Strategy

I provide a provisional and partial aspect of a strategic approach to the dilemma of capitalism and climate:

  1. The reinvigoration of the local arena and the fullness of community remains a fundamental strategic pillar on which a sustainable and just society can be founded.
  2. Devolution toward the local conflicts with the recent historical tendency to deprecate the local and aggrandize the global. Federalism in the USA and elsewhere provides a constitutional basis for this shift.
  3. Taxation can make a difference, as I have explained in my classes.
  4. Ending capitalism does not stand as a means, but taming capitalism’s toolkit as, properly, means, not ends, can embed the economy within society rather than the other way around.
  5. Much can be accomplished by citizens and networks. Much of the shift is mundane, as expressed by Wendell Berry.
  6. Build the Matrix, with lots of maps and descriptions. Easy to assemble.

Public Policy

Notice that I rarely advocate public policy as a path to a sustainable, just, and peaceful world. Like most US citizens, I have little faith in government, rather regarding the US national and state governments as having been captured by the behemoths, thus serving the interest of plutocrats, if not kleptocrats. I see little innovation emanating from governments around the world.

Further, I have little confidence that corporations, citizens born of the Roberts’s Supreme Court, will behave as good citizens, rather than profit-driven organs of capitalism. So what’s left?

The people? Granted that citizenship, civic organizations, and social capital (producing real value but not profit-driven) can do much. However, necessary the polis must be, civics is hardly sufficient.

In the Braudel-Polanyi Synthesis the lower levels of capitalism thrive within the polis, local communities, and civic virtue. That shift, as I see it, must take the lead. Again, necessary but hardly sufficient. So what’s to do?

How to frame a strategic approach to a sustainable and just reinhabitation? I turn to ThreeFolding as a macro-sociological model contributed by Perlas:

Working Notes: Fire in the Amazon

The Lungs of the Planet are Smoking

In 1516, Sir Thomas More published his classic Utopia, in which sheep devoured people as land devoted to subsistence livelihood was enclosed for pasture land. We face a contemporary dystopia in the Amazon rainforest as fires expanding cattle ranching destroy a precious ecosystem and violates the human rights of indigenous peoples:

“We did not ask if he had seen any monsters, for monsters have ceased to be news. There is never any shortage of horrible creatures who prey on human beings, snatch away their food, or devour whole populations; but examples of wise social planning are not so easy to find.”

My last post reflected my outrage at the assault on the Brazilian Amazon, as  President Bolsonaro encouraged open conflagration in defiance of those who would protect the Amazon as a treasured ecosystem. An international outcry quickly ensued.

Here, I reflect on the overall situation, preparing remarks for a panel  at Ramapo College on the open burning of the Brazilian Amazon just as climate protests erupt around the world. See my working notes, shared in Google Drive.

My role: explain aspects of the political ecology background.  The event, a sort of teach-in, features my hero, Dr. Eric Weiner, who has worked for decades with native people on ecological restoration with carefully calibrated economic benefits — exactly the way it should be done. Aim at improving livelihood, not pursuing economic growth per se. From Sky News:

Students hold placards during a strike to raise climate change awareness at Cathedral Square in Christchurch, New Zealand

In case you missed it, 2018 was the 4th hottest year since the 1880s, following 2016, 2015, 2017. See State of the Climate, 2018 (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 2019). Let’s not quibble but continue the spunk of Greta Thunberg and the youth whose future is on the line. That is why we are here, at this event and on this page.

Meanwhile, at the U.N., Greta speaks truth to power as the delegations from the USA, China, Russia, and others fail to hear. Greta gets it right, but, as I see it, she is way too optimistic. The flagrant Bolsonaro assault on the Amazon provides a vivid case study of the collision of economic growth and the future of the planet .

The forces that propel climate catastrophe will overwhelm the burgeoning resistance, as I have been saying consistently for over 12 years now: See my 2007 Statement of Concern and 2013 review of positive trends, my utopian speculation, and a visionary website.

China has become a significant investor in infrastructure and industrial expansion in Brazil, thus backing Bolsonaro’s development initiatives and turning against soy farmers in the American Midwest:

Boycotting US soybeans by turning to Brazil’s bumper harvest seems like an ace in the hole for Beijing, since soybeans alone account for 10 per cent of total US exports to China. Moreover, destabilising US agricultural exports could turn the traditionally conservative and soy-dependent American Midwest against the Republican Party in November’s midterm elections.

China is actively expanding its economic footprint in Latin America, undermining the historic role of the USA. I vividly recall as a visitor to New Orleans gazing at the convoys of freighters carrying grain bound for China down the Mississippi, but those days may be over:

In addition to gaining more access to soybeans and other natural resources, China will be flexing its economic power in a country that traditionally has been under U.S. commercial influence. But that influence has been waning in recent years, as has the relationship between the U.S. and China, which remain locked in a months-long trade war that has limited the amount of U.S. soybeans being sold to China. If the trade war between the two superpowers rages on — perhaps even if it doesn’t — China will be looking increasingly to South America, and Brazil in particular, to satisfy its immense demand for soybeans as well as other agricultural products.

Bolsonaro’s term is just starting, but his approval rating has already sunk to 23% after winning 55% in his recent election. As reactionary regimes run roughshod over the future, the time to stand up has come.

Rainforests: From Sink to Source

Consider this recent article from Carbon Brief:

Tropical forests now emit more carbon than they are able to absorb from the atmosphere as a result of the dual effects of deforestation and land degradation, a new study says (my emphasis and link).

Now read the article from The Intercept that reveals Operation Amazon,  Bolsonaro’s militaristic strategy to colonize the Amazon rainforest into a money-making commodity. See Vox article as well. Business Insider examines the infrastructure within Operation Amazon, including the extension of BR-163 and a hydroelectric dam. See historical background paper. View maps and videos of the fires. Mongabay provides data and analysis:

Some Respsonses

Economic pressure against deforestation is building: Principles for Responsible Investment, a group of 230 investors with $16.2 trillion in assets has threatened hundreds of companies “to either meet their commodities supply chain deforestation commitments or risk economic consequences.”

The EU and the South American common market (Mercosur) is on the verge of a historic trade deal that will solidify Brazil’s export market. However, Austria and others threaten to veto the agreement due to the Bolsonaro fires in the Amazon.

Advocates have cited BlackRock, the world’s largest investment firm, as the major source of capital that destroys the Amazon rainforest:

BlackRock’s investments drive deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, and its financial backing helps embolden the destructive and violent agenda of President Jair Bolsonaro. We demand you cease financing the continued destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Humanity is counting on you.

The Amazon Fund provides external financing for projects to prevent such abuses as open burning and violation of human rights in the Amazon. Already, Norway and Germany have threatened to withdraw contributions in response to Operation Amazon and Bolsonaro’s attacks on the Amazon.

Activists advocate that Bolsonaro face trial for ecocide at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Note that Bolsonaro’s term is just starting, but his approval rating has already sunk to 23% after winning 55% in his recent election.  I would be happy with an impromptu public trial for ecocide and crimes against humanity.

Follow the fine example of Gabon in the African Congo Basin in its Results-Based Payment Partnership:

The 10-year [$150 million] agreement will reward Gabon – in the form of results-based payments – for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation. The agreement will also reward them for the absorption of carbon dioxide by natural forests. It will retroactively honor performance from as far back as 2016. Monies from those and future results will be paid out annually.

Cattle Ranching

Brazil’s cattle population is around 232 million and Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beefFollow the supply chain. Yale School of Forestry offers an article on cattle ranching in the Amazon:

Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates. Amazon Brazil is home to approximately 200 million head of cattle, and is the largest exporter in the world, supplying about one quarter of the global market. Low input cost and easy transportation in rural areas make ranching an attractive economic activity in the forest frontier; low yields and cheap land encourage expansion and deforestation. Approximately 450,000 square kilometers of deforested Amazon in Brazil are now in cattle pasture. Cattle ranching and soy cultivation are often linked as soy replaces cattle pasture, pushing farmers farther into the Amazon.

The Natural Resource Defense Council provides extensive coverage of the encroachment into the Amazon, concluding with an appeal to consumers to boycott beef from Brazil.
Cattle ranching at one steer per hectare encroaches far more than soy: 80% to 10%. Further, as three billion consumers move up the food chain and more beef/person is consumed, the soaring demand for beef could mean an annual withdrawal of rain forest triple the size of New Jersey per year through 2030, as I extrapolate using data from Brown.
Brazil also exports chicken and pork, making Brazil a major source of protein for the growing global middle class consumer. Examine the list of countries that import beef, poultry, and pork from Brazil. See also data on global meat production.
The conversion of rainforest to industrial agriculture could explode. See U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization for report on global meat production and consumption. The rainforest assault reveals the cost to the planet of meat consumption. Adopt a plant-based diet.

Soy Production Expands in Brazil’s Cerrado

Soya cropland lies southeast of the Amazon in the Cerrado savanna, but the expansion of soy farming by large corporations like Cargill, displaces cattle ranching, driving the ranches north into the Amazon. Cargill has been criticized for the corporation’s forest encroachment.

Brazil's Cerrado is a 200m hectare forested savanna © Mighty Earth

Chinese soybean purchasing shift from USA to Brazil was initially as dramatic as advertised. China has recently returned to USA soybean market, with prices depressed. Trace the supply chain for soybean. The US Department of Agriculture has recently issued a report on the soybean trade war.
Long term could involve a major shift in supply to China: One of the five prongs of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative connects China to Kazakhstan for import of soybean to China, escaping all this trade disruption — a typical national response when trade in agriculture staples is interrupted. Starvation is bad for authoritarian regimes (except perhaps North Korea).
China also is actively exploring for niobium (current price: over $42K/metric ton) in northern Brazilian Amazon.  According to the Wall Street Journal, China will help fund road extension to colonize a remote area occupied by Munduruku and by Yanomami people:

Chinese leaders and the country’s state-owned enterprises have, for years, been trying to lock up vital natural resources around the globe, according to Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America program of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue.

Livelihood

Livelihood = Home + Community + Earth Care

My prior focus has been directed toward the dysfunctions of capitalism, both in this blog and expanded recently in my reactivated website. The second part of this project defines a long term strategy to limit the scope and proportion of capitalism within a fuller notion of the economy.

The post on the Braudel Trilogy has provided background toward an alternative economy that inverts and shrinks capitalism. No, this is not Socialism, the ownership of the means of production by the government. Rather, the emphasis is to decentralize economic life, bring it closer to home and to community, disclose and expand ways of value production outside of capitalism, and to protect the Earth. A guiding light is the masterpiece by Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America.

So, the name to this three-level arrangement, Livelihood, tells the story. The term, often associated with subsistence-based economies, suggests that a small-unit approach works best toward promoting a living, local economy.

Followiing Braudel, I define three layers to material and cultural life while remaining within capitalism:

Home: the Household

Home is where you live and love. As in, after work, you go home. Home is where the heart and hearth is. Home envelopes a major part of our lives from childhood through old age. Capitalism has no metric or, frankly, little use for the value produced at home. So let us start by recognizing that having a vibrant, comfortable, secure home is where we need to start an expansion of value in our lives.

Economists include home as households, where the consumer buys goods and services, takes on the debt of a mortgage, and where labor is “reproduced,” by raising a family. Leisure emanates from home life. Vital statistics on births and deaths are kept but the essential value of homelife, largely the (dis-valued) domain of women, is not within the purview of capitalism.

Appreciate (investments should appreciate) more fully just how important your home is, how valuable it is, how much time you spend there, and what a treasure (asset) your home provides. Leisure, neglected in economics but not culture, occurs at home. Take better care of your home, embrace it, improve it. The true value of your home and the world within it exceeds the value capitalism places on housing.

Home produces immense real value. Labor happens within the home, but is not counted in the GDP statistics. Women do most of this work, so this activity is systematically dis-valued by the metrics and the norms of a market society, i.e., capitalism.

You can easily gain more value from your home. Home investments, such as in energy, likely provide the best investment that you can make. Time devoted to maintaining your home is not taxed. Look at your paycheck to realize how much money is diverted.

Go home.

Community: Commerce, Civics

Braudel entitled his second massive volume  “Commerce.” The original definition of commerce was a convivial activity involving face-to-face communication, not the abstraction of anonymous monetized transactions.

Communities form a vital but largely unnoticed social capital, an enduring set of relationships that serve our direct needs. At this level, monetized transactions make sense, vibrate, take on a human face. We worship in community, find care, and togetherness. We share. Embrace community life (Putnam).

Commerce, embedded in social relations in Scottish villages, was idealized by Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations. To the ancient Greeks, the agora, the place where commerce was transacted was a vital community-building space. The Medieval City that wrested material life from the barons of feudalism, the marketplace took place within or just outside of the nascent trading towns: “Stadt Lucht macht Frie,” meaning “City air makes you free.” Commerce and community need to be integrated, accompanied by an active exercise of citizenship, the essence of democratic practice.

Karl Polanyi advocated a socially and culturally embedded market at a human scale. We all have experienced the excitement of a marketplace, perhaps a local farmers’ market.

For a decade, I served as the founding Trustee of the Economic Development Corporation of Jersey City, New Jersey, a non-profit contracted to perform economic development services for Jersey City, not a trivial charge.  This is a tough turf with a history of corruption to be overcome. The path-breaking success of the EDC has been for me a formative personal experience.

The waterfront facing New York City provides the most dramatic achievement but the activity within neighborhoods (also politically potent wards) was invaluable and essential.  Working with banks and small businesses was a core activity. The entire enterprise gives me insight into the lived experience of local economic development. I claim some credibility here. Toxic dumps (the first Brownfield projects) now provide thriving economic zones. I chaired the first Free Enterprise Zone. Did I mention that I did this work on the ground in Jersey City? Cred.

There are technical aspects to community-building that must nurture the local economy. Much of our economic lives surrounds us. Like our home, our community must be valued, protected, safeguarded, and nurtured. This will be explored soon on my website.

All such activities, despite Adam Smith, have little to do with contemporary capitalism. Like the home, the community has not been appreciated as the economic the economic entity that it surely is. You and I know this.

The community/commerce/civic nexus provides the building-block to counter the larger domain that Braudel called the World System. To that we must turn next.

The Earth: The Civics of Earth Care

As cosmopolitan citizens of the Earth and our species, the level of our capability to participate have been greatly exceeded. Once we have lost that capability, abstractions replace direct contact, allowing trans-national corporations to run amok over us — and the only planet we inhabit.

Start with representation, where democracy becomes indirect and diluted, and where we have lost control. Globalization, international relations, even at the state or provincial levels exceed our capacities to understand, much less control. We must respond strategically: “Think globally and locally but act strategically” (Bookchin).

I will point out how Adam Smith, a shrewd Scottish nationalist and professional philosopher, handled this dilemma. I will argue that Smith has been greatly misunderstood so that instead of a hero of neoliberal capitalism he, like John Maynard Keynes, advocated localism and community. Again, my purpose is to invert capitalism and to rebuild from the local base around Livelihood. This is not socialism, but citizenship.

I will take a dramatic step here. I regard the external political economic forces as displacing our legitimate place in the world with their placing us within their Matrix of profit and control. We must resist respectfully and intelligently:

Three principles will guide our bottom-up approach to globalization:

  1. The perspective of a cosmopolitan localist provides our critical analysis. We build on our home as a base.
  2. The analysis must be informed, systematic, and smart: thus strategic.
  3. The nation-state now belongs to the forces supporting globalization, not localization. The global system has been formed from the top-down, including the U.N. and global capital since World War II. This arrangement is outside of our control.

Our assertive cosmopolitan localism guides our contesting the forces that rip us apart, replace local autonomy with global remote control, rips off the surplus value produced locall, and, perhaps worst of all, precludes our taking action to instill Livelihood in our homes and communities.

Conclusion

Our response to the dysfunctions and contradictions of capitalism builds on our cosmopolitan citizenship, an expression of our active, expanded liberty. These are the steps to take:

  1. Build Livelihood in our communities and regions. Resist the domination of outside authorities. Go local. Think as a strategic, engaged cosmopolitan citizen within a potentially hostile world.
  2. Appreciate our homes, our families, that which we love and care for every day. This is our personal foundation.
  3. Nurture our communities around locally-supportive commerce and engaged citizenship. Extend this action and spirit to our neighboring communities and the bio-regions that nestle us on Earth.
  4. Care for Earth but recognize the political, economic, communicative, and ecological forces that will displace our autonomy with their attempt to place us within their Matrix.

The outline above, like the critique of capitalism, provide a manifesto of sort that needs to be spelled out.

Capitalisms Breaking Down

Flaws & Vulnerabilities Within Capitalisms

This project seeks to contribute strategic insight into the challenge posed by the interaction of capitalisms and global warmin, including its largely unanticipated impacts, and its lack of adequate, often frustrated, responses.

The project attempts to define a strategy to re-frame capitalisms from below, thus to devolve capitalisms, the reigning global political economic regime. (Yes, I deliberately refer to capitalisms in the plural, as I explain.)

Thus, I agree with Naomi Klein’s important book, This Changes Everything, meaning that climate change and capitalism cannot coexist for much longer — reckoned in decades, not centuries.

Moreover, capitalism as the dominant economic system contains contradictions, flaws, and vulnerabilities which must be spelled out to define a strategic response. To call for “us” to respond or rely on central governments, typically servile agents of capital,  to “do something,” or to call, once again, for a “new paradigm” (whatever that might be) fails to recognize the damage and the urgency upon the human occupation of the Earth.

Capitalism has drawn some critical scrutiny lately, calls for a more inclusive form of capitalism that addresses global warming and inequality, and now exhibits notable generational loss of support. Capitalism’s resilience and dynamism will propel it forward, but keep your eyes on the horizon. The stakes could not be higher.

My approach here will be to present critical speculation as to how this drama might unfold to, say, 2050 — roughly a generation from now (May, 2019). The timeline derives from planetary warming. The blog will contain three components:

  1. Capitalism Breaking Down, the first part, will explain the flaws and vulnerabilites inherent in capitalism. I will concentrate on the hegemon now in decline, the USA. Other forms exist such as the EU and the rising superpower, China, pulling Asia with it. Since capitalism typically does not see the long term, climate change, its impacts, and its responses will be ignored in favor of what capitalism seeks: profit, typically in the short term.
  2. In part two, I offer a re-framing of the real economy, now under the spell of capitalism as a total world system.  I intend to provide strategic responses based on the potential for devolution, inverting the hierarchical architecture of global capitalism. The exposed flaws, contradictions, and vulnerabilities discovered in part one will be addressed as widely-shared livelihood.
  3. Parallel blog posts that display  relevant events, cases, and data from a variety of sources and perspectives — guarding against confirmation bias.

Capitalisms Breaking Down

Since the Great Recession of 2008-2009, confidence has been shaken in the stability and fairness of financial capitalism — where about 40% of the profits accrue. Economic crises spawned by financial bubbles no longer appear to be an accepted component of the notorious instability of the capitalist system, the business cycle. However, other grievances have piled up, such as burgeoning inequality and insecurity and the inability to acknowledge and to address carbon externalities (sort of concern with the environment — a misnomer that I will tackle later). So, I will break down these flaws and vulnerabilities (not all the cause of capitalism) into several categories that I will then explain more fully as this project proceeds. I have in mind the case of capitalism in the USA, but these dysfunctions are inherent in capitalisms.

  1. Slowing economic growth (stagnation) can be anticipated as the workforce  participation in the economy shrinks and its productivity faces long-term decline. A compelling argument is made by Robert J. Gordon on this significant trend. Since WWII, a global regime dedicated to monetized material growth (mis-measured as GDP) has dominated policy worldwide. The rewards appeared broadly shared until the mid-1970s, but has skewed toward the ultra-rich since, with the concomitant grasp of political power. Eventually, profits and corporate capital investment will shrink as profit declines and as interest rates soar with climate disasters. The challenge here is to capture the system dynamics (Sternman) of capitalism under the duress impinging up to 2050. What goes up can go down, and probably will. We must study closely, starting with coverage of Robert J. Gordon’s seminal The Rise and Fall of American Economic Growth (2016).
  2. World population will level off, approaching zero population growth (ZPG) in the richer nations of the northern hemisphere (OECD in the jargon of the United Nations). Fewer workers will be available, and may not be needed as technology displaces labor.  but that aggregate consumption may also level off — and revenues for firms. A demographic shift away from rural to urban areas will create challenges in cultural adjustment and investment in public health and services. Rural areas will be left behind and will resent their decreased status. However, since rural areas often possess disproportionate political clout, this resistance will prove formidable.
  3. Meanwhile, inequality within nations soars, excluding large portions of the citizenry from the gains of GDP and accumulation of wealth. Now, reactionary forces gather discontent, channeling resentmment toward such scapegoats as dispossessed refugees, the multitude of people seeking refuge as they travel from south to north — an ugly spectacle. However, lower GDP nations and regions expand monetized economic activity and population faster than mature economies, so a worldwide convergence of GDP per capita is underway (Pikkety). The resulting “ecology of rich and poor” has the potential to intensify environmental justice concerns as the planet heats up and equitorial regions become uninhabitable.
  4. As governments, especially in the capitalist north (as opposed to mixed economies elsewhere) practice the political expedience of deficit spending of the Keynesian model along with largely hidden expansions of military forces and imported arsenals. Such deficit spending creates national debt surges, especially since the low-interest rates since 2008. Inextricably, fiscal crises will propel austerity on deprived citizenry. Neglected roads, airports, bridges and other civil engineering infrastructure will fester and decay. The rich, gathering in armored enclaves, will separate from the Others, creating a need to suppress democracy and control restless populations. The rising interest rates and potential for inflation will not contribute to GDP growth or business invesment, thus gains in productivity.
  5. The political economy of cronyism has been baked into capitalism in the USA in particular and will resist change with ideology, force, propaganda, and the corruption of democracy. This enacts the business plan of the Medici family: “Money for power. Power for money.” While the propaganda of capitalism (Friedman) asserts that capitalism supports democracy, the opposite is true.  The wholesale destruction of the public sphere has become a hallmark of the virulent neoliberal brand of capitalism, such as the dreaded Structural Adjustment Programs imposed on poor nations by the International Monetary Fund and the Starve the Beast budget ploy of the Republican Party.
  6. The side-effects of private profit-seeking decisions are imposed unwillingly upon others, misleadingly called “externalities,” a semantic trivialization of widespread social and environmental abuses — violations of Environmental Justice. Victims of such behavior are rarely compensated. The private sector embeds the reduction of costs of obtaining resources and the disposal of waste irresponsibly as part of the business plan of capitalism.  Attempts to regulate such social costs will be stiffly resisted through the subterfuge of deregulation. The flip side of this is the hidden subsidies that powerful interests finagle from government — while simultaneously calling for less government.
  7. The horizon of capitalism, the range of perception, focuses on profit as its engine, its sine non qua. The short-term typically precludes long-term, comprehensive awareness and behavior. Furthermore, adherence to what Adam Smith dubbed the divine invisible hand (in Theory of Moral Sentiment, before The Wealth of Nations) relieves capitalisms of moral obligation (Friedman) since profit maximization (a.k.a., greed) guarantees the welfare of all, the theory of Pareto Optimality. (This atomistic theory deteriorates when social bonds connect “representative agents.”)
  8. Then along comes climate change, its largely unknown global and regional impacts (see precautionary principle), and the stiffening resistance to prevention thrown up by the ideology of denial backed by the Dark Money that benefits from what Naomi Klein dubs Disaster Capitalism. Demands for “armoring” cities and regions with dikes and walls will intensify as will calls for assistance with the damage of other “natural” disasters such as floods, tornadoes, fires, drought, crop losses, pest infestation, etc. Patronage will have another facet — witness Puerto Rico. In a fiscal crisis, such luxuries can only go to the Social Darwinists who, ironically, created the havoc. More control, more military, more repression can be applied, for a while. The seminal Stern Report anticipates a decline of 5% to 8% of global GDP to respond to lost productivity and the provision of social overhead capital.
  9. Geopolitics will resemble shifting tectonic plates. The USA will be hard hit, with the fuller realization that despite high, but stagnating and inequitable, per capita income, its medley of social indicators of well being will continue to lag: longevity, infant and maternal mortality, happiness, and environmental stress put the USA behind most industrialized countries and even behind some developing nations (see Costa Rica and Cuba). Meanwhile, rising superpower China shifts awkwardly to a consumer-based economy despite its mounting piles of debt. As the USA alienates its allies, China expands its influence through its Belt and Road colonization, along with the debt service and resource grabs it imposes on its client states. The EU stagnates. Southeast Asia, a mixed group, sees its denser and poorer nations (Bangladesh, Pakistan) deteriorate with climate damage. India, like China, a population and land mass giant, strains to control its internal ethnic, class, and regional disputes. Little cooperation on global warming or coordinated economic globalization can be anticipated.

Discussion

The next projects will link each of these factors with a fuller treatment and to offer the strategic response, devolution — the point of this exercise. See my working notes for this page. Look at my supporting post that explains why I refer to plural types of capitalisms. Citations will soon be provided.

New York City armors itself: $10 billion.

Climate change = capital

As I discover news events consistent with the mission of this site, I will reference, link, and explain the significance of the event.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio just announced a $10 billion program to protect lower Manhattan from the rising waters of climate change. The article, Climate Change, How Can Manhattan be Protected? Make it Bigger by William Neuman and Jeffrey C. Mays, March 15, 2019. Catch this:

The plan is similar to a 2013 proposal by Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who called for creating a development, much like Battery Park City, along the East River, which would have been at least partly financed by developers interested in building residential or office towers on the new land. (Emphasis is mine.)

Get it? In effect, Manhattan expands but the deal includes the infrastructure to protect the vulnerable southern tip of Manhattan. Mayor DeBlasio’s last development scheme, Amazon’s second headquarters, blew up when the surrounding community protested.

Draw your own conclusions but notice that, in effect, a comprehensive plan will be required, the rest of the city may feel neglected, the price tax (likely to explode) = $1,250 per resident of NYC. Miami recently floated a  $450 million bond issue for flood control. The infrastructure costs in response to climate change will be a central theme of this blog.

Alternative Capitalisms: Scenarios

The core theme of this blog is that capitalism clashes with a just and sustainable world. However, I regard attempts to imagine, say, the demise of capitalism and the rise of ecosocialism naive and futile in front of the  dangerous events hurtling toward us, particularly growing inequality, ecocide, and climate change.

I prefer to keep a sharp eye on the morphing of the various forms of capitalisms active within the World-System today.  Do not regard capitalism as a single static form, rather understand the evolution of a plurality of active ever-changing forms of dynamic capitalism, taking advantage of the differences within capitalisms and the inherent relentless morphing, if not molting into distinct epochs (essential to Braudel). If so, a sustainable, inverted, lighter form of capital can be imagined and brought into being. Possibilities can thus be disclosed. This is the challenge posed here.

Climate Change provides the timeline, based on one’s preferred temperature increase: 1.5C or 2C. Neither, as I see it,  will be achieved since the momentum to spew carbon will stubbornly resist: habit, inertia, sunk investments, ideology, and vested carbon-based interests that will deflect, defer, deceive, deny, and prevail. Still, adopting a mid-21st-century horizon provides roughly two generations to shift the paradigms, parameters,  rules, investments, behaviors. My hope is that the plasticity and responsiveness of capitalism can be turned against the capitalisms that certainly appears formidable in late 2018. Therein lies the hope.

My gambit, to tip my hand early, will be to advocate that all forms of capitalism must not only shrink their footprints on the Earth but also include all peoples in an ethically sound distribution of benefits and costs. How? By making a shift along the lines of the magisterial history of capitalism put forth by Fernand Braudel merged with processes diagnosed by Karl Polanyi (the Braudel-Polanyi synthesis which I will  post soon).  Polanyi insists upon a substantive study of the economy, not the formalized, mathematical models prevalent in the work of orthodox economists.

A serious student or advocate should confront the thought of these seminal students of capitalism. Dig in. Let’s start.

Braudel Trilogy

Following Braudel’s tri-layered economic domains (triptych, trilogy — which I prefer), note the proposed inversions, shifts away from the predatory top level to the bio-regional potential of the far more benign lower two levels:

  1. Materially, ecologically, and culturally embedded Livelihood, such as within households and communities, must not be eroded by rapacious commodification and dispossession, but must settle and deepen as the fundamental support of material and cultural life within a specific biome. Thus, the greedy appetites of rapacious capitalism for resources, labor, and markets must be curbed, despite fierce resistance by the agent of capitalism, typically multi-national corporate behemoths. This inversion, or devolution, is the key strategic move to aim at. The universal battle with the State commences here. Uninhabited regions, such as the Arctic, and Failed States require assistance and advocacy  from afar, another organizational challenge.
  2. Commerce embedded within patterns of local and regional production and trade must flourish. Forms such as cooperatives, mutual aid, civil society will incubate and thrive better, as even Adam Smith noted, should anyone bother to actually read his seminal  Wealth of Nations. (More on Smith later.)
  3. Global capitalism, Braudel’s World-System, tends to dominate and ravage, even plunder, whatever lands it colonizes. Global capitalism, to Braudel and even Aristotle, will exploit, assemble vast holdings of private wealth, and enlist the support of the State and generally run amok. A more neutral-sounding term, long-distance trade (corporate chartered privileges under State protection, especially regarding liabilities.

Hence, a program of bolstering Livelihood and Commerce, and regulating or shrinking the domain of global capitalism might allow the flourishing and universal prosperity of all while relieving the damage to Earth.

Dear reader, please regard this program as a necessary, but certainly not sufficient, step toward a renewal of the human relations and the restoration of Nature.

Economic Growth Is Stalling

Among the OECD nations,  economic growth has been slowing since the mid-1970s. The masterful The Rise and Fall of American Growth, recently published by a leading economist in this field, Robert S. Gordon, documents the material causes and consequences of declining productivity and economic output.

Further, as economies develop, tendencies favorable to sustainability typically spontaneously set in:

  1. Population growth slows and even approaches zero population growth as countries grow richer.
  2. The primary and secondary sectors, as analyzed by Colin Clark, become less significant as services and finance expand within the total formal economy. (I will explain in another post). As I see it, the real damage can be alleviated.

My still-glib argument is that capitalism as a whole may lighten its growth-oriented impacts on the earth (technically, 2nd derivative). This hardly solves the long-term concerns, but certainly makes its resolution more feasible.

Conclusion

The significance of this provisional glance  is:

  1. A path toward inversion or devolution within capitalisms can be defined. The inherent plasticity of capitalism appears more feasible than a call to overturn the entire World-System within the time constraint imposed by Climate Change impacts.
  2. Capitalism’s impacts per unit of monetized production and consumption can be lightened, though unlikely to come close to aligning with Earth’s Carrying Capacity. In short, capitalism (thus conventional economic growth) can shrink. Necessary but not sufficient.
  3. Beware that a predatory “disaster capitalism” could feast on climate-induced chaos. This brutish form would morph into a militaristic State Capitalism: Debt crises, mercenaries, vigilantes, and authoritarian “populism” would exacerbate a death rattle of civilized society.

These perhaps far-fetched scenarios are yet incomplete: Technological miracles in bio-science, communications, robotics, Internet of Things, whatever will change the character of the world of 2045.

All of the above could be eviscerated by a Black Swan, a high-impact totally unpredictable event such as 911, not necessarily disastrous such as the Berlin Wall falling: Capitalism could implode like Soviet Communism. Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.

Even the most optimistic version of capitalism will not completely “solve” the collision course but provide a path toward a more feasible set of (plural) remedies, such as dematerialzation, eco-feminism, red-green ecosocialism at various levels such as sub-national, and spirituality — all of which proceed somewhat independently of Global Capitalism.

Not a word yet about the struggle as capitalism pushes back, as it will. Further, if profit schemes dwindle, the agents of capital may turn to more virulent and oppressive forms, exploiting the mayhem attendant to Climate Change impacts, now visible such as South-North migration.

Another disruptor is potentially runaway Climate Change as natural systems already happening (methane in Siberia permafrost and melting polar glaciers). Capitalism and authoritarian political regimes will certainly exploit such turmoil to profit from Disaster Capitalism.

This does not reckon Black Swans: novel, high-impact, unpredictable exogenous surprises that upset everything. Given the long time horizon of the concerns here, Black Swans will most likely intrude. Watch out.

Discussion

Dear reader, I have newly mounted the WordPress.org package to my server and snapped up the wayne-hayes.com domain when it recently became available, so that this site is still under early development. Your forbearance is appreciated — but please comment so that I know that you are out there as a reader. Criticism is welcomed.

I have not yet mastered the WordPress tools and its integration with the tools of the server. I resort to the Discussion header to keep notes for the reader or myself.  Integrating development notes with substantive content will happen. Again, bear with me.

Revisions on the way

The strategy within the Braudel-Polanyi Synthesis must shift to header status, rather than a list. Gaps, links, explanations must be filled in. Soon.

The tone could distill to a Manifesto, succinctly defining a  clear statement of the conundrum and a renewal consistent with a solution and realistic given the constraints within Global Capitalism. Whimsy is not my game, aiming at Realpolitik.

Note, in my attempt to offer a competing paradigm to the prevailing conversation, I invent or elevate terms of art, thus use Caps to signal each of these pieces of jargon.

ThreeFolding

I will attempt to integrate a promising paradigm, ThreeFolding, coming out of the Philippines, an intriguing case of geographically decentralized Island Nation.

This macro-sociological model integrates politics (government), civil society (NGOs plus), and economy (commerce). The broad contours do not jibe with the Braudel-Polanyi synthesis, but ThreeFolding might be adopted to define flexible specific sustainability-oriented sub-national solutions as way provide a way to measure progress alongside the usual but readily available standard of GDP per capita.