Archive for the ‘money fetishism’ Category
…is for good men to do nothing
(Pretty much the same thing happens when bad men do nothing as well)
Here’s a couple of tunes from great Antipodean bands of the 1980s for the senior management of Barclays to enjoy in their early retirement…
Dragon – Speak no Evil
Crowded House – Mansion in the Slums
So then, our politicians must now try and sort out this mess… Oh dear, why do I have this sickening feeling nothing is about to change…
This may have little to do with the environment but – I’m sorry – I simply cannot remain silent any longer about the revelation that the financial services industry in London is almost unbelievably corrupt. We are watching history being made here; this is bigger than the Olympics – and I think it will take the City of London decades to recover its reputation (if it ever can). It may be the CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, that has hit the headlines, but this scandal is set to envelop at least 20 banks; and I think there will be very few that will not eventually be tainted by it.
I stayed up late last night to watch two weekly current affairs programmes on the BBC, Question Time and This Week. The first question on the former set the tone for the evening: “Is there any integrity left in British Banking?”… The panel – including the CEO of brokering firm Tullett Prebon – were unanimous in their condemnation of Barclays; and every single one of them called for Bob Diamond to resign.
However, despite the unanimous view that he should resign (or be fired), a view clearly shared by the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, most people seem to think he will not go, simply because so many other banks are being investigated for the same thing; manipulation of the LIBOR – the interest rate banks use to lend each other money and/or make huge bets on future performance of equities. The fractions of a percentage involved are miniscule; but the sums of money involved are huge. This is indicative of the way in which the financial services sector is completely detached from reality; some of the trades involved sums of money in excess of the annual economic output of the entire planet.
Put simply, this money does not exist; and yet it has corrupted many of those involved. I therefore think the award for the soundbite of the evening must go to Michael Portillo, a former Conservative Minister in the Thatcher government, who said on This Week last night that (I paraphrase):
“If Pakistani cricketers can get sent to jail for match fixing, surely these traders should be sent to jail for what they have done…?”
Like I said at the start of this rant, I think it will take the City of London decades to recover its reputation (if it ever can); and I am very worried that no-one will ever be sent to jail for what they have done. However, I really hope action will be taken; and I hope that our politicians will stop trying to score political points against each other. This is no time for the present Coalition government to blame the previous Labour administration for light touch regulation. This kind of hypocrisy is almost as contemptible as the amoral behaviour of the bankers involved. How does the analogy go… “Before you try to take a splinter out of the eye of your fellow-man, remove the plank from your own!” The main reason we are in this financial mess is due to the action of another coalition – that between Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s – which allowed the ‘Big Bang’ de-regulation of the financial services sector in London in 1986. This was the message of the movie Inside Job.
Barclays shares lost 16% of their value yesterday; but this is much bigger than Barclays. This scandal exposes the fact that our entire banking system is utterly corrupted; and rotten to the core. As many of the contributors to last night’s programme suggested, the high-street banks should now be separated from the investment banks. However, I do not think the Augean Stables can ever be cleaned-up; it needs to raised to the ground and completely re-built.
So, what, if anything, has this to do with the environment? A great deal, I suspect, because a very large proportion of humanity has very clearly taken its collective eye off the ball… I will close with the wise words of a Native American leader and poet:
When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted…
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
Yesterday, on Learning from Dogs, Paul Handover published his thoughts on the 6-minute video of a presentation by a remarkably altruistic venture Capitalist, Nick Hanauer, which you can now view here (below). However, firstly, here are some words of introduction to provide necessary context:
Paul has published his thoughts under the title Inequality, a rich man speaks and, in doing so, has provided an excellent summary of Hanauer’s spectacularly-successful business career (e.g. being one of the first to invest in a new fledgling Internet-based sales idea called Amazon in 1995).
The core of Hanauer’s message is this: Venture Capitalists do not create jobs. Jobs are created in response to demand for a product; and demand for a product (i.e. sales) requires people to have a disposable income. That being the case (and ignoring for a moment that all growth in sales is perpetuated by the manufactured discontent peddled by advertisers), Hanauer argues that lowering taxes on the rich does not promote job creation; it perpetuates and exacerbates social inequality.
History is on Hanauer’s side so, I hope you will watch the brief video and see what you think but, for the record, my thoughts are appended below it.
Mr Hanauer needs to have a quiet word with George Osborne and David Cameron in the UK; because one of the few things that the Liberal Democrats are not challenging the Conservative-led coalition government on is their well-publicised and enacted policy of lowering Corporation Tax to the lowest level of any country in Europe – if not the World. They have also lowered personal tax on the wealthy – on advice from those trying to collect the taxes who say so much money is spent on tax avoidance that it is not economic to try and collect it all… Next stop for the UK may be Greece – where so little tax is collected from anybody that it is only good for cheap summer holidays, fine-sounding literature and philosophy, and ancient monuments.
Mr Hanauer’s appeal for the wealthy to shoulder more of the tax burden (not less) is welcome evidence of altruism sadly absent from the pronouncements and behaviours exhibited by most of the super-rich. It is somewhat reminiscent of the refreshing demand of the owner of a peat-extraction business calling for carbon to be taxed or even banned… in order to encourage demand for – and investment in – alternatives.
With people like Mr. Hanauer around, there may yet be hope for humanity to avert the catastrophe awaiting us all if we choose to ignore science, history and economics.
I am grateful to Christine over at 350orbust.com for alerting me to the new feature-length film Last Call at the Oasis; and to the comments of film critic Christopher Campbell who suggests, amongst other things, that it is “necessary viewing for anyone on the planet who drinks water”.
The film includes contributions from the inspiring, real-life, eponymous environmental activist Erin Brockovitch; made famous by the 2000 film featuring the wonderful Julia Roberts in the title role.
Water – either too much or too little of it – has a tendency to make headlines; mainly because both problems have a tendency to be deadly. However, as a hydrogeologist, I would be inclined to add that groundwater is probably our most important resource but, because it is also the least obvious (i.e. “out of sight and out of mind”), it is also the resource we are most likely to take for granted, over-exploit, and/or corrupt (knowingly or otherwise).
With the exception of karst limestone terrains such as those found in China and Vietnam (i.e. home to the World’s largest cave), groundwater does not travel through underground river channels: It is much better to think of some types of rock (called aquifers) as being like enormous sponges; capable of holding vast quantities of water and helpfully transporting it from where the rain falls to
where we live the sea – and if we’re lucky we can make use of it in between. Sometimes, of course, people choose to live away from both the rainfall and the sea (e.g. Las Vegas), in which case artificial storage reservoirs like Lake Mead have to be constructed. Such structures also tend to act as early warning systems (i.e. record low water levels year-after-year should be taken as an indication that an area is over-populated and/or that the climate is changing).
These are the sort of issues the film explores:
As I have said on Christine’s blog, this film therefore tackles an issue to which attention is long overdue: It is the reason I first became a hydrogeologist – and yet it will undoubtedly be dismissed as yet more environmental “alarmism”; as has been every attempt over the last 40 years to assert that limits to growth exist.
However, I think it is the ultimate arrogance of The Enlightenment that humans believe they can master their environment – rather than accept that they are part of it – that may well be our downfall. As I said nearly six months ago:
“When you live in a wilderness, it is probably safe to treat a passing river as your source of drinking water, washing room, and toilet. However, if you are unfortunate enough to live in a Mumbai slum, this will almost certainly contribute to causing your premature death.”
We may not all live in a Mumbai slum but, as over-population is a function of the capacity of a population’s environment to support individuals, one person can constitute over-population in a desert and, as such, the Earth is clearly already over-populated.
Of course, cynics and/or sceptics will question what over-population means and/or ask for it to be numerically defined. However, as I said to someone called Klem on Christine’s blog who did just that (for the record Klem got banned from this blog months ago for being a troll):
Unlike you, Klem, I do not second-guess genuine experts; or claim to be one. However, I do consider myself very fortunate to have spent and entire year in full-time education studying the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems. Mmmm, that phrase sounds strangely familiar to me…
As I said, over-population is not a number; nor is a density: It is species-specific; and dependent upon the complexity and resilience of the ecosystem that supports it. Our problem as humans is that many of us don’t recognise the value of the global ecosystem that is currently failing to support us; and which we are therefore continuing to degrade… In nature, populations generally do not exceed the carrying capacity of their environment because food supply limitations or predation intervene to stop them. However, human interference (such as the sudden removal of a predator or prey species) – can suddenly have that effect – resulting in overshoot and collapse of a population. Have you noticed humans have no predator (apart from disease) to control their numbers?
Far more importantly, of course, humans have used technology to help support a global population that has already exceeded the Earth’s ecological carrying capacity and – in our hubris – some of us continue to believe that technology can solve all our problems.
In 1968, Garrett Hardin warned us [i.e. in ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’] that the battle to feed all of humanity was over (i.e. we had lost). Malnutrition, starvation, and death are not a failure in food distribution; they are a consequence of regional over-population. Furthermore, charity is not the answer; nor is milk powder or disease resistant GMOs (from which only multi-national companies benefit). The solution is fewer people; and this will only be achieved through better education (so that people stop thinking of children as a permanent healthcare insurance); and the emancipation of women (so that they can control their own fertility).
I think it is Joyce Meyer who once said, “Your charisma can get you to places your character cannot keep you…”; and I think humanity is about to learn the lesson of this truth by a fall – not from grace but – from supremacy.
So… Next time you use drinkable water to flush the toilet, wash your dishes, or launder your clothes, consider this: 97% of the water on the surface of the Earth is seawater; and two-thirds of the remainder is frozen. Furthermore, ice is probably best considered to be a non-renewable resource (as most of it will disappear into the sea before we can make use of it).
And to the cynics and/or “sceptics” that dismiss talk of limits to growth as having been proven by history to be misguided “alarmism”, I will just borrow a phrase from the money-fetishized world of the financial services sector: “Past performance is not a guarantee of future success”. Furthermore, if there is a better definition of unsustainable development than that exemplified by groundwater mining (i.e. abstracting groundwater from any aquifer faster than it is being replenished by rainfall) I have yet to think of it.
In The Road to Hell (1989), Chris Rea questioned where our growth-obsessed country – with its often over-congested and gridlocked road network was headed. If he were writing this song today, I feel confident he would incorporate into it questions regarding the unsustainable way in which humanity is currently using the Earth’s non-renewable resources – including minerals and energy – and the inequitous distribution of access to all resources (renewable and non-renewable alike); particularly clean fresh water (undervalued and wasted in developed countries – and highly-prized if not yet fought over in the rest of the World).
We have had globalised Capitalism for a few decades now and, one thing seems certain, the “trickle down effect” so beloved of messrs Reagan and Thatcher was a cruel myth; just as was the “arbeit macht frei”-style Utopia espoused by Marx, Lenin and Stalin and Co.. Furthermore, while engaging in a bit of anti-Marxist rhetoric, let’s clear up one thing: Karl Marx may have denounced Capitalism for being money fetishism but:
Marxism = Growthmania minus Capitalism. End of story.
I will leave the rest to Chris. Enjoy.
Apart from a hat-tip in the direction of one of the most epic films ever made (i.e. The Greatest Story Ever Told ), and my wishing all readers a Happy Easter (or to be entirely politically-correct, a ‘joyous Spring Equinox festival of renewal’), this post has very little to do with Christianity…
In centuries long past, if you upset someone in China they might well have cursed you by saying, “May you live in interesting times” and to be sure, today, we do indeed live in interesting times. These are Strange Days on Planet Earth (National Geographic).
600 years ago it was the Church of Rome that was doing all the lying and obfuscation and, if books had then been invented, they would have been burning them. Then along came the Enlightenment, seeking to rid humanity of mysticism and supposedly-irrational explanations for anything; and instead to explain everything in scientific terms. Of course the great irony of this was that, building on the wisdom of ancient Greek and Chinese thinkers – and the amazing early maths of medieval Muslim scholars – the success of this anti-irrational crusade was facilitated by the Christian belief in a rational God and, therefore, a rational Universe.
Thus, although we have much for which we should be grateful to the Enlightenment, this does not include the fact that it bequeathed to posterity the belief that human beings are superior to nature (rather than being part of it). Was this the greatest lie ever told? I think not; and for two reasons: It was not a lie; and it was never told. It was an erroneous consequence of an intellectual assumption about the way the World is: It was an error in reasoning; a fallacy.
History is full of fallacies. Take the various fallacies built upon the work of Charles Darwin: Darwin is one of the most influential scientists that ever lived; and his life’s work – to explain the consequences of his thinking about his observations of nature for our understanding of our place in it – has been misrepresented in many different ways: As well as being vilified by those that felt threatened by him, Darwin’s ideas have been abused and misused to justify all sorts of bad ideas from Marxism to Fascism; and from the Meritocracy of modern-day USA to global laissez-faire Capitalism. But, are any of these things the greatest lie ever told? No, I don’t think so…
In the second half of the 20th Century, humans seemed to finally realise that killing people in large numbers (as part of military conflict) was probably best avoided; and so was founded the United Nations and what would later become the European Union. By virtuous pursuit of international co-operation, may be now global peace and security could be realised? Unfortunately, global laissez-faire Capitalism, which John Gray has suggested was “[a]lways a utopian project” (i.e. in False Dawn: The delusions of global capitalism, [2009: xiv]), was doomed to failure because of the fallacious thinking it inherited from the Enlightenment: This allowed money fetishism to take hold and, with profit elevated from a means-to-an-end up to an-end-in-itself, human beings were bound to exploit nature without mercy (i.e. “mistake nature’s capital for a source of income” [E. F. Schumacher]; and/or “treat the Earth as a business in liquidation” [Herman E. Daly]); and to refuse to listen to anyone that said it has inherent or intrinsic value – let alone anyone that says nature has a right to exist… Were the fallacies identified by Schumacher or Daly the greatest lie ever told? No, I don’t think so…
However, the greatest lie ever told has a strong pedigree; a bit like the British Empire: Here in the UK, the BBC recently screened a 5-part series on the latter presented by Jeremy Paxman. As he tends to do when interviewing people, Paxman pulled no punches with our Imperialist past either; privateering (i.e. government-sanctioned piracy and theft); the slave trade, the opium wars, the suppression of any and all opposition to British rule – it was all recounted in excruciating detail… The British Empire undoubtedly did a lot of good to an awful lot of people; but it also abused its position and ultimately outlived its usefulness: Thus, we had to be forced to relinquish it, piece-by-piece, bit-by-bit. So, was “Britannia Rules the Waves” the greatest lie ever told? No, I don’t think so.
However, driven by greed – and the idolisation of the notion of free trade – the British Empire became the greatest exponent of corporate lies, hypocrisy, and double-standards the World had seen and – as such – I would argue has been the inspiration for all multi-national businesses that have since copied its modus operandi. As a result, in the service of their god of profit, we have been lied to by these business people repeatedly for over 100 years and been variously told that:
Heroin addiction is socially acceptable.
Smoking cigarettes is sophisticated.
The Titanic is unsinkable.
The War will be over by Christmas.
Things can only get better.
Hitler is not dangerous.
Smoking is not harmful.
Organic pesticides are more effective than natural predators.
You’ve never had it so good.
Organic pesticides are safe.
Population growth is not a problem.
Famine and starvation are a thing of the past.
Limits to growth do not exist.
Mutually assured destruction is a sensible military strategy.
Smoking does not cause cancer.
The hole in the ozone layer is not there.
CFCs aren’t causing the hole in the ozone layer.
Acid rain does not exist.
We are not causing acid rain.
We can’t afford to prevent acid rain.
Passive smoking is not dangerous.
But are any of these the greatest lie ever told? No, I don’t think so.
However, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe, and the disintegration of the former USSR, it was then that the lie was forced upon the public consciousness with single-minded determination. Although conceived as a reaction to supposedly “liberal-minded nonsense” spouted in the late sixties and early seventies by supposedly subversive academics (even those whose work was funded by plutocrats like The Club of Rome), it suddenly became possible to convince people, in the absence of any other enemy, that those who espouse concern for the environment are Communists in disguise (or “Watermelons” as James Delingpole likes to call them) – this is the greatest lie ever told.
However, this lie is rarely explicitly stated: Far more often it is dressed-up and/or made to seem more reasonable by claims that humanity is too insignificant to affect our climate; the climate will not change faster than we can adapt to it; we are not causing the climate to change; we cannot afford to prevent climate change; and/or climate change has stopped.
In effect, all such claims can be replaced with one: Environmental “alarmists” are just “crying wolf”. In the face of complex science and supposedly-conflicting truth claims, this is a very seductive reason for doing nothing: It is a very convenient and facile argument used by those whose sole aim is to prevent effective action being taken to regulate their business activities – those who prioritise their freedom to make a short-term profit over the long-term interests of the Environment; and what is in the interests of the long-term habitability of planet Earth. However, with my thanks to Jules B. for pointing this out to me, to accept this one must forget that, in the fairy-tale, the wolf eventually turns up!
Rick Santorum recently suggested that climate scientists are like Pharisees but, as many others have pointed out – as they always were and will be – the real Pharisees today are ultra Conservative politicians! As such, by uttering such an absurdity/insanity/obscenity [delete any that do not apply], Santorum has plumbed new depths of reality inversion.
I appreciate that fools like Santorum make an easy target but, please, can we attack the psuedo science without attacking the misguided Churchianity that people like Santorum hide their anti-intellectualism behind? I think all such denialism is not actually driven by any real faith in God that these people may have (apart from an almost subconscious ascent to the idea that we humans have a right to dominate nature rather than a responsibility to be good stewards of it). For the vast majority, their denial of reality is driven by adherence to libertarian ideology and free market economics. However, because this would be immediately seen as them not acting in the public interest, a bit like members of the KKK, they hide behind a veil of pure white religiousity instead.
So then, here is why I think Rick Santorum needs to study his Bible a bit more closely (it is taken from the 23rd Chapter of the Gospel according to St Matthew):
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?…
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices— mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law— justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
(Matthew 23:13-32 NIV)
Those who know their Bible well, may ask why I stopped there. This is because Jesus went on to rebuke these Pharisees as follows: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth…”
Is this not exactly what the Tea Party is doing? These ultra-Conservative prisoners of libertarian ideology and fanatical adherents to free market economics are determined to sacrifice the future habitability of planet Earth on an altar of worship to their God of short-term self-interest… My advice to all who are tempted to join them is this: When we know we’re in a hole, we should stop digging!
Update: With my thanks to the Mashed Potato Bulletin for the hat-tip, Michael Tomasky very eloquently summarised all that is wrong with the Republican Party today in this (17 January 2012) piece: What Mitt’s Father Got Right (and Mitt Gets Wrong)… As Tomasky says, “Romney… is appallingly wrong about ‘envy’ [because] he assumes that everyone wants to get rich but isn’t ‘good’ enough.”