Naomi Klein: Climate Science Deniers Are Right About One Thing

Once again, forward-thinking journalist Naomi Klein is steps ahead of the pack. In an interview with Klein on his Dot.Earth blog, the New York Times’s Andrew Revkin summarizes the conclusion Klein reached in a recent Nation article while attending the libertarian Heartland Conference of climate change deniers in Washington last summer: “[P]assionate corporate and conservative foes of curbs on greenhouse gases are right in asserting that a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism.”  Here’s a taste of the interview:

There is no question that robust public infrastructure is key to both reducing emissions and preparing for the heavy weather that we cannot avoid. Yet for the right-wing think tanks that sponsor the Heartland conferences (not to mention the modern-day Republican party), this is ideological heresy. Their whole reason for being is to shrink the public sphere in the name of low taxes and the benefits of privatization. What I’m arguing is that the idea that we can win the climate fight without engaging in ideological battle over these core questions about the role of government has always been a fantasy. Trying to dodge this fight is a big part of why we lose, and we need to get over it. It’s no coincidence that the countries with the most enlightened climate policies are also, overwhelmingly, the most social democratic.

And by the way, it’s not just that most of the big green groups avoid the growth question (with notable exceptions, as you point out). It’s that the solutions that groups like EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) have pushed are very often consumption based: buy these light bulbs, drive a hybrid, etc… And often these changes make sense. But the not-so subtle impact of putting so much emphasis on individual shopping habits has been to reinforce both consumerism and individualism. Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser have written some wonderful stuff on this. In this report, for example, Crompton argues that environmentalists need to do more to challenge the individualistic worldview in their campaign work.

This is particularly salient in light of the social science I reference in my article, particularly the research coming out of Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, which has found that the major determinant of whether a person rejects the scientific consensus on climate change is whether they have a strongly “hierarchical” or “individualistic” worldview. One set of stats that didn’t make it into my piece: 78 per cent of subjects who display an “egalitarian” and “communitarian” worldview believe that most scientists agree climate change is happening (which is true) – compared with only 19 per cent of those with a “hierarchical” and “individualist” worldview.

For me, it follows from this that part of being an effective environmentalist is trying to win more people over to a worldview in line with the laws of physics and chemistry, rather than offering shopping advice and touting “market-based solutions.” Put another way: if we know that aggressive regulation and rebuilding the public sphere through collective action are integral to meeting this challenge, then we have a responsibility to say so, and to defend the worldview behind those policies.

I’ll return to this idea of the urgent need to change the manner and tone of the discussion when I return to my history of the fracturing Democratic grassroots  (read the first and second parts here)  in upcoming posts.

#TeaParty Rep. Loses Cool with Skeptical Constituents

Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois demonstrates his concept of representative democracy at a townhall held in a bar in his district last weekend. What exercised the Congressman’s patience was the suggestion, apparently popular among the unrattled attendees, that, as I suggested yesterday,  private banks were as much at fault for the depressed or recessed economy as politicians. Walsh displays the Tea Party mindset at its most rigid worst when he asserts that consistency of ideology is more important than accuracy of fact. He doesn’t want the people of his district to forget is that he will not stray from the Tea Party (Republican) line that  private interests are more important than the public interest.

The bottom line: The people get it. Some politicians don’t and don’t want to get it.

PS: Perhaps the most astonishing moment of this video is when Walsh says, “”What has made this mess is your government­, which has demanded for many years that everybody be in a home.” Is a Tea Party Republican actually blaming the American dream of universal home ownership for the economic mess? Is he really suggesting that the American dream is the product of government rather than of individuals? Setting aside the question of whether or not this is right, this seems to be a startling position for a conservative, pro-market, pro-individualist to be taking. I wonder if this will be a new shade of conservatism: anti-American Dream libertarianism.

 

#OWS Economics: Who’s to Blame?

Here’s an interesting video from a Texas-based libertarian, John Barksdale (my spelling may be incorrect), who calls himself order9066. I’m impressed with the research he put into this subject, and I take his point very well that it was not just Republicans who were responsible for throwing out the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prohibited financial holding companies insured by the FDIC from owning other companies engaged in financial speculation such as Wall Street investment firms or insurance companies, with the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999.

While this video does serve as a corrective for the idea that Democrats share little or no blame in the gutting of New Deal protections that set-up the disaster of 2008, it goes overboard in pushing Republicans into the background of the blame picture. After all, the three authors and main sponsors of the bill were all Republicans, and both houses of Congress were, in fact, controlled by the GOP.  But it does highlight two main points: The fingerprints of “Third Way” Democrats in Clinton’s White House (including Clinton himself, of course) are as much in evidence on the financial deregulation of the late 1990s as the Republicans’ are; and Congressional Democrats were ineffective, at best, in preventing (and, at worst, complicit in bringing on) Glass-Steagall’s demise. Continue reading

Unleash the Entrepreneurs?

US Chamber of Commerce's major contribution to jobs creation dialog: A giant banner taunting the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue.

What’s wrong with this rosy picture of entrepreneurship painted by the Manhattan Institute’s Edward L. Glaeser in his article “Unleash the Entrepreneurs” at City Journal?:

Three years have passed since the financial crisis of 2008, and unemployment rates remain painfully high. As of August 2011, America employed 6.6 million fewer workers than it did four years earlier. To try to fix the problem, the Obama administration has pursued a variety of Keynesian measures—above all, the huge stimulus package of 2009, which included not only direct government spending but also such features as tax credits for home buyers and temporary tax cuts for most Americans.

Such policies ignore a simple but vital truth: job growth comes from entrepreneurs—and public spending projects are as likely to crowd out entrepreneurship as to encourage it. By putting a bit more cash in consumers’ pockets, the tax cuts in the stimulus package may have induced a bit more car- and home-buying, but the next Steve Jobs is not being held back by too little domestic consumer spending. Tax credits for home buyers and the infamous program Cash for Clunkers encourage spending on old industries, not the development of the new products that are likelier to bring America jobs and prosperity.

Unemployment represents a crisis of imagination, a failure to figure out how to make potential workers productive in the modern economy. The people who make creative leaps to solve that problem are entrepreneurs. If we want to bring America’s jobs back, our governments—federal, state, and local—need to tear down barriers to entrepreneurship, create a fertile field for start-up businesses, and unleash the risk-taking innovators who have always been at the heart of our economic growth.

Isn’t the default position of American economic policy precisely what Glaeser is selling as the solution to the nation’s economic problems? It looks to me like advocating hitting oneself in the head with a baseball bat to prevent injuries caused by hitting oneself in the head with a hammer.  Glaeser and all “free marketers” are slaves to the notion that entrepreneurship in itself is a panacea for all economic and social ills. What they seem to ignore is that some entrepreneurship can cause economic and social ills. As an example, consider the many franchise-based companies (think food-service) that pay their employees unlivable wages with flimsy benefits packages, forcing many  to supplement their incomes with public services like food stamps or to use emergency rooms as primary doctors offices. Continue reading

#OWS Economics: Neofeudal Reality and the Free Market Myth

A little follow up to the last post about Damon Vrabel and his critique of neoclassical economics.

After concluding the Renaissance 2.0 series of lectures, Vrabel wrote a farewell on his blog at his Council for Spiritual, Psychological and Economic Renewal, explaining why he was no longer going to keep posting on the world situation. Among his reasons:

As I said in previous articles, IF we participate in the system, I’m not opposed to it at all. How could I be? I’d be a tyrant if I wanted to force hundreds of millions of people to change their behavior. And the fact is, that “IF” was answered long ago. We Americans have chosen the material benefits of being managed by the financial system for generations. We like demand-side freedom, i.e. choosing between Coke and Pepsi, but don’t want supply-side freedom. We like the supply-side to be taken care of for us. We love the benefits that come from it being imperially run—the credit card always works, the gas station is always open, our water faucets and light switches do what they’re supposed to do, the markets keep going up (oops…maybe not). All of our economic needs are outsourced to others, so we have the luxury of spending our time pursuing wants. And if these types of benefits are good for us, they’re good for the rest of the world. We have no moral authority to stand opposed just because we’re now going to lose our privileged position—a rather childlike perspective.

Do I detect some sarcasm? Many of the items Vrabel ticked off as buying our disinterest in changing the imperial system are, of course, threatening to stop working in the near-long term, if they haven’t already stopped working for many of us, which is why, I suspect,  #OWS has resonated so deeply so fast.

In any case, perhaps responding to the Arab spring and certainly responding to questions from viewers of Renaissance 2.0, Vrabel returned to YouTube with a new series titled “Debunking Money.” Again, I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to understand how the world really works and why we, the people (or the peasantry, as the case may be), are experiencing a diminution of our liberties. In this series, Vrabel makes explicit his rejection of various ideas from the left and right, including Austrian school economics and Milton Friedman’s neoliberalism.

The lesson below is particularly interesting as it debunks the notion, popular among Libertarians and popularized by Ron Paul, that “ending the Fed” is a viable solution to the problem. Vrabel says the American people would be “cutting their own throat.” If you have difficulty following this, I strongly suggest starting from the first video and hanging on his every word, if possible. Not to say this is the ultimate truth, of course, but it is certainly much closer to the truth than anything you will be hearing from Republicans or Democrats:

Debt Society in Need of a Revolution

A couple of nights ago, as I was following links deeper into the blogosphere in search of a possible explanation for why #occupyWallStreet has sprung at this moment and where it might go, I came upon a series of videos by Damon Vrabel, a self-described “post-neoclassical economic philosopher”, for a “course” he calls Renaissance 2.0 that purports to explain money in a way it isn’t usually thought about by philosophers on the left or right. I’m not particularly clever with money or economics myself, so I was curious to see if Vrabel, whom I’d just watched in a very interesting interview with Max Keiser (it’s in three parts, with part 2 here and part 3 here), could help me get a handle on it. I recommend the whole series.

Here is the first part:

Continue reading

Defending #OWS, Ron Paul Says He Supports Bailout of People with Bad Mortgages

I applaud him for that. He is certainly the rare politician who seems to actually understand the legitimacy of the #occupyWallStreet protest.

Of course, the last time I heard applause for him like this at one of these debates, he was arguing against bailing out people with catastrophic illnesses who have no health insurance.

Is Equal Access to Health Care a Right?

Responding to yesterday’s post, Trutherator wrote:

On insurance companies covering everything, that’s one of the choices an insurance consumer has at the moment of purchase. But once you concede your own freedom to set up the guys with guns (government) to decide how much of YOUR money to take for their health care provision, especially a government that has shown themselves so astronomically inept that federal cabinet-level departments have had repeated cases of moneys missing to the tune of even $12 billion for the Dept of Education.

My response to Trutherator follows. Continue reading

Ron Paul Reveals More About His Notion of Freedom

The most notorious moment in the Republican presidential debate the other night revealed something about Ron Paul the “liberty” candidate’s idea of what freedom actually means to him. Clearly some vociferous audience members, presumably members of the Tea Party, think they define it similarly, but I don’t think all Americans do or would. Continue reading

Fox News is Afraid of Ron Paul

As much as I criticize Dr. Libertarian from Texas, I do find Fox’s GOP-sanctioned fear of him, as pointed out by Cenk Uygur of the The Young Turks in the video below, to be utterly pathetic.

As davejoe75 says in the comments to the YouTube video: “Cenk nailed it with that last comment…O’Reilly wants the Ron Paul bump!”