and fear. the government has been paying farmers not to grow food for fifty years–while millions starve. Labor unions, business and government conspire to hold back the microprocessor revolution– because none of them know how to deal with the massive unemployment it will cause. (Fuller’s books could tell them.) The utilities advertise continually that “solar power is at least forty years in the future” when my friend Karl Hess, and hundreds of others already live in largely solar powered houses. These propaganda advertisements are just a delaying action because the utilities still haven’t figured out how to put a meter between us and the sun.

    And Pop Ecology, perhaps only by coincidence, keeps this madness going by insisting that scarcity is real, and nobody wonders why the Establishment pays the bill for making superstars of these merchants of gloom.

  21. Chad-
    Don’t cite the UN. An appeal to authority is a logical fallacy, especially if the authority is a political one.

  22. RAW,

    Did you seriously just write all that?

    If so, whoa.

  23. In the latest issue of The New Scientist, Yale University’s Gus Speth says he seeks a non-socialist alternative to today’s capitalism.

    But as Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey writes, capitalist economic growth has paid for both the technological progress and the compliance with regulations that have made environmental improvements possible.

    Err… What?

    It’s like saying “Bob over here has an interesting idea to increase efficiency”

    But Tim says our toilet paper is too rough.

    Or, am I missing something?

  24. Davebo,

    He said more than that; only taken out of context does the bailey quote seem like a non-sequitur.

    I think he is pointing out that capitalism is necessary to provide at least two of the things we value in our society, both improvements in technology and increasing friendliness with regard to the environment.

  25. Matthew | October 28, 2008, 8:49pm | #


    Did you seriously just write all that?

    2 second search shows that its a cut-paste of Robert Anton Wilson.

    I dont object to *linking* to other people’s screeds, but posting long unattributed texts is for losers. EVen if it’s unadulterated genius (rare), the failure to present it as what it is reveals patent intellectual dishonesty, or at the least, a desire to appear like the author of something that one deserves no credit for.

    it also demeans the author quoted

    that said, i think malthusians of all stripes are legion, and generally idiots with some vague grasp of small technical details, but fail (either willfully or lack of capacity) on seeing/admitting the ‘big picture’

  26. Gilmore,

    Ha! A thought there was a touch of Eris about it.
    R.I.P. RAW.

  27. RAW Ghost,
    PLEASE just provide a link and a snippet next time. ‘kay?
    Have you ever noticed the richer a neighborhood is, the cleaner it is? You’d almost think there might be some sort of correlation there. Maybe, just matbe, that happens with nations as well.

    We’ve already found the the magic bullet to kill population exzpansion. Get the rest of the worlds living standards equal to the west’s and you have negative population growth as far as the eye can see. That would be a good thing in my eye. I share the goal of a smaller population with these thinkers, but I’m confident that economic growth will save the planet far faster than eco-socialism or whatever term they wish to dress up their policy proposals in. In fact, I fear that these policies may have disasterous ecological consequences for the environment as starving people start eating everything they can catch.

    It’s more than 300 years after the industrial revolution started and these people still haven’t noticed that Great Britain hasn’t poisoned their tiny isles yet? That western Europe is cleaner by the year? They just found the first salmon in over 50 years in Switzerland.

    Getting the rest of the world to live like that might be a good idea, no?

  28. Please pretend that my post was perfect at this end and somehow got screwed up in the tubez. Or assume I don’t friggin proofread diligently.

  29. There’s an easy non-socialist alternative to capitalism: free markets.

  30. Capitalism has provided these “scientists” with such a comfortable lifestyle that all they have to do to feed, cloth, and shelter themselves is sit around and bitch about the evils of capitalism. Interesting.

  31. between the 28th century inventory of Malthus

  32. Well, if their goal is to take a wrecking ball to economic activity and people’s lives, there is no better way to do it than their way. When they say they can do this AND we can all live like country gentlemen*, they are just plain delusional. People will have to work like never before in a world with seven billion people and greatly delimited access to plentiful/easy sources of energy like petrol or coal.

    But at least the bureaucrats in charge of deciding just how much people are allowed to do and in what areas and in what ways won’t be tempted to abuse their power, and their strict economic regulations won’t stifle the innovation we really need to not revert to the middle ages. I mean, it’s worked so well in the past, right?

    * “people work part time, generally as a co-owner of a business rather than as an employee. The whole pace of life is more relaxed. Incomes are lower but we are rich in something that many of us had never experienced before: time”

  33. “As the oceans are emptied,…

    Ron, how could you keep reading after a phrase like that? Reason can’t pay you enough to read that kind of nonsense.

    The sun will burn out in 5 billion years, clearly we need to adopt “ecological Keynesianism” and go on a war footing to protect ourselves from this looming disaster. The “democratization of wealth” is a key part of the plan. Everybody send me a $100 check and I will find a way to avert the crisis.

  34. Did I mention that I have a degree in science? My plan is much better than something a silly economist would cook up. Better make it $200.

  35. stuartl,
    So will that be cash or check?

  36. Wait a minute, I don’t care what happens in 5 billion years. Screw the future.

    And I am being totally 100% serious. By then humanity will probably have evolved into mutant space-alien fish-frogs, so I don’t really give a damn about them. Oh, yeah, and I’m childless. And not planning on changing that.

  37. Screw the future.

    A typical heartless economic viewpoint. You need to pay your debt to society for living a better life than you ought to. I bet you’ve even been breathing out excess CO2. Now fork over the money. I prefer cash, but will take gold.

  38. CASSE said:

    To claim that the global economy can perpetually grow on a finite planet…”

    Stop right there! This is a straw man I see put out front and center quite often in these discussions. But I’ve yet to see any opponent of this eco-apocalypticism claim that perpetual or infinite growth is possible or desirable. No one thinks the planet is infinite (except Neal Adams, apparently he thinks all the planets keep growing), and attacking this straw man in lieu of the actual arguments put forth is debate-stifling and really quite pathetic.

  39. Won’t you think of the children? Give stuartl $200 now. Give generously. Give for the future.

  40. The day population starts to retreat from causation not of our choosing or life expectancy declines, wake me.

    History has shown that humans have, are, and will continue to incrementally improve our condition.

  41. As soon as those mutant space-alien fish-frogs build a time machine (based on Malthus’es 28th century proto-type)you’ll care!

  42. There is a principle called Ockham’s razor which is attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham. It basically states that – “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.”

    The following are two simple ideas that effectively create the ideal social construct.

    Simple Idea #1

    1. Socialize ALL Land

    2. Charge leases on ALL Land based on demand.

    3. Return 100% of the resulting revenue to every man, woman and child in the form of a yearly dividend check.

    4. Make the Universal Birthright of Land an Everlasting Standard in the education of every Child.

    This effectively makes the average piece of Land Free for every Living Soul and restores our Natural Birthright as well as coupling our social construct to the Principles of Life.

    Simple Idea #2

    1. Remove ALL FORMS of taxation

    2. Implement a Tax on ALL new goods based on the resources they contain and the resources they use in production and delivery (this can easily be implemented with the current barcode system used at the checkout)

    3. Use this system to encourage/discourage various resource usages (High tax on non-renewable/ecosystem damaging products and low/no tax on renewable/ecosystem enhancing products) and to encourage purchasing of local products.

    4. Use the resulting revenue to fund infrastructure expenses and the restoration of ecosystems..

    This effectively encourages the creation/use of longer lasting, high quality products as well as encouraging recycling and reuse of existing products.

    Idea #2 effectively constrains the ravaging appetite of the capitalistic consumer society within the Boundaries of Sustainability while Idea #1 effectively encloses both Sustainability and capitalism within the Principles of Life.

    That’s it! The path to True Democracy – True Equality – True Unity. Simple and Effective.

  43. That’s about the most hopelessly complicated thing I’ve ever seen.

  44. A Friend, you forgot to mention that both ‘solutions’ remove any incentive for putting forth effort. All forms of government work perfectly in a perfect world. When you find one of those, let me know…I need a place to stay.

  45. one cannot possibly be a libertarian if he or she votes for obama.

  46. Abolish the State……….

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  48. Abolish the state. At its source, every government in the world is just people pointing guns at other people.

  49. As soon as those mutant space-alien fish-frogs build a time machine (based on Malthus’es 28th century proto-type)you’ll care!

    Large Greys?!

  50. “There is only one form of capitalism. Austrian. The Chicago schoool monetarists, the crony capitalists, the neocon fascists, they are all socialists. The NAZI (national socialist) party is lumped in there too.

    There is no role for the state in the economy. None. nada. zip. zilch.”

    NonPaulologist: um, no. not even close, crazy extreme man… But comparing people you disagree with to nazi’s can often be effective, I’ve heard…

  51. I am completely in favor of equality in the labor market. I think that inspired, creative entrepreneurs who currently work 70 hours a week should reduce themselves to 35 hours a week and dimwitted, slothful slackers without an ounce of skill should increase their workload to 35 hours a week. We should then pay them all the same amount.

    This will produce the same thing as what we have right now because everyone is equal.


  52. A Friend,
    While your proposals appeal to me in part, since I am partial to what might be called geoist ideas, you carry them to the left extreme. My proposal is less extensive but more just since I think the government does not have the right to try to change the way people use their own property.

    1. Leave all land in private ownership. However, charge an annual tax equal to the rental value of the site, the rental value being the rent that would be paid simply for access to the land without any existing improvement.
    2. Open up federal lands containing natural resources (including those lands off the gulf coast and in Alaska), but charge the full market value for access to said resources. Leave alone privately owned natural resources.
    3. Have auctions at given times, say every ten years, for leases to common resources such as the airwaves. Open up the entire spectrum, however, to stop the artificial inflation of existing broadcast rights value.
    4. If there is a proven harm due to a particular type of pollution, then apply a per-unit tax to the pollution.
    5. Eliminate all other forms of taxation, and use these funds to cover the legitimate activities of the government.

  53. Given reasonable estimates of best-case agricultural and renewable-energy efficiencies, that ten billion will be about all that it is possible to sustain.

    “Given 1900 reasonable estimates of best-case agricultural and renewable-energy efficiencies, that ten one billion will be about all that it is possible to sustain in 2000.” We have no idea what “reasonable estimates of best-case agricultural and renewable-energy efficiencies” will look like in 2100.

    There is only so much arable land and only so much light hits the ground.

    On Earth.

    OTOH if we limit growth by letting the scientists run the world, by 2050 the remaining ten thousand or so people will be back to living in caves around wood fires. Every time central control has been tried, whether or not it has been labeled “socialist,” “communist,” or “divine right of kings,” the economy has suffered collapse.

    people work part time, generally as a co-owner of a business rather than as an employee. The whole pace of life is more relaxed. Incomes are lower but we are rich in something that many of us had never experienced before: time

    As seen on TV! Start your own home-based business! Earn more than you can imagine working a few hours a month! Sent $49.95 for the CDs that tell you how!

    I’ll lay odds not one of these characters has ever, actually, run a business. Most have probably never really worked for one.

    Idea #2 effectively constrains the ravaging appetite of the capitalistic consumer society within the Boundaries of Sustainability while Idea #1 effectively encloses both Sustainability and capitalism within the Principles of Life.

    Presuming that: (1) Government costs nothing. (2) The volunteers [Given (1) they aren’t getting paid] in charge of setting rents and writing barcodes will be 100% fair and accurate. (3) Everyone else will agree on the land values and taxes. None of this individualist “I’d prefer mountains over plains/city over country/cold over hot/meat over vegetables/corn for fuel not food” crap.

    Why not propose something simple, like a perpetual motion machine.

  54. Raw Ghost is a genius. Please tell me more.

  55. The French tried this enforced leisure in the 90s with mandated max 35 hour work weeks, it didn’t work so well. Employers did not hire more people, nor did people experience more leisure due to losing 12.5% of their pay.

  56. Daly makes the distinction between growth and development. Development can occur from better technology, and more efficient use of resources. We can pursue a policy of infinite development. Growth on the other hand is defined by increasing uses of natural resources. By definition you can’t have infinite growth of finite resources.

    You do a great disservice to yourself by ignoring the central tenants of Daly’s conclusions. That we cannot keep growing our population, or resource use. It’s true that people can argue exactly at what point our growth becomes uneconomical, but one cannot argue the point does not exist at all.

  57. LarryA | October 29, 2008, 11:48am | #

    We have no idea what “reasonable estimates of best-case agricultural and renewable-energy efficiencies” will look like in 2100.

    On the contrary. We do have very reasonable estimates, based on the thermodynamic limitations imposed upon solar energy conversion. There is only so much arable land and sunlight, plants and photosynthesis have limited efficiency, and so does any solar energy to electricity/fuel system you can devise. At much beyond ten billion people, you will have to cover darned near the entire planet in order to live, capture energy and harvest food.

    The laws of thermodynamics are not going to change in the next 92 years. Sorry.

  58. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Bailey usually grabs me with his writing. This thing made me have to smack myself to wake up every now and then. What gives? It always sets my BS alarm off when an idea numbs the mind with boredom.

    /me wonders if Bailey changed his mind about anthropogenic climate change (and anthropogenic cures for it) merely because not doing so would have made it difficult for him as a journalist. I hope he’s above such character flaws.

  59. War Economy and Change to Distrust

    During the primary months, the Iraq War appeared to be potentially the top issue for the 2008 election. Since then, the 1992 campaign slogan: It’s the Economy Stupid has gained ground. More narrowly we have the housing crisis, by Presidential decree the root cause of the financial crisis. The more likely the root causes of both of these crises are Greenspan’s unsustainably low interest rates and the unbridled, unregulated competition by lenders and their financiers.

    With regard to the “Terror War”, it is actually two wars, but not Iraq and Afghanistan touted by the presidential campaign candidates. The first war, declared, was Al Qaeda’s War on America; with it central goal to “bleed America to bankruptcy” and the second is America’s “War on Terror”, with Iraq proclaimed by Bush and Cheney to be its central front. Aside from aforementioned unbridled/unregulated competition, our most pressing economic woes are traceable not to the acts of 9/11 but to Cheney/Bush response to the acts of 9/11 and resulting unorthodox War Economy. The “War on Terror” and the Bush tax-cuts have been financed by foreign borrowings primarily by China and OPEC. This fiscal irresponsibility is the primary driver toward Al Qaeda’s central goal and amounts to trading certain economic insecurity for questionable homeland security.

    A no-new-tax style War Economy and an overly accommodating fiscal policy have resulted in huge budget and trade deficits. These deficits have accumulated into an unsustainable national debt and an unsustainable balance of payments deficit, which when combined with an overly accommodating monetary policy unleashes “Weapons of Economic Destruction”. The high oil/gas prices, a high tolerance for China’s protectionist currency manipulation and the housing/financial crises are early effects of the resulting destruction and any reversal requires changing the unorthodox War Economy.

    The changes necessary to reverse the effects of the ill-conceived 2003-2008 War Economy are unlikely to come from the no-new-tax advocates, who provide President Bush’s current 25% favorable rating. These approvers make-up more than half of Senator McCain’s current support. Unless Senator McCain flip-flops and throws the Bush/Cheney base under the proverbial political bus, promise of change by Senator McCain to address the root causes of economic woes is: Change to Distrust.

  60. The steady-state economy sounds worse than a retirement community in South Florida. These so call scientists are nothing more than bishops of a new religion, Environmentalism. They’re worse than Scientologists who also share their pension for goofy sci-fi based dogma. If our universe can constantly expand, why not our economy?

  61. Two words ‘Elinor Ostrom’

  62. that guy is an idiot. i say we should just ignore him and other scientists who just study ‘complex systems’ and evidence all day (i mean, get a life). im an economist and my advice is to burn all the oil as fast as feasably possible before someone else does and grow civilization up like a massive human meat balloon until resources run out – and we become self sustaining – probably. the game is to make it as big as possible. im in charge and its up to you to prove me wrong. hahahaha.

    continent sized fossil fueled industrial agriculture, feeding hundreds of massive cities, each containing millions of cars driving around aimlessly can easily be energized instead on a few magic solar panels, and er, some other technology fluff that im sure will be invented soon. we will have no problems building up the trillions of dollars worth of magic tech infrastructure even though the tech doesnt exist and the oil that powers the development will be running out and doing other vital stuff when we get ‘market signals’. god i love market signals. so its not a problem. in any case it will create jobs and growth which is everything. jobs and growth. jobs and growth. jobs and growth. jobs a…oops got lost in my dreams of job growth infinitness again, sorry. i love the sound of jobs and growth. opps i just came in my pants. who needs biodiversity and a functional, and livable environment anyway – do they create jobs and growth? no.. scientists are obviously alot of girls. butterflies, trees and oxygen are all very well but next to useless as they are not jobs and growth. sustainability? dont see much scope for jobs and growth there. the future? doesnt pay wages. stable climate? nope. so fck all that girly cautious sht. im an economist, and a MAN and i know what im doing, trust me. just look at the economy today! so other far more complex and vital to human- life systems are no problem for me to still be in charge of. we economists never bugger things up. ever. never have. at business school we were taught one thing while we were making other magical sht up. the biosphere is unnecessary… and for girls and poofs that read books all day, and dont have proper JOBS. all we really need for human civilization to work is human ingenuity, oh, did i mention growth and jobs too. for that we need 10 billion more people at least, as how to solve intense resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, peak oil, mass extinction, chronic poverty of bilions and other outcomes of intense population pressure doesnt come with fewer jobs. the problem with the romans is they didnt push for growth enough. they didnt grow nearly big and they didnt create enough jobs. one things for sure, they didnt bother with this stupid talk of whether their society was in grave and critical overshoot either, even though it was a tiny fraction of ours when it collapsed through resource depletion. so we should reject all the kneejerk ‘spot the miriad signs of impending collapse’ rubbish today, and do like ostriches are supposed to do. failed civilizations cant warn us outgrowing resources leads to collapse because it wasnt in the syllabus of my business course (economics does not refer to other subjects or namby pamby reality) and history is for girls too and it just gets in the way of talk of more manly growth…not to mention more jobs.

    fck you ecologist commies

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