Air pollution

I remember hearing about the great smog of London in 1952 and the clean air acts that were supposed to resolve the problem. Luckily I lived far away up north, in Lincoln. Although I remember cycling through thick East-England fogs, scarf over mouth, there was nothing to compare with that polluted London smog that killed thousands.

This was brought to mind by a recent insightful article in The Times by Tom Whipple: Air pollution: Undertakers knew truth about the Great Smog (sorry, it’s behind the Times paywall). As well as outlining the story of the smog and the official prevarication before it was addressed, Whipple takes the story forward through a number of similar problems related to air pollution in the intervening years since then.

The response to the smog was to reduce smoke by mandating smokeless fuels and tall chimneys. But nothing was done about the sulphur, until ‘acid rain’ made the problem unavoidable from the 1970s.

Then, in the 1980s and 1990s it was realised that lead in fuel was reducing the general IQ, so there came lead-free petrol.

Then came global warming and the move towards more diesel cars to reduce C02 emissions. Sadly, the car manufacturers and standards authorities were economical with the actualité of NO2 and other emissions, and gradually another major pollution problem has engulfed our cities. And there is an unexplained spike in occurrences of asthma, alzheimers, cancers,…

So what did we learn over those nearly 70 years since the London smog?

Basically, we need more checks and balances on introducing new technologies, and we need to anticipate the downsides that are inevitably there, with more effective regulation. So we need a U-turn from the current political atmosphere of deregulation.

But don’t hold your breath… Or maybe you should, while waiting to cross the road at a busy junction.

Featured image Nelson’s Column during the great smog 1952,
by N T Stobbs via Wikimedia Commons

Mainstream Environment?

I’d guess it was the 1980s when I really became aware of environmental issues, including fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect, including pollution of the air in cities, including degrading of farmland by intensive farming, including the effects of pesticides on the natural world. For so long, those 40 years since, the mainstream media have largely ignored these issues, or reported them as the concern of ‘environmentalists’, neatly compartmentalized away from the mainstream.

So I’ve had a strange sense of cognitive dissonance this past week or so as these issues are being discussed on the mainstream bulletins of the BBC, that bastion of UK establishment thinking. Of course, this is a reaction to the success of Extinction Rebellion in highlighting just how urgent now is the situation on global warming/ climate change and species loss (as well as to the success of Netflix in pinching David Attenborough and allowing him his full environmental voice). It really is a planetary emergency with little time left to effectively act.

The worry is that this is just to fill in the air time left by a government and parliament doing nothing but obsess about Brexit. There is no other legislation, no ‘queen’s speech’. The broadcasters must be sick of reiterating the minutiae of customs union, the withdrawal agreement, the splits in the two main parties and on and on.

But we have to be optimistic and suppose that
(a) something will eventually be sorted on Brexit and then
(b) this time legislators are accepting of the urgency and will eventually set out a programme that will at least partially address the climate/fossil fuel issue, encouraging people and business in the right direction. That is their job.
Difficult for a Conservative government that has spent 4 years rolling back the little environmental progress they allowed the Liberal Democrats to make in the coalition government of 2010.

The big question at the moment: Is Environment Secretary Michael Gove up to the job? He appears to understand the issues, but can he persuade the government to act and explain to the public what they are doing and why, and anyway will he still be there when prime minister Theresa May goes (ie soon)?

My optimism is somewhat subdued!

 

The glass IS half full

glass half fullIt is a well known characterisation that optimists see a glass 50% full of liquid as ‘half full’, whereas pessimist see it as ‘half empty’. Does it matter which of these attitudes we take towards life and towards its mega problems such as climate change and Brexit?

The bulk of psychological evidence suggests that it does. Optimists tend to be more realistic and thus more effective at addressing the problems. Pessimists tend to expect the worst, not look at things too closely, and hide from difficulties – hence the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Life is all about change, so an optimistic outlook is the only one that enables us to face and deal with the realities of change.

Of course, there are limitations to being positive if it is not tempered with a grounding in reality. (The Brexit campaign comes to mind!)  I’m arguing against myself, but maybe we should see optimism-pessimism as a polarity that is only resolved through the ‘third pole’ of realism.

I suggest that we will only find a way through climate change and Brexit will be with an optimistic reality-based attitude. There are so many brains on the problems we will find a way through.

The glass really is half full!

The idea for this post came while reading
Professor Tom Lombardo’s book Future Consciousness.

Image by S nova via Wikimedia Commons.

The Water Will Come

Anyone who follows the regular NASA ‘vital signs’ reports on sea level will be aware that the trend in global sea level is for an average rise of 3mm per year (see graph). This correlates with the increasing trend of CO2 concentration of around 2ppm per year (currently 410ppm). There is no significant debate about this. These are the figures accepted by most scientists.

Now, 3mm doesn’t sound much, but multiply by 100 to get us to 2119, that would be 300mm, which is 0.3 metre or about 1 foot – and that’s within the potential lifetime of babies being born today. Yes, you may say, but 1 foot is not much either.

But now consider that

  1. the rate of sea level rise is increasing as CO2 levels increase,
  2. the effect is not evenly spread around the globe, for example the East coast of North America is sinking, so the rate is much greater
  3. the increased weather variability caused by CO2 levels means greater tides, and more flooding
  4. Scientists are very worried about so-called positive feedback effects whereby CO2 and ice melting would be rapidly accelerated.

Add all this together. What does that mean for the beaches of England that I grew up with. Higher embankments? Loss of sand? Regular inundation? What of other even more vulnerable places?

I was inspired to write this by Jeff Goodell’s book The Water Will Come, which describes how some of the affected communities are today preparing for rises in sea levels – such as southern Florida, Venice, New York, Tokyo, Marshall Islands, Maldives. All are attempting to mitigate the effects, but how can they possibly cope in the long term? Consider that when CO2 concentration was last at this level, sea levels were 20 METRES higher – which it is fairly logical to assume is where we are headed in the long run.

We clearly have a global emergency that is currently being inadequately addressed. If humanity was behaving rationally, a major global programme would be in place to attempt to address and mitigate the effects of this emerging cataclysm. If only. The poorly supported Paris agreement is but a shadow of what is needed.

So all power to those young people, and to campaigning groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who are trying to wake up those in power to their responsibilities.

No Deal

The Brexiteers and Mrs May seem to be from the school that says you have to be willing to walk away from a negotiation to get the best deal. But surely Brexit is not a problem of this nature.

If there were a natural disaster the countries would get together and agree what to do about it. One would not say to the others, do it my way or we’ll do nothing. That’s insane.

It seems clear to me that a ‘no deal’ Brexit, maybe even the Brexit vote itself, is just such a disaster – when all sides would significantly suffer. To contemplate this, rather than negotiate a solution to the joint problem is , yes, insane.

Of course, some of the players in the Brexit game actually want this catastrophe to happen. The sane majority must not let this happen.

The comment applies to both sides, incidentally.

Utopia for Realists

It’s surely obvious that the current economic system is not working, what with increasing inequality, increasingly low wages at the bottom, squeezed public finances,  financial crashes, resulting populism, ever-increasing automation, ineffectively-addressed global warming and so on. And it seems equally clear that the global elite haven’t a clue what to do about it and plan to just let it run while they continue their comfortable lives.

utopia for realistsRutger Bregman’s book Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There brings up the heretical suggestion that we can do something about it, all we need are the visionary ideas and the determination to follow them through.

There is no reason why we cannot end poverty, give free money to everyone (basic income), move towards a shorter working week, pay important workers like nurses and bin men a commensurate salary, and open borders once the imperative to move anywhere but home is removed.

That sounds like a Utopia, you say. Yes it is. But we need a stretching vision of where we want to get to and then maybe we’ll start moving there.

Bregman cites the fascinating story of how neoliberal free market ideas moved from being the interest of just a few economists in the years after WW2, when Keynes dominated economic thought, to becoming the dominant force behind world economics from the 1970s to the present. These ideas have now run their course and are actually the cause of the predicaments we increasingly find ourselves in.

We desperately need these new Utopian ideas to gain momentum. So go read Utopia for Realists.

What human energies could be freed up for a New Renaissance!

 

 

What to Believe?

bush-cheney-coverIn the second part of the book Bush and Cheney, whose first part I reviewed in my post Too Much Reality?, David Ray Griffin sets out the facts behind the events of 9/11. Essentially 15 miraculous events would need to have happened for the ‘official’ story of what happened on that day to be true.

Particularly notable:

  • The twin towers and WTC7 were the only steel framed high rise buildings ever to come down without explosives or incendiaries. And they came down in free fall and more symmetrically than engineers would expect.
  • Uniquely, the fires from the debris could not be extinguished for months.
  • The hijackers did not have the skills to fly the planes as they did. Incredibly, passports were found among the debris, phone calls were received from planes that had no contact with the ground, and intercept aircraft were not scrambled.
  • There was never a proper and thorough independent inquiry, and the evidence was removed from the site with indecent haste, before it could be analysed.

There’s lots more, certainly enough to suggest that there was some sort of cover-up. An organisation Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth is in accord with Griffin’s contentions. But then one wonders, how could such a massive project possibly be kept under wraps?

But what was/is being covered up? Griffin suggests that there is a remarkable concordance between what was enabled after 9/11 with the so-called War on Terror and the dreams of the neocon Project for the New American Century, whose 1997 signatories included Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. It gave just the excuse and the public support to implement these dreams. But is it really conceivable that (possibly rogue) individuals would commit such heinous acts? It appears to be of a scale far greater than the known rogue acts performed by such as Oliver North during the Reagan years (when George HW Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were part of the leadership). But these people do have form.

Basically, we don’t know. I wonder if we ever will.

To those in the arena

I just came across this speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt in Paris in 1923, and it brought to mind the trials and tribulations of our UK politicians in trying to find a path through the current Brexit situation. We all too easily see their failings and criticise their faults, yet perhaps we don’t give them enough credit for their efforts, especially when we disagree with them.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

According to Wikipedia, Theodore Roosevelt was a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century and is regarded as one of its best presidents. His passions seem far more worthy than the grubby business of Brexit, and perhaps more momentous.

Removing poverty

Contrary to what some politicians might like you to believe, it is easy to remove most poverty. Simply give poor people, indeed everybody, enough money to subsist. It’s called basic income.

How to pay for it? There are two ways.

1. Pay out of current government moneys

There are many benefits to the economy:

  • more economic activity, so more taxes
  • less need for benefits, so less government costs
  • reduced minimum wage, so more employment, so again more taxes
  • less crimes of desperation
  • more intelligent behaviour from the poor (yes)
  • disincentive to immigration, as would apply to citizens only; there is also less incentive for people to move from other countries with a similar policy
  • reduced inequality means reduced discontent with governments
  • of course, you would net off against current tax and benefit schedules so that most people were not directly affected and continued to be paid the same as previously
  • etc.

So it wouldn’t cost as much as you might think.

2. Just create the money

The central bank simply creates the necessary cash, outside of government accounts. You could regard this as pump priming the economy. (Compare QE, but this time for the needy.)

If just one government does this, this will inevitably cause its currency to slowly decline against others, but we are talking small percentages, so slow, here.

If a majority of world governments do it, there is no cost. It is free money.

Basic Income is a no-brainer. Why doesn’t it happen?

There is this obsession among the empathy-bypassed richer classes that the poor are feckless and not trying hard enough, so they should be forced into desperation so that they will do any job at any price for all hours of the day and night. I suspect this came from the early days of industrialisation, when cannon fodder was need for the emerging industries. It went away after WW2 (did you know that Richard Nixon tried to introduce basic income in the US in the 1970s?) But this prejudice has been reinforced since the 1970s by right wing parties in UK, US and elsewhere.

It is nonsense. Basic income has been tried many times, and the evidence suggests that if you treat people like paid-up members of the human race they will behave like it. Give people a decent start and they will make their way.

In a world of increasing automation and concern about where the future jobs will come from, basic income seems even more needed.

It’s about political will

In the end, in a world of plenty as we have in the West, poverty is about political will and little else.

Eradication of poverty is also surely an essential precondition for a New Renaissance.

The inspiration for this post came from ‘Utopia for Realists’ by Rutger Bregman. Beware reading it, it might haunt you with the sanity of its ideas!

Featured image is Caricature of poor people at a workhouse having dinner; by Phiz (?), via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Groundhog Days

Every morning seems the same here in the UK, like groundhog day. The latest on parliament, the EU and Brexit.

  • What Theresa May said
  • Theresa’s deal
  • what Junker/Barnier/Tusk said
  • what Merkel or Macron said
  • who gave her short shrift
  • which cabinet ministers said what
  • cabinet splits
  • who just resigned
  • the Northern Ireland border
  • the DUP won’t agree to anything (apparently)
  • frictionless trade
  • no deal
  • hard and soft brexit
  • managed no deal (what in God’s name is that?)
  • people’s vote
  • people didn’t know what they were voting for
  • the will of the people
  • cannot let down the people who by chance I happen to agree with
  • where Labour stands
  • the five tests
  • vote of no-confidence
  • no majority in parliament for any deal
  • bring back control
  • fishing grounds
  • THEY are not being flexible
  • and on and on.

Thank God they’re about to break up for ‘Christmas’.

And yet, it’s disgraceful that government/parliament is taking time off when this riven, blighted country is about to fall of a cliff – all of their own making.

Featured image of two groundhogs taken by Joyce Hopewell.

Trickle-Down Economics – child’s view

We should be looking more through the eyes of children at this crazy world. They see the nonsense that is being propagated by the status quo. Brilliantly captured in this blog post by Paul Duncan.

The Out And Abouter

Julie Wilson, 8, trying to work out how to let the big guy know he’s been had.

BROKEN FORKS – Saying she just wasn’t ready for the look on her dad’s face when she tells him that there’s no such thing as trickle-down economics, little Julie Wilson, of Broken Forks, Montana, today admitted it was getting pretty hard to answer her Republican father’s increasingly probing questions.

“At night, when he’s getting ready to head out to his second job – the one he works in the evenings to pay for our health insurance – it can be really hard to look him in the eye and say supply-side theory isn’t going to let him down this holiday season. Not like last year. And the 39 before it.”

Eight-year-old Julie says that the elaborate charade she goes through to avoid dashing her dad’s belief in the inherent decency of rich people…

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Brexit Angst

Sleepless periods at night seem to get more frequent as I get older. But last night was bad. Yesterday the UK government decided to put the frighteners on not only MPs but the entire population, in a probably vain attempt to get MPs to back Theresa May’s deal with the EU in January. They certainly set my angst going.

They actually appear to be taking seriously the prospect of a so-called ‘hard brexit’, otherwise known as jumping off an economic cliff and reneging on your international agreements. (Who will do a trade deal with a country like that?)

They outlined plans to increase the national debt by TWO BILLION POUNDS to spend on preparation for a hard brexit (while use of food banks is increasing in a supposedly rich economy), and are sending letters to companies to say that they need to prepare. As the CBI rapidly pointed out the whole idea is not tolerable. What small company has the spare time and effort available to prepare for such an unknown world and keep their business afloat? No wonder some are opening branches on the continent and moving some of their business there.

Of course, the two billion will temporarily improve the economic figures, so that the government can ‘claim’ their economic policies are working.

The whole idea of ‘hard brexit’ is not acceptable, not tolerable, cannot be allowed to happen. This should have been the first thing agreed with Europe, rather than the UK trying to use it as a bargaining chip.

And this form of psychological warfare on parliament and the people is not acceptable either.

And it’s all happening because of the incompetence of the incumbent prime minister and the frittering away of the time since she invoked Article 50, trying to please the far right hard brexiteers in her party.

If it will not accept her deal, parliament simply needs more time – either to arrange a new ‘people’s vote’ (in which hard brexit should not be an option) or to sort out a new deal that the majority in parliament can accept, which surely involves working across parties. Shock, horror. What a thought.

It’s time to recognise that Brexit is a process and not a one-off event achieved at a particular point in time.

The Scream by Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Winning

It’s in the nature of polarity that neither side can ‘win’. There is always a balance to be achieved in the creative interplay of opposites.

So what are we to make of the attitude of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in this context? Everywhere, it seems, we see groups fighting for their ideal and resisting ever compromising on what they see as ‘right’.

In the UK, the Brexiteers will never compromise on anything short of hard Brexit. The Remainers think a big mistake has been made, which must be reversed. The US thought it ‘won’ the cold war and sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.

Of course, you can win in sport, and you can apparently win in life. In 2000, the neoconservatives ‘won’ the direction of US policy for decades, by fair means or foul.

But you cannot cheat the polarity for ever. The chickens come home to roost if the balance gets too far out of kilter. Make inequality too great, and you get unrest, then revolution. Ignore the scientific evidence on climate and the climate comes back to bite you.

Populism thrives on simple ideas about ‘winning’. We desperately need to reach a more sophisticated level of discourse. Winning is illusory, and usually involves overriding or ignoring the necessary counterbalance.

Featured image. When England won. The queen presents 1966 World Cup to England captain Bobby Robson, via Wikimedia Commons

Too Much Reality?

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

― T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Bush and Cheney: How They Ruined America and the World

I’ve had this book by Professor David Ray Griffin for some time, but hesitated to put it on top of the reading list. Having taken an interest in world affairs over the years, I sort of knew what it says. It’s still quite disturbing to see it all laid out in one place.

The neoconservative ideology, of which Dick Cheney was a major leader, had been around since the Reagan years, culminating in the articulation of the Project for the New American Century, aimed at maintaining American ‘full spectrum’ domination of world affairs. It seems that those ‘hanging chads’ in Florida in November 2000, and the resulting ‘stolen’ presidential election that brought George W Bush and Cheney to power allowed these ideas to have full effect. This had a profound impact on future decades, leading to the multiple crises we see today. Consider the contents of part I of this tome.

  • The failure to prevent 9/11
  • The nonsensical ‘war on terror’ and the Afghanistan war
  • The increase in military spending and policy of pre-emptive war and regime change (carried forward from the Reagan years)
  • The corruptly-justified Iraq war and incompetent dissolution of the Iraqi army that led to the formation of ISIS
  • The extreme Islamaphobia
  • The global chaos caused by America’s ‘war for the greater middle east’ – American supported insurrections in Libya, Syria, Yemen. (The policies were basically carried forward by Obama/Clinton/Kerry). The uncritical support of Israel’s unjust stasis. All this of course leading to Europe’s current refugee crisis.
  • The flouting of US and international law in drone killings and targeted assassinations, even of US citizens. A counter-productive policy that continues to this day.
  • Changing the US constitution that limited the ability of the Executive to make war, many violations of the first, fourth and fifth amendments, including warrantless searches, use of torture, capturing huge amounts of data as revealed by Edward Snowden.
  • Confrontation with Russia by moving Nato and weapons nearer to the Russian border, with the probable aim of regime change in Russia. Regime change in Ukraine that appears to have involved dirty tricks, as has the subsequent confrontation with Russia. Griffin suggests that similar confrontation with China led to the construction of the disputed islands in the China Sea. All this greatly increases the risk of nuclear holocaust.
  • Finally, the persistent denial and refusal to act on climate change and global warming has already closed the window on when the major problems could be averted. Continued refusal to act pushes us ever nearer climate breakdown (‘ecological holocaust’).

This first part of the book is profoundly depressing, and recalled the many occasions when I have personally recoiled at the grossness and lack of intelligence in the US’s policies.

You could just see this all as a grand conspiracy theory, but it seems that the cap fits. US exceptionalism and the thinking of Empire really is perhaps the greatest danger to today’s world.

But we do need to sometimes face the reality of the world as it is, in order to move towards a better world tomorrow. It should be clear to most thinking people that the US has been for two decades travelling up a long blind and self-defeating alley. Donald Trump just makes it all a bit more unpredictable.

Do they really want to be the Emperors of a dead world?

I thought this second Eliot quote might be appropriate, but I’m not so sure about the good intentions.

“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”

― T.S. Eliot

Maybe I’ll get to read part 2 of the book, on 9/11, when I’ve recovered.

Featured image of Bush and Cheney at 2003 State of the Union, from Wikimedia Commons

Justice and Generosity, Hierarchy and Equality

This fascinating post by Chris Lansdown explains why we form social hierarchies, despite their evident limitations. And why ‘ideal’ forms of organisation usually fail in the end.

Chris Lansdown

I recently said, on Twitter:

If you wish to understand how society always organizes itself:

Equals can get along if they have nothing to do with each other or both are generous to each other.

Superior/sub-ordinate can get along if both will be merely just to each other.

There was some interest in this so I’ll explain what I mean and why it is the case.

There are and have been many forms of social organization—democracy, republics monarchies, dictatorships, bureaucracies, clubs, churches, friends, families, neighbors, villages, cities, etc.—but they all share some basic traits because they are organizations of human beings and human nature imposes restrictions upon how human beings can be organized.

In a fallen world, one of the biggest problems which needs to be handled in human relationships is how to handle when two people’s wills diverge. There are only three possible outcomes: both get their way, one…

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What was the problem?

I’ve never really understood the case for Brexit. What was wrong with over 40 years of peace and prosperity? Of course there were issues to be addressed, there always are. In a recent issue of The Times, Max Hastings neatly summarised the situation we, the UK, find ourselves in with Brexit.

Three years ago any thoughtful citizen could identify the principal problems facing Britain: productivity; Londonification; the flagging education system; a society financially skewed in favour of the old and against the young; Islamist extremism; funding of the NHS and welfare; stagnation of real earnings; job losses to technology.

None had anything to do with the European Union yet a faction of fanatics not only believed, but was successful in convincing millions of voters, that if we could only escape the thraldom of Brussels, a Heineken transformation would overtake the country, miraculously refreshing everything else.

I don’t agree with all of his list of problems, but leave that aside. Why did Britain stop worrying about the most important issues facing the country (many self-inflicted by Conservative austerity) and instead focus all its energies on the single issue of Brexit, as indeed it continues to do today?

The catalyst issue was immigration, which Brexit will probably in the end not significantly address because of sheer economic necessity. But how did the ideas become so prominent in the public domain, such that the Brexit vote was lost by the Cameron government against all expectations?

Essentially, the problems of the status quo were projected on to questions of nationhood and Europe because the political establishment and the media had not, since the New Labour years, seriously engaged with the European project. It appeared from the start that David Cameron insisted on being a right wing outsider in Europe, rather than a mainstream player, pandering to the right wing of his own party. When he needed European help with the immigration issue, the help was not there, because the bridges had not been built.

It did not help that a significant portion of the mainstream media were very anti Europe, reflecting the self-interested views of their rich owners, reinforced by the amplification of reactionary viewpoints in the ghettos of social media.

The final nail was the referendum, called to see off UKIP, in which it succeeded, but with the result no one expected.

But wasn’t the real problem more in London than in Brussels?

The case for a second poll grows by the day.

This post by Bruce Nixon repeats an article published by Peter Kellner in the New European 24 November. It is worth reading, as it articulates well an important facet of the debate about a possible second Brexit poll.

Perhaps the most important point Kellner makes is that on the age of voters.

We know that young voters are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, while older voters voted two-to-one to leave the EU.

He goes on to quantify:

Around 600,000 Britons die each year; a further 700,000 reach voting age. Taking account of polling data about older voters, and recent surveys of the views of new voters, and allowing for the fact that older electors are more likely to vote than younger electors, we find that…

demography alone is shrinking the Leave majority by almost 500,000 a year, or 1,350 a day. As the overall Leave majority in the referendum was 1,269,501, the effect is to cause the Leave majority to disappear on January 19, ten weeks before the scheduled Brexit day.

So, at the point of leaving, the majority for Brexit has disappeared. Now it’s a weird form of democracy that does not at least pause at this prospect, and check ‘Is this what you really want?’. Particularly when the deal on offer is manifestly worse economically than the status quo.



‘Everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile’

I just discovered Tim Jackson’s excellent website and blog, particularly this item with the above title. (Thank you, daughter.) Tim seems like the sort of economics thinker that we need so much, questioning the conventional wisdom that is not working, and pointing the way forward.

In the post he reminds us of Robert Kennedy and particularly his thoughts on the usefulness of GDP as a measure for the health of an economy.

The GDP ‘measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country… It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.’

Robert F Kennedy, Kansas 18 March 1968

You can hear the Kennedy speech in greater length on the video included in the above blog item.

Tim goes on to identify a number of modern initiatives that give hope that the professionals in this area are really eventually going to move on from the obsession with GDP, which is stopping us from addressing many of today’s problems (I will not bore you by listing them all again). When will the politicians and media follow suit, one wonders? The obsession with GDP and ‘growth’ is still evidently pervasive in UK ‘mainstream’ discourse.

Of course, this is just one example of the modern business and political approach of managing by metrics, which gives the illusion of control, without actually addressing the real issues that need to be managed. Metrics can be useful, so long as you are aware of their limitations, and so long as they do not become the dominant factor in what you are managing.

As Tim reminds us, Robert Kennedy was assassinated a few months after his Kansas speech, while mounting his run for the US presidency. I well remember the devastating effect that event had on young people in the UK, including myself. Robert Kennedy seemed a beacon of hope in difficult times. How different history might have been…

Picture shows Robert Kennedy addressing a crowd in 1963, by Leffler, Warren K., via Wikimedia Commons

Travellers in the Third Reich

The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People

As one of a generation haunted by discovering the then-recent calamity of WW2, now disturbed by the rise in populism across the world, I found this a timely book by Julia Boyd.

It tells the story of the Third Reich through the eyes of people who visited or lived in Germany through the days of Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power, its consolidation, the increasing drumbeats towards war, and the war itself.

What is remarkable is how many people gave the Nazi regime the benefit of the doubt, despite the clear signs, such as the centralisation of all power, rescinding of civil liberties and press freedom, the early concentration camps, the persecution of Jews, the burning of books (all in 1933) through to Kristallnacht (1938) and the subsequent descent into war.

Of course, the desire to avoid another war was a major part of this, and there is the interesting story of Neville Chamberlain’s vain attempt to make peace in Munich in 1938, and Hitler’s dismissive attitude to the whole affair.

The book presents an interesting story, perhaps a bit long-winded at times. It certainly opened my eyes to some things, such as the fact that Germany welcomed English and American tourists throughout the 1930s, and many found the country very efficient and friendly, except where they came face to face with the persecution of Jews and supposed non-aryans.

The stories from the 1920s and early 1930s show that, after making a fair recovery from WW1, Germany was not in a good place after the shock of the great depression. The arduous reparation terms imposed by the Allies at the end of WW1 were a major cause of German suffering and dissatisfaction. It seems that these were major factors in the rise to power of Hitler.

The evident parallel today is the rise of populism following the 2008 financial crash, and the subsequent failure to make due reckoning with its causes. The missing factor today is there is no sense of national persecution similar to that caused in Germany by the WW1 armistice terms.  

In the case of Donald Trump and the US, it is maybe too early to say how far the parallels go – but he clearly came to the presidency by exploiting white male dissatisfaction with the status quo that had come about – economic, racial and misogynistic. On the positive side, the US constitution appears to be much more robust in resisting over-centralization of power than was Germany in the 1930s.


In the groove

Human societies get so stuck in a collective mental groove, like a railroad track, that they cannot see a way out of the predicaments caused by being in that groove. Take ‘jobs’. As automation gradually replaces many of the jobs that make society work today, we worry about where the future jobs are going to come from. For instance, what are all those lorry/taxi/delivery drivers going to do to earn a living when transport is automated? How are we going to generate enough taxes to adequately provision the public sphere and feed those who don’t have jobs?

The only answer is to get out of the groove.

  • Why do we need a 5-day-week job, why not 4 or 3 days?
  • Why does everybody have to have a ‘job’?
  • Why not a basic income for everyone that provides for minimal subsistence?
  • Why do countries across the world need to compete economically, and thus drive down standards of living for everyone, can they not co-operate?
  • Why is money created to the benefit of banks, not of people or of governance?
  • Why can’t we have a more equal distribution of wealth?

The answers lie in the human imagination. History suggests that crisis precedes the inevitable change. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are enough intelligent people on the planet, but many vested interests that do not want things to change…

The same is of course true about other issues, such as climate breakdown and its consequent travails. The forward scouts (scientists) have long told us the bridge is down on the track ahead, and the train will go over into the ravine if we stay on this track. We just need the imagination to change track.

Featured image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History – via Wikimedia Commons