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It is time for us all to start caring about something more than money

As we watch the debacle that calls itself government around the world scratching its collective head at why the people are angry, it would be timely to point out a few home truths.

The economy is supposed to serve the people.  It is supposed to have a point.

Economics started as a branch of moral philosophy whose aim was to try to create systems that would one day eliminate poverty and scarcity.

Our current system isn’t eliminating scarcity and poverty; it’s causing scarcity for most people and delivering extreme prosperity to a powerful minority.  Wages have stagnated, even as productivity and profits have risen.

Social contract theory posits that every citizen on the planet has inalienable rights, but to live among others in society, each of us must tacitly agree to yield some of those natural rights in exchange for the benefits of mutual peace and prosperity. Everyone living under the social contract has a duty to act responsibly, to obey the laws, and to abandon certain natural self-interest rights that conflict with the general good.

Since the origins of free market capitalism, however, many corporate founders and investors have argued that their companies are entities, not citizens, and so do not owe anything back to society.

In the 1970s, the noted economist Milton Friedman, who eventually guided the Reagan administration’s economic policies, launched an entire school of economic thought that famously insisted the only social obligation of corporations was to increase profits for their shareholders.”

As long as it is legal, companies can do whatever they desire to produce income for their shareholders. Meanwhile, by virtue of their legal status, corporations are protected from their mistakes by the grant of limited liability to their shareholders, except in cases of proven fraud or misconduct. Whatever effects corporations have on society, the shareholders are immune from liability.

But even as companies avoid liability and ethical responsibility, they seek to influence society through political lobbying and donations.  As they actively pursue subsidies, concessions, deductions and bailouts from governments, they also seek to minimise their contribution back to society with profit their sole aim.

Small businesses and individuals are fully subject to the harshest aspects of capitalism while large businesses are exempt. So long as that’s true, capitalism cannot fulfill its promise. Global economic production keeps growing, but it can’t grow fast enough to eliminate scarcity if the fruits of all that production flow straight to a few large corporate dinosaurs. Big companies are the problem.

We need a new approach to the issues of corporate responsibility. It is time for consumers to demand social contract theory be applied to corporations, binding them to act like responsible citizens in return for the tacit authorization society gives them to operate. The new logic must be that corporations are no different from individuals; since they exist within society, which grants to them the right to do business among the people, they have an obligation to behave and give up some of their self-interest for the greater good.

As consumers, we should demand sustainable, ethical conduct from businesses and use our power to reward businesses with loyalty or punish them with boycotts and reputational damage.

Governments likewise could support socially responsible corporations by directing government business and concessions their way whilst remembering that economies are tools meant to serve the general good and that wealth means nothing on a dead planet.

We need access to higher education that doesn’t depend on crushing student loan debt. We need to look at health care as a right, not a service to be bought and sold.  We need an adequate safety net that does not condemn the vulnerable to crippling poverty.  It’s time for the government to stop investing in institutions and to start investing in individuals, to stop rampant greed and accept the responsibility of stewardship.

It is time for us all to start caring about something more than money.

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47 comments

  1. Steve Laing

    We need to give voting rights to shareholders who own through their Super funds, instead of handing over such rights to Fund Managers who are instructed by law to maximise returns.

    Government, through laws and regulation, is the main bastion to protect us against the free market and the excesses it encourages. A government unprepared to do its job in that regard is not fit for purpose and should be stood down.

  2. Wayne Turner

    Spot on article.And as we know,none of this is remotely possible under the current government.ONLY Labor can do this sort of change by us demanding it.Labor are the party with the history of big ideas and policies,from medicare to super.Yes,modern/recent Labor have lost their way in this respect,but they would be one’s more likely to bring in this sort of change/reform.

    While the LNP,are the party that have a history of pandering to said big businesses in this article,and their main policy “achievements” are getting involved in wars and a “big new tax” (GST).

  3. Miriam English

    Well said, Kaye.

    I would argue with one point though. Companies can never be considered individuals; they can’t be imprisoned. Sending some of its chairmen to prison doesn’t really affect the company either because humans are dispensable, and fining a company doesn’t really work for the same reason fining an extremely wealthy individual doesn’t work. You can kill a company and it isn’t murder. A company can merge with other companies, which is completely unlike what humans can do. A company can live for centuries.

    No. Companies can’t be considered individuals. Considering them as such brings the threat of unleashing a “Citizens United” style takeover of our democracy as they’ve done in USA.

    They’re too different from actual individuals and far too powerful to allow them human freedoms. We need special controls that bind them to a social contract, as you say, and if they violate that contract then they must be dissolved, or perhaps nationalised.

    Otherwise, I agree completely with what you say. People’s insane worship of money has got entirely out of hand. It is a large part of the reason Trump was elected in USA — he is (pretending to be) wealthy… as if that means anything at all. What amazes me most is the worst worshippers of Mammon are the Christians! Don’t they even read what Jesus said?

    I like your line, “wealth means nothing on a dead planet”. So true.

  4. Phil

    What you write makes eminent sense Kaye – it is as things are and as things ought to be, but it is not how they will be.

    I only wish your proposed solutions were practical and had some chance of success.

    I think we are lost as long as we see ourselves as consumers – as such we are already well and truly in capitalism’s trap – we are playing the game by capitalisms primary rule – the rule that there are winners (the few) and losers (the majority, the air, soils, oceans, rivers and biodiversity) .

    Capitalism’s consumers are permitted to ‘demand’ certain things like better product design, safer products, ethical product testing etc etc but we are not permitted to demand an end to consumption or capitalism – we are not allowed to get off the treadmill – at least not peacefully

    Consumer power is a chimera – it is not real power in terms of any capacity to change the system – real system change has to be revolutionary, with all that entails. And the capitalists know this hence they assume we are weak and frightened, captive to our phones and screens, our movies and holidays.

    But, the achilles heal of the capitalist priests is their blind belief that the ‘consumer’ class will never revolt and so will allow the profit game to continue indefinitely – but the tensions generated by capitalisms inherent contradictions (e.g. massive inequality and earth systems collapse) are ever increasing, year in and year out – and we are approaching the point where the system snaps – then the true transformation comes – but it will be ugly, bloodied, horrible and cataclysmic – but despite that the dehumanising and life destroying force we once knew so lovingly as capitalism will collapse like every other bright star that eventually burns out.

    If we can’t imagine an alternative to the capitalist system then we are doomed to collapse along with it. There are alternatives but they cannot grow in the collective mind until the system that is destroying us is first rejected.

    As I see it Kaye, your argument proposes a form of humanising and socialising of existing capitalism but I cannot see how this can occur for the reasons set out above.

  5. Matters Not

    corporations are no different from individuals

    I think not. While we can ‘fine’ both corporations (we often do) and individuals, and we can send individuals to jail for illegalities, it’s not possible to do that with corporations. Thus we have the situation that (illegal and immoral) decisions made by individuals (corporations don’t make decisions) can be ‘magiced’ way so that the horrors of ‘jail time’ for individuals disappear as well.

    These days, Government Departments are only too willing to accept financial ‘deals’ for illegalities that return monies to Treasury but in so doing absolve individuals from responsibility. I cite the GFC as the most recent and telling example.

  6. wam

    The access to higher ed only crushes those who were not qualified to enter the contest and the vicechancellors control the number of bums on seats.
    An evaluation of uni programs is needed.

    Health care and education is intrinsically profit for Australia and should not seek be used for private profit.

    Private schools and private hospitals should not be supported by government

  7. Kaye Lee

    Steve,

    The ethical investment idea is gaining traction.

    https://www.choice.com.au/money/financial-planning-and-investing/superannuation/articles/australian-ethical-super-funds

    Wayne,

    Whilst screaming that they need corporate tax cuts, big business is ok with increases to GST because they don’t pay it – they claim back any GST as input tax credits.

    Miriam and MN,

    I understand and agree with what you are saying re corporations being different to individuals but the argument comes from a 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that grants corporations the same rights as individuals when it comes to political spending on election campaigns. Given this court ruling, it is only logical that if corporations want the same rights as individual citizens, they should be held equally accountable when it comes to social responsibility.

    Phil,

    You may be right but in the mean time we can work towards improving things. We can choose who we buy things from – we should get more active about demanding and publicising some sort of social responsibility index for businesses

    wam,

    I agree. We offer a public system. If people want a different choice they should pay for it.

  8. Matters Not

    Miriam English above makes the same general point. But I don’t think we need ‘special contracts’ all we need is the understanding, that ‘decisions made’ and implemented are the responsibility of both the Board of Directors and the CEO.

    That will focus the minds. Who will really want to go to jail?

    Not talking about the ‘is’ regards illegalities and responsibility for same, but the ‘ought’ – which will require legislative change. Same as tax evasion re multinational corporations.

  9. Matters Not

    KL, US Constitutional Decisions should be treated as US Constitutional Decisions re a particular and peculiar Constitution – and no more than that – only as a matter of general interest.

    After all they uphold proudly ‘the right to bear arms’ – and we can see clearly where that leads. Adlers for one and all?

  10. Kaye Lee

    How come we can enforce a salary cap on footballers but not on CEOs? How come taxpayers must prove any claims for expenses but politicians don’t? How come we pursue overpayment of welfare but not of ‘entitlements’?

  11. Matters Not

    KL. ‘Laws’ are made for ‘others’ by ‘those’ who don’t have to follow them.

    Pretty simple really.

  12. Judith W

    What aren’t MPs given a budget and told to live within their means? Is there an expenses cap for MPs’ taxpayer funded expenditure? If not then why not?

  13. Miriam English

    How come taxpayers must prove any claims for expenses but politicians don’t? How come we pursue overpayment of welfare but not of ‘entitlements’?

    Excellent point, Kaye. Perhaps this can be used to deliver a just dessert to politicians. In their eagerness to pursue those who they think might be rorting the system we should insist the same be done to them. Fair is fair, after all. They are providing the precedent and the rationale for such a crackdown.

    Either they back down on beating up the most vulnerable or else they have to stop their rorts and pay back millions. We can win either way.

  14. Matters Not

    Judith W, some politicians live in relatively far flung places such as Perth, Broome, Darwin, Mt Isa, and the like while others live in Canberra and surrounds To do their job requires different expenditures as I am sure you will agree.

    The fundamental point becomes, the legitimacy or otherwise of those claimed expenses and how to evaluate same.

  15. Keitha Granville

    It would be quite easy to start with the parliament, with those who are supposed to represent us. A substantial wage for each MP, the same super arrangement as the rest of us, No extra allowances, no freebies. We can pay a plane fare to Canberra for each session on regular planes NO charters, a hotel in Canberra (purchased by the govt for their accomodation whilst sitting) no allowance to pay off your own purchased property and then NOTHING when their term of office is over – NOTHING. They don’t need to be swanning all over the country meeting people – haven’t they discovered the internet in Canberra ? (given the debacle of the NBN maybe not). Ministers can have travel allowances – on regular planes NOT charters. Oh it’s all so simple. But it will not change as they are the arbiters of their own change, so it will not.

    Until that happens nothing will change corporations, capitalists, and money hungry power lovers who see no reason at all to share.

  16. Kaye Lee

    Why should corporations be able to lobby our government? Why should they be able to fund political campaigns? They don’t vote. They should have nothing to do with government policy. Government should set the rules for the common good and then businesses work within that framework.

    If corporations want a say in government then they must also accept responsibility to contribute to the common good because that is the purpose of government – it isn’t there to maximise the profits of business, or at least it shouldn’t be.

  17. jamess

    Pretty simple really, don’t buy their products. Start with yourselves then your extended family–humanity!

  18. Miriam English

    jamess, while consumer advocacy works in many situations (I’m a great believer in boycotts) it doesn’t always work. Many companies engineer a monopoly or something close to that, then use bottlenecks, artificial or natural, to control the market.

    What does someone do, for example, when their life depends upon something that a single company has a monopoly over? They can’t affect the company by boycotting it. Their only recourse is either government, or public outrage.

    And then, of course we have collusion, where multiple companies either explicitly or implicitly set prices unrealistically high, as petroleum companies have had a tendency to do, and the telecommunications companies in Australia have done.

  19. Sir ScotchMistery

    @Wayne Turner – in what man’s (or woman’s) universe, are the Alternative Liberal Party in any way different to the current rulers? Can I buy a ticket to your cloud cuckoo land perhaps.

    The ONLY way to fix what has been done to us is fill the house with say 30 independents who would then be in a position to push agendas not inherently those of elderly yanks bonking second hand rock star’s roots, or those of the Dick Cheneys of the world.

    Our problem is as voters is that we don’t have the numbers to sway the morons who vote as their fathers did. Roll on the apocalypse.

  20. Ella Miller

    Kaye Lee , as usual an absorbing and informative piece.

    I have just been reading a little about Dr. Vandana Shiva, the author of ‘Biopiracy,stolen harvest and water wars’

    She had this to say about corporations;

    “Corporations are fictions.

    They have been assigned a human and legal personality,
    and now they are trying to dispossess people of their democratic rights,
    and they are trying to dispossess nature of her rights.

    We are at a watershed of human evolution.

    We will either defend the rights of people and the Earth,
    for that we need to dismantle the rights that corporations have assigned to themselves,

    Or corporations will in the next three decades destroy this Planet, in terms of human possibilities.”

    How can we “dismantle the rights that corporations have assigned to themselves” ?

  21. Kaye Lee

    I have never understood why big business even has a seat at the policy making table. The government and organisations that represent the people, like ACOSS and unions, should determine policy – not people like the greedy and totally inadequate Kate Carnell or mining bullies like Gina Rinehart.

    Politicians seem to be scared of the repercussions of offending businesses. Easily fixed – ban political advertising as they have done in the UK and ban political donations from corporations.

  22. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Good article, Kaye Lee.

    It starts 2017 off by identifying the direction we can work to rein in the unwarranted freedoms and irresponsibilities of corporations.

    When corporations are forced to take social and legal responsibility, we will have a manageable society where pollies and party officials remember it is us they work for and not the Big End of town.

  23. June Currie

    Concise,spot-on analysis and solution.Well done,Kaye.

  24. Sir ScotchMistery

    @ Ella – we can get out on the streets as a nation, and confound the bastards with our knowledge of the things they manage and don’t understand.

    @ Kaye Lee – Corporations are at the table to provide life long employment for former politicians, and to ensure that they don’t get bad press (Murdoch).

    @ Jennifer Meyer-Smith absolutely correct. Unfortunately, we are being boiled like frogs and we as a nation not so much don’t care, as pages like this prove we do, but more importantly we aren’t aware that it’s happening.

  25. John Brame

    Worshiping money is an understatement. The general old aussie house had one bathroom, one toilet, one kitchen ect. Now we need two or three bathrooms and toilets, more rooms than you can get lost in, the extra undercover outside setting with kitchen/barbi facitilities and the list goes on and on while millions squat in huts cooking on cow shit, drinking dirty water from miles away.

    This so obvious poor rich gap is disgusting.

  26. Miriam English

    Ella Miller, I looked up Dr Vandana Shiva as I wasn’t familiar with her work. She’s right about companies being dangerous fictions. It turns out she was on Radio National’s Big Ideas.
    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/2016-06-13/7496710
    I downloaded the episode from there and will listen to it shortly.

    Sir ScotchMistery, Labor are better than the LNP, though a rabid dog is better than the LNP, so they’ve set a pretty low bar. Unfortunately, by calling the voters morons you are making the same mistake the current “government” does. They are people who work hard and have their free time saturated with propaganda from Murdoch. How else are they expected to think? Often they are people who were bored or humiliated by school into believing that learning is a waste of time. Murdoch’s propaganda is finely tuned to those people, using fear and a feeling of powerlessness to convince them of outlandish conspiracy theories. And now we have Russia working that same rich vein of disinformation. Ordinary people are looking increasingly like herds of increasingly skittish creatures pushed this way and that by wolves circling them. They are not intrinsically stupid, they have been deliberately misinformed.

    The solution? Have you heard of the “Indivisible” document?
    https://www.indivisibleguide.com/
    It is a document written by a number of congressional staffers who have become disgusted and alarmed at the turn politics has taken. They noticed how a small number of people extreme right-wing managed to alter the direction of politics in USA so they’ve compiled a guide to those tactics so that we can push politics back to something more healthy.

    In USA things have got unbelievably bad. The right wing has perverted their democracy so badly that Hillary Clinton got nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, but still lost, and in the senate the Democrats got over 23 million more votes than the Republicans, but still lost the senate.

    A few days ago the Republicans wanted to consolidate their power be getting rid of the Ethics Committee (unethical right wing — sounds familiar), but they had to back down from that action because of people organising using Indivisible. It works.

  27. Miriam English

    John Brame, absolutely correct. When people get angry about the mega-wealthy 1% they don’t seem to to notice they are talking about themselves. I live below the poverty level here in Australia, but simply by virtue of living in Australia I am part of the 1% most wealthy people in the world. I live a dream lifestyle compared to 99% of people on the planet. I always have enough food. I have access to the greatest library of information the world has ever seen. I can communicate almost instantly with friends all around the planet. I have (free) access to world’s best medical treatment.

  28. helvityni

    It is time for us all to start caring about something more than money

    Yes, it’s time. Even Christmas has lost all its holiness, it was all about the ‘good’ news, about how much we managed to spend on shopping. Even Baby Jesus was mostly forgotten… 🙂 Retail is our new religion.

  29. Sir ScotchMistery

    @Helvitnyi – absolutely, but I would point out that not all in poverty live in dirt floored lean-to accommodation cooking on cow shit. A lot of them live right here in Australia as well, where you can’t buy cow shit to cook on.

    Also, I’m thoughtful about how many people are happy to say that we are jealous when we look at that overweight blonk from the NT mining camps wanting to bring 457 visa workers in from Africa, set them up in dirt floored humpies and pay them $2 a day to dig her shit out of the ground.

  30. wam

    wow miriam,we are rich even the poor are rich so why not seek to be richer?
    Either through competition or by collusion to steal. That covers the petrol companies, colworths and politicians.
    How can we be richer? By having a poorer ‘THEM’ below us. It is not hard to guess who qualifies to make us richer?

    The most basic individual has an identity but who owns what is a mystery.
    The dick smith rippoff?
    Currently we have a dan murphy controversy with the usual labor anti-development anti-competition government accusations. Colworths have alcohol outlets liquorland and BWS attached and there are little local alcohol shops giving a choice of 307 grog outlets. Why not another competitor??? Because it is owned by woolworths?
    The stories of takeovers and subsequent rorting/colluding/outright stealing should be the reason for evaluating the company act???

  31. Wayne Turner

    @Wayne Turner – in what man’s (or woman’s) universe, are the Alternative Liberal Party in any way different to the current rulers? Can I buy a ticket to your cloud cuckoo land perhaps:-

    Sir Scotch,in plenty of ways,from full funding of Gonski,I.R.,better NBN,better health funding,changes to negative gearing,against the new debt system at centrelink,etc,etc……… Also I did point out Labor have lost their way in some aspects (Think me too on asylum seekers,agreeing with job network providers system,not increasing new start,etc,etc…).That they out of the two major parties that could impliment these changes,by going back to Labor’s roots ie: I ADMITTED LABOR WOULD HAVE TO CHANGE .The Liberal party never would,with their history and why they came about in the first place,and under how our system of governent works – ONLY one of the two major parties can govern.

    Scotch you are either being ultra cynical and/or ignorant.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-10/election-2016-policy-battlegrounds-liberals-and-labor-will-fight/7399288

  32. guest

    Kaye Lee is right, as usual. No doubt Kaye could expand further on what she has to say. And there are others who would support her. One such writer is Naomi Klein in her book “This Changes Everything”. Klein herself refers to other writers, too, and is knowledgeable about matters of concern in the world.

    On page 459 (2014 edition) she starts with a statement from Franzt Fanon (“The Wretched of the Earth”, 1961) where he says: “What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for the redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences will be.”

    Klein goes on: “Climate change is our chance to right these festering wrongs at last – the unfinished business of liberation.

    “Winning will certainly take the convergence of diverse constituencies on a scale previously unknown. Because, although there is no perfect historical analogy for the challenge of climate change, there are certainly lessons to learn from the transformative movements of the past. One such lesson is that when major shifts in the economic balance of power takes place , they are invariably the result of extraordinary levels of social mobilisation.

    “At these junctures, activism becomes something that is not performed by a small tribe within culture, whether a vanguard of radicals or a subcategory of slick professionals…but becomes an entirely normal activity throughout society…

    “Activists were, quite simply, everyone.”

    So we see why the Right denies climate change. It is too threatening to the conservative mindset.

    And it tells us why the Right fears Social Media, because it challenges the status quo of the MSM with a diversity of opinions which can spread much faster than the printed page.

    Klein goes on (p.460): “Because what is overwhelming about the climate change challenge is that it requires breaking so many rules at once – rules written in national laws and trade agreements, as well as powerful unwritten rules that tell us no government can increase taxes and stay in power, or say no to major investments no matter how damaging, or plan to gradually contract those parts of our economies that do us harm.”

    Think about the Coalition attitude to taxes, and their pride in Trade Agreements, and their contribution to the Adani Carmichael Mine and the whole attitude to coal and renewable energy.

    On Page 461, Klein suggests that “a fight for a minimal carbon tax might do a lot less good than, for instance, forming a grand coalition to demand a guaranteed minimum income.”

    Klein, it will be noticed, does not write in terms of political parties, but what she does say throws interesting light on politics around the world, including our own.

  33. townsvilleblog

    Kaye. whilst I agree with the general thrust of your article, I wonder how we pensioners can think of anything except money, given that now this tory government is trying to boot invalid pensioners off the disability pension via NDIA who the pensioner has to apply to to receive any services from the NDIS. When said pensioner applies for home services the NDIA rejects the claim and the disability pension is cancelled, leaving said pensioner absolutely nothing to live on?

  34. Andreas Bimba

    Very good article Kaye and very good comments. I agree big business, the wealthiest few percent and their associated vested interests are the biggest threat we face to our environment, personal well being and indeed survival. A functioning democracy that acts for the people, as it should, should suffice to return the power balance in favour of the people but unfortunately our democracies have been hijacked.

    Revolutions are often counter productive but denial of most real democratic power from the people is proof that one side has already overstepped the mark and has started the revolution. We should try first to regain our democracy but especially in regard to the unconstrained burning of fossil fuels we are rapidly running out of time.

    A parliament is a very powerful institution and provided it is not emasculated by investor state dispute settlement protocols that were part of the TPP and TTIP, and your nation isn’t particularly small or vulnerable, a parliament can easily take on any international corporation or industry group. Any international agreement such as the TPP or any FTA can at anytime be abrogated by parliament in any case but other parties may seek to impose penalties, but sometimes one must play hard.

    Denying access to your nation’s consumers or market is an extremely powerful tool and should be used frequently along with fines, taxes, royalty payments, regulations, business breakup and nationalisation. Parliaments and governments should be willing to inflict pain in all sorts of imaginative ways on non compliant corporations and all this should all be perfectly legal if well implemented as parliaments write the laws. Such a restoration of the power balance in favour of the people is likely to be electorally popular but it would require determined political leadership and a powerful popular movement to back it up.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Rupert to be prosecuted and to end his days in jail with confiscation of all assets?

    I suspect a few terms of a federal Labor government will not suffice to swing the power pendulum away from the money men, even if it would no doubt be a considerable improvement over the totally corrupt Liberal and National Coalition government.

    A reasonable immediate goal in my opinion may be to petition, protest and agitate for proportional representation voting for the lower houses of our parliaments. The Tasmanian and ACT Hare-Clark voting system or the New Zealand and German mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system are both worthy options. Even more democratic options such as the Swiss voting system would be even better but may be a bridge too far.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_in_Switzerland

    Mass media reform and getting the money out of politics should also be top priorities.

    Sitting back and passively waiting for the next election and the current political process to improve will unfortunately on current trends not suffice and will almost certainly lead eventually to some sort of brutal militaristic corporate feudalism on a planet with runaway global warming and global war.

  35. Miriam English

    Ella Miller, I listened to Dr Vandana Shiva in the Big Ideas talk
    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/2016-06-13/7496710
    and have been reading some of her writings. While I am broadly sympathetic with much that she says, I’m also very uncomfortable with a heck of a lot of what she says. She plays fast and loose with statistics, often distorting them out of shape completely to further her message. This is very dangerous. It seems she is an ideologue. Such a person doesn’t really care about facts, but pushes an agenda regardless of the facts.

    She has managed to whip a great frenzy against industrial farming, pesticides, fertilisers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and Monsanto. She wants us to go back to millions of small owner-farms, organically tilled, with traditional varieties, without fertilisers, pesticides, or GMOs.

    In large part I agree, but firstly we won’t discard fertilisers, pesticides, and GMOs immediately, but if her movement somehow rose to a strength where they did, we’d risk millions, perhaps billions starving. Her facts are too often just plain wrong. We can’t base important decisions upon feel-good myths. Religion shows how badly that turns out.

    I think Monsanto is consistently one of the most evil companies in existence. We can’t base our feelings about GMOs upon what Monsanto does. GMOs could very well work alongside traditional, organic farming methods to deliver great bounty. Fertilisers, when used with humus can help to boost production. I think great harm is done to soils by replacing humus with fertiliser. Unfortunately, pesticides are a fact of life until we encourage more sensible solutions.

    We need to be wary of ideologues like Dr Vandana Shiva. she could do much more damage than even Monsanto at their worst. Here is a review of her and her “facts”:
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/25/seeds-of-doubt

  36. Ella Miller

    Miriam, I too have listened to her talk on Big Ideas.I also read the attack on her by one of the NY papers and her response.

    I am no scientist, BUT I am wary of dismissing people of intellect who stand against conventional thinking.

    Why?
    Just a few examples that come to mind, without research, of people like her who cried in the wilderness and were vilified because they went against conventional thought.

    1. The Hungarian Doctor ( I wish I could remember his name) who was actually put in a mental institution because he was telling Doctors that the women were dying after giving birth because doctors did not wash their hands well enough during the delivery process.
    2. The Australian doctor who proved that ulcers were caused by infection and could be treated by antibiotics.
    3. Thalidomide?
    4. Blaming fat for heart disease..when it has been known for as long as I have lived in Australia that the elephant in the room was sugar.But rich corporations are good at lobbying and creating an altered universe.

    With regards to pesticides;

    I remember only too well when DDT was supposed to save agriculture. It took years till they worked out that once sprayed and DDT was in the soil it took over 40 years to break down into its component parts . Further more DDT was consumed by cattle along with the soil as they ate grass.This then accumulated in the fat content of animals…it then entered the human metabolism when we ate the meat. I can not remember the exact details of the damage DDT, causes to the neurological system. It took years to have the product banned here in Australia. I actually remember being in a plane load of refugees who just landed in Australia, being sprayed with DDT…you can never forget the smell.

    In the same manner genetically modified grains enter the food chain via the livestock and as with DDT we do not yet know how it alters the human physiology… Do you like the modified hybrid tomatoes that are hard as a rock..don’t smell or taste like areal tomato.

    As for herbicides and I won’t use current brand names..but we know them….
    The Tasmanian Peter Cundle (sp?) in his talk backs on gardening constantly warns against using these herbicides near food.

    With regards to agriculture;

    Having come from that background and being a keen gardener I too notice how depleted soils become water resistant …and how adding mulch and compost to the soil helps to save on water and plants thrive. I also noticed how broad acre farming for things like wheat has changed in a manner which incorporates some her ideas….avoiding wind erosion of the soil and helping water retention. ..by strip ploughing….then strip planting.
    With regards to the water wars…it is happening here..Murray, Darling debate.

    If people are not realising the truth in her thoughts , without even knowing about her…how can you explain the rise in community gardens.
    A healthy soil leads to healthy plants that are pest resistant.

    Whilst I have not agreed with most of what you have said …I found that her push for vegetarianism off putting…BUT then I love my meat.

    With regards to corporations and the farming industry , have you noticed what has been going on in the milk industry, and how farmers are being ripped off by these corporations….there are many other examples but I won go on.

    With regards to getting rid of pesticide, inorganic fertilisers , GMOs and millions starving…there are many examples here in Australia and overseas where good land husbandry has turned a barren wastelands into productive fertile soil without the need for the above…It is a matter of education that is devoid of the big money from vested interest. We are just starting to understand the value in the traditional foods and methods of the Aboriginal community. They did not have all of the above and managed to live healthier lives than they are now???

    I must thank you for your thought provoking comment.

    A question to contemplate….if the worst happened and there were no supermarkets , what would we do?

  37. Ella Miller

    Miriam, one more thing from life experience:
    I bought some grapes from super market, ate some and as you often do forgot about them. Some weeks later found them. Their condition was as when I first bought them. Now, I know when I put fresh fruit in the fridge FROM MY GARDEN,their shelf life is not long. I approached the man in charge
    and asked what had the grapes been treated with because it seemed to me that I could not beat them to death with a stick.
    He could not tell me the answer. I could not afford to have them analysed privately.
    Question for Health Dept. what testing is being done on our food in relation to pesticide residue? Do they know what is in the food we eat. I know The US is strict on testing imports for these things BUT how good are we ?

  38. Miriam English

    Ella, sorry about my long reply.

    I agree with most of what you said, and, as I said before, I agree broadly with Vandana Shiva’s main ideas. What I’m worried about is that she misuses evidence for her campaign, which in my view puts her in a similar dangerous camp as the scary industrial agriculture companies. We need facts, not feel-good beliefs. The last time a charismatic person ignored facts and preached that people should move en-masse back to small-scale farms was Mao Tse Tung. Tens of millions — perhaps as many as 40 million! — starved to death as a result. We cannot make that mistake again.

    Many of the current practices of industrial farming are damaging the land — the very resource we depend upon. Things are changing slowly though. There is gradual recognition that simply adding fertiliser is not sufficient, and that humus makes the soil much more healthy and able to retain water. Fertiliser made by pulling nitrogen out of the air has its place though, just as legumes house nitrogen-fixing bacteria inside special nodules in their roots.

    Chemical herbicides and pesticides were always a terrible idea. We can get rid of herbicides immediately with little repercussions, but pesticides are not so simple. The pesticides that have been developed have started an “arms race” between the pests and the farmers. Worse, the pesticides have devastated natural pest control (birds, predatory insects, etc). We need an intelligent way out of that. Stopping suddenly will probably send many (most?) farmers broke. I don’t profess to know the way forward there though.

    Theoretically GMOs can be of great benefit to humanity, and there have been some excellent examples of that, however companies like Monsanto pervert it into a racket for just making more money, such as crops that withstand heavier glyphosate spraying. Disgusting. It is a little like the nuclear industry — nuclear power actually has great promise, unfortunately the industry is too stupid and greedy to be trusted with it so should be stopped entirely. I hope it doesn’t come to that point with GMOs. They have genuine promise… ridiculously hard and tasteless tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches notwithstanding.

    As for your grapes, they may have been radiation treated — another bad process that I think ought to be banned before it becomes too common. Large radiation treatment plants have sprung up since the 1950s that blast food with radiation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiation It kills everything on, and in, the food, greatly extending its shelf-life. Unfortunately the food also loses some of its nutritive value. I don’t know how much. (Though to be fair, other means of preserving foods also destroy nutrients.) The food doesn’t have any residual radiation itself, however I have read of at least one study of rats fed solely on radiation-treated food who produced many mutations in their offspring. Worrying.

    Lastly, I am greatly in favor of heritage seeds (I give a bit of a rant against proprietary seedless clones and so-called F1 hybrids that don’t breed true in my current book), but it should be understood that there is already nothing natural about the foods we eat. We have been genetically altering them for thousands of years.
    http://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-fruits-and-vegetables-looked-like-before-we-domesticated-them

    By the way, it is a commonly held romantic myth that the Australian Aborigines lived more healthily than we do. Aboriginal women have among the highest fertility of any people in the world. In all lifeforms a high birthrate is a natural method of coping with a high death rate. Aborigines are just people, like the rest of us. They were destroying their environment just as we are doing, although they did it more slowly. They exterminated all the large mammals except for the kangaroo Great herds of diprotodons (giant grazing wombats the size of volkswagons), 3 meter tall short-faced kangaroos, marsupial lions, carnivorous wallabies, giant flightless carnivorous birds, and more. Their use of fire for cultivation made the landscape insanely flammable, left the country with shallow, acidic soils, and was possibly responsible for the loss of the great inland sea. We, with our ability to record information and analyse it, have a chance at undoing some of that damage… or making it worse.

  39. Ella Miller

    Miriam, thanks for a very interesting reply….I will need to digest it for a while before I can make a comment that is not nonsensical .

  40. Ella Miller

    Miriam English,
    I hope I have not misunderstood what I have read. Jeff Kingston who is a Director of Asian Studies in Japan, in his review of a book by Frank Dikotter (2010) dealing with Chinese famine.
    My understanding is that the Harvest Failure during Mao’s time was due to :
    The harvest was a good one but because China was too busy making steel and made farmers leave the ‘collective’ farms to make steel…shortage of labour to harvest.
    There was also a “great sparrow campaign” where farmers were expected to kill sparrows. This interference with nature caused a great locust swarm.
    The last of the causes for the famine was the fact that China exported majority of the grain harvested. Mao’s ‘useful iddiots ‘ also helped by
    telling Mao what he wanted to hear ..ie inflating the size of the expected harvest.
    Nowhere did I read that “people moved en -mass back to small scale farms” as being a cause…

  41. Miriam English

    Ella Miller, I stand corrected. Prompted by your reply I’ve read further about it. My understanding was simplistic. Everybody was supposed to work (for some time) in the fields, but I was wrong in thinking this was the source of the problem.

    The charismatic leader’s beliefs that had no basis in fact, and which drove the mass starvation, were combinations of killing vast numbers of sparrows (and other birds) resulting in insect plagues, Mao’s belief in Lysenkoism causing modified planting and ploughing which weakened and stunted crops, and a fanatical need by Mao’s fans to please him by showing large stores of grain instead of distributing it to the people, and covering up the truth about shortfalls and starvation. Later floods and droughts made it all worse.

    I haven’t found reference anywhere to the harvest being good but people being diverted to steel-making, however I can imagine with all the crazy application of feel-good ideas instead of relying upon facts they may well have taken people away to steelworks and let some of the harvests rot.

    My main point stands that we need facts, not beliefs spouted by charismatic people who will distort or embellish statistics in order to win people over, as Vandana Shiva does. Reality does not conform to what we believe no matter how fervently we may believe it. Reality always wins. Vandana Shiva could have the blood of millions on her hands if she keeps ignoring facts. It happened to Mao. He genuinely thought he was doing the right thing.

  42. Miriam English

    Kaye, I’m shocked that James Hansen thinks nuclear power is an option. It is the most expensive and dangerous source of energy. It will never (well, not for the next century) be a viable energy source. Private companies refuse to invest in it. Only governments are stupid enough to sink money into that endless pit. And they’re prompted, I think, largely by military desires for for the weapons.

    Nuclear fusion is the only really sensible use of nuclear power. Earth-bound fusion is not feasible yet and hugely expensive, but why bother when we already have a free nuclear fusion reactor available to everyone, kept at a safe distance of nearly 150 million km. The sun.

  43. Kaye Lee

    I was surpised too Miriam. Reading the article, I get the impression he doesn’t think wind and solar can get there on their own and is concerned about the intermittency and the environmental repercussions of biomass and dams. He thinks we will need everything if we are to decarbonise quickly enough.

  44. Miriam English

    The latest from Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is very optimistic. They think we can still actually avoid 2 degrees and not exceed 1.5 degrees if we do this right. Their perspective relies upon business and individuals, and to some extent local government, but largely ignoring state and federal government. I have to say that I think government is mostly made up of followers. The people and business lead, then when government sees which way the wind is blowing they change their tune and make out that they’re leading. It shouldn’t be that way, but I think it is.

    Considering the price advantages of wind and solar I wouldn’t be surprised to see everything turn around exceedingly quickly.

    Miriam’s prediction: in less than 10 years renewable energy will power the majority of the grid.

  45. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I vote for Miriam’s prediction.

  46. Ella Miller

    Miriam English, thank you for correcting the famine issue.
    I respect your views but can’t agree with some of them.
    Thanks.

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