Our world is headed towards disaster. That appears to be widely accepted; as are the reasons for it and what should be done to change direction to a safer, more sustainable, future. The Green Party exists for little else. All that is lacking is the power to achieve that change. Disaster is defined in many different dimensions: climate change, global population growth, unsustainable inequality of wealth and incomes within and between nations, global food insecurity and many other measures of impending doom. The underlying reason why those in power steer their disastrous course, always assuming they are not motivated solely by their own short term self-interest, is their belief in a fundamentally flawed version of what was formerly known as political economy.
Nobel laureate Paul Krugman flagged up one of the most basic errors of the currently dominant Friedmanite take on neoclassical economics [‘Challenging the Oligarchy’, Krugman, New York Review of Books, 17th December, 2015]. Friedman had argued that the development of monopolistic businesses was of no importance since it made no real difference. Krugman identifies that as one of Friedman’s fundamental errors. A complementary Friedman error was to claim business had no responsibility other than to make as much money as possible for stockholders. No wonder discredited ex-Barclays CEO Bob Diamond regarded Friedman as his ‘favourite economist’!
Market power has huge implications for economic behaviour. Failure over the past three decades to pursue anti-trust regulations vigorously has been a major reason for the economic trends we are now experiencing. Krugman identified two as of major importance: the financialisation of business and the ever increasing degree of inequality. Neither is sustainable in the long term, but it is unclear how their termination will be achieved.
Continue reading Impending Disaster, made in Davos, by Bilderburg
The aim of the UN climate change conference in Paris is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so as to limit the global temperature increase to a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Only then could this generation lay any claim to having fulfilled its responsibility to bequeath a sustainable planet earth.
Climate summits are notorious for agreeing targets and then not keeping to them. It is not clear how Paris will be any different. There are huge problems in the way of a committed agreement that could produce an effective and lasting solution. Not the least of which is the fact there will be 196 nations attending, all with different histories, cultures, economies and futures.
An example of these ‘local’ difficulties is the Philippines plan to build 23 new coal-fired power stations in response to growing electricity demand, all too frequent power blackouts and the fall in coal prices. They might, with some justification, argue that if developed nations want the Philippines to invest in renewable alternatives, they should contribute the additional cost.
These practical difficulties caused by the differences between different nations are only part of the story. A bigger problem was identified by MacKay in a Comment in the science weekly, Nature. Agreement would require an ‘upward spiral of ambition’ and the ‘science of co-operation’ in order to ‘harness self-interest by aligning it with the common good’. That head-on collision between the maximisation of self-interest and the protection and development of the common good, is the most fundamental of all the myriad of problems in ensuring the sustainability of life on earth. Solve that and the other difficulties could almost certainly be resolved. But achieving MacKay’s alignment will be difficult. It is not immediately clear how maximising self-interest can be aligned with the common good.
Continue reading Budgeting for Climate Change
The Friedmanite Neoclassical Economic Belief System (FNEBS) now dominates the developed and developing world. It is taught across the globe in business schools and universities. It is the orthodox wisdom among the Self-Perpetuating Industrial, Financial, Media, Academic and Political Establishment (SPIFMAPE).
The SPIFMAPE is the shadowy presence in our economy which has the real power and resources to ensure its continued dominance. It includes those Industrialists corrupted by the pursuit of wealth, Financiers who pay the £billions of fraud fines as the necessary entry fee, the Media controllers who shape the news to their advantage, Academics who accept ‘research’ income for conformist enquiry and teaching, and those Politicians nurtured within the SPIFMAPE, warmly accepting the FNEBS, otherwise referred to as in the ‘Westminster bubble’.
Those who know the FNEBS appear to really believe in it; and those who don’t know it, accept it as a truth. However, J K Galbraith identified such matters as ‘institutional truths’: that is not a truth at all, but a downright lie that people must buy into if their careers are to progress within their chosen institution.
Continue reading TTIP – Plutocratic Victory
Neoclassical free market orthodoxy, by which the world is still ruled, makes no distinction between real and speculative markets. Both are granted maximum freedom to grow. Speculative markets started as a strand within the financial sector which itself was brought into existence to support investment in the first industrialisation. But while the size of real markets is limited by the ‘appetite’ of potential customers, speculative markets have no such limit. Their growth has been phenomenal; the market for derivative securities has already been estimated as close to the GDP of the planet and many times the value of the world’s stocks and shares. But that is only the start.
Continue reading Food Insecurity: Another Big Bubble
Empathise with the banker, trader or fund manager looking after other people’s money, whose performance on their behalf is continually assessed and reported as the basis for a position on a league table. Two options are on offer.
1. Invest in a start-up widget manufacturer creating new employment but only offering a return of 10-15% pa and even that is at risk, or,
2. Invest in “Alternative Markets – Dedicated to providing established green sippable alternative investments. Guaranteed investment opportunities with ROI ranging from 60% to 398%. Purchasing carbon credits to offset harmful emissions is a popular carbon reducing option. Investors can invest in companies that provide credits for carbon emissions, through forestry plantations for example, which are then sold on.”
Assuming both options are perfectly legal, which way is investment likely to be made?
Continue reading Pity the Poor Banker!
An article in the current issue of Harvard Business Review, by eminent Harvard Business School economist, Michael Porter, and his business partner, consultant Mark Kramer, claims to be showing ‘how to reinvent capitalism – and unleash a wave of innovation and growth’. The secret is “Creating Shared Value”.
It criticises the ‘outdated approach to value creation that has emerged over the past few decades’. That ‘outdated approach’ might be summarised as short term shareholder value maximisation – the target of much criticism in other posts on this site. Porter and Kramer propose a “new conception of capitalism”. But, despite the rather breathless, teenage language, it all boils down to an increased orientation to the usual candidates: concern for the wellbeing of customers, employees, suppliers, local communities, and also for the firm’s role in depletion of key resources, especially water and energy, and its role in polluting the atmosphere and thus, probably, contributing to climate change. So what’s new?
Continue reading Shared Value: another variation on the neo-classical theme
Neo-classical microeconomic theory, especially in its more recent fundamentalist manifestations, has done immense damage to the real economy while nurturing the parasitic financial sector, as recounted from time to time elsewhere on this site.
Various alternative approaches have identified and addressed problems created by that theory. Welfare economics, the economics of social balance, and what is referred to as behavioural economics, have all sought to modify how the neo-classical maximising model operates. However they have not provided a clear and simple alternative to neo-classical mathematics. So the neo-classical model prevails and will survive all such challenges. Utility maximising economic man and the profit (or shareholder wealth) maximising firm, operating within an assumed to be efficient market, will continue to be accepted as the solution to maximising economic growth and social welfare. The obvious inequity of distribution between rich and poor, both within and between nations, will continue to be regretted as necessary to the utilitarian result. Moreover, it is argued, care for the environment could be more readily financed by a successful economy, rather than by one which is struggling to survive.
Continue reading Bury the Dogma
In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky suggested the lack of any alternative big theme gave the free marketeers a head start in shaping and continuing to dominate the United States economy. The free market big theme may have been planted by Adam Smith, but it developed on the open prairies of North America where land was the free resource – confirmed by the Homestead Acts – which drove the early development of the US economy. So the big theme was not just markets freed from government interference and control, but personal freedom to claim a bit of America and the right to defend it with guns to fight off its previous occupants, the native Americans. That tradition gave primacy to ownership. When Friedman declared that corporate officials had no social responsibility other than to make as much money as possible for shareholders, it was hardly a shot out of the blue, but the confirmation of a long tradition.
Continue reading Big Theme or Muddling Through
The desire to return to business as usual isn’t restricted to the obscenity of bankers’ bonuses. That same desire is shared by unemployed potters in Stoke on Trent, car workers in Detroit, and the governing politicians in London and Washington who are presiding over their people’s misery.
However, for the millions in China’s (not to mention India’s and Brazil’s) rural hinterland who have never lived much above the bread-line, some having experienced genuine famine, working on an iPad production line in Shanghai, or the like, may not pay much by Western standards, but it’s a huge improvement on business as usual.
Continue reading Business as Usual and Stuff the Planet