Black Swan

Black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect, based on the observed historical fact in Europe that black swans did not exist.

I guess we could call covid-19 a black swan event, although it was actually predicted that such an event would happen at some time, which was always ‘in the future’, until it wasn’t. Of course, globalised trade made this black swan event a worldwide phenomenon pretty rapidly.

Globalisation also means we can now see black swans in Europe without travelling to Australia. This one was at WWT Martin Mere, caught in the act of biting off chunks of reed.

Chickens coming home

It has long been apparent that free market capitalism, as currently practised, is running into the buffers of climate breakdown, species extinction, pollution and gross inequality. A system that favours profit maximization at the expense of all else, including nature, cannot expect to go on and on without consequence.

Similarly, globalisation of finance, tourism and product supply with consequent massive movement of people, products and living beings around the world is foundering on the sands of the coronavirus panic and the apparent inability of the system to withstand shocks, and the human fears that follow.

Further, the overemphasis on sovereignty of nation states, with the related rise of populism, and with a weak United Nations, means that collective attempts to resolve these problems is easily nullified by powerful actors.

The chickens are indeed coming home to roost. Yet this process seems to be necessary before humanity can build up the collective will to make the necessary changes.

Change there will be, but only when the consequences have effectively forced it. Human nature seems to work that way.

Disasters

I wrote this post a while ago, but didn’t publish it because it seemed too negative. But then again it is facing the truth, they are coming thick and fast…

Disasters are in the nature of things. Life is evolution and change. Galaxies collide, solar systems merge, orbiting objects crash into each other, storms and subterranean events cause cataclysmic events on planets. So however stable things might seem, it is inevitable that disasters will occur.

california wildfire
Wildfire, Ventura, California, December 2017, NY Times

So is it any surprise that disasters are also caused by human beings. However, we do seem to be particularly good at creating the conditions for them, e.g. we:

  • invest in new sources of fossil fuels that we know are not sustainable, thereby exacerbating the global warming we know is happening – and continue to prevaricate on taking effective action to minimise and mitigate its effects.
  • degrade our soil and food with chemical-based farming, when biological and organic methods are the only sustainable way.
  • base our economic system solely on growth, regardless of the quality of that growth and its ecological non-sustainability.
  • propagate increasing inequalities that history tells us are not sustainable and result in conflict, yet refuse to contemplate alleviatory measures, such as taxes on financial transactions, wealth and land.
  • elect those who base their campaigns around separation and collective illusions, such as making countries ‘great again’, standing above others.
  • fill our seas with plastic, to the extent that our food coming from the oceans includes increasing residues of it.
  • cut down forests to create more land to feed animals for food or grow more oil, thereby removing the planet’s lungs (analogy).
  • globalise everything such that (with climate change) diversity of species is drastically reduced.
  • invest in escalation of arms including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that no sane person would wish to see ever used.

The entrenched status quo appears to be manipulated by the main beneficiaries (the rich and powerful) such that any rapid change of direction is not possible.Read More »

Easy abstractions 

This week’s Guardian ‘long read’ on Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world by Nikil Saval is well worth a read, outlining the failures of economic/political policy that have led to today’s dysfunctional world economy and its increasing inequalities.

How easy it is to propound abstractions and not consider the real world implications – free trade, free markets, globalisation – the apparent obsession of many economists and politicians over the last 40 years.

Of course, chickens eventually come home to roost. And this is what we see in the real world, with people in the West disillusioned with the effects of a failing globalisation system, just as in the early 20th century.

Deluded by these abstractions have politicians failed to act according to the interests of those they represent? It is after all their job to so act.

But of course we all have our own favourite abstractions, and our own view of what might have been better decisions…

The nightmare unfolds

Thus my Brexit Nightmare unfolds, and the EU is informed of UK intention to leave, triggering article 50.

Sensible politicians in UK and EU would by now have got together and found a path forward. But commonsense behaviour is not the order of the day, and right wing nationalistic bigotry sounds off against EU purist fanatics.

In the midst of all this Theresa May, and no doubt many European politicians, hope to find a compromise that will keep the majority happy. But she seems too beholden to the right wingers, does not appear to have built the necessary bridges in Europe, and suffers from the effects of the years of David Cameron slagging off the EU and refusing to constructively engage. All to keep the tories united and in power.

What chance the EU can agree on a solution that is not punitive for both parties, each hoping for jam tomorrow?

Thus the efforts of 40 years, of several generations of politicians, are slowly unravelled in the name of ‘taking back control’, which simply means a bit of power moved from Brussels to London. All fired by concerns of immigration, which everybody forgot to say is the price of a thriving modern economy. And at a time when the great globalisation project on which Brexit was premised is being rolled back.

Thus the UK slowly drifts into a less prosperous future, where the right wing slowly achieves it’s long term aim of undoing the welfare state and national health service. Who will suffer most – the old and the poor,  the turkeys who voted for Christmas. In fact everyone will suffer, as travel and commerce become more bureaucratic, the pound goes down even more and prices go up.

And where is the UK political opposition? Centre left leaders appear to have become irrelevant.

A nightmare indeed. Let’s hope we wake up soon.

Hair of the Dog

Or should it be ‘Out of the Frying Pan…’.

Forty years of the great neoliberal globalisation project has taken its toll in terms of destroying jobs and communities across the West. Of course there have been winners and losers, and as ever the super winners are the rich and super rich.

As many commentators have observed, the resulting discontent has been a major cause of the phenomena of ‘Brexit’ in the UK and ‘Trump’ in the US.

Europe has been protected from some of the extremes of neoliberalism by its tradition of social democracy and looking after the people. The European Commission, for all its faults, has been a bulwark against some of the forces of free trade, not afraid to take on the biggest corporations.

What a paradox then, that Brexit appears to be leading the UK into the hands of a free market right wing. The UK parliament, lacking even any safeguarding constitution, will be the only defence against global forces driven by the rich and powerful. Trade will appear to be all that matters in the global race to the bottom – surely creating more of the problems that are so concerning to people who wish to rip up the European project.

More paradox in the US, where electors appear to have chosen a leader from that very super rich class that has caused the problems they are concerned about – moved jobs to China, kept their money out of the country rather than invest, fought against social and environmental changes, demanded tax reduction or simply avoided paying taxes… Of course, his chosen team is mostly also from that class.

Paradoxically, it is just possible that reality and the occasional influx of common sense will ensure that it turns out all right. Let’s hope so.

Featured image ‘Killer chihuahua’ by David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

What happened to politics?

Why are people in US/Europe fed up with current politicians and moving towards more intolerant/right wing positions (Trump, Brexit, French FN,…) or, to more extreme left wing positions (Corbyn, Sanders, Podemos, Syriza,…)?

A simplistic answer is that everyone in these countries is no longer sharing in the good life. The rich have got a lot richer, the poor have got a lot poorer. The banks crashed the system but largely got away with it, leaving most of us poorer. So there’s more to bitch about.

Globalisation has spread the good life around, but more for ‘them’ than for ‘us’. We just see the bad side of this, as the chickens come home to roost – from various foreign adventures in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, now Syria, etc – from the effects of climate change where globalisation has pressed the accelerator pedal – from population movements that have inevitably resulted.

And the big issues are not being addressed, in some degree due to the corporate stranglehold on change, particularly apparent in the US and apparently being rolled out across the world in varous ‘trade agreements’. Which big issues? Here’s a good starter list: refugees/immigration, climate change, failing debt-based money system, tax havens, unreasonable levels of inequality.

Our politicians are apparently unable to address these issues in any meaningful way. Perhaps because of their powerlessness, they appear to come from a position of denial that they are the big issues. From the top, they appear to be more concerned with winning the next election than doing ‘the right thing’ – see the current ‘Brexit’ referendum, a successful wheeze to win the last election for the Conservatives.

Many of the issues require coordinated action at continental or world level, so there are always excuses as to why nothing is done. The national identity politics of the right simply retreats from even trying to coordinate at these higher levels.

Jo_Cox_MP_MemorialNow most politicians probably start out with the very best of intentions. The recently assassinated Jo Cox was a fine example. Somewhere along the way, is the fire in their bellies quenched by the compromises of power and the seeking of it? I am not qualified to answer, but I would like to see more Jo Coxes with the honesty, directness and fire to get on with what is right for their people.

Image by Garry Kinight [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons