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Tag Archives: Capitalism

Fixing Our Society

Does anyone remember that we once proudly described ourselves as an egalitarian nation? Just after World War II, the Australian government wanted everyone in the world community to understand that Australia was a socialist democracy. Evatt at the UN, then later Gough here at home, were simple expressions of the majority opinion.

We were hugely proud of the fact that we were a country, where the population were the ones in control. We wanted a level playing field with ample public services for all. What happened?

We hear all the time that our democracy is broken. In virtually every debate relating to the big picture issues facing our society, just about the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that our democracy is broken.

The pattern is obvious. The inequalities and disaffections entertained by a particular part of the citizenry are identified, listed, and then widely and loudly discussed. (Think about women, Aborigines, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, homelessness, rural services, health services, the environment, etc etc etc).

Then, having identified a range of obvious and dire problems, we implement some half-arsed idea and publicly forget about it all until the next time we again jointly and collectively fail to fix the very same problem.

Pay gap widening. Rich getting richer. Homelessness growing. Great Barrier Reef going white and crumbling. Cannabis illegal, yet super strong legal heroin widely available. Cities outgrowing their infrastructures. Housing, twenty-years plus, unaffordable. Huge concentrations of corporate power in every segment of society. Electricity ever more expensive. Workers ever falling behind bosses raking it in and vacationing in Europe.

Let’s for a moment step back from these ‘intractable’ social problems and ask ‘why?’ Why can’t we seem to address any of these problems? After all, it is not that we have not already had our best minds consider these matters and give their opinions. Sometimes endlessly. Anyone can go to the internet, right now, and track down a thousand articles and discussions relating to any of these topics, with many containing a range of rational responses, sometimes from the best minds of our generation, discussing how we might begin to tackle all of these problems.

Of course, I am not saying that any of these long-standing difficulties and faults in society can be easily fixed. But why no progress at all? Especially since it is relatively easy to also gauge the opinion of the Australian population regarding any and all of these matters. We want these matters addressed: yet nothing continues to happen.

Note that not all social problems are a difficulty. In situations where the interests of the corporate sector and the interests of the majority are aligned then we do seem to get instant government response which is sometimes incredibly effective. Think about littering, smoking, the road toll, child sexual assault, gay rights, sewage and stormwater control, etc. Aussies like a cohesive and safe urban environment and, in the main, so does the corporate world.

I despair for our current social discourse. It has become stupid, mean, and corporate. It simply does not represent the Australia that I know.

Why did our governments sell off all of our electricity and water services? Why did they sell off the Commonwealth Bank? Why did they dismantle the CES to replace it with a huge corporate sector that costs four times as much? Why do we give away all of our mineral wealth to a group of rich men? Why does none of our corporate sector pay any tax? Why are the rich getting so much richer? Why aren’t the workers getting more?

After twenty-five years of our entire mainstream media being owned and run by corporate apologists, these questions are simply not being addressed. The people who ask these sorts of questions are now sneered at and their questions absent. What did we expect?

We allowed all of our social services and structures (in media, banking, retail, health, electricity, etc) to be privatised and sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders (and every one of them with a friend in Parliament). All generally against the wishes of the majority of the population. Now we sit around griping about the rising cost of everything like a bunch of whimpish three-year-olds. We just gripe. It’s pathetic. It’s now too late. The baby-boomers have utterly stuffed up ‘our’ democracy.

Ask any mainstream politician in our land and they will tell you that the most important thing in their universe is to make sure that Australia has a ‘healthy economy’. This is simply because, for the last quarter of a century, every media outlet in our country has been unabashedly expanding their ‘business’ section to cover the entire social realm.

Until now, in our modern age, every political decision has to be ‘economically feasible’ rather than merely being socially equitable. Moreover, to point out this gross capture of democracy is no longer even considered rude. It is celebrated.

I have to accept that we no longer live in a socialist democracy. Our ‘society’ has become an ‘economy’. In other words; the bastards have won. Both major parties take their marching orders directly from the big end of town. Everyone now talks about our country as if it is a big shopping centre. WTF?

Once upon a time, there was at least the need for a modicum of stage-craft. The politicians had to at least pretend that they were acting in the interests of the majority of the people in society. But no longer. Now we have a merchant banker in charge of our land and the leader of the free world is a bigoted property developer from New York.

I think I have cause for at least mild to medium levels of dark despair and foreboding. If you are poor then, apparently, you have the option of starving to death or working hard, all your life, to just make ends meet, so as to make someone else rich. It’s up to you. After all, we are all equally free to sleep under the bridges in our land (at least out in the countryside where the municipal authorities won’t hose you down).

Anyway, why would you complain? Everyone tells us all, all the time, that we all should simply do what is in our bosses best interests because ‘capitalism won’. ‘Socialism’ was defeated. Greed is now not only good; but right. Just ask our PM, the leader of the opposition, all of the media outlets in the land, and just about every kid (under 25) who are wondering why the hell they can’t seem to make ends meet while all of their parents were able to afford to buy such beautiful homes.

None of our ‘intractable’ social problems can even be approached, let alone addressed because we sold our souls to the idea that everyone could be rich. We have turned our society into an economy and all of our politicians now work for the highest bidder. Now the flower-children are all homeowners, small business people and have generally bought the capitalist dream utterly. They all seem to think that they are sitting on a house that is worth a million dollars. A whole generation has drifted from flower child to shallow corporate schmuck in just twenty-five years. It’s pathetic.

This is why we have ‘intractable’ social problems. In simple terms, in an economy, the one with the biggest wallet always wins. And the biggest wallets in our society are very happy with the way that things are, right at this moment. After all, these intractable ‘problems’ are making them ever richer. The bigger the problem; the better the banker’s holiday. Stuff the reef.

It will now be up to the next generations to fight for the soul of Australia. There is no doubt that our descendants will look back on us and disown us completely. We have lost the plot. The baby-boomers are fools. When the 1% walk away from the smoking carcass of the Australian economy after their twenty-five years of disastrous mismanagement, they will be happy to retire to nearby their money in an offshore haven.

Then we, the baby-boomers, will have nobody but ourselves to blame. Yes, our democracy is broken. We, the smug ownership class, have allowed our system to become corrupt. We surrendered our entire free press and most of our infrastructure to large commercial conglomerates.

Ours is no longer a country run by the populace but rather the corporate sector. We have allowed the concept of our democracy to be perverted. Our children and their descendants will look back on our generation with contempt. We identified all of the problems, and carefully, one by one, totally failed to fix any of the big ones.

We allowed our society and political system to be captured by big money. For all of our constant barrage of self-congratulation, the baby-boomer generation has failed. And now it is simply too late. When our housing bubble bursts and Australia settles into becoming a third-world backwater for a quarter of a century, then the baton will not so much pass-on as be wrenched from our hands.

We have allowed our industrial base to virtually disappear. We allowed multinational corporations to export all the profits of the mining boom. We allowed our public services to be sold off, bit by bit, until we have to pay a toll even to travel from one end of a city to another. We have pissed the opportunity to make a better society, up against the wall. I am ashamed to have been born amidst such a cretinous bunch of imbeciles.

But then the baby-boomer generation have simply carried on the great tradition of mankind. In the last two hundred years, we have consumed voraciously everything we might and done our best to irretrievably damage the ecosystem on every continent, even whilst simultaneously causing a mass-extinction and a climate change event.

Hopefully, our children might do better with the little we leave behind. We cannot hope they will consider us kindly. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is that there might actually be someone still around in another thousand years. It’s a low bar but I think we might just clear it.

Happy Holidays.

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The Cancer of Capitalism

By Christian Marx

Capitalism by its very definition is exploitative. It relies on winners and losers. At its most basic definition it can be defined as the exploitation of an individual or group of people for financial gain. Modern day capitalism has been in existence for approximately 400 years.

In that time it has been the direct cause of hundreds of millions of deaths and the suffering of many hundreds of millions more. Almost all wars are fought for financial gain, in the past 100 years the wars have concentrated around natural resources such as fossil fuels and other minerals.

The entire conflict in the Middle East can be traced to the extraction of oil from poorer Arab countries via U.S imperialism. In order for the West to manufacture consent for the Iraq and Afghan wars, propaganda and blatant lies were told to the populace of Western countries. Lies, such as, “these countries had weapons of mass destruction”, and that “Islam wants to destroy the West and needs to be contained”. The populace was manipulated and divided by fear, through a corrupted corporate media and various puppet governments. The real enemy was the West itself, one again raping and pillaging sovereign nations for their corporate backers.

These two wars are just the tip of the iceberg as far as capitalist imperialism is concerned. Here is a list of just some of the capitalist wars waged by The U.S and their allies, and their corresponding death toll:

  • Iraq and Afghan wars: More than 2 million
  • Angola: 500,000+
  • Cambodia: 2.5 million
  • Chile: 3,000 murdered by the CIA backed Augusto Pinochet
  • Cuba: 2,000-4,000
  • East Timor: Indonesian government backed by the U.S: 200,000 dead
  • Al Salvador: U.S financed puppet government to kill its own citizens protesting against austerity and fighting for social justice: 75,000
  • Indonesia: 1 million Communists murdered
  • Iran: 262,000

In all, 37 sovereign nations have either been invaded or attacked by foreign backed, corrupt puppet governments. These puppet governments have been installed by the U.S. in a bid to smash socialist movements and protect U.S profits. (Global research, 2015).

While imperialism is responsible for the overwhelming amount of deaths attributed to the capitalist system, it is not the only source of misery and death.

Austerity measures have contributed to an astonishing increase in suicides in the U.K and the U.S. A study conducted by Scientists, Stuckler and Basu confirmed that a spike of over 10,000 suicides and over 1 million cases of depression have resulted since the introduction of austerity measures in the U.K and the U.S (Guardian, 2013).

Some 5 million Americans have gone on to lose their healthcare insurance, as a direct result of their job loss, and a staggering 10,000 U.K families are now homeless (Guardian, 2013).

Stickler goes onto say “If austerity was run like a clinical trial, it would have been discontinued. The evidence of its deadly side effects – of the profound effects of economic choices on health is overwhelming”. (Guardian, P.1, 2013).

The media also has to shoulder much of the blame for the lies and propaganda that they feed to the masses. How many times have we heard the blatant lies and rationalizations for more tax cuts for the wealthy and less services for the needy? Just today Scott Morrison is using the new tax slogan “The taxed and the taxed nots,” and hitting the most vulnerable yet again!

Not only does capitalism, and in particular Neoliberalism champion war and attack social systems, but it also now destroys jobs! Offshoring of our manufacturing industry and now even some of our service industry is the order of the day. Compounding this, are both major political parties slavish devotion to the causualisation of the workforce. They then wonder why consumer spending is down! The mind boggles at the craven stupidity of these lunatics.

Austerity and offshoring is not only deeply flawed but highly immoral. On the one hand they destroy jobs, and then they attempt to shift the blame on the unemployed whose jobs they wantonly destroyed! Casualised jobs keep the workers desperate and compliant. Off shoring jobs, exploits cheap labour in foreign countries and maximises CEO bonuses.

Ultimately infinite growth on a finite system is suicide. The only organism that replicates this system is the cancer cell. Just like cancer, capitalism will ultimately destroy its host.

References

Henley, J. (2013) Recession Can Hurt, But Austerity Kills. The Guardian, 16 May.

Lucus, James, A. (2015) U.S Has Killed More Than 20 Million People In “Victim Nations” Since World War 2. Global Research, 27 Nov.

 

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Timeless Capitalism

A few months ago I read an autobiography titled “My Song” by the entertainer Harry Belefonte. As a teenager I was a huge fan of his music. In later years I read about his work as an activist with the civil rights movement and that is the reason I purchased the ebook. The book is insightful for many reasons. I was impressed with how the big names of show business both black and white put themselves forward (often at risk to their careers) to help the cause of social justice.

The writer was also unafraid to reveal his own inadequacies which is often a failure with many autobiographies. Lastly I found Belefonte’s capacity to maintain his career whilst working for the movement quite extraordinary.

That aside the reason for this short rant is that on page 234 I found this exchange between Belefonte and Martin Luther King Jnr.

“The trouble “Martin went on” is that we live in a failed system. Capitalism does not allow for an even flow of economic resources. With this system a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level”.

I place the year at about 1960 and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

 

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Calling “Game Over”

Human-induced climate change is real. The risks of inaction are real and mounting.” So Fairfax editorialised in this week’s papers. The gist of the article is that we still have time to mobilise and get our governments and policymakers to take real action on stymieing climate change. It is probably true, as the article claims, that we are witnessing a slowly dawning awareness of the Australian people and by the global economy. But by some measures, this is significantly too little – and way too late.

“Two degrees celsius.” How many times have you heard the “two degrees” target proposed as the benchmark? Almost every popular media outlet, when writing about climate change (when they’re not claiming it isn’t happening or isn’t worth our attention) includes a statement like “We can still keep warming below two degrees, but we have to start now.” So we talk about carbon budgets. We talk about carbon capture and storage. We argue about the merits of a cap-and-trade system, an incentives system, a carbon tax – as if we still have time to compromise, time to experiment and find the ideal balance between maintaining our treasured social systems and the rescue of the global environment.

The current climate change narrative is based on a series of mistruths and falsities. We are told that we still have time to turn the ship around. The truth is that we do not.

We are told that two degrees is a hard and fast target, beyond which everything turns to disaster and before which we will be okay, if slightly uncomfortable. The truth is that there is no safe limit, that two degrees is not a magic number, and that two degrees is likely already beyond our prevention. The truth is that we have already emitted more than enough carbon to take us to two degrees and well beyond, and we’re showing no signs of slowing.

We are told that even if we go beyond two degrees, the disruption that results will come in the form of hurricanes and bushfires and rising tides. The truth is that while increased frequency and severity of hurricanes and bushfires will be a part of the outcomes of climate change, this is the merest tip of the iceberg. These visible disasters can be constrained and understood as freak occurrences that interrupt the status quo and from which we can recover. Less so is the permanent loss of arable land, the global starvation that may result, and potentially the tipping of our environment into a hellish morass incapable of supporting human life. That we are now seeing reputable sources raising the spectre of near-term human extinction in public narratives is telling of both how far the public discourse has gone ahead of public policy, and of the potential import of the fact that we’ve been so slow to act.

Whilst we have seen that the public and the media are far more accepting of the urgency of action on climate change than any of our leaders are willing to countenance, the public narrative is nevertheless generally years behind the science. Science has been telling us for the better part of a decade that two degrees is both insufficient and unattainable. Meanwhile the news media, and through them the general public, have been absorbed by the question of the reality of climate change, a question that climate researchers put to bed decades ago.

Only in the last few months have we started to see the global narrative start to catch up to reality, which is at the same time optimistic and disheartening. The truth that the media are slowly coming to understand is that two degrees might be possible, but not in the world that we know and live in now. As the media have finally started to catch on that yes, climate change is happening; yes, climate change is deadly serious; and no, we have not acted as quickly and as desperately as required; it begs the question. What is the current state of scientific understanding and how long will it take for the world to catch up to that?

An inevitable outcome?

There are reasons for the lag in public understanding. In years to come the placing of blame might become a hobby, but while attributing responsibility to various groups and individuals is easy, it is also simplistic. The long answer is that our inaction on climate change has been driven by the systems within which we work and live. These systems are well designed to order society and to offer freedom and opportunity to some. They are not effective, however, at providing for philanthropy. Our current systems of democracy and capitalism reward selfishness and self-interest and they pander to our genetic weaknesses. And the unstoppable forces of consumerism encourage and reward immediate gratification not only as a personal pleasure but a social good. The system requires us to buy and consume in order to sustain the order of things. More fundamentally, we need to buy and consume in order to feel good, and we are rewarded by a sense of accomplishment, we are rewarded by social approval and we are rewarded by endorphins. The same psychological tendencies that cause us to become fat and unfit also put barriers in our way to accepting bad news.

Bad news is a climate scientist’s stock in trade. Scientists are conservative by nature – they have to be. Crying wolf leads to a loss of respect and credence, and inevitably to a loss of funding. For a scientist or scientific organisation to decry an oncoming disaster, a high level of proof is required, and this takes time. The rumbling on the tracks isn’t enough: they need to be able to see the oncoming train’s lights before they’re willing to commit.

Scientists are not to blame for their reticence. One of the most constant criticisms of the IPCC’s work is not that the work is flawed, but that the resulting reports are universally conservative. They err on the side of caution. IPCC reports contain a range of projections, using a selection of different assumptions and resulting in very different outcomes, but they do not advise on the relative likelihood of being able to meet these curves. The effect is to allow policymakers to treat each projection as equally possible, and when one or more of the scenarios results in a temperature rise under two degrees, the opportunity arises to claim that this is still in reach. Scientists would say that the contents of the reports are reliable as a best-case scenarios, but that’s not how the reports are received in practice. The policy makers who must take IPCC reports into account largely consider them to be worst-case scenarios, and the urgency of the problem is diminished.

Tempting as it may be to do so, politicians also cannot be blamed for their inaction. Politicians are rewarded (in electoral popularity) for populist messages of hope and optimism. Politicians are punished, severely, for being the messenger that tells their people that they will have to make sacrifices (financial, creature comforts, lifestyle changes) for the sake of the public good. Far worse awaits those who attempt to impose these sacrifices. It is entirely reasonable to expect politicians to clutch at any straws offered, be they a possible solution that doesn’t carry electoral cost (e.g. direct action) or a skerrick of doubt about the science. In an environment filled with lobbyists arguing that there will be consequences to climate action, and think tanks and vested interests obscuring the science with manufactured doubt, motivated by a kind of economics that cannot afford to take climate change into account, it takes a special kind of political courage to take a stand. As we saw in the case of the 2013 election, all too often The People will punish such presumption.

We can’t even blame The People. The truth is that our evolution has not equipped us well to handle the kind of challenge that climate change presents. Humans are an immensely adaptable species, and when we cannot adjust our environment to suit our needs, we can adjust our own lifestyle to suit. However, we almost always need to be spurred into action. We evolved from hunter-gatherers who would gorge in the good times, in preparation for the long stretch of privation that would follow. At our core, we’re not prepared to leave the carcass on the ground.

Too little, too late

However it happens, whatever the cause, we are caught by it. Humanity is having a cook-out in a tunnel and we’ve ignored the rumblings underfoot for too long. It’s not until we see the lights of the oncoming train that we even start the engine of our getaway car and there’s no way we’re dodging this express train.

We read that we have, at most ten or fifteen years to turn the ship around. Here’s the thing, though: they told us this ten or fifteen years ago, too. If the problem was that urgent then, if the need for change was so pressing then, how can we still have a decade left to act now? The explanation is that the definition of “action” is changing. Climate scientists, pressured to give an optimistic outcome – to avoid calling “Game Over” – move the goalposts. They adopt increasingly unrealistic assumptions and expectations in their models of climate action. They invent ever more fanciful future technologies – magic bullets, couched in scientific-sounding terminology.

It is finally reaching the point where normal people – journalists, activists, even politicians – are calling them out on it. The likelihood of us being able to meet a trajectory to keep temperature increases below two degrees is presently somewhere between none and laughable. But so long as it is still technically possible to succeed at halting global warming, we keep hearing the “we still have time” message. So let’s have a look at what is actually required to stave off the kind of climate change that runs an even risk of killing every human on the planet.

http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/12/two-degrees-will-we-avoid-dangerous-climate-change/ : “In order to get back on track, emissions need to peak and then fall by between 40 and 70 per cent by 2050, the IPCC says, with unabated fossil fuel burning almost entirely phased out by 2100… That would require a never-before seen global effort to be sustained for a generation.”

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/15/8612113/truth-climate-change : “Holding temperature down under 2°C — the widely agreed upon target — would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades. There’s no sign of that happening, or reason to think it’s plausible anytime soon.”

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119757/two-degrees-climate-change-no-longer-possible : “To be sure, the IPCC noted, it’s conceivable the world still could stay below that level – but only if governments immediately imposed stringent and internationally uniform carbon limits, and if a host of new low-carbon energy technologies proved able to scale up. Those are massive “ifs,” and though the IPCC wasn’t so impolite as to say so, there’s little to suggest that perfect trajectory will play out.”

In order to achieve the goal, humanity as a species must put aside national partisanship, untrammelled economic growth as a priority, and our current industrial machinery. Advanced economies must immediately and radically decarbonise their economies, at the same time as effectively building first-world economies in less advanced nations who would otherwise strive to catch up to “modern” standards of living via their own industrial revolutions. Humans in the affluent West must accept a curtailing of their profligate lifestyles and their aspirations.

Some have likened the effort required to the mobilization of the West in the early days of World War II, when entire economies were retooled to face an existential threat. But these similes were raised half a decade ago, and the problem has become even more dire since then. We must, as a species, put the good of the planet and the environment ahead of our own short-term interests. This is something that goes against our very nature.

But even our best intentions are not enough. At this point, there is enough carbon in the atmosphere to blow through two degrees and well beyond – potentially setting off the feedback loops and tipping points that bring us to a very final The End. In order to limit temperature rise to two degrees, current models include assumptions about negative carbon emissions – capturing carbon from the atmosphere and putting it into the ground or into trees. This requires either huge swathes of territory to be converted to forests – and only good, arable, important-for-feeding-seven-billion-humans land will do – or the widespread adoption of technology that doesn’t even exist yet.

Is it time yet to call game over?

You can’t get there from here

There are a number of good reasons to declare “Game Over” on climate change.

Because there is a point beyond which hope becomes denial.

We see an example with Australian farmers in northern Queensland. Devastated by crippling floods in early 2013, it did not take long before large portions of Queensland were back in the Long Dry. By March 2014, the State’s largest ever drought had been declared, following the failure of the “wet season”. Drought is a largely artificial definition, designed primarily to enable governments to provide assistance to affected areas, predicated on the understanding that this is a “natural disaster” and will come to an end. The terminology of “drought”, at core, assumes that there is a normal state of being, and the lack of rain is an exception, an aberration, on par with storms or cyclones.

More than a year later, the rains have failed again and the drought has not broken – it has become worse. All this in advance of a predicted severe El Nino. The signs are not looking good for relief for our beleaguered Queensland farmers any time soon. And still we hear politicians State and Federal talking about drought assistance, of getting the farmers through the hard patch before the rains return.

According to my calculations, most of Queensland has been officially in drought for fifteen of the last twenty-five years. An El Nino can run for up to seven years, so we may be in for a significant period before the end of this cycle. If you’re living under drought conditions for more years than under wet conditions, can it really be called a drought any longer? At what point do we bow to the inevitable and admit that, rather than being a drought, this is the new normal? That climate change has made these areas untenable for ongoing agriculture? That continuing to support farmers with “drought assistance” is a never-ending battle that cannot be won?

Admitting defeat would mean the departure of farmers from these lands and force an alteration to the economy and markets of the State. It could be argued that reclassifying land as non-arable will destroy the lives of farmers trying to eke out a living on it, but it could as well be argued that those lives are destroyed anyway and farmers seeking support are modern-day King Canutes who will eventually have to move anyway.

Sometimes, it makes more sense to just admit defeat, rather than throwing good money after bad.

Because denial makes us focus on the actions that we need to take to win, rather than getting started on the actions required upon losing

As long as electors are told that two degrees is possible if only we find the right balance of punitive and reward policies the longer the policy debate remains mired in detail and technicality. It allows governments to hold out policies like Direct Action as a valid approach to climate change. It allows an ETS to include a variety of loopholes and concessions designed to protect vulnerable industries at the expense of the scheme’s effectiveness. This author has been a critic of the Greens’ approach to Labor’s ETS, scuttling a plan that might have gotten a foot in the door because it wasn’t ideal at the outset. But that was then, and this is now. It is far too late for half-measures. Unfortunately, we will never see full-strength climate policies as long as politicians can still argue that all will be well if we just cut our emissions by “five percent over 2000 levels”.

Because reality

If for no other reason, it might be valid to call an end to the charade of climate change action because it’s a colossal waste of time and money on the basis of a lie. It’s a lie, because none of those arguing loudly that we can still save the world are taking the next step and adding “only if we do what the world has never managed to do before and only if all the cards fall our way”. This is a lie of omission, and those telling it are often not even aware of it because they themselves have not been shown the sheer unlikelihood of what they’re proposing. If we reframe the argument in the appropriate terms, at least we can start talking about things with a sense of truth and reality rather than what we hope might be the case.

Reasons not to declare “Game Over”

Because it might not be

There may still be time – if atmospheric sensitivity is lower than modelled, and if we can invent and distribute carbon capture technology, and if the world radically reverses direction. Under the IPCC’s optimistic models, there is still time. Meeting these optimistic assumptions will be a heroic task, but we won’t get there if we don’t try and we won’t try if we’ve already thrown in the towel. An important first step would be the support of research into carbon capture / atmospheric cleaning technologies that will be absolutely fundamental to any kind of success from here.

Because it’s too important

Declaring “game over” sends the message to those who’d be most harmed by climate change that they aren’t worth saving.” Our mythologies are full of humans in dire circumstances not giving up on hope. If there has ever been a cause around which the world could rally, that has the immediate threat to human survival on a global scale and the fortunes of small groups of people in specific, this is it. To give up on climate action is to give up on a large part of the world, raise the fences around the wagons and wait out the next great Human Extinction. Those most badly affected will be those who contributed to it the least and are least deserving. For the advanced nations to give up while there is still even the ghost of a chance is to add insult to lethal injury.

Because we need the urgency

We need urgency; we need the seriousness. There’s a fine line between panic-inducing immediacy and threat, and inertia-generating fatalism. World War II, in its size and ferocity and its immediacy, was enough to jolt the western world into action. We will see, over the next decade, increasingly dire climate outcomes. At some point, public attitudes and governmental policies will catch up with the exigencies of climate reality. The media and the government may always be a decade behind in understanding the threat, but action taken now on the basis of last decade’s threats will still have a beneficial effect on this decade’s crisis. We don’t know for sure that we can salvage the silverware, but we can be absolutely certain that nothing will survive if we stop fighting for it.

Because game over isn’t necessarily “game over”

We will miss two degrees – but the story doesn’t end there. “Everyone agrees on the general point — risks and damages keep piling up as the world gets hotter. So if the world can’t prevent 2°C of warming, it’s still a good idea to try and avoid 3°C of warming. If we can’t avoid 3°C of warming, it’s still a good idea to avoid 4°C. And so on.” The world doesn’t end at 2 degrees. Tipping points and reinforcing cycles may mean that the world is more fragile than it appears, but every extra degree of warming increases the inhospitability of our future world far more than the degree before it. If we can halt warming at three degrees, it’s still worth doing.

Because victory ain’t what it used to be

In the end, we may be forced to move the goalposts of what constitutes success. The two degrees scenario is aimed at preserving our current civilization. Restrain global warming to two degrees and we may be able to retain our present way of life, our creature comforts, our technology, and our populations. It may be – it probably is – too late for that: our world will change and our way of life must change to suit the new, hotter world we are creating.

But the end of our current, comfortable civilisation does not have to be the end of the human story. If the worst case scenarios are true, then the game is no longer about salvaging a world for our children: it is about salvaging a world for ANY children. If it is too late for current nation-states to survive, it’s not yet too late for modern life somewhere, somehow. If it becomes too late for capitalism as we know it, it’s not yet too late to preserve some kind of civilisation. If it is too late for us, it is not yet too late for humanity. We don’t know where we’ll end up, but however far beyond the point of no return we may have gone, we know that there is more road yet to travel. In the end, the best reason not to call Game Over – not to just stop trying and learn to love the bomb – is that there may yet be time to salvage some kind of future for some of us.

Just probably not all of us.

 

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Profit before people

The Abbott government’s economic policy is predicated on the assumption that any increase in the boss’s profits equals a corresponding increase in the workers’ wages – “a rising tide will lift all boats.” This assumes that the ratio between the share of GDP going to labour and that going to capital always remains constant, something that is not the case as we see the proportion of GDP going to wages dropping around the world.

In the USA, the last 30 years has seen a reduction from 70% to 64% of GDP taken by wages. Meanwhile Norway and Sweden, held up as models of “responsible” capitalism, have seen labour’s share fall from 64% to 55% of GDP and 74% to 65% of GDP respectively since the 1980s.

Wages and profit are closely interlinked because they are both paid out of the same pot – the nation’s GDP. This means that for a boss to increase his profit, the workers must lose out on wages, and vice versa. It’s not possible to increase profits without decreasing wages, and it’s not possible to increase wages without decreasing profit.

Corporations, pushed by their constant hunt for profit and their own internal competition, will always attempt to expand their share. This can be done through direct attacks on wages or by cutting welfare, increasing wages below the inflation rate etc. The workers on the other hand, have an interest in struggling to defend and expand their working conditions and standard of living in the face of constant attacks. The result is trade unions and workers’ movements that fight for the minimum/living wage etc, and bosses who fight for less regulation of employment conditions, and smaller pay increases.

Trade unions have lost a lot of the power that they once had 30-40 years ago, a direct result of the sustained attacks on unions by the powerful elite and media over that period. The result is that economic power has shifted in favour of capital, and away from labour.

Bosses, desperate to drive down wages to make bigger profits, turn to cheaper and less regulated labour in the developing world as a method for raking in higher profits and putting pressure on workers in developed countries to accept a lower wage. As Gina warns we beer drinking, cigarette smoking bludgers, Africans are happy to work for $2 a day in the mines.

By pursuing ever greater profits they inevitably drive down wages through automation and by access to new sources of cheap labour on the world market. The problem is that wages also make up the demand which keeps businesses afloat. With less money in the pockets of wage-earners, fewer commodities can be purchased and so less profit can be made.

The short-sightedness of capitalists trying to make as much money as possible out of each investment with no thought for the future is a fundamental feature of the system. If one business passes up an opportunity to make loads of money through greater exploitation of workers or the environment, another would seize the chance to make the profit and put its competitor out of business. This is the nature of capitalist competition – they cannot afford a long-term perspective.

Coalition governments are advocates of increased privatisation of public services. It’s true that privatisation often brings profit to the new private owners and those rich enough to afford shares in the business, but it is also true that privatisation brings worse wages and conditions for the employees of the newly privatised business. The reason why private ownership of businesses increases profit is because these owners curtail services and force down the wages of all the workers in order to pay the handful of people at the top obscene salaries and bonuses.

Developments in technology and innovation have automated huge numbers of jobs thus leaving correspondingly huge numbers without work or with a lower wage. If businesses were to invest in the education and training of highly-skilled workers they would be able to increase productivity, design new products and machinery and boost productive capacity overall. This, after all, is the point of any investment in a business. Instead we see sackings, closures and restructuring as business tries to produce less in order to maintain their profits.

Over 160 years ago, Karl Marx said that the “bourgeoisie is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.“

Capitalism has developed to a point where technology and globalisation, phenomena that have the potential to improve the lives of all people hundreds of times over, are actually making the lives of wage-earners worse. It has reached a stage where we have the capacity to educate and train people, produce and build everything we need, and give everyone a decent standard of living. But we’re not able to realise this potential because of the unrelenting pursuit of profit.

The impoverishment of the masses and the concentration of wealth and capital in the hands of a small minority is a growing problem and as long as the right of private ownership to the means of production exists, and governments move further away from regulation, this process will prevail.

Tony Abbott’s entire approach to governing is textbook Capitalism, from his attack on penalty rates, the minimum wage, and unemployment benefits, his refusal to give industry assistance (unless you are a fossil fuel producer), privatisation of public assets, deregulation and removal of “green tape” (aka environmental protections) – every aspect is a short term grab for cash dictated and ruled by the “market”.

Oh for a government that had the courage to protect its people with a long term plan for general prosperity and well-being instead of a smash and grab raid for your rich friends.

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Capitalism isn’t democracy

tax

Photo: signgenerators.com

Capitalism is an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations.

Democracy is government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

In our current political climate, these systems have become incompatible. When governments put the interest of private corporations first they can no longer adequately protect the rights of ordinary citizens or the interests of future generations and the environment.

Political institutions function in a world in which power is linked to property. Economic power can affect democracy, but the masses cannot infiltrate the bastions of capitalism. The wealthy have been able to buy power and distort democracy to suit their agenda where the interests of the few have overwhelmed the interests of the many.

The Right would have us believe that “small” government is best and that only privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts can save us. In a capitalist democracy, the state is a dispenser of many valuable prizes. Whoever amasses the most political power wins the most valuable prizes. The rewards include property rights, friendly regulators, subsidies, tax breaks, and free or cheap use of the commons. The notion that the state promotes “the common good” is sadly naive.

Profit-maximizing corporations dominate our economy. The only obvious counterweight is government, yet government is dominated by these same corporations. Corporations are decimating their old adversary, unions, and have turned the media into their mouthpiece.

Unlike many other countries, we have very few restrictions on paid political advertising and donations to political parties and lobby groups. As politicians have increasingly turned to advertising, image consultants, and spin doctors (like the odious Mark Textor), and begun forming policy on the basis of polls, the influence of donors and message control has grown.

Where are the politicians who have the courage to stand up to these corporations and the obscenely rich individuals whose wealth has been growing at an exponential rate while so much of humanity languishes in poverty? Where are the elected representatives who will make decisions for the common good and the future?

Unless corporations can be convinced to be driven by something other than profit, which is highly unlikely, we must have government regulation to protect us and to provide the services and safety net that will lift the well-being of all Australians. And we must have someone who has the chutzpah to demand a fair go.

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Why Rupert hates unions and Gina loves 457 visas

Image from theconversation.com

Image from theconversation.com

While attempting to clean up my computer, I came across an essay that my daughter wrote earlier this year. I would like to share an excerpt from it.

Marxists see the conflict between the bourgeoisie (those that own the means of production) and the proletariat (those who sell their labour) as crucial to the maintenance of capitalism. Its function is to create an obedient, docile, uncritical workforce who will work to support the upper-class’s lifestyle and the economy. Keeping wages low, or debt pressure high, means workers will be less likely to complain or make demands. As workers struggle to provide their families with all the temptations that a capitalist society offers, they become far less likely to risk their employment, and less able to improve their situation. Even in the unlikely event that an opportunity for advancement should arise, it would often mean abandoning family and friends in order to pursue it. These factors, along with a tendency to marry within one’s own circle, combine to make movement between social classes difficult.

The current political debate surrounding the power of unions, work choices, and the importation of workers on 457 visas, could be regarded as an attempt to disempower employees thus maintaining a compliant workforce. It is difficult for an individual to risk complaining about wages or working conditions, so removing the collective voice and protection of unions means people are unlikely to make waves if, by so doing, they risk unemployment or deportation.

The process of industrialisation in the 19th century led to major changes in family life. Many things that had formerly been produced at home were now produced more cheaply in factories and families eventually became units of shared income and consumption rather than production, private and separate from the public world of business and politics. Men’s place of work was removed from the home and women’s and children’s unpaid domestic labour kept wages low allowing companies to increase profits. Women were increasingly isolated from society and children learned to obey.

Max Horkheimer regarded the family as an essential part of the social order in that it adapted every individual to conformity to authority. He argued that if men are the sole breadwinners, this ‘makes wife, sons and daughters “his”, puts their lives in large measure into his hands, and forces them to submit to his order and guidance’. Marx felt the same way stating that “Marriage is…incontestably a form of private property”. The economic dependence of the family on the father made men more conservative about radical social change which might undermine their ability to provide for their families, while the development of obedience to the authority of one’s own father was a preparation for obedience to the authority of the state and one’s employer.

During the 1960s and 70s the Western world saw a rapid period of social change in which the traditional understanding of the family began to be questioned. Feminist writers such as Christine Delphy, argued that in a capitalist society there are two modes of production: an industrial mode which is the site of capitalist exploitation; and the domestic mode which is the site of patriarchal exploitation. Marxist writers such as Juliet Mitchell examined the exploitation of workers under capitalism, pointing out that women, as they slowly entered the workforce, were doubly exploited through lower wages and unpaid labour at home. Contemporary Marxist writing argues that the family structure socialises children ‘into capitalist ideology’, which ‘prepares them to accept their place in the class structure, provides an emotionally supportive retreat for the alienated worker and so dissipates the frustration of the workplace, and impedes working class solidarity by privatising the household and generating financial commitments which discourage militant activity’ .

The role of the nuclear family in providing, perpetuating and indoctrinating a docile workforce is summarised by the following quotes. Meighan suggests that “For men, the denial of opportunities for excellence under capitalism leads…to a search for power and self-esteem in the sexual arena” Ainsley goes on to explain that “When wives play their traditional roles as takers of shit they often absorb their husband’s legitimate anger and frustration in a way which poses no challenge to the system”, and Cooper states that “The child is, in fact, primarily taught not how to survive in society, but how to submit to it”.

Changes in society have blurred these stereotypical roles. Many more women now are entering the workforce and are far less likely to marry for economic security. The availability of quality education and the explosion of information provided by the internet have made people more informed and less willing to blindly accept what they are told, and for some, it has also provided the opportunity to move from the social class into which they were born. The traditional structure of the nuclear family is also changing with much more diversity in family groups due to such factors as divorce, same sex couples, extended families, and many women choosing not to have children.

There have been other criticisms of the materialist perspective in that its focus was too limited to economic aspects, neglecting the value of and support provided in a loving intimate union, instead concentrating on the oppressive and controlling aspects of families and relationships. It tends to portray people as capitalist dupes without freedom of thought assessing them purely from a labour perspective.

While many of the bourgeoisie would still prefer, and in fact depend on, a malleable, uncomplaining workforce, family power structures are becoming less a factor in achieving this. However, our seemingly endless desire to consume and update means that economic pressures still play a large role. Even with, in many cases, both parents working, employment security usually takes precedence over job satisfaction or working conditions. Children are better informed and largely better educated and therefore have more opportunity to achieve economic independence and possibly change their social class but the rising cost of tertiary education, possible reductions in funding, and competition from overseas students limits the number who can attempt this. The burden is perhaps better shared but the outcome is in most cases the same – be happy with your lot.

Engel’s spoke of the evolution of the family as being both a catalyst for and result of the growth of capitalism. As mankind’s standard of living has improved, our desire to accumulate possessions and wealth to pass on to our families has only increased, as has our willingness to go into debt to satisfy it. Power and control is still exerted by those that own the means of production and they readily use this power to manipulate public opinion. Concentration of the media in the hands of a few like-minded individuals has led to misinformation campaigns that have amazingly ignited the workers to fight for the rights of the rich to get richer at their own expense. Family dynamics may have changed but the willingness of the proletariat to support the bourgeoisie seems alive and well.

 

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Talkin’ bout a revolution

Russell Brand – sometimes comedian, sometimes Christian, always a showman – is calling for a revolution. Russell’s Revolution is not about guns and bombs, it’s not about the people rising up to throw off the shackles of an oppressive government. Russell’s Revolution comes in the form of a willing disengagement from the political process, most clearly displayed in a refusal to vote. (Presumably in a country like Australia, with mandatory voting, he would be willing to settle for donkey voting.) Working in a variety of media, including an editorial in New Statesman magazine and a widely viewed interview with Jeremy Paxton on BBC’s Newsnight, Brand has pitched his message to the young and the disenfranchised. In doing so, he has hit a nerve. There are any number of copies of the video available on the web; the one I linked to has almost 9 million views in a little more than a week. Brand’s polemic has spawned a popular Facebook page, innumerable news and opinion articles, and a new kind of global conversation about politics. We should be so lucky.

As always several days late, Fairfax news has published an “article” about the phenomenon. The article serves as an introduction for those in the wider world – probably not the young and the disenfranchised – who may not have come across this particular strident voice for reform. The kind of people this article is presumably aimed at are the ones who might have little respect for anything which challenges the status quo. The article reads as a quizzical realisation, written on behalf of forty-year olds everywhere, that “People are listening to this guy, and we have no idea why.”

Well, I am forty and I feel, as this is the Independent Media Network, that I can give at least as considered an opinion.

Russell Brand’s basic contention is laid out in the first few paragraphs of his editorial.

Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites… I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance.

The editorial is well worth reading. It’s amusing and insightful, and it’s attacking the wrong target.

In his Newsnight interview, Jeremy Paxman asked: “You want a revolution to overthrow elected governments, but what sort of government would you replace it with?”

Brand’s answer is illuminating. “I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’ll tell you what it shouldn’t do. It shouldn’t destroy the planet, it shouldn’t create massive political disparity, it shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.”

The problem is that what Brand is actually complaining about is not democracy. He is, instead, complaining about capitalism, and in this he is not the first.

Like socialism, democracy as a concept is good, it’s effective, it’s egalitarian and it works. It provides all citizens with a voice in how they should be governed. It is inherently equalising; whilst minorities of sexual preference or colour or social class may find their specific desires thwarted by the views of the majority, equally the rich, the powerful and the venal should find themselves constrained. Democracy gives us a chance as a society to force those at the top of the tree to support those at the bottom (force, because it is unlikely that this will happen without enforcement). Democracy is a good system of government. As Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

In practice, democracy is poisoned by capitalism.

Like the USSR’s dalliance with communism, like (dare I say it) China’s current dalliance with communism, any system of rule is open to abuse and corruption. The motivations behind corruption may be simple power – people gravitate to the corridors of power for all sorts of reasons, and the lust for control over your fellow man is a common and powerful driver. Or they may be for personal gratification and gain. In western democracies, the lure of profit that can spring from being in a position to influence the laws can turn many an honest politician into a bottom-feeding snouter.

It is an arguable contention, but supportable, that in our modern western democracies, rich interests have too much of a say; that the power of the rich can secure access to soapboxes and propaganda by which the opinions of the elite can influence the opinions of the poor; and that challenging the rich, the big corporations, is done at a politician’s peril.

When Russell Brand talks of our systems of government ‘destroying the planet’, provoking ‘political disparity’ or ‘ignoring the needs of the people’, these are behaviours driven by the interests of the rich and powerful. Against these forces stand integrity and idealism, and these are qualities eminently frangible. It is not fair to say that all parties in our political system are equally complicit in the continued subjugation of the downtrodden; the right and the left have very different approaches to the problem of power. (Where each party falls on the left-right spectrum I leave to the comments.) Both sides of politics, beholden to the votes of the people every three or four years, argue that they have the best interests of the whole at heart. The traditional preserve of the left is to talk about services, supported by the idea of taxing the rich in order to support the poor. The right relies heavily on the idea that when you allow the powerful to benefit, all boats will rise.

“Trickle-down economics” – the idea that improving the lot of the rich will result in an improvement for everyone – is an argument employed by the rich. It has little basis in fact. But it is so often the primary argument the electorate hears that enough will be convinced to give the conservatives another go at the reins.

Regardless of which side of politics you favour, however, all can see that our politics is broken. The argument is about degree. Whether you’re talking about the tendency of the right to remove any constraints that prevent the rich from subduing the serfs, or you’re bemoaning the latest revelations of cronyism within the left, modern politics is driven by the capitalistic system. Corruption, infighting, backstabbing, pandering and political inconsistency – these are driven not by public good, but by pecuniary self-interest. The corruption of politicians will occur as long as capitalism drives people to greater wealth, as long as it encourages people with wealth to even greater excesses, and as long as there’s a buck to be made.

By conflating democracy – a force for great good, rule by the people for the people – with capitalism – the benefit of the few at the expense of the many – Brand spoils the reputation of the one and gives the other a free pass. He is turning people off the one part of our current society that might possibly have a chance of addressing the very disparity he rails against.

In calling for a revolution, Brand has no alternatives to offer. “I don’t know,” he says, when asked what he would replace it with. As history has shown, time and again, overthrowing a system of power without having clear ideas of what should replace it leads to bad outcomes. Ambitious, grasping people will always seek to fill the holes; nature abhors a vacuum. If you replace your democracy, what you get will perforce be a government by the few at the expense of the many. In the current world where capitalism has so much sway, the likelihood of this coming to a good outcome is pretty much nil.

The need for some kind of revolution is evident, but it’s a revolution against capitalism and consumerism, rather than against democracy. Do I have an answer, an idea for a replacement? I do not. Democracy in my opinion is still the best form of government. Does this mean an overthrow of the capitalist system is required? Possibly, possibly not. Capitalism has some benefits that should not easily be dismissed; it is in untrammelled capitalism that we find the problems.

What we ideally want is a democracy that is free of the pernicious influence of capitalism. We live in a world which is not ideal, where power provides benefit to those who hold it, and it is unlikely we’ll see this kind of reform without a significant upset. I don’t know what kind of upset could bring about this change – it’s probably not going to be Russell Brand’s army of the disengaged. One thing I do know, however, is that Russell Brand does not have the answers. Do I have an answer? No. But until I do, I won’t go calling for any revolutions.

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