Climate change and the culture wars

by John Quiggin on December 14, 2015

As I’ve argued on my own blog, it seems likely [^1] that the global agreement on reached at COP21 in Paris will mark the turning point in efforts to stabilize the global climate. If so, it will mark the defeat of the right in one of the most bitterly contested arenas of their long-running culture war, and also one of the hardest to explain. There’s no obvious reason, apart from tribal hostility to “enviros” why this should have been a culture war battleground at all.[^2]

There was, by 1990 or so, a well developed literature on “free market environmentalism” which pushed the idea that environmental problems were the result of inadequate property rights, and that the solution was to create such rights: in this case, tradeable emissions permits. Environmentalists were generally hostile to the idea, preferring direct regulation. Eventually most environmental groups came around to the view that a carbon price was essential to solving the problem. Instead of claiming victory, the right opposed the idea ferociously and effectively, with the result that the policy outcome has included much more intrusive regulation, and much less reliance on markets, than would have been optimal. The oddity of a supposedly market-oriented government in Australia preferring “Direct Action” over price-based policies is by no means unusual.

Has the climate change culture war helped or harmed the right? The harm is obvious enough. The scientific and economic evidence on climate change is so clear cut that mounting a case against it requires a huge amount of willing gullibility (the fact that is labelled “scepticism” is one of the smaller ironies of the story). The result has been a big contribution to the lowering of intellectual standards that allows someone like Donald Trump to become a plausible candidate for the Republican nomination in the US.

The intellectual damage has been particularly severe for libertarians, who have traditionally thought of themselves as the smart, logical types, deriving their policy positions from rigorous deduction. As the case of climate change has shown, you can get any answer you want if you make up your own facts. Now, we have the sorry spectacle of self-described libertarians making the kinds of spurious claims, in relation to the health effects of wind power, that were once the province of the least credible environmentalists, and demanding the appointment of highly paid government regulators. At the turn of the century, libertarianism had a plausible case to be the way of the future. Now, as far as I can see, it has disappeared from view in the US and survives in Australia only because of the vagaries of the Senate electoral system.

Against that, the struggle to save the planet from dangerous climate change has chewed up a huge amount of energy and effort on the left. Arguably, that has distracted attention from economic issues, and allowed the steady rise of the 1 per cent to go unchallenged. That analysis fits with the widely held view that the culture wars are just a device to keep the rightwing base agitated enough to turn out, losing time after time, but still providing the votes needed to keep pro-rich politicians in office.

[^1]: A Republican win in 2016 would certainly be a major problem. But the momentum is such that it would probably not make much difference. Even if a Republican Administration weakened environmental standards, no one is going to build a new coal-fired power station in the US, knowing that it might have to shut down after the next election.

[^2]: There was, initially, some significant support from fossil fuel interests (notably Exxon) through bodies like the Global Climate Coalition. But that dropped off quite early as most big corporations worked out that they were better off changing their business models to incorporate renewables than fighting to save the old ways of doing things. For at least the last decade, the economic issues have been secondary – it’s all culture war all the time.

{ 344 comments }

1

Rich Puchalsky 12.14.15 at 8:05 pm

“it seems likely that the global agreement on reached at COP21 in Paris will mark the turning point in efforts to stabilize the global climate”

I agree and have blogged about it here.

Parenthetically, the Greenhouse 100 (a list of the 100 top parent companies for direct emissions of GHGs in the U.S.) should be updated later this week with current data. I’d be interested in hearing from people who want to suggest improvements to it, since it’s possible that we might get a chance to work on it a bit more in coming months.

2

SamChevre 12.14.15 at 8:14 pm

If you see the right, including the libertarian right, in the US as fundamentally populist (which I do), the reason global warming skepticism was/is a right-wing cause is fairly clear.

Acting on global warming–from Kyoto on–was overwhelmingly rejected by representative bodies, and acted on by elite bodies without representative oversight. This puts it in a familiar pattern, where the right-wing narrative is “he has…sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”

A carbon charge, with current emissions as a baseline, would fit with “free market environmentalism”; I’m not aware that this was ever proposed in the US, as a “if it’s rejected, we’ll bring it up for a vote” proposal. (As opposed to a “vote all you want, but we plan to ignore you and do it anyway”.)

From there, identity politics get you the rest of the way.

3

Omega Centauri 12.14.15 at 8:20 pm

At least in the case of the US, its not just a culture war item, it is also about a few very large pro-fossil campaign contributors. With Republican voters not prone to vote for Democrats, because they are mildly pro-enviro, R politicians feel free to cater to the big money donars.

They’ve also mixed it up with what I call appeals to moocher-phobia. Moocher-phobia is the oft expressed feeling that having to give even a single penny to someone they deem unworthy is a horrible imposition -psychological torture apparently. So renewables are tarred as needing subsidies, and supporting them can therefore be cast as throwing constituents money at moochers.

4

Matt 12.14.15 at 8:46 pm

So renewables are tarred as needing subsidies, and supporting them can therefore be cast as throwing constituents money at moochers.

The electric vehicle and renewable energy tax credits are the only instances I can recall of Republicans decrying tax cuts. They’re not even refundable credits.

“Reduce our dependency on foreign oil*” was supposed to be one of those universal bipartisan goals like keeping children safe, right up until it became technically feasible to electrify personal transportation. It’s hard for me to imagine recent history if being an early adopter of (e.g.) personal computers or cellular phones had marked you as the tribal enemy of Republicans, like driving a hybrid vehicle or EV apparently does now.

*Yes, I know that very little electricity in the US comes from oil. I am referring to the partial substitution of electricity for liquid transportation fuels in hybrid and battery electric vehicles.

5

oldster 12.14.15 at 8:54 pm

Perhaps the right was defeated, but meanwhile a number of oligarchs managed to stave off the day for two decades, and socked away a *lot* of profits in the meanwhile. Profits that they will never disgorge willingly.

This looks to me like tobacco all over again. The tobacco companies stalled and lied and manipulated and lied for at least five decades after reasonable people knew the score on the dangers of smoking. Yes, at some point the forces of tobacco lost the long game. But they have never given up the profits, or paid any price for the millions they killed.

Who cares about being forced to retreat from stolen property when you get to keep all of the loot?

6

T 12.14.15 at 8:58 pm

JQ and @3
Obama’s “War on Coal” played a significant role in Republicans winning the Kentucky senate and governor’s races.

But the big issue in the US is the price of gasoline. Any politician suggesting raising gas taxes (for road improvements or the environment) is pilloried, esp. in rural states. And the rural and exurban culture warriors see it as a disproportionate tax on themselves. So I don’t see this going away as an issue here right away. But soon.

The economics are going to continue the shift energy generation from coal towards natural gas and renewables. And in 15 years when the self-driving electric cars completely take over, the gas price issue will fade, too.

7

Omega Centauri 12.14.15 at 8:59 pm

oldster: Tobacco companies are still cash cows. Maybe not as good “investments” as they would have been without legislation and the change in perception, but still they are making money. Now fossil fuel reserves, that money in the ground that is at least partly monetized by the stock market, so having to abandon it becomes a big deal for the ownership class.

8

T 12.14.15 at 9:01 pm

@5
The tobacco co. lost it in the US but are doing quite well in the developing world, thank you.

9

Brett 12.14.15 at 9:12 pm

Some form of oil and gas industry is going to survive even after we mostly switch over electricity generation and automobile power to renewables/renewable-generated electricity. It’s going to take a while to replace all those gas-powered furnaces, for example, and you’ll need oil for lubricants and plastics.

10

PlutoniumKun 12.14.15 at 9:25 pm

To a certain extent, environmentalists (and basically, all of us) got suckered by thinking that by supporting market solutions or emphasising things like freeing everyone from dependency on foreign oil that they could make common cause with the sensible right. I doubt it was conscious, but it turned into a highly successful way for the fossil fuel industry to sabotage any real attempt to tackle climate change. But I don’t doubt that the primary reason why the right adopted crankish scepticism was because there was so much money put behind it. We should never underestimate just how much money goes into manipulating the base among the right – the likes of the Koch brothers have always been Trotskyist in their approach – turn the base first, then force the ‘sensible’ mainstream to follow.

Of course, we can’t forget that a small but significant element of the left (including of course Unions associated with fossil fuel industries) was also on board.

I’d love to think that the right have caused themselves real damage by adapting such a naked anti-science approach, but unfortunately you only need look at recent election results around the world to see that this isn’t really the case. Its still quite possible that the ad-hoc alliances that form the anglosphere right wing may be torn apart by the likes of Trump, or the arrogant stupidity of their representatives in the UK, Canada and Australia, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The left has simply been too weak, and there is too much money involved.

As for COP21, despite my deep cynicism at the posturing by the usual suspects (including Obama, who has truly shocked me with his cynicism), I think it does represent something of a turning point, although I think its more a case of leaders hopping on a bandwagon, than leading the way. We might just have to thank our friends the Saudi’s for destroying the oil industry as a reliable long term investment, and the naked greed of investors in unconventional oil as helpers. There are some very exciting breakthroughs in technology for storage and energy saving likely very soon. Sadly, I suspect it will be too late – the horse has bolted. The best we can do is slow the horse down a little.

11

tony lynch 12.14.15 at 9:40 pm

We shall “pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees”. Yep. The point has clearly been turned.

12

Frank Wilhoit 12.14.15 at 9:50 pm

The right-wing attitude toward climate-change science is extremely simple: it is an instance (one among many upon many) of Bolshevik economic sabotage. For capitalists, it is always 1919.

This is not the interesting thing; the interesting thing is why they dare not say so. My best guess is that they have got so far out of the habit of calling any thing by its right name, in any forum, that it does not occur to them. Everyone in the bubble understands, don’t they?

13

Val 12.14.15 at 9:58 pm

There is of course also this:
The Sixth Day: Creatures on Land
…26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”…

I don’t mean to single out Christianity particularly, it’s just the religion I know most about, but some ecofeminists suggest that all the major monotheistic patriarchal religions that arose in the last few thousand years had a similar attitude, that Man should be dominant over Nature.

Which of course also brings us to Weber’s more recent claim that men (naturally) compete over “women, cattle, slaves [and] scarce land”.

The question of whether it is possible for societies to become environmentally sustainable while remaining (or becoming more) inequitable, is one I’m puzzling over at present. In the short term, maybe, in the longer term it seems unlikely, but that may be me believing what I want to believe, I suppose.

14

PlutoniumKun 12.14.15 at 9:59 pm

And as just one example of the idiocy…

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/offbeat/us-town-rejects-solar-panels-saying-they-suck-energy-from-sun-1.2465968

And its not just in the US – recently in a south Wales (the original, not the ‘new’ one) I was walking through a wealthy town where there were anti-solar posters with not dissimilar sentiments.

15

Val 12.14.15 at 11:21 pm

@14
There is a commenter on JQ’s Australian site saying similar things – solar panels are a problem because they absorb heat rather than reflecting it, and we should all be painting our rooves white instead of having solar panels. Presumably if we could just paint everything white, problem solved!

16

Bruce Wilder 12.15.15 at 12:27 am

PlutoniumKun @ 14

To some extent, that report in the Irish Times belongs to a genre of sophisticated Europeans making fun of the American rubes. I am going out on a limb here, but somehow I don’t imagine the editors of the Irish Times have a feel for local politics in some remote area of North Carolina, or care. They just want some juicy quotes. Context that might make even rough sense of local complaints are hardly welcome. The editors of the Irish Times, to their credit, did include some indications that people were complaining about adverse effects on property values of rather a lot of solar farms going up in the area, which is otherwise seeing economic opportunity and population decline.

17

Bill Hamlin 12.15.15 at 12:29 am

The argument from the left has always been too anti-Republican — concerned with scoring points against a strawman. They have missed the more reasonable point of view that, yes, burning coal makes the air smell bad; so now let’s turn to what to do about it. It’s that need to compromise that has kept this argument going on for years, just like the other arguments like gun control, education, the budget in general, and so on.

Compromise is a necessary evil in this world. In fact, having a situation where everyone was Democrat or everyone was Republican would be terrible — and in fact, that’s really not possible is it?

So let’s compromise on how we burn less foul-smelling things, and stop calling each other names.

18

iolanthe 12.15.15 at 12:59 am

Not sure the left are quite as enamoured with market mechanisms as you suggest, at least in Australia. Don’t forget that the Greens twice voted down Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme – had they not it would now be a well entrenched part of the Australian economic and political landscape. Some of this seems to have been due to a view that a $20+ initial carbon price was too low but as you correctly note there is a strong element of hostility to market mechanisms and a corresponding enthusiasm for making society better by telling people what to do. They also blocked a proposed increase to petrol excise on even more dubious grounds.

19

Layman 12.15.15 at 1:14 am

“So let’s compromise on how we burn less foul-smelling things, and stop calling each other names.”

Yes, the smell is the problem. Let’s burn fragrant woods!

20

John Quiggin 12.15.15 at 1:15 am

@18 I think you’re misreading particular political circumstances with a general anti-market position

* In the first case, Rudd compromised heavily to make a deal with Turnbull only to see him be rolled by the LNP. He then adopted *the same* deal as his own policy and presented it to the Greens on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with no negotiation or discussion. Whether or not it made sense for them to reject it, it wasn’t a surprising outcome.

* In the second case, it was a stuff-up by Christine Milne, which was very unpopular with most of the party, and contributed to her loss of leadership. Having waved through Abbott’s increase in the debt ceiling without any demands for a quid pro quo she was under intense pressure not to give him another win. After Milne went, the Greens tried to get back into the game, but Labor beat them to it.

In between, of course, the Greens and the Gillard government did in fact introduce a carbon price scheme much better than Rudd’s offer. If Gillard hadn’t messed up so badly, it would have been a piece of political genius or else amazing good luck.

21

Collin Street 12.15.15 at 1:20 am

> The argument from the left has always been too anti-Republican — concerned with scoring points against a strawman.

It is increasingly becoming obvious that “conservatism” is a mental-health or possibly cognitive problem. It’s

What

22

b9n10nt 12.15.15 at 1:27 am

Great post, thanks.

Bill Hamlin:

I think compromise is not a correct course. First of all…wait, something’s coming through…

23

Bruce Wilder 12.15.15 at 1:27 am

The hard truth of climate change, overpopulation, global resource limits, ocean ecology collapse and general and diverse assaults on the assimilative capacity of the earth’s environment, is that the only path forward that doesn’t risk catastrophe entails a general reduction in all energy use, not just a switch away from fossil fuels. Only a path forward that includes conservation in the short-term to offset the effects of transitional investments in new infrastructure and a design for that infrastructure that leaves a modern world using a fraction the total energy per capita that the current developed world uses — a fraction of the current total even if that future total comes almost entirely from non-fossil-fuel sources.

That’s not a hard truth that most of the Left is ready to preach. Some, who are ready to renounce modernity, are willing, but their very readiness to renounce modernity limits their persuasiveness.

What Paris represents is a neoliberal path forward — “too little, too late” some would say, though I think the real sadness is that the neoliberal way to achieve that necessary degree of resource conservation is likely to evolve in the direction of policies of depression, marginalization and mass exclusion, as the party continues for a narrow, globalized elite even as austerity is preached and bombs are dropped, to make the numbers add up (and up and up).

24

b9n10nt 12.15.15 at 1:28 am

You have a terrible and beautiful filter arriving
As your planet awakens to this human flowering,

Know that many have faced what you are now facing,

Congratulations on your diplomacy,
It’s import will be confirmed by events quickly arriving,

Somewhere In The Milky Way

25

Watson Ladd 12.15.15 at 1:35 am

Val, what do you think birth control pills are an example of, if not technological dominance over nature? As Simone de Beauvoir explained, only through modernity is woman’s liberation possible.

An agreement imposing no binding commitments, with no enforcement, and a target that is too high and far away. Color me unimpressed.

26

John Quiggin 12.15.15 at 1:38 am

@23 Can you spell out the argument here? What catastrophes would arise from greatly expanded use of wind and solar energy? How, if at all, do these interact with “overpopulation, global resource limits, ocean ecology collapse and general and diverse assaults on the assimilative capacity of the earth’s environment” ?

As a matter of fact, I agree that energy efficiency is under-rated, and will end up being at least as important as renewables, but I don’t see any real problem with lots and lots of renewables.

That doesn’t solve the other problems you mentioned, but at least staves off the prospect of a massive climate change that would render them all insoluble.

27

Rich Puchalsky 12.15.15 at 2:48 am

Bruce Wilder: “That’s not a hard truth that most of the Left is ready to preach.”

As one of the few commenters here who I’m still able to have a conversation with and learn something from, I sort of wish that you’d reconsider this. The “hard truth” that a reduction in use of everything is needed is *not* one that the left has been reluctant to preach. Of course, as soon as one says this, one has to ask which left is meant. All right then: the traditional or socialist left, which has been horrible on environmental issues generally, has not been willing to preach this supposed hard truth, but the environmentalist left has in the main been preaching some variant of zero population growth, reduced material use, lifestyle simplification and conservation since the 1970s. We developed the concept of sustainability, the whole science of conservation biology, and so on.

I don’t see any particular reason why many forms of renewable energy really are limited by ecological factors. Sure, we’re going to be limited by something, but we don’t have to deal with all problems at once. And the whole concept of “we’re going to be limited by something” assumes ever-increasing growth — it’s quite true that you can’t have unlimited growth on a finite planet, but it’s not true that current trends just continue upwards indefinitely even if no one plans to stop them.

So I think that this supposed hard truth is not a useful one for our time. Look at the reaction on this thread as an example. OK, we’ve gotten all of the world’s countries to sign up and say that this is important and we’re going to do what it takes for 1.5 degrees. People don’t seem to have any realization of what kind of machinery that sets in motion. So what if there is no enforcement mechanism — the Overton Window just shifted so hugely in the right direction that it’s now conventional wisdom that this is important, agreed upon, doable and is going to be done.

28

cassander 12.15.15 at 2:59 am

If the left would actually treat climate change like the crisis they claim it is, and stop treating it as an excuse to implement policies they were already in favor of, they’d win on the issue on a landslide. Show me a left wing embracing revenue neutral carbon taxes (not create a new entitlement carbon taxes) and nuclear power and I’ll believe they’re better on climate change than the right. Until then, they’re just as bad as the people who think that domestic terrorist attacks prove that we should build a border fence.

29

david 12.15.15 at 2:59 am

You’re counting your Australian chickens too early. Australia’s Westminsterial and that makes it more sensitive to volatile shifts in elite opinion, but the United States is not like that, and the US will continue to be influential.

There was a time when the center-left thought that it had tax-base-broadening-in-return-for-progressivity in the bag, too, but it turns out that people really don’t like sales taxes. Green types could be talked into carbon taxes because they are already deeply averse to car culture, but that’s not the same as talking the wider public into it. And:

Against that, the struggle to save the planet from dangerous climate change has chewed up a huge amount of energy and effort on the left. Arguably, that has distracted attention from economic issues, and allowed the steady rise of the 1 per cent to go unchallenged…

All petrol taxes are massively regressive, between the middle and 1%er classes. Atop that, legacy carbon permits entrench the already-existing gains of the shareholding class. Back in the wake of the GFC, CT’s own bloggers wrung their hands at length about the failure of the growth-and-redistribution consensus to sustain sufficient redistribution, but on this set of externality reductions, the redistributive anxieties have been easily forgotten.

At the moment the neoliberal/internationalist left has once again roared to power in the left coalition, as the populists have switched their attention to immigration, refugees, and global Islamism, and have therefore been politely expelled to the right – the Anglospheric left tent may tolerate many heresies, but crass racism is not one of them. If the tide turns back to antiglobalization, pacifism, and respectable insinuations about the foreign natures of the rootless 1%, the apparent consensus will readily collapse.

30

Val 12.15.15 at 3:07 am

@25
Watson you seem to be making the common mistake of supposing that women have children all by themselves and are therefore not only ‘essentially’ responsible for having to care for them, but ‘naturally’ subject to all sorts of social and economic limitations because of that, none of which is correct. Simone de Beauvoir was a pioneer but not right about everything. Birth control in one form or another has been around for ages. Unsustainable rates of population growth are associated with the oppression of women, and declines in the birth rate are clearly associated with education and empowerment of women.

I think you should educate yourself on this subject. Also I think CT should try to encourage higher standards of debate on feminist and gender issues, because a lot of the responses I get, like this one from you, seem to be ill-informed attempts at “gotchas”.

31

John Quiggin 12.15.15 at 3:16 am

@28

On the first, point, the revenue from the Australian carbon price/tax was fully returned as tax reductions and inflation adjustments to pensions (emitters also got a fair bit back in the form of free permits). Tony Abbott, then leader of the Opposition, and until recently our PM, denounced this modest measure as a “wrecking ball” destroying the economy, although it had almost no impact.

On the second, the Obama administration’s “all of the above” policy continued generous support to nuclear power, and has attracted little opposition from the left. Of course, it’s also attracted hardly any takers, reflecting the dismal economics of nuclear, particularly in the absence of a high carbon price. These facts are entirely irrelevant to the right, who continue to carry on as if nuclear could solve all our problems if it weren’t for the opposition of unspecified leftists.

You might as well face the facts, of which you are clearly aware: your side of politics is committed to tribalism. Nothing the left could offer will shift them. On the contrary, as this case indicates, the moment the left adopts policies put forward by the right (eg Romneycare) those policies become anathema.

32

Rich Puchalsky 12.15.15 at 3:21 am

david: “All petrol taxes are massively regressive, between the middle and 1%er classes. Atop that, legacy carbon permits entrench the already-existing gains of the shareholding class. “

Yes — this is the main area in which I think that JQ has the wrong idea. No population that I’m familiar with is going to let the negative externalities of carbon be charged to them and not have so much political resistance that the trading scheme / carbon tax / whatever is going to be thrown out. What populations will accept are changes in built infrastructure, which come down to regulation and good old command-and-control.

You can see this in e.g. the way that JQ (helpfully) signs on to letters saying that governments should close down coal mines or at least not permit new ones. There is never going to be an international carbon trading scheme / carbon tax / whatever that some poor country isn’t going to evade because they are poor and coal is (in the short run) cheap. Having governments not permit new coal mines — and having the power plant makers of the industrialized world convert over en masse to building power plants that use something else and that eventually get adopted even by the poorest countries — is a typically command-and-control way forwards that has nothing to do with the price of coal per se.

33

Lee A. Arnold 12.15.15 at 3:26 am

There is at least one environmental issue where market property rights cannot work, wilderness preservation.

34

Val 12.15.15 at 3:27 am

@31
Was the money all returned to pensioners and low income groups? I thought originally some of it was used to establish the CEFC, Arena and so on? Or were they funded from General revenue with no link to the carbon price?

35

Val 12.15.15 at 3:28 am

Sorry spell check seems determined to treat revenue as a General in the army.

36

John Quiggin 12.15.15 at 3:39 am

Val, IIRC, households were overcompensated, and the package as a whole was slightly budget negative. In any case, net impacts were tiny (order of 0.1 per cent of GDP).

37

Val 12.15.15 at 3:40 am

Also apologies to non-Australians – under the previous Labor government in Australia we had a package of legislation that set up a carbon price and a number of bodies to develop and support clean energy technologies (this is what I am talking about as CEFC, Arena etc). Their funding was not directly legislated to come from the carbon price revenue (otherwise they would have been automatically defunded when the Abbott government repealed the carbon price), but I thought it did de facto when we had the carbon price – so that’s what I am asking JQ.

I’m not trying to undermine your point either JQ, just a technical question I guess.

38

Val 12.15.15 at 3:45 am

Thanks JQ our posts crossed then. Also – it’s ancient history I guess, but bears repeating as a warning to other nations – the way the money went to low income households, it was not clear to them that they were being overcompensated for the effects of the carbon price, and Tony Abbott was able to very dishonestly claim that they were losing as a result of the carbon price.

Never under-estimate the trickery of conservatives!

39

cassander 12.15.15 at 4:12 am

@jq

>On the first, point, the revenue from the Australian carbon price/tax was fully returned as tax reductions and inflation adjustments to pensions

we’ve had this discussion before, what part of “creating new entitlements is not lowering taxes” do you have trouble with?

>On the second, the Obama administration’s “all of the above” policy continued generous support to nuclear power, and has attracted little opposition from the left.

It’s attracted little opposition because it’s done little. But since almost everything obama does attracts little criticism from the left, what’s your point? Or do you sincerely think that tribalism is solely a right wing vice?

>if it weren’t for the opposition of unspecified leftists.

Are you really denying the going on 40 year left wing campaign against nuclear power? That takes some chutzpah.

>You might as well face the facts, of which you are clearly aware: your side of politics is committed to tribalism.

So is your side. Tribalism is human nature.

>the left adopts policies put forward by the right (eg Romneycare)

you mean the policy that was forced on the romney by one of the most left leaning legislature in the country? That the president had to bribe the right wing of his own party of accept? Yeah, that was a real generous wing offer.

Or do you remember the time when the Obama tried to pass a free trade bill and all the republicans voted against him out of spite? Yeah, I don’t either. Can we please put this absurd meme to rest?

The way you get around tribalism is by coming up with ways to accomplish your ends with the other tribe’s means. You want a carbon tax? great, make it part of a package that actually lowers taxes. Not that expands entitlements or creates new ones, one that means people see less taken out of their paycheck every month. Want cleaner energy? great, roll out a massive nuclear power program.

When you do that, you make tribalism work for you. It will ensure most of your side holds its nose and goes along with you, and taking up their pet issue will win you enough of the other tribe to make it over the hump. That’s how Obama passed the TPP vote, how bush passed no child left behind, and whatever you think of the quality of those laws, both presidents thought of them as important successes. What you don’t do is trot out the same tired cliches you’ve been preaching for 30 years then complain when only the choir likes them. That’s how you wind up with the ACA, a bill written by democratic senators, for democratic senators, that most people, even most democratic senators, don’t much like.

40

John Quiggin 12.15.15 at 4:19 am

I have no idea what ““creating new entitlements ” can mean here. Are you claiming that maintaining the real value of pensions in the context of a shift from income to consumption taxes is “creating a new entitlement” ? If so, as you imply, we are done here.

41

cassander 12.15.15 at 4:45 am

>reating new entitlements ” can mean here. Are you claiming that maintaining the real value of pensions in the context of a shift from income to consumption taxes is “creating a new entitlement”

No, that would be expanding an old entitlement.

The whole point of my strategy is you have to get this stuff right. you have to be able to sell your plan in language and using methods that the other side is predisposed to like. Dicking around with pension formulae is not something that the right cares about. You need to be able to get up there and say unequivocally “pass this plan and we’ll save the planet and lower your taxes”, and to do that you need a plan that cannot be spun as “another left wing boondoggle.”

And frankly, if you aren’t willing to cut government revenue pass something you claim will save the planet, then I doubt your sincerity on the cause anyway.

42

Bruce Wilder 12.15.15 at 4:54 am

RP @ 27: Sure, we’re going to be limited by something, but we don’t have to deal with all problems at once. And the whole concept of “we’re going to be limited by something” assumes ever-increasing growth — it’s quite true that you can’t have unlimited growth on a finite planet, but it’s not true that current trends just continue upwards indefinitely even if no one plans to stop them.

You’re better at my arguments than I am. Do we have to deal with all problems all at once? Yes and no; we have to deal each individual problem in a global context that entails these other problems of similar scale and immediate relevance. Sometimes, these relationships are acute. That we are dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels at the same time we are dealing with the phenomena of peak oil matters. It means, for example, that marginal oil extraction is going to be especially dirty and there will be strong economic pressures to externalize risks and costs. That we are dealing with the implications for climate of dumping CO2 into the atmosphere at the same time we are dealing with the implications for ocean ecology of increasing concentrations of CO2 in seawater is more than coincidence — climate change mitigation measures that don’t restrain CO2 emissions leave damage to the ocean ecology unaddressed, and this ought to affect the choices we make in responding to climate change.

You are certainly correct that current trends do not continue upwards in a pattern of unlimited growth, even if no one tries to stop them. The economic problem is that one doesn’t just hit a ceiling, pull back and adjust to the discovery of a hard, fixed upper limit, back on terra firma. It’s more like you reach a peak and start down a slope without even fully realizing that you are on a downslope, and pretty soon you are sliding downhill with no means of controlling your descent. Peak oil is a prime example of what reaching a global limit looks like — and contrary to the Hollywood apocalypse version, its dangers are ambiguous and contradictory. There’s a real temptation to throw resources at the problem and risk serious long-term environmental problems to gain a few more years; the price can plummet as well as skyrocket, and plummeting may be more dangerous than the skyrocket.

The general risk with global resource limits is the decline in power and productivity that they entail: as the resource is depleted, the power of humans to leverage the resource diminishes. More planning and deliberate management may be called for and we may find that we have to pedal harder just to stay in place, and then we may find that pedalling harder is just accelerating us on a downward course.

So, yes, we will have to deal with each problem as it comes, and individually, locally and in detail. That’s in the nature of things. But, if it’s not going to be a game of whack-a-mole, we also have to deal with each problem with awareness of the global context so that we don’t choose a solution to problem A that just pushes externalities off into the domain of problem B.

I am suggesting strongly that awareness of global context ought to lead us to have very ambitious conservation goals, especially for infrastructure planning. If we are going to mitigate all of these various problems that arise from the increasing impact of human economic activity, that we have to reduce human activity, at least in the sense of energy use.

One thing you (Rich) and I agree on is the importance of infrastructure planning and commitment alongside a carbon price. A carbon price, by itself, won’t stick, unless the bones of the economic system allow economic activity to go forward.

In terms of reducing carbon emissions in the short to the medium term, you cannot beat conservation as an effective policy. The U.S., in particular, is so absurdly wasteful in its marginal economic activity as well as its profligate use of energy, that well-managed constraint might be experienced more as a relief than a burden. And, politically, identifying a way forward for communities that are seeing their obsolete vision of driving to better homes, jobs, schools, shopping, communities fade into foreclosure and globalization, is critical. Putting that way forward into even the barest outline as infrastructure is an essential way to start building the consensus expectations that can carry what will have to be a multi-generational approach.

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Omega Centauri 12.15.15 at 5:10 am

Certain individuals keep throwing out the idea, that the only way to have a green energy sector is to build lots of Nuclear plants, and blame the left for opposing that. There are two realities that need to be realized that affect this conclusion. The first is economic and engineering related, and that is that renewables technology has already reached the point where a claim that we can’t do it without nuclear is dubious. You need to mark your assumptions to the evolving technological landscape -not the landscape as it existed ten years ago. The second is concerns the interaction of politics, psychology, and engineering. And that is that Nuclear power strongly resembles the space shuttle. And that resemblance is that the technology cannot be made to have a politically acceptable perception of safety at an affordable price. We could argue until the cows come home whether the popular perception of risk/benefits is unfairly skewed in this case. But you have to design an energy policy with the risk perception your society has, not that risk perception that an unemotional engineer might produce. The nuclear option, is simply not present in any meaningful way.

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cassander 12.15.15 at 5:30 am

>The first is economic and engineering related, and that is that renewables technology has already reached the point where a claim that we can’t do it without nuclear is dubious.

We have examples of countries switching over almost entire to nuclear and generating massive amounts of nuclear power. The existing US nuclear industry generates enough power for all of india, or the UK and Italy combined, and there are no meaningful technical limits to its expansion. The only examples of countries managing that with renewables have only gotten their by fudging the numbers, and taking advantage of relatively unique geography.

>And that is that Nuclear power strongly resembles the space shuttle. And that resemblance is that the technology cannot be made to have a politically acceptable perception of safety at an affordable price.

Well, one, we have seen this happen. france did it in the 70s. But two, and this is perhaps more important, to the extent that this is the case, it is because the left has spent the better part of 40 years preaching the dangers of nuclear power. Were the leaders of the left to rapidly reverse course on the issue that sentiment would change rapidly. Again, it’s about making tribalism for you, not against you.

>The nuclear option, is simply not present in any meaningful way.

If it isn’t present, then the renewable options, which much less technically feasible, and at least as much trouble politically (though for different reasons), are even less present, and we might as well sell our beachfront property.

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Peter T 12.15.15 at 5:53 am

cassander: if you aren’t ready to sacrifice one child to save the other, you’re just not a serious parent!

I’m with both JQ and BW. Solutions have to match scale. Climate change is a global problem, so a global solution is imperative. Paris is a good start. But many environmental problems are local – if you live by the Yangtze, it does you no good as you sip your poisoned water to know that the Thames is cleaner. Effective environmental management has, in the past, been both heavily statist and local – an affair of stringent government in areas no larger than a European province.

The local aspect undermines globalism; the government aspect does not appeal to the modern right (although it fits comfortably with conservative oligarchy). I expect we’ll see a cultural shift on both as the extent of the disrepair becomes ever more evident.

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Bruce Wilder 12.15.15 at 7:01 am

JQ @ 26: Can you spell out the argument here? What catastrophes would arise from greatly expanded use of wind and solar energy?

I don’t know.

One thread of argument is that all production and use of energy entails waste. The profile of waste differs with the technology, but it is always there in rough proportion to the quantitative use of energy. That some technologies and their waste profiles are to be preferred over others, I don’t doubt. But, I also don’t doubt that the energy we don’t use produces no waste at all.

Moreover, while I don’t doubt that we should pursue wind and solar with haste, as replacements for fossil fuels, I also think that as we scale up the use of those technologies, they will burden us and our environment in their own peculiar and particular ways. The sheer scale ensures that their impact will be magnified. The surface area of solar panels might approach the surface area of pavement by 2070. Even if the photovoltaic process itself produces few immediate unwanted by-products, the production and deployment and recycling of the panels will, as will the uses to which we put the energy.

A third thread of the argument is that as we move into cycles of development that are shorter and encompass a larger scale, we repeatedly run risks, with less time to notice an unexpected consequence while the scale of deployment is still small. Do we have time to notice that lead in gasoline is poisoning the air and the children who breathe it? Do we have time to notice that freon in hairspray cans is punching a hole in the ozone? It took 50 to 70 years for the wired, switching telephone to become a mass appliance for three hundred million (c 1950); we’ve been thru 4 generations of cellphone in 20 years and there are almost as many cellphone subscriptions in use as there are people on earth. The scale and pace of the industrial revolution in the 21st century should give us reason for prudential pause.

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John Quiggin 12.15.15 at 7:01 am

As regards Cassander, do what I say and not what I do. Please don’t feed the trolls.

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reason 12.15.15 at 8:28 am

Matt @4
“like keeping children safe,”
Since when has keeping children safe been a bi-partisan goal. Should I present figures on children’s health and children’s poverty in the US? Not to mention sex education.

49

reason 12.15.15 at 8:32 am

Bill Hamlin @17
??? Carbon di Oxide is odourless? What has smell got to do with anything?

50

reason 12.15.15 at 8:35 am

With regard to carbon taxes and the like, I have NEVER understood why proponents have never embraced making it revenue neutral by distributing the proceeds evenly to the entire the population. What is NOT to like about that – not only good for the environment but redistributive.

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Tim Worstall 12.15.15 at 10:52 am

Does all depend a little bit upon what you call “the right”. Greg Mankiw has been arguing for a gas tax (for carbon reasons) for near a decade now. I’m pretty sure on all other matters you’d consider him to be “right wing”.

Although entirely with you on the Oz carbon tax. It was the only one properly done so far and then the only one rescinded. Madness….

52

Dipper 12.15.15 at 11:27 am

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Lee A. Arnold 12.15.15 at 11:33 am

Al Gore has argued since much LONGER than a decade ago for carbon taxes, revenue-neutral by reducing US Social Security taxes.

Deafening silence ensued, even when mentioned in these comments threads.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.15.15 at 2:14 pm

reason: “With regard to carbon taxes and the like, I have NEVER understood why proponents have never embraced making it revenue neutral by distributing the proceeds evenly to the entire the population.”

Someone actually has to pay for new infrastructure to be built. Old power plants need to be retired, new ones constructed, car and truck fleets have to have their engines replaced (or equivalent), new refueling stations need to be made, new power lines, new transport, new research needs to be done and so on. All of this costs far less than the cost of letting the carbon pile up in the environment. But it’s still a cost. And the cost of carbon piling up is deferred into the future (for the most part) and not readily apparent right now.

So I flatly don’t understand the revenue neutrality / let’s distribute it to the population thing. Is it supposed to be an accounting fiction? OK. Sure, people can make whatever accounting fictions they like. But it’s a cost, so how can it be distributed as a neutrality? As J.W. Mason just wrote in another post here, which I agree with: who’s really going to pay? It’s political negotiation all the way down. And I think that a carbon tax of some sort is far, far more easily passed along to the middle and lower class than a requirement that when you make a new power plant or design a new car line you have to make / design it in a particular way. Individual people don’t build power plants or design cars, so this doesn’t become some kind of farcical negotiation in which individual people are assumed to have the market power to really change what parts of their local infrastructure they use.

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Omega Centauri 12.15.15 at 2:49 pm

I see Mother Jones has just published a report showing Republican/Democrat opinions towards AGW.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/12/republican-donors-climate-change

They broke supporters into three categories, donors, voters, and non-voters. The donors are hyperpartisans, whilst the voters and non-voters are more nuanced. But, I think as far as the power relationship goes, the parties can largely rely on their voters to continue to vote for them, regardless of whether they are at odds with them on this issue, so the donors largely get to determine party policy.

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Omega Centauri 12.15.15 at 2:52 pm

Rick @54.
The revenue neutral thing is really about policy marketing, rather then optimal policy. The free market argument is that if you get the economic prices right, the system will steer capital to where it is best utilized. So (in theory), the capital for the infrastructure transition comes from private investment. Not ideal, but better than no social cost of carbon.

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reason 12.15.15 at 3:16 pm

Rick @54
Yes Omega Centauri has the correct answer.

The important thing here is the distinction between marginal cost and average cost, there will be winners and losers even if it is revenue neutral, but the best thing about it is that it will be right winners and the right losers. With a straight extra imposition, even good guys (people making a genuine effort to reduce their footprint) might ve losers.

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Tim Worstall 12.15.15 at 3:31 pm

“Al Gore has argued since much LONGER than a decade ago for carbon taxes, revenue-neutral by reducing US Social Security taxes.”

A perfectly useful solution too.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.15.15 at 3:39 pm

I don’t understand your answers, but it’s probably not worth thread space getting me to understand. I’m most confused about “So (in theory), the capital for the infrastructure transition comes from private investment”: are people aware, generally, what proportion of vital energy infrastructure worldwide was actually built from private investment? My offhand guess would be less than a fourth. Hell, utilities even in the U.S. often still get guaranteed profit margins, so I suppose that it’s “private investment”, but… I’m also confused about the sense in which individuals or even groups of individuals can be “good guys (people making a genuine effort to reduce their footprint) ” can exist. If you live in Texas and have to drive to work, how do you reduce your footprint? Starve? In my experience people who do the most genuine efforts to reduce their footprints are hobbyists with a lot of disposable income.

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cassander 12.15.15 at 3:41 pm

@peter T

>cassander: if you aren’t ready to sacrifice one child to save the other, you’re just not a serious parent!

If you don’t understand the concept of priorities, then I can’t help you. However much you might want a new entitlement program, I think it’s clear that that that is less important that the apocalyptic consequences you seem to believe wait in store if we don’t fix climate change. Well, here’s a method I think will work. If you disagree, fine, let’s argue about that. but resorting to petty insults reinforces the perception that you care more about accomplishing traditional left wing goals than actually solving the climate problem, and that perception is a big part of the reason the left isn’t making headway on climate.

@JQ

If the standard for trolling around here is saying that your goal is right, but your methods are wrong, then you’ve gotten embarrassingly thin skinned.

@reason

to the extent that you mitigate the impact of climate taxes, you undermine their utility as pigouvigian taxes.

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reason 12.15.15 at 3:54 pm

cassander
no you are wrong (if you said to SOME extent – true, but you didn’t).

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cassander 12.15.15 at 3:59 pm

@reason

>no you are wrong (if you said to SOME extent – true, but you didn’t).

you are correct. the effect is not 100% and I didn’t mean to imply that it was. Carelessness on my part.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.15.15 at 4:23 pm

Tim Worstall: “A perfectly useful solution too.”

Let’s destroy Social Security’s funding mechanism in order to have a carbon tax? Well that’s not regressive at all.

If something is truly revenue neutral for the government, and that “something” involves a large cost to be paid by someone, then either a) you must expect that the government won’t do it, or b) you expect that the government will do less of something else because it spent resources doing it. I don’t see how either of these end up as anything but highly regressive. If you expect the private sector to do it, they charge what the market will bear, and the lower and middle class has to spend a much higher proportion of their income on energy than the upper class. If you expect the government to spend less money on something else, then I suppose that in theory this could be progressive if the government spent a lot less money on defense, but that’s not how it generally works.

In short I think that this whole concept of “it’s revenue neutral, we just guide the market and the poor / middle class don’t end up paying for it” is mistaken.

64

magari 12.15.15 at 4:24 pm

Another way to put Bruce’s point, switching to wind and solar power will be useful to solving the climate problem, but will do nothing to address the material throughput problem. Just take a look at the massive deforestation of SE Asia to get a sense of what I mean. Or the Pacific trash gyre. Or the collapse of fisheries. Etc.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.15.15 at 4:35 pm

magari: “Another way to put Bruce’s point, switching to wind and solar power will be useful to solving the climate problem, but will do nothing to address the material throughput problem. “

1. We don’t have to address every problem at the same time. It’s better to address some problems than no problems.

2. “will do nothing to address” is not true.

Person A: How can we possibly handle the ozone depletion problem?

Person B: Well we could have an international agreement eliminating CFCs.

(years later)

Person A: How can we possibly handle the anthropogenic greenhouse problem?

Person B: Well there’s the Montreal Protocol as a model–

Person A: No, it can’t work, this problem is too big.

(years later)

Person A: How can we possibly handle the material throughput problem?

Person B: Well there’s the Paris Agreements as a model–

Person A: No, it can’t work, this problem is too big.

Person A’s objection progressively loses steam.

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Omega Centauri 12.15.15 at 4:42 pm

Rich, my agrument about the revenue neutral carbon tax, is a case of don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So we seek a regulatory/tax regime which is somewhat better than we have now, knowing that we will have to compromise in order to get anything at all. The US national political environment just won’t support a non revenue neutral carbon tax. A few states have been able to do better, for instance some of Californias carbon tax is not redistributed, but is invested in infrastructure projects. Thats not a political option in red and purple states.

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BBA 12.15.15 at 5:47 pm

The Republican party will control both houses of Congress and most state governments for the foreseeable future. If a Republican wins the presidency next year, expect national policy to be a massive expansion in fossil fuel use, partially as a giveaway to the extraction industries but mostly because it’d piss off Democrats.

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cassander 12.15.15 at 6:00 pm

@Rich Puchalsky

>Let’s destroy Social Security’s funding mechanism in order to have a carbon tax? Well that’s not regressive at all.

how is removing one method and replacing it that you like better destroying anything?

>If something is truly revenue neutral for the government, and that “something” involves a large cost to be paid by someone, then either a) you must expect that the government won’t do it, or b) you expect that the government will do less of something else because it spent resources doing it.

You might be misunderstanding what we mean by revenue neutral. We are not talking about the government giving back the money it takes it, but that for every dollar you raise with a carbon tax, you lower other taxes by at least that much, preferably eliminating whole taxes.

>In short I think that this whole concept of “it’s revenue neutral, we just guide the market and the poor / middle class don’t end up paying for it” is mistaken.

the mistake is the belief that you can raise the price of a good that the poor and middle class disproportionately consume without them paying for it, at least in the short to medium term.

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Layman 12.15.15 at 6:13 pm

“how is removing one method and replacing it that you like better destroying anything?”

If the purpose of a carbon tax is to reduce carbon emissions – and it is – one could reasonably expect carbon emissions to eventually decline, and the resulting tax revenues to suffer. What then? Try to reinstate a payroll tax? I’d say Rich P. reads this right.

In any event, the idea of a revenue neutral carbon tax seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t revenues from a pollution tax be used to fund the reduction of said pollution, or the mitigation of its impact?

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Matt 12.15.15 at 6:56 pm

If the purpose of a carbon tax is to reduce carbon emissions – and it is – one could reasonably expect carbon emissions to eventually decline, and the resulting tax revenues to suffer. What then? Try to reinstate a payroll tax? I’d say Rich P. reads this right.

I seem to recall reading a few years ago that some states planned on a cake-and-eating-it strategy for cigarette tax revenue/smoking reduction, and faced budget shortfalls as smoking rates (and cigarette consumption) declined faster than projected. I’m not able to dig up a citation at the moment though. Assuming that wasn’t a figment of my imagination, I could easily see the same thing happening with emissions taxes. Cigarette taxes too are both Pigouvian and regressive in effect. Their regressive nature isn’t enough for me to oppose them though I’m not going to claim they are the best of all smoking reduction measures.

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John Quiggin 12.15.15 at 6:58 pm

Dipper @52 Always good to read the links in a post before suggesting an omission. I made this and other points in the post linked in the first sentence

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Omega Centauri 12.15.15 at 7:10 pm

Rich “If you live in Texas and have to drive to work, how do you reduce your footprint? “
I could think of a number of ways, most of which involve using a more carbon efficient vehicle. For the most part these will save you money over the long haul, so its not just for wealthy hobbyist types, but could be part of an frugal lifestyle tuneup.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.15.15 at 8:20 pm

I only brought up Gore to show that this is entirely a political thing. NO matter who proposes it, the other side won’t go for it. I don’t think it’s the best idea. I don’t go for carbon taxes anyway, because it gets complicated. It’s clear that technological innovation is headed in the right direction already, and Paris should give it a nice PR boost. But most of the carbon users are the hardest hit by taxes already, so I think you’d have to make them revenue neutral. If you want to increase revenues overall, raise other taxes on the 1%, a policy that happens to be supported by 99% (minus a few knuckleheads who buy into the “makers vs. takers” bafflegab).

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cassander 12.15.15 at 9:20 pm

@Layman

>If the purpose of a carbon tax is to reduce carbon emissions – and it is – one could reasonably expect carbon emissions to eventually decline, and the resulting tax revenues to suffer. What then? Try to reinstate a payroll tax? I’d say Rich P. reads this right.

Since the notion of dedicated funding for SS is an irrelevant accounting trick, yes, you set up a new payroll tax. Or more likely, just increase income taxes to make up for the difference. hell, you could even build that into the initial law if you wanted.

>In any event, the idea of a revenue neutral carbon tax seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t revenues from a pollution tax be used to fund the reduction of said pollution, or the mitigation of its impact?

this sentiment is precisely why the right accuses you guys of wanting to expand the state for it’s own sake. The sensible way to go about governance is to decide the things you want to do, then go about finding the money for them. It is not grab as much money as you possibly can than decide how to spend it. The source of the tax dollars should not have any impact on your decisions about what is or is not a valuable use of those dollars.

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ZM 12.16.15 at 12:30 am

I am not so much in favour of a carbon tax; and I think a more general ghg tax would be better since then it would apply to land use and farming etc. And I think it should be levied at the point of consumption not production if the idea is to encourage behaviour change, which would make it an additional consumption tax based on greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services. You would need to train enough people to do this sort of ghg accounting before you could implement the policy though, so it will take some time, as ghg accounting at the consumption level is not quite accurate enough at the moment is my understanding.

Since the idea is to stop using fossil fuels I think it would be better to be giving assistance to the fossil fuel mining and energy companies and workers to transition the businesses where possible, and to make a path to shut down in a proper way in an appropriate time frame if it’s not possible to transition. This might be selling off the energy grids for example since they are still useful even if the coal power station and mines shut down in 15-20 years. It is already a difficult situation for those businesses and workers, they are being told their business is responsible for causing climate change and that they should change/shut down – taxing them is just going to make it more difficult for them, and it takes the responsibility away from consumption which is what needs to change more since most people are consumers not owners or workers in fossil fuel companies – so focussing on the small minority is not a good strategy when you need everyone to embrace change.

In terms of the increased regulation/expansion of the state/infrastructure building – I think everyone knows that the conservatives do have a relatively valid point about this that was accepted by the left about the issues with top down bureaucracy – in America the example is of Robert Moses and his highways versus Jane Jacobs.

I don’t think the solution is not having regulation and not changing infrastructure to be more sustainable – it is better to for the tiers of government to work with the community and businesses so that the result is more well rounded and accepted by the mainstream. I think it will be interesting to see what happens in Detroit in the US, they have a really good community centred director of planning now, and have started zoning for urban farming including livestock I think – and since there are so many empty/run down houses and other buildings it will be a really interesting slate for sustainable and people centred development. And because of its place in American history and culture if a renewal is achieved there it will seem achievable for other working class sort of places.

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Val 12.16.15 at 2:06 am

ZM I agree with you in some ways about your theory of consumption taxes – at a personal level, it does seem wrong that some people (including myself) are doing our best to live in a sustainable way while others make no such efforts. There is an issue of social justice here. However there would also be important social justice concerns in imposing a consumption tax – for example, in Australian cities and regional areas, people often drive much more because they have limited access to public transport. Many of them also live in those areas because of livelihood or because they have low incomes so it would be unfair to subject them to a consumption tax based on their ghgs from driving. How would you get around things like that?

Consumption taxes in general are regressive and impose an unfair burden on people who can least afford it, so I think there are major problems in your idea, even if I would personally like to see people who drive cars around the inner suburbs when they could be using public transport or walking, slugged as much as you like :)

To be honest I think you often have to come back to regulation (I didn’t really understand what you were saying about this though, perhaps you can expand a bit). The obsession with ‘putting a price’ on things and consumption taxes is really part of the whole neoliberal shift which is contributing to both rising inequality and increasing emissions.

I also agree with you that there need to be real transition plans which involve support for workers (and if necessary support for organisations), but fossil fuel and mining companies have had plenty of warning – they should already have transition plans in place and they have the resources to do so, government should not need to support them wholesale.

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ZM 12.16.15 at 3:30 am

Val,

“…How would you get around things like that?”

I think Bruce Wilder made an important point above about the solutions needing to be integrated. The government can’t on the one hand levy a consumption tax based on greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time encourage GHG intensive consumption through things like infrastructure provision.

Public transport needs a lot of improvement in Melbourne, the easiest thing to change at the moment would be the bus system since you can address network issues reasonably quickly, and cities around the world are working to get bus makers move to make electric vehicles.

I agree there will need to be regulation, and I don’t think GHG consumption taxes could be phased in immediately. You could probably phase them in in the near term if you decided on using fairly coarse GHG accounting methods, and move to refine this accounting over a decade or more.

This would have the co-benefit of allowing people to see their GHG emissions associated with consumption as they get receipts and invoices, which takes the burden off individuals entering in consumption to apps, and means everyone would have this information, businesses would know the sort of GHG emissions associated with their products, and I think it would be a good thing in terms of transparency and encouraging behaviour change.

As you say it is regressive, but we already have the 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) here, which I think replaced a more wide ranging sort of consumption/import duties and taxes. There is already a lot of discussion about either raising the GST or including more items in the GST like fruit and vegetables.

So the government could adjust the GST to account for GHG emissions (and other environmental factors related to consumption if it wanted) so as to give both price signals and information to consumers and businesses, and to raise revenue. So it could range from a low to high amount based on the emissions of products. This would initially raise more revenue than it would when it started to take effect on behaviour, when the revenue would decrease. It would also have an effect on consumption, which would effect businesses, so the policy would have to be developed fairly carefully, and resulting equity issues could be dealt with by adjustments to the taxation and welfare payment system.

I don’t imagine this would raise enough revenue to fund the necessary infrastructure transition, but I think it is better to make the GST relate to something like GHG emissions, rather than just have a GST based on consumption alone. And then you don’t have the carbon tax focused only on energy businesses instead of on the community generally.

To fund the sort of transition that is needed probably requires a similar amount of finance as the war and post-war reconstruction efforts. So you probably need to raise money through bonds and make a national development bank and so on. Since money is not linked to gold anymore, it should work out fine creating new money like this.

Fossil fuel mining in Australia is usually done by companies that are diversified in their mining interests (at least that was what I heard at a talk) — but it would mean writing off assets for these companies. Coal and Gas power plants would end up needing to be decommissioned which would mean the businesses will most likely fold in 15- 20ish years, with maybe selling off some infrastructure like if they own the grids.

I have never heard of a similar sort of situation where a type of business knows it is going to have to fold in 15-20ish years. There would be no reason for people to invest in them for the long term , and the existing shareholders would know their shares will become worthless and unsaleable. But at the same time no one wants them to shut down immediately, only in 15-20 wish years when renewables are ready to take over.

Even though the fossil fuel companies have plenty of warning, I don’t think that makes the business outlook any better for them and the shareholders.

I wish the Victorian government never privatised our energy utilities, it was very short-sighted.

The best thing to do would be for the government to work out the value of the companies in terms of their foreseeable use and income from bills for the next 15-20ish years, and then buy the energy utilities back again from the owners and shareholders, and plan to decommission them when the time is right.

But I doubt the government will do that, so I don’t know what will happen with these businesses.

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cassander 12.16.15 at 3:39 am

@ZM

How on earth do you not see the enormous opportunity for graft your GHG accounting would create? And the certainty that it would descend into the sort of cronyism, central planning, and outright corruption that would make the most cynical GOSPLAN apparatchik blush to think of?

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ZM 12.16.15 at 3:59 am

We already have a consumption tax which works fine, so a GHG emissions based consumption tax would work fine as well. The main difficulty would be working out the GHG accounting, which as I said would be fair coarse in the near term.

This would be a way to avoid central planning, as I am always suggesting rationing like in wartime but no-one ever likes the idea.

I doubt it would result in more cronyism and corruption in Australia than the GST we already have.

This is an issue with Environmental Audits at the moment, since the auditors are appointed by the developers, so often they underplay environmental risks and damage. To avoid a similar sort of thing you would have the GHG accountants working for an independent authority, so they wouldn’t be subject to commercial or political pressures.

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John Quiggin 12.16.15 at 11:22 am

Coming back to the point of the OP, the question of whether the culture war could have been avoided with cleverer rhetoric from the pro-planet side, or by packaging policies even more obviously friendly to the market, is now academic in the pejorative sense of the term. The (Anglo-American) right chose to fight on this ground, and have now locked themselves into insane conspiracy theories – there’s no point in trying to reach them now, and no need to do so. The world community has reached agreement, and the issue, like the science, is settled.

The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

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John Quiggin 12.16.15 at 11:24 am

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of work to be done in keeping governments up to the mark, overcoming local vested interests and so on. But the time for a “grand bargain” on this issue has passed.

82

Dipper 12.16.15 at 1:55 pm

@81

the direction of travel is clear, but there is no agreement on whether we are strolling or sprinting. The Equilibrium Climate Change Sensitivity is in the range of 1.5C to 4.5C which in terms of outcome is in the range of slightly bad to absolutely catastrophic. There is no consensus on regime shifts with some scientists saying they are imminent and some saying not this century. Attacking denier foes is an easy way of avoiding the range of opinions in the AGW camp.

This gap matters because the policy response is determined by the rate of travel. In the UK the policy has been a text book example of how not to address a problem. Politicians with no scientific background panicked and clutched at whatever snake-oil solutions were presented to them. The outcome has been a near-collapse in electricity supply with a recent request for industry to stop using electricity, loss of many industrial jobs to overseas competitors due to the cheaper price of power, much of it powered by new coal-fired power stations. And all this for no reduction whatsoever in CO2 consumed by the UK citizen.

Its hard to overstate the cynicism that now pervades the UK citizenry on global warming; its just another scam perpetrated by politicians looking for a hobby horse. No-one believes it despite the fact that, as Prof Quiggin says, the basic science is agreed.

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cassander 12.16.15 at 3:20 pm

@JQ

> the question of whether the culture war could have been avoided with cleverer rhetoric from the pro-planet side, or by packaging policies even more obviously friendly to the market, is now academic in the pejorative sense of the term. The (Anglo-American) right chose to fight on this ground, and have now locked themselves into insane conspiracy theories – there’s no point in trying to reach them now, and no need to do so. The world community has reached agreement, and the issue, like the science, is settled.

This is such a bizarre combination of naivete and arrogance, I hardly know where to begin. First, the “world community” has not reached any agreement. Some diplomats in paris agreed on a pious statement that will never be meaningfully implemented. since agreeing on pious statements is basically the job of diplomats, this should not be surprising.

Second, regardless of what the world community decides, unless you have a plan for getting around the anglo american right, it won’t be implemented. I have such a plan. Maybe it will work maybe it won’t, but you refuse to even debate the topic. You seem to prefer insulting them, then wondering why they don’t listen to you. Do you really think this is a good method, despite it failing for going on two decades now?

Third, Dipper is exactly right about the science. The science of AGW tells you almost nothing about the best ways to respond to it in a policy sense. The left’s choice of AGW policies has been every bit as irrational as the right’s rejection of the idea. The cynicism he speaks of has not been earned unjustly, and the arrogance you display in this comment only earns more of it.

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James Wimberley 12.16.15 at 5:30 pm

JQ: “The (Anglo-American) right chose to fight on this ground, and have now locked themselves into insane conspiracy theories.”
I first thought this was maybe a bit over the top. Then I read from Cassander:
“First, the “world community” has not reached any agreement.”
This is no better than the 9/11 or Sandy Hook trutherists.

85

themgt 12.16.15 at 5:41 pm

It was the best of accords, it was the worst of accords. I agree Paris represents a turning point, but the sand is pouring through the hourglass and time is rapidly running out for something more than symbolism.

The risk is patting overselves on the back and putting the issue on the shelf until the 2020 “review”. The equilibrium climate sensitivity is almost certainly not on the low-end of the 1.5->4.5C range, given that we’re not yet even halfway to doubling atmospheric CO2 and we’re already blowing past 1C over preindustrial temperatures (a significantly lagging indicator).

So, short of a global nuclear holocaust we’re likely already committed to 1.5C, and CO2 will continue to rise at least 10ppm every 5 years, rapidly committing us to > 2C warming. Combined with evolving science showing how dramatically we underestimated expected sea level rise, Paris looks like a plan to maybe narrowly avert abject apocalypse while committing us to a severely degraded planet and almost unimaginable turmoil as cities and entire nations fight and fight and finally lose against an ocean whose rise will accelerate with each passing year, as giant ice sheets are attacked from from warm ocean water eroding their grounding lines and moulins turning them into swiss cheese.

And that’s the middle-of-the-road scenario. If permafrost and clathrates begin large-scale destabilization, all bets are off.

‘Wanless, who is among the scientists whose work is cited in Hansen’s paper, told me that he and Hansen take issue with the current models for projected sea-level rise—most of which top out at around six feet as the absolute worst-case scenario for 2100—because they don’t account for how rapidly the world’s glaciers and ice sheets are going to melt in the decades to come. “If you ever fly over Greenland, which I’ve done, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “The ice sheet is already melting from global warming, and now it’s also dirty on top, because of dust and soot blowing in from other parts of the world.” The darkened ice absorbs heat more quickly than clean, white ice, hastening its melt rate. Given such factors, Wanless said, he predicts that Miami Beach will experience something in the range of 10 to 30 feet of sea-level rise by the end of the century. I was so stunned by these numbers that I asked him to repeat them, to make sure I had heard him right. He did.’
http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/11/miami-beach-global-warming

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cassander 12.16.15 at 7:11 pm

@James Wimberley

Agreement would be the nations in question ratifying an actual binding treaty. Agreeing in principle to sign, in a year or two, an accord that hasn’t even written yet and which includes no nation specific goals or time tables is not deciding anything. As I said, it is a pious statement, nothing more. it does not even reach the level of Kellogg–Briand Pact pact which outlawed war in 1928, thus forever sparing mankind from that terrible scourge. Kellogg–Briand, after all, was at least ratified

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John Quiggin 12.16.15 at 10:28 pm

@dipper We can agree to disagree about the pervasiveness of the attitudes you describe. Certainly, there’s a large slab of the English right committed to denialism even now.

But so what? The relevant fact is that the UK will close its last coal mine tomorrow (Friday) and its last coal-fired power station sometime before 2025. The Daily Telegraph and the Global Warming Policy Foundation aren’t going to get them reopened.

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/c3ab8fa0-9aa2-11e5-a5c1-ca5db4add713.html#axzz3uWdMeuCz

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christian_h 12.16.15 at 10:59 pm

I find the “we are already doomed” approach to this question – or it’s variant “we are doomed unless we abolish capitalism [ something I want to see happen, don’t get me wrong!]/ stop using fossil fuels altogether within the year” rather weird. Climate models are after all predictions about the future and hence subject to considerable uncertainty. So in my mind it makes perfect sense to push for the best we can achieve on this – maybe it won’t be enough, but then maybe it will. And this mostly symbolic accord in Paris has made our job of pushing for the necessary transformation in energy consumption and infrastructure easier. I haven’t seen any public or published reaction that says “job done, now we do nothing” so this doesn’t seem a huge danger to me right now either.

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John Quiggin 12.17.15 at 12:25 am

@88 Agreed, in spades. I plan a post on this, when I get some free time.

90

themgt 12.17.15 at 1:54 am

“Climate models are after all predictions about the future and hence subject to considerable uncertainty.”

Indeed, and yet this will always be true. I find the “we are definitely not doomed” people tend to be rather light on science. The science is, we are in the very near future blowing through our available 2C carbon budget in any credible model that doesn’t use nonexistent technology.

If you’re going to say we’re not doomed, post some links to your model and projected carbon budget and temperature rise, and then go into the science from the relevant specialists regarding what the follow-on effects on sea level, life on land and in the water, our ability to grow crops, etc. would be from that.

The fact of the matter is, climate models using any realistic ECS and carbon budget are beginning to look quite bleak. If no serious cuts occur by 2020, they will look significantly more bleak.

Again, we’re already at about 1.06C over preindustrial. The uncertainty is narrowed to being between bad scenarios, worse scenarios, and magic scenarios. Get hustling on nuclear fusion and the CCS unicorn.

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Val 12.17.15 at 2:00 am

Naomi Oreskes is arguing there’s a new form of denialism – saying that renewables will never be sufficient http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/16/new-form-climate-denialism-dont-celebrate-yet-cop-21

I’ve seen that more times than I can count. In terms of culture wars, I think this is cultural – it’s an adapted form of the patriarchal, hierarchical, Man dominating Nature discourse that I discussed earlier.

Generally as I have written on my blog previously I notice two broad trends in how we should respond to climate change – the ‘fundamental social change is required, part of which is transitioning to societies that are much more egalitarian, that share more, and that aren’t dependant on growth in material production’ (my position) vs ‘technological change can get us there, such as improving renewables, battery storage, electric (not mentioning any need for major social change)’. There may well be some wishful thinking on both sides. However from a public health point of view, there’s a lot of potential health advantages associated with transitioning to a more equal society that eats less meat, uses less motorised transport etc

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Val 12.17.15 at 2:04 am

Sorry that should have been ‘electric cars’ in my last post.

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John Quiggin 12.17.15 at 2:32 am

The science is, we are in the very near future blowing through our available 2C carbon budget in any credible model that doesn’t use nonexistent technology.

This is wrong. Roughly speaking the 2 degree budget requires
(a) peak emissions around now
(b) decarbonization of most sectors by 2050

As mentioned in the post linked in the OP, (a) has already happened. We may still have some up and down bounces, but the era of rapidly growing emissions is over.

On (b), there are heaps of studies showing that is feasible with technologies that have been available for some time. That’s before the 2015 arrival of affordable battery storage, which means that we can drop nuclear from the mix.

We will need new technologies if we are to sustain negative emissions through the second half of the century, so as to reach 350 ppm (safe on all but the most pessimistic accounts). But we have another 30 years to find them, and there are lots of possibilities to explore.

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John Quiggin 12.17.15 at 2:34 am

Here’s a useful link for Australia, currently one of the world’s highest emitters per person

http://climateworksaustralia.org/project/national-projects/pathways-deep-decarbonisation-2050-how-australia-can-prosper-low-carbon

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Rich Puchalsky 12.17.15 at 3:40 am

I’ve seen a whole lot of “but what about permafrost and clathrates they’re turning out to be worse than people think” sentiment. But really, the whole world has signed on to to address this because it’s consensus science. “Evolving science” is not consensus science. If / when it becomes that, we’ll respond. Saying that the IPCC consensus does not in fact take into account the especially bad scenarios that are still part of the range of informed scientific opinion is something that people like Michael Tobis have been saying forever (check out the helpful graph here) and it’s far too late to do anything about it now.

People should remember that doomerism is inherently conservative. As Bruce Wilder writes upthread, some people are willing to renounce modernity, but renouncing modernity is exactly what conservatives do. We can imagine left anti-modernisms, of course, but the way that our dominant cultures line up right now, they are mostly imaginary.

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themgt 12.17.15 at 7:08 am

Roughly speaking the 2 degree budget requires
(a) peak emissions around now

As mentioned in the post linked in the OP, (a) has already happened.

Err, from your link:
“One wonders: is this peak emissions? It depends in large part in the immediate term on what happens in China, and how they deal with their economy instability and restructuring, what they call the ‘new normal’,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia and author on the paper.

“The Chinese themselves think their emissions are going to go up. So the prognosis for global emissions is also probably for resuming an upward trajectory.”

The Paris INDCs, collectively, are a plan to continue to increase emissions and shoot for a 2030 peak. How does this comport with your claim of a 2014 peak? The reality is, we need significant reductions, year after year, starting now. Do you claim the Paris agreement will achieve that, or that that is not what the science says is necessary for 2C?

Do you claim by 2020 global emissions will have declined in any significant way? (e.g. > 10%) Do you have a model showing such modest declines and keeping us under 2C?

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John Quiggin 12.17.15 at 9:57 am

Err, from my post ” We may still have some up and down bounces”. The qualifications in the source are entirely consistent with what I wrote.

As regards the INDCs, the 5-year reviews imply that these will be tightened to reach a target “well below 2”. Do you claim this can’t be done? I’ve given you a link to say it can be

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ZM 12.17.15 at 11:31 am

Val,

I think for a number of countries they don’t have the data on Renewable energy potential as yet. There have been Stanford studies on 100% renewables being possible globally, but possibly it would mean having energy grids that are international in some cases. I talked with someone who had been in Vietnam for example, and she said they don’t have the research on this that Australia has yet, and that the seasonal weather variability could present some issues in countries that have the monsoon. And the CEO of the Climate Council said that maybe somewhere like China would have to have additional nuclear energy if they were to keep the same industrial output, but that is probably a good reason to not have industry concentrated in particular countries which may not have the renewable energy to support it in the long term…

99

ZM 12.17.15 at 11:33 am

Re: a 1.5 degrees target, I think this means drawing down emissions.

Tim Flannery wrote a blog post that said the current amount of GHG emissions is already at the point of causing 1.5 degrees of warming, it is just that it takes 30-40 years for this to take effect. I think his latest book on climate, Atmosphere of Hope, was about the possible ways of drawing down emissions that don’t involve geo-engineering, that he also talks about here:

“Limiting greenhouse gas emissions to levels that are likely to result in less than either 1.5 or 2 degrees C of warming is now beyond our grasp. The full warming potential of greenhouse gases takes decades to be realised, and there is already enough gas in the air to take Earth’s average surface temperature to 1.5 degrees by mid-century. At the time of the Copenhagen meeting in 2009 it was remotely possible to cut emissions fast enough to avoid 2 degrees, but we’ve been following a worst-case scenario trajectory for emissions ever since, and it is widely recognised in the scientific community as impossible to cut emissions fast enough to achieve that now.

A world 1.5 degrees warmer is one without a Great Barrier Reef. It’s a world of rapidly rising seas, much more extreme weather, and rapidly declining biodiversity. A world of 2 degrees is one at risk of tipping into the abyss of climate chaos – a world in which our global civilisation is at increasing risk. This results from 21 years of failure to agree on climate action: it is hard to look such bad news in the eye and continue to strive for a better climatic future, which is perhaps why the negotiators continue to discuss ways of achieving the impossible.

There are measures we could take, however, that would allow us to stay within 2 degrees, but they involves actions not being discussed in Paris. Some of these measures are, in my view, highly undesirable, while others are essential to our future.

If the first way is emissions reductions, the second way is geoengineering. The temptation to use catastrophic geoengineering methods such as injecting sulphur into the stratosphere is increasing. Sadly we are not negotiating a treaty to ban such extreme measures at Paris. Nor are we discussing the ‘third way’, which involves drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere at a scale that makes a difference to our climate.

Third-way pathways are extraordinarily varied, from seaweed farming to the manufacture of carbon-negative cements and the production of carbon fibres and plastics from atmospheric CO2. Today, all such methods and technologies are nascent, and if we hope to have them operating at the gigatonne scale by mid-century we need to start investing in them now.

If we are serious about limiting temperatures to 2 degrees, they need to be high on the agenda of the first post-Paris meeting to review actions, hopefully in 2020. “

http://sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/fake-debate

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Lee A. Arnold 12.17.15 at 11:39 am

#88, 89 — My thoughts, too. Many of the rest of the comments about this are, well, hot air.

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reason 12.17.15 at 12:44 pm

Lee A. Arnold @100
I think ZM @99 wrote a very good response to you.

102

Layman 12.17.15 at 1:45 pm

themgt @ 90: “The uncertainty is narrowed to being between bad scenarios, worse scenarios, and magic scenarios.”

And…?

103

James Wimberley 12.17.15 at 3:17 pm

Cassander: may I suggest you read the Paris Agreement before commenting on it? It has nothing about preparing a binding treaty in two years time. It is the binding treaty, or will be once it is ratified by 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions. It includes a compulsory process of reviews.

Cynics like you sneered at the Geneva Conventions. War is hell, how can it be civilised? But a lot of POWs owed their lives to them, and the national delegations to Geneva meetings include generals. The JAGs were among the few in the American national security establishment who put up a real fight against the Bush-Cheney torture policy.

104

bob mcmanus 12.17.15 at 3:26 pm

88, 95: I find interesting in itself, as demonstrated on both these threads and the Piketty threads, this move of liberal optimism that somehow transmutes and delegitimates radicalism, e.g. Naomi Klein and James Hansen and OWS, by characterizing radical social means and goals as somehow “conservative.” A fascinating form of projection, possibly characteristic of modernity or modernism.

105

cassander 12.17.15 at 6:11 pm

@James Wimberley

“Requests the Secretary-General of the United Nations to be the Depositary of the
Agreement and to have it open for signature in New York, United States of America, from
22 April 2016 to 21 April 2017″

So, no, not yet signed, and not to be signed for, forgive me, not 2 years but 17 months.

“Reiterates its invitation to all Parties that have not yet done so to communicate to the
secretariat their intended nationally determined contributions towards achieving the
objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2 as soon as possible and well in
advance of the twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (November 2016)

As far as I can tell, the largest carbon country that has done so is South Korea, so national plans are not yet written, much less reviewed.

those are just the direct quotes proving my claim. If you actually read the thing, you will find that it is full of words like “urges” or “requests” not “mandates” or “requires”. The final treaty will probably look a fair bit like this agreement, but there is no mistake, this agreement is a suggestion for a final treaty, not that treaty.

>It is the binding treaty, or will be once it is ratified by 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions. It includes a compulsory process of reviews.

Since the US and china alone account for about 45% of global climate emissions, their agreement is all but essential.

>Cynics like you sneered at the Geneva Conventions.

The history of such treaties is actually very interesting. Compare, say, the chemical weapons ban in the Geneva protocols to the unrestricted submarine warfare bans in the London treaty signed just a few years later . The former stuck, the later did not. The reason is fairly simple. unrestricted submarine warfare was, at least potentially, very useful. Chemical weapons were much less so due to the difficulty of employing them. Treaties like Geneva and Hague survive because they do not require countries to do things that are politically difficult or contrary to their national interests. Treaties like London or Kyoto fail because they do. A cynic is what an optimist calls a realist.

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Lee A. Arnold 12.17.15 at 6:19 pm

Reason #101, I don’t see how that one is a response to me.

107

Rich Puchalsky 12.17.15 at 7:05 pm

“this move of liberal optimism that somehow transmutes and delegitimates radicalism, e.g. Naomi Klein and James Hansen and OWS, by characterizing radical social means and goals as somehow “conservative.””

I was in OWS, and doomerism isn’t “a radical social means”. Its goals can be considered to be radical in the sense that there can be radical conservatism that wants to return everyone to traditionally hierarchical systems, but thinking that we’re doomed has no left component to it that I recognize. I think that you’re doing the typical Marxist thing of attempting to appropriate any resistance to capitalism that anyone does whether you understand it or are a part of it or not.

Let’s take a typical example from a blog that Bruce Wilder mentioned liking, The Archdruid Report. It starts with items that almost any leftist would agree with — Obama’s flunkies are beating war drums over Ukraine, Greece is being destroyed by austerity, the system based on cheap abundant fossil fuel is cracking at the seams — and ends with: aren’t books better than Kindles? Shouldn’t we take up reenacting the skills of, say, blacksmiths working with forges? Wasn’t it better when people brewed their own beer?

There’s always been conservative resistance to capitalism, because capitalism destroys the existing order. Doomerism always proceeds through three easy steps: 1) we’re doomed and can’t save the existing system, 2) we’re inevitably going to fall back to an earlier system, so we might as well get ready for that, 3) weren’t those earlier systems really better anyways?

108

bob mcmanus 12.17.15 at 7:36 pm

107.2: Seriously, you are trying to label Marxism and socialism as Luddite anti-tech neo-primitivisms?

I’m through here.

109

Rich Puchalsky 12.17.15 at 8:02 pm

No. I’m saying that I criticized doomerism — something that pretty much inevitably becomes an anti-tech neo-primitivism: I’m not touching the “Luddite” part of that because then we’d have to get into why the historical Luddite movement was identifiably on the left — and you took this to be a criticism that includes Naomi Klein, James Hansen, and OWS. That is entirely typical of how Marxists talk about all non-Marxist resistance to capitalism: it all kind of blurs together.

110

Val 12.17.15 at 8:27 pm

I’m not anti-technology – obviously as someone who has been advocating for solar power for some time now – but I think a blind reliance on technology is misguided. I couldn’t find the link to the full report that JQ mentioned above (deep decarbonisation report), but I imagine that ‘demand management’ is part of it. There appear to be some pretty strong limitations with demand management as it is currently practised (largely voluntary, relying on education and information), which is why ZM has come up with the idea of ghg consumption taxes I guess.

Demand management in water usage worked in Victoria (Aus) when we had the 2001-09 drought. That was a whole of government and civil society approach – it used some regulation but only lightly – like being on a war footing, except we weren’t at war, our shared experience was drought. Unfortunately the idiots in charge decided that we should build a desalination plant, and, as soon as the water storages started to rise at the end of the drought, they went back to encouraging people to use water profligately. But while it lasted, it was a social experiment that worked. We could do the same with climate change, but the conventional neoliberal wisdom is that whole of society approaches are wrong – so we don’t, even though they work.

The one state in Australia that looks like doing something like that is South Australia, which is committed to zero net emissions by 2050. South Australia (where I was born) is like a bellwether state for climate change. A lot of it is desert and it’s naturally pretty hot, but at the moment it is just experiencing one heat wave after another. I was there visiting friends two weeks ago, we had three days over 40. They’re having another heatwave right now http://www.bom.gov.au/sa/forecasts/adelaide.shtml and it looks like they may have another by Christmas. The friend whose party I went over for had been threatened by a bushfire a week before, her sister and friends had to flee their nearby town.

People go on in conditions like that, but it is hard – you don’t want to live like that forever. So I guess it’s not surprising that the state is committed to zero emissions, I hope they can do it.

111

Bruce Wilder 12.17.15 at 9:01 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 107

You are certainly correct that the Archdruid is more than a bit of a reactionary in spirit. His motto is, “crash now and avoid the rush”, or something like that. He really likes sweeping historical theories like those of Toynbee and Spengler, which he mixes up with more materialistic ideas like those of Joseph Tainter and peak oil theories. He made himself an expert on millenarian cults that predict imminent apocalypse, which is certainly an interesting intellectual move for someone, who is prophesying the eventual fall of civilization into a new Dark Age (over the course of centuries, mind) and whose day job is as a leader of a revival of an imagined Druidic religion that disappeared into the last European Dark Age.

I think I could find lots of leftish intellectuals, though, who would happily lecture us all on the illusion of progress and the millenarian spirit in socialism may be exhausted at this late date, but not completely forgotten.

Millenarianism, in general, is the hobby of people who embrace being isolated and marginalized from a society or culture that they feel both alienated from and intellectually superior to. Like conspiracy theories, these ideas function as psychological defense mechanisms — you can feel like you know what is really going on and are the master of it, if only at a great distance and with a degree of forlorn hope.

Just to be clear, when I say that we should be trying to imagine a future in which we both get energy from “cleaner” sources, but also use less energy in total, I am not imagining the primitive per se. Primitive, in historical reality, was usually fantastically wasteful of energy. An actual steam locomotive crossing the American continent in the 1880s was a smoky devil; still, a railroad with its nearly frictionless steel wheels on a steel rail, is potentially at least an order of magnitude more energy efficient a method of transport than automobiles, trucks and highways. (Canals are another order of magnitude more energy efficient.) There isn’t much loss to the productivity of a networked economy of specialized labor in the use of such efficient means of transport. Similarly, we probably don’t need to heat and cool many buildings, to the extent that we do, if we are willing to re-think the architecture and systems involved. And so on.

What I am concerned about is that our neoliberal order is enamoured in an uncritical way with robots, driver-less cars and Elon Musk, and as the neoliberal order responds to climate change, an implicit aspect of its shaped response will be to jettison a large part of the population, conserving on resources by eliminating their access to resources. In the meantime, shiny. That a plug-compatible hybrid is doing vanishingly little to reduce anyone’s carbon footprint, while unemployment in a worldwide depression is carrying the bulk of the weight in constraining carbon emissions, and earnest bureaucrats are projecting scenarios of large-scale carbon capture by unknown means, in order to preserve their optimism is a bit concerning.

There are a lot of people in the world, with many varied and conflicting ideas. We can do many things at once to address our many and varied problems, and disagree at the same time. But, there may be one or two things we need to agree on, to move forward without our ambivalence and conflicts making our efforts collectively self-defeating, and it does seem to me that one of those over-arching general principles is that we will need to move toward less total energy use (a goal that may well be reached in welfare-enhancing ways, even if we humans characteristically disagree and fight over many details).

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James Wimberley 12.17.15 at 10:08 pm

Cassander #105
The Agreement will be open for signature from 22 April 2015, 4 months from now, at the UN Headquarters in New York. A similar provision, mentioning “a ceremony at the highest possible level “, was in the first compendium working draft prepared by Reifsnyder of the US and Djoghlaf of Algeria in the summer. Since Bouteflika is too ill to travel, I infer this came from Reifsnyder, and ultimately the White House.

Obama is therefore preparing a second great photo-op on his home turf , a deserved victory lap, also boosting HRC or Sanders. (Why not invite the Pope? Bill McKibben can be relied on to organize a huge march.) The aim will be to get the 55 signatures on Day 1, including China’s. I don’t see why he shouldn’t get them. There’s no work involved; the text was adopted unanimously, cleared by capitals; most countries will just resubmit their INDC, dropping the “I” for “intended”. The second date for the end of signatures is meaningless: it just marks a transition to a differently-labelled procedure called accession.

113

SamChevre 12.17.15 at 10:15 pm

Obama is therefore preparing a second great photo-op on his home turf , a deserved victory lap, also boosting HRC or Sanders.

Right: but either (a) that has no legal effect (although we can expect the bureaucracy to ignore the law and act as if it did, as they did with Kyoto) OR (b) it’s a treaty that needs Senate confirmation.

114

christian_h 12.17.15 at 10:19 pm

Bob, there is nothing radical about impossibilism. I think in the long run capitalism is incompatible with both human progress and the preservation of the environment, and I am in no way enamored of technological solutions to everything. This doesn’t imply however that I disregard the capacity of capitalism to adapt, and I think that it is our duty to make use of that capacity when more radical solutions (to what we all agree is a pressing problem) aren’t actually on the horizon.

115

Rich Puchalsky 12.17.15 at 10:36 pm

I didn’t mean to pick on the Archdruid in particular, but I don’t think it’s accidental that he’s a bit of a reactionary. Other writers who I think of in this category are James Kunstler and Dmitry Orlov. It’s probably not worth getting into more analysis.

Klein and Hansen are something else entirely, and I wouldn’t call them “doomers”. Hansen is a scientist and he’s publishing stuff in the peer reviewed literature. Other scientists who I also respect have different views that are within the broad area of scientific consensus, also in the peer reviewed literature. I’m not competent to say who’s right and I doubt that anyone else reading this is either. Klein is an activist, not an inactivist.

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Val 12.17.15 at 10:54 pm

@ 111
Bruce I think we are in general agreement, so I hope in future you won’t accuse me of preaching Puritanism or moral virtue (as you previously have) when I say that not only can we lower energy demand, but that doing so may have benefits for our health and wellbeing, if we do it collectively and in intelligent ways (eg improved public transport, more walkable cities, more locally grown fresh food particularly fruit and vegetables, better housing standards including free retrofitting for low income groups, etc).

(We had some of that stuff happening under the previous government here, and much of it got cut when the conservative Abbott government was elected – again a warning to other countries).

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John Quiggin 12.17.15 at 10:55 pm

@113 You seem to be working on an ideal rather than a positive theory of legality here. The Senate treaty ratification process set out in the Constitution has fallen (almost completely) into disuse, just like Congressional declarations of war. But the President signs and implements international agreements and sends armies into battle, just as if these were treaties and wars in the theoretically legal sense of the term. In general, neither Congress nor the Supreme Court acts effectively to stop this.

So, in a positive sense, it’s the President, and not Congress, who now has the power to make treaties and declare wars. As you say, Kyoto was an example of the former, and Paris will be another.

118

Val 12.17.15 at 11:13 pm

Two things in the Agreement I would like to draw attention to:

(from Preamble)
Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity,

and (from clauses that parties are agreeing to):

109. Recognizes the social, economic and environmental value of voluntary mitigation actions and their co-benefits for adaptation, health and sustainable development;

I think neither is as strong as advocates would like, and the first is of course potentially tokenistic through being something that parties merely acknowledge rather than commit to doing anything about, however they are a start.

In regard to equal gender representation, this of course is justified simply on democratic grounds, however there are also very strong grounds for thinking that the work would be more effective if women were equally represented (see eg Ergas and York ‘Women’s status and carbon dioxide emissions: A quantitative cross-national analysis’ Social Science Research 41[4] ).

There is also evidence that communicating about climate change as a health issue is an effective way of engaging people, so that could also lead to more effectiveness (Maibach et al ‘Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions’ BMC public health 10)

119

ZM 12.17.15 at 11:20 pm

There was a last minute issue with the agreement due to the word “shall” being inserted where the word “should” was going to go, in one part.

This caused a great flurry, and some countries were a bit opportunistic to see if they could keep the word “shall”, or to see if they could get last minute changes — but after a bit it was replaced by “should”.

The difference between shall and should is whether it is a legally binding agreement.

But all in all, I think the Paris agreement is really positive, it is about as good as anyone could have realistically hoped for. The next thing is to get the national targets into line with a 1.5 degrees outcome, with the next big conference being in 2018.

120

ZM 12.17.15 at 11:30 pm

In terms of the pro/anti technology idea I don’t think it really matters as much now since both tablets and switchel are fashionable.

And while I don’t think doomerism is all that useful, a lot of people do get depressed about climate change and environmental issues. One professor I had said that she became passionate about regenerative architecture (the idea being that architecture works with nature and is of benefit to nature and natural systems rather than being damaging) partly because she had a young student who was depressed about the environment who went on to suicide. So she now makes hope a really big part of her work, with the idea that a more environmentally sustainable future can be designed to be better than the present, with similar sort of thinking to Val above.

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Val 12.17.15 at 11:41 pm

Does anybody know anything about this clause in the Annex
The United Nations and its specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as any State member thereof or observers thereto not party to the Convention, may be represented at sessions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement as observers. …?

It appears concerning that the International Atomic Energy Agency gets a special mention.

ZM @120 – that’s a really sad story, but it is good that the professor has responded like that. It does seem really irresponsible, especially in terms of the impact on young people and vulnerable people, to indulge in gloom and doom without trying to find positive paths that we can at least try to follow.

122

F. Foundling 12.18.15 at 12:03 am

@cassander 12.15.15 at 4:45 am
>you have to be able to sell your plan in language and using methods that the other side is predisposed to like. Dicking around with pension formulae is not something that the right cares about. You need to be able to get up there and say unequivocally “pass this plan and we’ll save the planet and lower your taxes” … And frankly, if you aren’t willing to cut government revenue pass something you claim will save the planet, then I doubt your sincerity on the cause anyway.

The shamelessness of the right-wingers towards the beginning of the thread is astounding (calling that side ‘conservatives’ in this particular conservation-related context would have been just too ironic). Apparently, saving humanity is only in the interests of the Left, some sort of pinko pet cause, so it is the Left that must make additional concessions to the Right in order to convince the Right to agree to be saved – a case similar to the debt ceiling hostage situations in the US, except a tad more fatal. If a life-threatening problem seems to entail a solution that the Right doesn’t like, it’s the Left’s fault for not finding a way to make it please the Right instead. The Right is entitled to be pleased, you see. And if the Left has failed to do that, the Right is perfectly justified, not in proposing an alternative right-wing solution that works (after all, finding a right-wing solution is the Left’s job), but in vehemently denying the existence of the life-threatening problem in the first place, and in doing its best to make sure the lethal threat materialises. Actually, when I think about it, I suppose I shouldn’t object to this, and the Right is perfectly right when it refuses to recognise the survival of humanity as a priority of its own. The only thing that annoys is the remaining lack of consistency: it would help a lot if right-wing parties were completely honest and just adopted names like ‘the Anti-Human Party’, or better yet, ‘the Anti-Life-on-Earth Party’.

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F. Foundling 12.18.15 at 12:06 am

@Val 12.14.15 at 9:58 pm, Val 12.17.15 at 2:00 am

>all the major monotheistic patriarchal religions that arose in the last few thousand years had a similar attitude, that Man should be dominant over Nature … the patriarchal, hierarchical, Man dominating Nature discourse that I discussed earlier.

I don’t see why ‘dominance over Nature’ needs to entail suicide, I see nothing wrong with ‘dominance over Nature’ if that means sensible and humane manipulation and modification of the non-sentient part of the planet for humanity’s purposes, and I fail to see any connection with gender and patriarchy here.

If we are supposed to ‘rule over’ or ‘be dominant over’ our boat/house, that certainly doesn’t imply that blowing up our boat/house is a good idea – especially while we’re in it. The most drastic problem with catastrophic climate change is precisely that we *won’t* be able to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ if we cause it. For all my opposition to the Bible and religion in general, I don’t see how it can seriously be considered much of a culprit here.

Manipulating and modifying (the rest of) nature for human purposes is what humanity is all about and always has been (indeed, it’s what all living beings do to different extents, but we have been much better at it than others, at least in the short run). (Extra-human) nature is not a sentient being, so manipulating and modifying it is not intrinsically wrong. And, contrary to what some among the ‘greens’ seem to believe, it is neither our superior (an appropriate object of worship or emulation) nor our equal (someone we owe anything besides humane treatment).

As for gender and patriarchy, I don’t see how specifically the gender dimension of human hierarchies is relevant here at all. It can hardly be claimed that interacting with extra-human nature in a non-sensible, environmentally unsustainable way is somehow ‘a man thing’, or that a hypothetical hierarchy completely free of gender inequality would be less prone to irrational treatment of nature. I do agree that the problem is connected to hierarchy in that the desire of certain parts of society to maintain status at all costs motivates right-wing opposition and sabotage; but the conflict simply isn’t about the privileged status of men as a gender over women as a gender.

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cassander 12.18.15 at 3:02 am

> Apparently, saving humanity is only in the interests of the Left, some sort of pinko pet cause,

What right wingers think is that the left has been calling their latest pinko cause “saving humanity” for as long as they can remember, and the pretense has worn thin.

>so it is the Left that must make additional concessions to the Right in order to convince the Right to agree to be saved – a case similar to the debt ceiling hostage situations in the US, except a tad more fatal.

Additional concessions? What concessions do you think you’ve made on this issue?

>If a life-threatening problem seems to entail a solution that the Right doesn’t like, it’s the Left’s fault for not finding a way to make it please the Right instead.

Again, the right doesn’t think it’s a life threatening problem. they look at the solutions you propose and say “these people have been selling these same ideas for my whole life, how convenient for them to discover a massive crisis that requires them” You’re like the people who responded to september 11th by saying “Terrorism? I told you we needed that border fence!”

>Actually, when I think about it, I suppose I shouldn’t object to this, and the Right is perfectly right when it refuses to recognise the survival of humanity as a priority of its own.

Pot, this is kettle, you’re black. You’re sitting there saying I think climate change is a mortal threat to humanity, but I’m not willing to lower taxes to stop it. Even worse, of all, you’ve somehow come to the conclusion that that puts you on some sort of moral high ground, because the right is a big bunch of meanies, or something.

Look, it’s very simple, you want something that the right doesn’t. You have two choices. You can whine about it, or you can find a way to get them to give you what you want. Now, to me, if it’s really a matter of life or death for the human species, I go with the latter. You seem to prefer the other choice. And frankly, that to me says an awful lot about your real priorities. If your only goal is saving humanity, why do you care so much about the method?

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cassander 12.18.15 at 3:07 am

@James Wimberley

I can only assume your absurd nitpicking about the date means you have nothing to say about being wrong before, and I accept the apology.

@John Quiggin

achieving significant emissions reductions will, unquestionably, require legislation and appropriation to carry into effect even if the treaty does not. And considering that koyoto went down 97 to zero and republican opposition has only hardened since, the odds of that legislation passing are close to nil. But I am amused by how readily you disdain the mechanics of democracy when it suits your purposes.

126

ZM 12.18.15 at 3:23 am

cassander,

I think in some countries like the US and Australia the best avenue will be legal action like the court case Ingrid who blogs here was part of in the Netherlands this year.

There was a recent Teen Vogue article on some young people who are pursuing legal action against President Obama for not doing enough on climate:

“Back in August, Xiuhtezcatl and world-renowned climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen joined forces in their suit against the federal government where they claim the Obama administration hasn’t done nearly enough to ensure that future generations aren’t left with the environment’s gigantic past-due gas bill (i.e. overuse of fossil fuels). The lawsuit argues that a lack of climate action has endangered the rights of the country’s youngest generations to life, liberty, and property. Words you probably recognize from your latest history class as they’re part of the our country’s Declaration of Independence, and some of America’s most basic principles.”

http://www.teenvogue.com/story/teen-sues-president-obama-climate-change

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cassander 12.18.15 at 3:37 am

@ZM

While that particular effort seems embarrassingly amateurish, I would not be entirely surprised to see such an effort succeed eventually, but not for at least another decade or two, long past the point at which we are currently being told it will be too late (not that I don’t expect that line to change). Gay marriage went from overwhelming bipartisan opposition to constitutionally protected right in about two decades, I have a hard time seeing climate change move any faster than that. At an absolute minimum, you’d need to replace a justice or two, maybe more if the current members are unwilling to “evolve” sufficiently quickly.

128

ZM 12.18.15 at 3:52 am

I think it could succeed sooner than that, although the US court system seems to be a bit more politicised than the equivalent in Australia, so I don’t know how much difference that would make.

It took a decade or two for the Mabo native title outcome in Australia, but I think this could move faster than that.

I went to a talk by the CEO of the Dutch NGO that was involved in the case Ingrid was part of (she was visiting family in Queensland and was drafted into a speaking tour) and she was very hopeful saying that it took them about 3 years once they decided on taking that measure, but she thought that about 80% of the work they had done could be used in other countries which could make it faster.

129

John Quiggin 12.18.15 at 4:32 am

Gay marriage went from overwhelming bipartisan opposition to constitutionally protected right in about two decades

Relevantly to the current debate, it went there over the united opposition of the Republican Party. What’s more, it’s not going to change even though all the leading candidates for the Republican nomination, except Trump, are pledged to overturn it (Cruz and Carson signed the NOM pledge for a Constitutional amendment and Rubio has promised to stack the SC).

130

Rich Puchalsky 12.18.15 at 4:35 am

“Apparently, saving humanity is only in the interests of the Left, some sort of pinko pet cause, so it is the Left that must make additional concessions to the Right in order to convince the Right to agree to be saved”

It’s totally weird that the left got the job of preservation of humanity in toto. I suppose that the right’s attitude is only the natural continuation of the Falangist “¡Muera la inteligencia! ¡Viva la Muerte!”

A good deal of the current trouble of the left is due to this, in an indirect way. The left’s core theories in no way fit what the left has to actually work on. The left has a bunch of 19th century ideology about the workers (as if more work was really what we need at this point) and a lot of liberal sentiment of even earlier vintage. Strangely enough there’s not much about ecology or sustainability in there. If you ask a typical person on the left what left theory backs up all the work we do on this, they’ll look at you strangely and say that we don’t want lots of people to die. But that’s the kind of reason you’d give if someone asked you why one shouldn’t machine-gun a crowd: it’s not a basis for a politics.

I think that the time is long overdue for a widely accepted environmental political-economy that bridges the gap between egalitarianism among humans and a more advanced justification for the rest of our apparent policy slate about preserving the habitat of the human species, but I’m not sure what it would take to create one.

131

Val 12.18.15 at 5:07 am

F Foundling @ 123
Your comment illustrates a problem that I have commented on previously – the level of engagement with feminist theory on CT often seems rather weak. (I suspect this is basically sexism – an assumption that feminist theory = women = second-rate thinking.) You might notice yourself how you moved from what I said, which was about discourse and history, to what you concluded with, which was “the conflict simply isn’t about the privileged status of men as a gender over women as a gender” – something that I have never claimed.

If you want to know more about ecofeminist theory, Greta Gaard ‘Ecofeminism Revisited: Rejecting Essentialism and Re-Placing Species in a Material Feminist Environmentalism’ in Feminist Formations 23 (2) is a thoughtful review of ecofeminist thought over the last 30 years. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Griffin’s Woman and Nature predates today’s gender studies in its exploration of the ways that the feminized status of women, animals, nature, and feminized others (children, people of color, farmers, slaves, as well as the body itself, emotions, and sexuality) have been conceived of as separate and inferior in order to legitimate their subordination under an elite and often violent and militarized male-dominant social order. Bridging socialist feminism and ecology, Merchant’s The Death of Nature provided historical documentation for the claim that the domination of women and of nature have shared roots in the logic of science and capitalism, an intertwining of economics and rationalism that Merchant traces from 1484 to 1716. Most provocative is her intersectional linkage of racism, speciesism, sexism, colonialism, capitalism, and the mechanistic model of science–nature via the historical co-occurrence of the racist
and colonialist “voyages of discovery” that resulted in appropriating indigenous
peoples, animals, and land; …


Merchant’s (1995) materialist account of the woman–nature connection— like those of Ynestra King (1989), Karen Warren (1991, 1994), Val Plumwood (1991, 1993), Ariel Salleh (1984, 1997), Lori Gruen (1993), and many other ecofeminist scholar- activists—described a socially constructed association among women (sex), femininity (gender), and nature that was contextual and fluid, not ahistorical and static (Thompson 2006). In the 1990s, this feminist analysis shifted from exploring associations among the objects of oppression to addressing the structure of oppression itself, exposing the “logic of domination” (Warren 1990) and the “master model” (Plumwood 1993) that had shaped Western culture’s relationship with nature. … ecological feminist works like Kate Soper’s What Is Nature? (1995), Karen Warren’s Ecofeminism (1997), Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1993) and Environmental Culture (2002), Stacy Alaimo’s Undomesticated Ground (2000), and Ariel Salleh’s Ecofeminism as Politics (1997) and anthology Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice (2009) all use a materialist feminist approach to explore the oppression of
women and nature …

132

Val 12.18.15 at 5:22 am

One of the criticisms of what I have said above that I can understand would be: you are criticising science and yet you accept science as the basis of knowledge about climate change. It’s complex, but I suppose the short answer might be that complex ecological analysis like climate science is different from the reductionist positivist science that eg Merchant critiqued (which is also not to say that reductionist positivist science can’t tell us anything, it just can’t tell us everything).

133

cassander 12.18.15 at 1:58 pm

@John Quiggin 12.18.15 at 4:32 am

>Relevantly to the current debate, it went there over the united opposition of the Republican Party.

Very true, the difference being one, gay marriage did not require trillions of dollars of government spending, and two, there was no time urgency on gay marriage the way I am repeatedly assured there is with climate change. If the climate problem is as bad as you say, you need a deal in the next 5 years, not 20.

134

reason 12.18.15 at 3:01 pm

Rick Puchalsky @130
No I don’t see this as being mysterious, the connection is obvious. The left cares about everybody, the right only about the “right” people. And people in the future aren’t in their in-group.

135

cassander 12.18.15 at 3:11 pm

@Rich Puchalsky

>It’s totally weird that the left got the job of preservation of humanity in toto. I suppose that the right’s attitude is only the natural continuation of the Falangist “¡Muera la inteligencia! ¡Viva la Muerte!”

To repeat myself, the right doesn’t think it’s a question of saving humanity. Frankly, they think you are lying to advance your agenda. And the only way to convince them that you aren’t is to stop treating it as an opportunity and to start treating it as a crisis.

136

Layman 12.18.15 at 3:42 pm

Imagine cassander as a fireman. He arrives at the fire, sees that 10% of the structure has already been consumed. It’s too late now to save the whole building, he says. Why are all you other firemen even bothering? It must be a ruse of some kind!

137

Bruce Wilder 12.18.15 at 3:54 pm

cassander @ 133, JQ @ 129

I do not think the Republicans or conservatives broadly were as united in opposition to gay rights or gay marriage as their PR may have made out. There were highly placed gay Republicans — Reagan had a clique of gay insiders going back at least to his time as Governor. Many conservative libertarians were sympathetic. One of the most powerful gay lobby groups, Human Rights Campaign, was oriented to a donor base of conservative businessmen. The choice of gay marriage as a primary issue to fight was pushed by conservatives — Andrew Sullivan was a prominent early advocate of gay marriage as a political strategy and conservative ideological stance. Republicans as prominent as the odious Dick Cheney were supportive.

It is rewriting history and misunderstanding the political dynamics to paint the gay rights evolution as monolithically partisan or left.

The politics of climate change will not evolve in a one-sided way either, no matter how much Republicans enjoy expressing their culture wars bad attitudes in opinion polling, annoying their libturd antagonists.

Conservative ideas will emerge as contenders. This is true already for climate engineering interventions. Rich people will continue to believe their wealth and capitalist inventiveness will mitigate the worst effects and provide profit opportunities. In private, many will wonder why they won’t be able simply to turn up the air conditioning. Externalizing the risks and costs to the innocent will be acceptable to people of a conservative orientation, as it is the essence of their politics in general. They may be sadder to see Florida drown than Bangladesh, but they will advocate accepting both, I think.

We are going to get a neoliberal response to climate change, because that is where the balance of power is. And, that response will be shaped by conservative interests and ideas. We should not be fooled by Manichean kabuki political theatre into thinking the policy response is merely delayed by unthinking denialism.

138

cassander 12.18.15 at 5:02 pm

@lyman

the more apt metaphor is the fireman shows up and sees one smoking building. Next to it there are a bunch of bedraggled hippies shouting that if we don’t cordon off the whole neighborhood and dynamite several blocks worth of buildings immediately (buildings, it just so happens, that the hippies have wanted torn down for years) the whole city will burn.

139

Layman 12.18.15 at 5:24 pm

Now cassander falls back on the conservative global warming polka: 1) deny that it’s happening; 2) admit that it’s happening but claim there’s no harm; 3) admit there’s harm but claim there’s nothing that can be done about it; 4) return to 1…

140

cassander 12.18.15 at 5:47 pm

@Layman

>1) deny that it’s happening;

I didn’t do that

2) admit that it’s happening but claim there’s no harm;

I didn’t do that either.

3) admit there’s harm but claim there’s nothing that can be done about it;

I specifically laid out a plan for what you could do about it.

So aside from being wrong on every point, good job! And you get extra bonus points for being unable to distinguish between me explaining what other people think, and what I think, despite explicitly labeling both.

141

Layman 12.18.15 at 5:53 pm

Oh, I missed the obvious (!?) that your 138 wasn’t meant to be an expression of your views, despite being framed as a more accurate analogue of your views; and that it didn’t deny the problem, despite denying the problem.

142

ZedBlank 12.18.15 at 7:49 pm

A good deal of the current trouble of the left is due to this, in an indirect way. The left’s core theories in no way fit what the left has to actually work on. The left has a bunch of 19th century ideology about the workers (as if more work was really what we need at this point) and a lot of liberal sentiment of even earlier vintage. Strangely enough there’s not much about ecology or sustainability in there. If you ask a typical person on the left what left theory backs up all the work we do on this, they’ll look at you strangely and say that we don’t want lots of people to die. But that’s the kind of reason you’d give if someone asked you why one shouldn’t machine-gun a crowd: it’s not a basis for a politics.

You’ll have to elaborate on what “the left’s core theories” are, since as I understand them, they are as relevant now as they’ve ever been. Given that we still have a large sector of the population unemployed or underemployed, it seems like “more work” is exactly what we need. And the left has traditionally also cared about the quantity and quality of work – work with rules that favor the workers. Also something of a issue right now. But the left is pretty broad, so it’s possible you’re discussing a set of theories that are somehow in conflict with this, although I can’t see how these could be “core theories.” It’s true that ecology and sustainability are newish terms, but the environmental movement has long overlapped with left-leaning politics. Probably our most left political party has named itself the Green Party, for crying out loud.

As far as “liberal sentiment of an even earlier vintage,” this seems even less clear. Do the basic ideas of the Enlightenment, such as individual rights, rational inquiry, justice, etc. no longer obtain? Is there some way that they are in conflict with addressing climate change?

143

Rich Puchalsky 12.18.15 at 8:14 pm

Zedblank: “Given that we still have a large sector of the population unemployed or underemployed, it seems like “more work” is exactly what we need.”

No. People shouldn’t need to work in order to live, and the planet can’t handle the volume of production that would result from fully employing everyone. In practice most people are given make-work to keep them under social control and told that they are worthless moochers if they don’t do it, while another segment of the population is kept unemployed — as in, the central bank raises interest rates if too many of them start to become employed, so it’s an official part of our policy and can not be escaped — to serve as a social underclass for the rest. “More work” means more make-work and the continuation of a method of social control that’s harmful to both individuals and the planet. With contemporary productivity we only need a small percentage of people to actually work: it should be done by those who like to do it for some kind of social status reward.

Against this the left has Marxism and its descendants, which hold that workers create value and therefore should be in charge of society, and the basic ideas of the Enlightenment, which are a mishmash of “individual rights, rational inquiry, justice” etc. etc. that are of such long-standing vintage that everyone claims to believe in them, but have a whole lot mixed in about individual rights to property and land and the value of one’s labor, a lot of which is going to have to quietly be tossed overboard if people are going to start to value ecosystemic “work”, which isn’t owned by any humans in particular.

144

ZedBlank 12.18.15 at 9:09 pm

Rich –

In the short term, we absolutely need more work. Massive federal spending on green infrastructure is one option, and it would go a long way to address some of the environmental issues you mention. Telling thousands of despairing people to sit on their hands until we can re-theorize about work is not an option.

As for the rest – you’ll get no argument from me. Much work is, as you say, make-work, and we ought to change that. What I find confusing is that you seem to think of this as being a flaw in leftist thinking, when traditionally, going back to the origins of socialist theory, (William Morris, for instance) this has been one of the primary concerns.

It’s true that Marxism was not particularly ecologically conscious. But even before Marx, and right alongside him, were other strains of leftist thought that were absolutely green, sometimes radically so.

145

Rich Puchalsky 12.18.15 at 9:27 pm

If the largest single opposed camp to mainstream neoliberal economics was composed of Morrisians, you’d be right. There are a whole lot of strains of leftist thought that take into account everything I’ve written — this is why I still consider myself to be on the left. But they aren’t *popular* strains even on the left. And for every person who is in some way influenced by Morris there’s another one influenced by some source that really would be antithetical to his thought. As a result, I don’t think that there is actually much basic agreement about what we should do or why, other than “we don’t want lots of people to die” which just isn’t a leftist sentiment unless you define the left as being composed of everyone who isn’t a sociopath.

In the short term — we’re going to get a lot more work-as-social-control whether we want it or not. That’s implicit in my belief that the Paris agreement is an important step forwards even though it’s happening within a neoliberal system. We don’t have to tell despairing people to sit on their hands But calling for “more work” is kind of untheorized, in that it doesn’t address the questions of work by whom, for whom, doing what. Calling for public spending on green infrastructure (i.e. hiring people to work on that out of public funds) is a lot more specific.

146

ZedBlank 12.18.15 at 10:22 pm

Mostly agreed, but I do think you’re underestimating the extent to which people on the left, especially young people, are very engaged, or at least very concerned, about these questions. They might not think of themselves as Morrisites or whatever, but they are concerned about questions of work, ownership, etc.

Neoliberalism is alive and well, but resistance to it is widespread. I think this has improved considerably since, say, the 90s, when environmentalism was more of a hands-off, save-the-whales kind of thing (no offense to the save-the-whalers, who always get a bad rap.) Nowadays the sentiment seems much closer to the Naomi Klein “climate change means system change” kind of idea.

147

John Quiggin 12.18.15 at 11:50 pm

Bruce Wilder @139 These are exceptions that prove the rule. The gay Republicans mostly stayed in the closet ( though several were outed for their perceived or actual support of anti-gay policy) Andrew Sullivan abandoned the Republican Party over this issue. Cheney kept quiet until 2009, when he could afford to say what he liked.

The lesson of equal marriage for the culture wars is that we shouldn’t aim to win over Republicans and rightwingers, just to outnumber them. That means getting the support of centre-right independents and of the large group of “moderates” whose views on individual issues (while often not moderate at all) don’t line up with the sides in the culture war.

148

Bruce Wilder 12.19.15 at 1:41 am

JQ @ 147: These are exceptions that prove the rule.

What’s the rule?

If I knew the issue better, I could have given you a longer list of Republicans who played significant roles in advancing gay rights and gay marriage. I asked a gay friend, who immediately cited Theodore Olson, Solicitor General in the Bush II administration, who headlined the legal challenge to California’s Prop 8, and, more obscurely, the late Allan Hoffenblum, a very well-connected and long-time Republican political consultant in California.

As a general matter, two-party systems move on big issues only when a political or cultural movement crosses them both. Parties, at their core, are mutual assistance societies for politicians seeking office. The people who identify personally and/or who care about policy are just along for the ride. Unless they can credibly walk away with their money and votes, the politicians will just manipulate them. And, people, who are not partisans are not likely to become partisans on single issues alone, so only non-partisan focused issue movements can make use of them to advance an issue agenda.

It is true that Republican partisan operatives cynically manipulated part of their electoral base by using gay rights issues, including gay marriage, as a “hot button” they could push. And, “cynically” is a key word. That they kept pushing those buttons wore them out with a lot of people, as will happen with taboos that are not being actively nurtured and promoted.

I see many contrasts with climate change and related issues. First of all, there’s no parallel to sexual taboo, as far as I can tell, and no necessary resonance with religious conservatism. Evangelicals can take their responsibility for dominion over the earth pretty seriously, if someone can talk their talk.

If people feel passionately about it, part of the reason may relate to substantial economic commitments: what I summarize as “driving to a better life” that they see threatened by parts of the Democratic coalition and/or agenda. It gets mixed up with racial resentments and class resentments and rural – urban resentments. It’s a serious problem when hot button attitudes about guns can lose Democrats elections, but it is a more serious problem when it can lose the planet elections. (And, a key difference is that someone is investing resources in nurturing the guns hot button, not just using a pre-existing latency — the marketing of guns aimed at gun nuts who can never get enough is big business and turns on nurturing stupidity.

Gay marriage was, as far as elites were concerned, a nearly purely symbolic issue. (Obviously not merely symbolic for people directly concerned, for whom vital legal rights and powers were implicated.) Climate change and global resource limits are going to be about money and economic social control, as Rich P so tactfully puts it. I would expect very different dynamics around the push-pull of coalition building.

149

John Quiggin 12.19.15 at 2:43 am

If I knew the issue better, I could have given you a longer list of Republicans who played significant roles in advancing gay rights and gay marriage.

By the time the issue was resolved, four Repub Senators and zero House members had stated their support. Of the four, I’d say only Portman was significant. There were I think a handful of Repubs who voted the right way in state legislatures.

Lots of former Repub officeholders, including Bush I and, as you mention Olson, came out the right way, but that only emphasises the point – for active Republicans it was almost impossible.

150

Lawrence Stuart 12.19.15 at 3:37 am

There was a mention of ‘modernity’ upthread in the conversation between Rich and Bruce I believe, that left me somewhat confused. What is this thing, ‘modernity’? Faith in political progress got his (and modernity surely was a he) balls blown of in WW I, was starved in the Gulags, and went up the chimney at Dachau. Faith in technological advancement was vaporized at Hiroshima. In most of the world (admittedly less so in the angloshmere, and even less less so in the U.S.) ‘modernity’ can exist only in scare quotes, a kind of ghost that haunts as both nostalgic daydream and as recurring nightmare.

This neo liberalism we all love to hate is very much a reaction to the crisis of confidence in progress. Power concentrated in states leads to tyranny. Markets disaggregate power, allowing individuals to maximize their ability to make self interested rational choices, or so the story goes. Free markets were supposed to liberate us from the tyrannical predilections of the state, but they turned out to be a very efficient way of reducing nature and human communities to ‘standing reserve.’ What is valuable is what is useful, and what is useful is what is good.

We can, and should, fight long and hard over the question of ‘useful for whom, and in what measure.’ This will be the main business of transactional politics. But I think getting through this climate challenge is going to require a profound reconsideration of the category of ‘usefulness,’ and especially a reconsideration of the character behind the ‘whom,’ the human as such. If our efforts to render the planet useful to us results in a negative outcome like climate change, it’s time to reconsider the act of ascribing value, and consider what it means to be a non sovereign subject, to recognize our existence is something we make, and is equally a gift from something that gives.

https://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/buddhism/economides/economides.html

151

Ronan(rf) 12.19.15 at 3:57 am

“To the X
And the Y
And others
Who strove with Gods
Against their world’s destruction”

Political science and economics has managed to ignore the destruction of other peoples worlds by assuming away actual human beings from their models, it’d be a mistake for everyone else to do so.

152

Bruce Wilder 12.19.15 at 6:15 am

LS @ 150: What is this thing, ‘modernity’?

A global meeting in Paris to coordinate a response to climate change.

153

Peter T 12.19.15 at 8:37 am

lyman’s fire analogy doesn’t capture the full absurdity of cassander’s position. After all, he and everyone else are in the burning building.

It’s more like:

Travellers on a large ship discover there is a leak. The first-class passengers first deny there is a leak, then maintain that it’s not a problem as water is essential to life, then that people can adapt to an aquatic life (can’t be hard – dolphins did it). Finally, when the evidence is unmistakable, they barricade access to the site and demand that the lower classes offer up their children as indentured servants before they will allow repairs. As they put it, if you’re not prepared to make this small sacrifice, then you’re not serious about fixing the leak.

154

ZM 12.19.15 at 10:06 am

Bruce Wilder,

LS @ 150: “What is this thing, ‘modernity’?”

“A global meeting in Paris to coordinate a response to climate change.”

I think that is diplomacy — which is much older than modernity (tbh i stole this from Bruno Latour since his newer work is based around resurrecting a “diplomatic” mode of enquiry — his last project which involved co-researchers on a shared internet site was presented like diplomacy to be accepted and finally revised)

155

cassander 12.19.15 at 5:04 pm

@Peter T

I didn’t realize it was possible to speak wholly in tired, inaccurate cliches, but you’ve managed it. How did you learn that conservatives are nothing but top hatted, monocled plutocrats who sit around discussing how to screw the poor? Did you sneak into one of our meetings?

I’ve seen college freshmen capable of more nuanced thinking.

156

Layman 12.19.15 at 5:46 pm

@ cassander, if you aren’t actually a child, you should respond to the criticism of your position by clarifying it. What I get so far is something like:

– anything short of draconian measures proposed by liberals to address climate change makes it clear to you that they don’t really believe it is a crisis and are just using it as an opportunity to advance their partisan agenda, combined with
– a draconian response proposed by liberals to address climate change makes it clear to you they’re just using it as an opportunity to advance their partisan agenda.

Seriously, that’s what I get. Do you believe in climate change? If so, do you think it’s a problem that should be addressed? If so, do you think it is an urgent crisis requiring draconian measures, or do you think there measures which can ameliorate the problem somewhat that should be pursued?

157

Cranky Observer 12.19.15 at 5:51 pm

= = = Seriously, that’s what I get. = = =

You missed one: any policy to address climate change proposed by “the left” [whatever that might be], whether mild or draconian, must also include implementation of the Norquist/Koch/Sinquefield policy of drastically slashing taxes to assuage the tender feelings of conservatives whilst also self-undermining policies preferred by “liberals” [ref: current public education situation in Kansas].

158

cassander 12.19.15 at 7:40 pm

@Layman

>@ cassander, if you aren’t actually a child, you should respond to the criticism of your position by clarifying it.

I’ve done so, repeatedly. You’ve ignored it.

> anything short of draconian measures proposed by liberals to address climate change makes it clear to you that they don’t really believe it is a crisis and are just using it as an opportunity to advance their partisan agenda, combined with

No, no, no. It is precisely the FAILURE of progressives to adopt, by their lights, draconian measures that causes me to doubt them. What they have done is say “Global warming? See this proves I was right all along about solar power and higher taxes.” As I have said repeatedly, if progressives people to believe there is a crisis, they need to act like it’s a crisis, not an opportunity get things they already wanted.

>Seriously, that’s what I get.

then you aren’t paying attention. I don’t know how to make it any simpler than I already have.

>Do you believe in climate change?

An empty, meaningless question, my beliefs are not what we are debating. But if you insist, I believe that the world has gotten warmer. I believe that it was caused by human activity. I am not certain what the effects will be in the long run. I am certain that I am not willing to bet trillions of dollars on the people and processes that brought us corn ethanol, synfuels, and solyndra. I am not willing to sacrifice the industrialization of the third world, and the billions of people living in poverty there, on the altar of climate sanctimony. I am not willing to give power those who think that lowering taxes to save the planet is an evil compromise that must be avoided, but that completely changing the way we power the world is a minor technocratic enterprise that will have no unintended consequences.

> If so, do you think it is an urgent crisis requiring draconian measures, or do you think there measures which can ameliorate the problem somewhat that should be pursued?

My entire point is that the left is not proposing draconian measures, they are proposing measures that they wanted before climate change was an issue. If ted cruz got up and said “In response to ISIS, draconian measures are needed, we must pass my tax cut plan” you would, rightly, mock him. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the left has done with climate change.

159

Layman 12.19.15 at 8:20 pm

I’m not sure why you say ‘No, no, no’, and then repeat my assessment. If liberals don’t propose draconian measures, you think they aren’t seriously concerned about climate change. If they do, you think they’re mad, because you don’t think draconian measures are warranted. Thus, nothing liberals propose will change your mind on the subject. Fair enough?

160

Layman 12.19.15 at 8:23 pm

Also, you appear to be currently in motion between (2) and (3) in the conservative climate change polka.

161

cassander 12.20.15 at 12:43 am

@Layman

>I’m not sure why you say ‘No, no, no’, and then repeat my assessment. If liberals don’t propose draconian measures, you think they aren’t seriously concerned about climate change. If they do, you think they’re mad, because you don’t think draconian measures are warranted. Thus, nothing liberals propose will change your mind on the subject. Fair enough?

Draconian measures are things that, under normal circumstances, you would not consider doing. None of the progressive solutions fit that definition. So, to recap in your terms. Progressives propose doing things that non-progressives consider draconian, like abandoning fossil fuels. progressives insist that climate is very important and worth draconian solutions. Non progressives say fine, what about nuclear power or lowering taxes, and progressives go “oh god no, we can’t do anything like that!” the former is alienating, the latter makes them seem non serious. Two different behaviors, two different responses, not a catch-22.

There is no shuffle going on, I have said the same thing since the beginning, that progressives are not serious about climate change, they’re using it to justify doing things they already wanted to do. This is, sadly, rather typical human behavior, but I expect better from people who style themselves intellectuals and close observers of politics. So far, I’ve been disappointed.

I cannot make it any simpler that that. if you continue to misconstrue what I am saying, I will have no choice to conclude that either you’re too dense to read plain english or too ideological to realize that there are ideas in the world besides “yours” and “evil”.

162

Lawrence Stuart 12.20.15 at 3:27 am

@154 ZM

Diplomacy, eh? Brings Bakhtin’s dialogical imagination to mind … .

163

Lawrence Stuart 12.20.15 at 3:42 am

@ 152 Bruce

The Paris meeting was a decidedly post modern affair, all about ‘signals:’ the power to develop a narrative. Modernity, at least in its ambitions, could have come up with proposals for institutions run by technocrats who would have had gears and levers at their disposal, even recourse to good old fashioned coercion if necessary. The ground for that, on an international level, doesn’t exist. Having ‘given up’ on modernity I don’t think it will exist, nor, more importantly, do I think it should exist.

On a national (and sub national in some cases) level, there will be levers, gears, and bureaucrats to be deployed. But the extent of their powers will be subject to hearts and minds. At both the international and the state levels soft power, the way people think, the way they frame problems, the narratives, matter. A lot. Technical knowledge plays a part in those soft power discussions, but it lacks the authority modernity once dreamt of having … and that’s a good thing. Given the choice between self serving plutocrats and technocrats with a tendency to hauteur, I’ll side with the technocrats, if only because their openness to knowledge makes them generally more amenable to appeals to epistemic humility.

164

ZM 12.20.15 at 4:37 am

cassander,

I always propose a wartime mobilisation sort of response, since this will allow ghg emissions to be reduced more rapidly, as in wartime industry and work was redirected to the war effort. I think this can be accepted by both sides of politics, as neither side of politics has a general policy outlook that favours wartime mobilisation, so it is sort of a neutral policy suggestion.

In Australia we had a war cabinet (cabinet is the Prime Minister and Ministers who have the most authority in Westminster governments) I think which was made up of both sides of politics, I think for something of the magnitude of climate change this would be beneficial, while maintaining general elections every 3 or 4 years.

It is not a good policy idea to cut taxes to act on climate change, since how is cutting taxes going to help?

Being able to finance an adequate response to climate change is already recognised as an issue — so cutting taxes would not help financing at all. I don’t think a carbon tax is the best idea though, as I said, unless it is a consumption tax, in general I think finance should be from selling government green bonds (which are like war bonds and don’t get paid back except for towns that over-subscribe and then they get a building or a plaque) and a national sustainable development bank.

Nuclear energy is quite dangerous and creates hazardous waste, so renewable energy is better, especially in Australia where we only have one small nuclear reactor for medical purposes, and other countries always want to send us their hazardous waste (I wish the government would outlaw selling uranium to other countries, since this is why they say we should take the hazardous waste)

165

ZM 12.20.15 at 4:47 am

Lawrence Stuart,

Yes I used Bakhtin and Latour in an assignment earlier this year, with Nancy Tuana’s work on interactionist epistemology as well. Although I am more familiar with Bakhtin’s work on Rabelais than Dostoevsky, and my friend who did her honours thesis using Bakhtin to interpret spaghetti westerns in the historical context of their production said she doesn’t know if Bakhtin can be made into something that is applicable in professional practice rather than in the interpretation of art, she said he sort of envisioned his work as a way that Communism could be maintained, as in Carnival in a way facilitated the strictures of the Roman State or Feudal European States to be maintained kind of as an escape valve — like in a way you could argue the escapist high po-mo media like Paris Hilton reality shows etc of the 2000s facilitated the Bush government’s wars in the middle east. So while I did use Bakhtin in my assignment, I am also somewhat wary of using Bakhtin in the climate change context, as some people already liken proposals to act on climate change to Stalinism.

166

Bruce Wilder 12.20.15 at 6:58 am

ZM: I think that is diplomacy

Diplomacy is a category without a time dimension.

The Paris meeting is modern diplomacy, or post-modern diplomacy as LS would have it, as its characteristic purposes and means satisfy the qualifier.

Pre-modern diplomacy might have concerned itself with dynastic ambitions or tribute to a despot. Early modern diplomacy emerged with the early modern state, gradually and fitfully, as diplomacy took up issues of state, like border controls and nationality alongside dynastic ambitions and court intrigues. Fully modern diplomacy begins with the Atlantic Charter and the U.N. I am skeptical about post-modern constructions, but LS makes interesting points.

167

Val 12.20.15 at 6:59 am

I understand about the “wartime mobilisation” idea, but we have to go beyond that. We don’t have a common enemy, we have (or should/could have) a common cause. So we need to start addressing it in a way that is inclusive – we’re all in this together. Which means we have to start being egalitarian and that in turn means some pretty profound social changes.

Paris was a good start but it needs to go further – one of the immediate steps should be to get rid of historical inequalities based on gender or race/colour. So women and people of colour should be fairly represented. There should be equal representation of women and men for starters – not in ‘ideal’ but in reality. (The situation is not quite so simple in regard to people of colour/Indigenous peoples, but the principle of fair representation should guide this, which means historical factors like imperialism, colonialism, slavery and dispossession have to be taken into account.)

We should also get rid of hierarchies and structural inequalities and start having genuine democratic governance and genuinely fair resource sharing. People like Cassander will of course this is just trying to impose some crazy left wing fantasy, but I reckon it’s what we have to do in the long term, if we want genuinely sustainable societies. The question that should be asked of the cassanders, is why do they oppose democracy and equality?

And they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with the old chestnut about that’s just not how people are – we can be what to be, we can be what we can imagine. It’s a failure of imagination to think that we have to keep these tired old inequalities.

168

Val 12.20.15 at 7:01 am

‘We can be what we want to be’

169

ZM 12.20.15 at 7:20 am

Bruce Wilder,

Diplomacy is quite old, but I am not sure it is eternal as it would have to be if it had no time dimension at all. I see what you are getting at though — that in say the 17th C there was nothing like the UN or the IPCCC and Conference of the Parties at this globally encompassing political level.

I think you could possibly move into a later period after modernism and post-modernism though, something like this is not really consistent with the qualities of post-modernism, and there was a historian giving a guest lecture this year (which I missed but might listen to the podcast over summer) about how historians are dating the end of post-modernism some time from the 2000s-2010s.

Bruno Latour’s Tweets on the Paris conference sort of attended to the idea you’re getting at by noting that Francis Hollande’s “vive la Planète!” marked something new(ish) “Nobody before yesterday could salute by saying ‘vive le globe’ because the globe is not a political sovereign”. I thinks it is a bit hyperbolic, since there has been earlier precedents, but…

170

ZM 12.20.15 at 7:40 am

Val,

“I understand about the “wartime mobilisation” idea, but we have to go beyond that. We don’t have a common enemy, we have (or should/could have) a common cause”

Yes, it is the mobilisation part I think is a precedent that could be emulated, not the war part. It is just there have not been other precedents where you have had social organisation changing at that pace and scale, unless maybe you are looking at some 20th nationalist modernisations, but they don’t make a very good example to say could be emulated in the Australian context.

Possibly people in China could look at nationalist modernisation in mid 20th Century China as an example of how they could rapidly change to respond to climate change, but it would also be an example of how things don’t necessarily go as planned and how you probably want to avoid concentrating power to the extent that happened then.

I think in general it is probably easier to work with existing institutions and create new ones like a national sustainable development bank. This is not that I think existing institutions are perfect, but that I think it will take such a lot of time to work out respond to climate change that trying to radically change existing political and social institutions would make it slower. I guess Naomi Klein’s argument might be that existing ones are not capable of responding to climate change, and I think there are challenges like how to decrease material consumption in a way that doesn’t lead to a recession or chaos in the economy, but when I studied history I did half Asian history subjects and it really was very difficult when countries underwent rapid change to nationalise and modernise and a lot of things went wrong or not as planned….

In terms of more representation of women and indigenous people and people of different cultural backgrounds, you could expand the members of parliament fairly easily, like for each electorate have a male and female MP, and perhaps have another layer of representation for indigenous people. I think that would be quite easy to implement and make parliament more diverse, but we never talk about that in Australia, only about becoming a republic.

171

Val 12.20.15 at 8:23 am

I agree we should work with existing institutions, but I think we have to start questioning hierarchy and institutionalised inequality. I have become aware through my research that in my field we talk about equity and equality, but we don’t question those glaring forms of structural, institutionalised inequality that are right in front of us in our workplaces and educational institutions, for example.

They were questioned in the 70s but people found it difficult to change and work with or in flatter structures – so there was a backlash which coincided with the rise of neoliberalism. I think it’s time we tried again, recognising that it won’t be easy but it is worth doing.

As long as we have institutionalised inequality, we will have people competing for resources and wealth, which makes it difficult or impossible to achieve sustainable levels of consumption.

(Thinking of the debates going on elsewhere on CT, there are also basic conceptual problems with the way consumption and production are understood in most economic theory and popular discourse, but I won’t get into that now).

172

cassander 12.20.15 at 9:09 pm

>I always propose a wartime mobilisation sort of response, since this will allow ghg emissions to be reduced more rapidly, as in wartime industry and work was redirected to the war effort. I think this can be accepted by both sides of politics, as neither side of politics has a general policy outlook that favours wartime mobilisation, so it is sort of a neutral policy suggestion.

wartime mobilization is more a descriptor of a level of effort than a policy on its own. is said effort going to be used to build more hydro electric dams and nuclear stations? geo-engineering? wind and solar?

And war mobilization is not really a decision any one person makes, it can only be sustained in as long as there’s a widespread belief that the problem in question is a real threat and that the methods being used are appropriate and efficacious. Basically, calling for a mobilization doesn’t buy you anything, you still have all the problems of winning over the skeptics and tribal enemies. If anything, it makes that problem harder because you’re asking more of them.

>Paris was a good start but it needs to go further – one of the immediate steps should be to get rid of historical inequalities based on gender or race/colour. So women and people of colour should be fairly represented.

And this is EXACTLY the problem I’m trying to explain? Can’t you see how, if you talk to the average right winger and say “climate change, yeah, huge problem. first thing we need to do is ensure equal representation of women in parliament” they see you as fundamentally unserious? Of using climate change as an excuse to push ideas you had before?

If tomorrow the world got struck by a meteor that put enough dust into the atmosphere that the big risk was global cooling, not warming, I assume you wouldn’t say “wow, we dodged a bullet on that one. With climate change gone we definitely don’t need to worry about getting rid of historical inequalities based on gender or race/colour.”

>We should also get rid of hierarchies and structural inequalities and start having genuine democratic governance and genuinely fair resource sharing. People like Cassander will of course this is just trying to impose some crazy left wing fantasy, but I reckon it’s what we have to do in the long term, if we want genuinely sustainable societies.

I’d love this, I’ve just never seen leftists do anything but the opposite. Those things would mean devolving power to local control, something the left in the US invariably calls racist whenever conservatives argue for it and the left almost never advocates. It would mean allowing more local particularism, not imposing left wing ideas from the center. It would, in short, mean giving up control, and you guys never do that.

>The question that should be asked of the cassanders, is why do they oppose democracy and equality?

that is the question I ask of leftists. Your methods keep failing to achieve democracy and equality, so why do you keep insisting on them?

173

Layman 12.20.15 at 10:49 pm

“that progressives are not serious about climate change”

This is not the shuffle to which I refer.

“I cannot make it any simpler that that.”

This I can believe.

174

James Wimberley 12.20.15 at 11:12 pm

Harking back a bit, but Cassander’s #125 is breathtaking insolence.
“I can only assume your absurd nitpicking about the date means you have nothing to say about being wrong before, and I accept the apology.”
You wrote in #105:
“So, no, not yet signed, and not to be signed for, forgive me, not 2 years but 17 months.”
I corrected you in #115:
“The Agreement will be open for signature from 22 April 2015 [obvious typo for 2016], 4 months from now..”
If you won’t accept a correction on a simple matter of fact (text, Article 20), we are done. I don’t debate with pig-headed fools and bullshitters.

175

cassander 12.21.15 at 1:09 am

>“The Agreement will be open for signature from 22 April 2015 [obvious typo for 2016], 4 months from now..”

and closed for signature a year after that. If you told students their paper was due between the 25 and the 30th, would they say it was due in 5 days or 10?

as for the far most substantive points on which you were completely wrong, that the agreement in paris is binding, it isn’t, that it contains national contributions, it doesn’t, you remain silent. If you won’t accept a correction on a simple matter of fact, we are done. I don’t debate with pig-headed fools and bullshitters.

176

John Quiggin 12.21.15 at 4:13 am

James @174 I did warn against troll-feeding 100 or so comments ago (having done a bit myself).

But since Cassander has hung on so long, it’s worth reminding any remaining readers that he is, or presents himself as, an example of the “reasonable Republican” : the kind of Repub centrists are always looking for as a party to some kind of “grand bargain” that would lock out the extremists on either side.

If you find Cassander frustrating, remember that the actual Republican base would regard his hypothetical willingness to do something about climate change, in return for unilateral surrender on everything else, as evidence that he is a RINO sellout in the pay of Soros and the United Nations (see eg Huntsman, Kasich).

177

cassander 12.21.15 at 4:42 am

@John Quiggin

>But since Cassander has hung on so long, it’s worth reminding any remaining readers that he is, or presents himself as, an example of the “reasonable Republican” : the kind of Repub centrists are always looking for as a party to some kind of “grand bargain” that would lock out the extremists on either side.

I am not a centrist, and I am personally not much interested in grand bargains. But unlike some, apparently, I am able to understand the perspective of those who are and who do. I am offering you a plan for how to win those people over, because I find your lack of interest in such a plan interesting. Not one of the commenters here has spoken of the feasibility of the plan I presented, neither technically nor politically. Instead you’ve repeatedly attacked my motives or misrepresented what I’ve said. It’s almost like you’re less interested in climate policy than you are in using the threat of climate change as a club to beat down a rival tribe……

>If you find Cassander frustrating, remember that the actual Republican base would regard his hypothetical willingness to do something about climate change, in return for unilateral surrender on everything else, as evidence that he is a RINO sellout in the pay of Soros and the United Nations (see eg Huntsman, Kasich).

“when it doubt, rely on bigotry” has never been a motto I much respected. I daresay I know a fair many more Republicans than you do, JQ, maybe you should try learning rather than sneering.

178

js. 12.21.15 at 5:24 am

I am not a centrist

Nor much of a reader, evidently.

179

Rich Puchalsky 12.21.15 at 1:40 pm

This extended discussion is an example of something so wrong that you can’t even approach what is true by correcting it. But I’ll try to go over a few things.

1. Romneycare / Obamacare, emissions trading permits, gay rights via access to traditional institutions like marriage and the military. All “conservative ideas” if viewed by an intellectual historian. All not “conservative ideas” in the sense that no living conservative can support them. There is no possible deal that can be made, even between the moderate and conservative wings of the Anglo right.

2. At least in the U.S., the right is a coalition based squarely around racism, with all of the bad conscience that that implies. Note that in the Falangist incident that I referred to previously, “Viva la Muerte” was said in response to a typically eliminationist statement about Basques and Catalans. I can’t resist quoting Unamuno in this political dispute in which one side believes in a global conspiracy of scientists: “”This is the temple of intelligence, and I am its high priest. You are profaning its sacred domain. You will win, because you have enough brute force. But you will not convince. In order to convince it is necessary to persuade, and to persuade you will need something that you lack: reason and right in the struggle. I see it is useless to ask you to think of Spain. I have spoken.”

3. The right will not win, because it does not have enough brute force. On the contrary, it just lost. The neoliberal gears will grind on, and the same system that squashes hippie librarians who plaintively wonder whether literary works should remain protected profit centers forever will grind up the billionaire fossil fuel interests too — those that don’t just take their money out and reinvest in something else. As Bruce Wilder says, of course poor populations around the world are going to get ground up in a much more literally significant sense.

4. The “criticism” of right wingers is incoherent and seizes on anything available, even if that contradicts other criticisms. But in this case, the left’s disarray is something that’s available. The left has no real idea how to win this fight, as the left. It’s neoliberalism that’s doing it. If we successfully respond to this crisis, it will be neoliberalism’s response that does it, because there is no global radical movement on the horizon and we don’t have time for anything else. Of course, there could alternatively be a collapse, but the left has no real idea how to respond to that either.

180

Landru 12.21.15 at 3:50 pm

Following R. Pulchasky @179, this seems a good time to ask: I’ve been reading CT for some time, and am not sure I understand what the term “neoliberal/neoliberalism,” as it is used here so often, is supposed to indicate, exactly. Suspecting that there may be other casual reader/lurkers in the same boat, I would like to ask if anyone can provide a succinct working definition, that we can keep in mind? Thanks.

181

Cranky Observer 12.21.15 at 4:47 pm

Landru,
That’s actually a very contentious question here and on other sites with similar participants. For purposes of most comment threads (not necessarily main posts) it roughly means Clintonism: embracing Wall Street/the financial market, abandoning industrial policy and advancing the “free trade” agenda, ending any active defense of New Deal or Great Society programs, adopting Republican policies on “reform” in general and “welfare reform” and “entitlement reform” in particular, and not opposing military adventurism in general and military spending specifically. Reference the DLC and Third Way organizations, plus Charles Peters and the ‘Washington Monthly’ magazine.

182

Rich Puchalsky 12.21.15 at 5:32 pm

Cranky’s definition is too U.S.-centric. If you’re going to talk about the U.S., then Obama is the archetypal neoliberal of our times: no need to go back to Clinton.

Neoliberalism is the ideology of the ruling global managerial class. Neoliberalism is a liberalism: it says that racism, anti-feminism and homophobia are relics of a past dark age that have to give way to the new age of meritocratic individual competition within a system in which highly stratified wealth accumulation is simply the natural order. Neoliberals love “free trade” agreements and reasons why concerted action that would disturb wealth accumulation is impossible: thus, for instance, austerity just has to happen whether it works or not, because there is no alternative. “There is no alternative” might as well be the neoliberal slogan: it survives as the world order not because any significant number of people really like it, but because everyone is convinced that the available alternatives would be worse.

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Bruce Wilder 12.21.15 at 5:44 pm

Landru @ 180

I am not sure why neoliberalism seems vague to people. To me, it is surprisingly coherent — its very coherence is part of its rhetorical strength.

There are two threads to neoliberalism as a kind of political tradition. One begins with Charles Peters and the Washington Monthly (google his neoliberal manifesto for one of the ur-documents of neoliberalism), as Cranky says. And, this strain is identified with the DLC/new democrat politics of Bill Clinton. Another thread, that maybe resonates more with CT’s international readership, traces back to the Washington Consensus on economic development and international economic policy. Wikipedia has a decent article on the Washington Consensus.

I have sometimes made the point that what we call neoliberalism is a label for a closed dialectic or debate between conservative libertarians (in the tradition of Milton Friedman) and centrist/”left” neoliberals like Brad Delong. I suggested Brad Delong’s writings as exemplary of “left” neoliberalism on another thread, and Professor Delong helpfully confirmed that he considers himself a neoliberal. So, as a political philosophy or outlook: Delong. But, as a political movement that’s centered to Delong’s right, I would emphasize that dialectic. Neoliberalism as an outlook on policy is tied to a certain view that is legitimated by and legitimates mainstream neoclassical economics. Neoliberalism is all about Paul Krugman praising Ben Bernanke (Paul’s colleague at Princeton and Chair of the Fed under Bush and Obama) and Olivier Blanchard (formerly at the IMF) as serious people.

The closed dialectic is important because it becomes a way of legitimating a very narrow and self-defeating range of policy options, that entraps nation-state politics within technocratic bounds. “There is no alternative” (TINA) is the motto of neoliberalism, applied, for example, by Olivier Blanchard as an excuse for the visiting severe and prolonged austerity on Greece.

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Asteele 12.21.15 at 5:57 pm

When official white supremacy collapsed in the United States there was a choice to be made, about what to do with the protections against the worst of Capital exploitation, that white men enjoyed. On the “left” the answer was to spread those protections outward to more people, the neo-liberal answer, was to remove them entirely, they won.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.21.15 at 5:58 pm

Bruce Wilder and I cross-posted, so I’m amused that we both picked the same motto / slogan. Charlie Peters as the right wing of neoliberalism, Brad DeLong as the left, and the Washington Consensus as agreed-on economic policy is still U.S.-centric, though. I think that there’s an argument that something like Deng Xiaoping Theory is, basically, neoliberalism.

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Bruce Wilder 12.21.15 at 6:00 pm

Yes to everything Rich said.

In a U.S. context, neoliberalism is a corruption of New Deal liberalism. In a European context, it may be more accurately seen as a corruption of post-war ordoliberalism and the European project. Germany’s Der Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung (Council of Economic Experts), a remnant of ordoliberalism, produces neoliberal doctrine to order, apparently.

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SamChevre 12.21.15 at 6:18 pm

Landru @ 181

I would agree with the above posters as to examples of neo-liberalism, but would look at it through a different lens.

Neo-liberalism is a variant of classic liberalism (Mill etc), with the same focus on “there’s no consensus around what’s good”, but with a focus on institutional actors. (Neo-conservatism is conservatism with institutional actors.) It’s sharply opposed by modern “liberalism” of the US variety, which tends to agree with classic conservatism that there is a knowable good, and to add that every institution ought to face a requirement from the state to pursue it, even if it has a differing conception of the good.

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Bruce Wilder 12.21.15 at 6:28 pm

The corruption of New Deal liberalism consists primarily of eliminating institutions that mediate conflict, especially vertical conflict as in the case of labor unions. The elder Galbraith’s idea of government as a repository of countervailing power against business corporations has been largely forgotten. Neoliberalism praises “institutions” but their institutions are strangely without substance: their regulators never punish, they nudge. The neoliberal idea of financial regulation is macro-prudential supervision — ultra technocrats will oversee the supermanagers, checking their homework, or something, but structural change is resisted and organizations like the SEC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are subverted by putting the Foxes in charge of the Hen House.

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James Wimberley 12.21.15 at 6:55 pm

JQ #176: point taken. I would just add to your comments on the mirage of a grand bargain that it’s hard to compromise on the meaning of the Iliad with people who insist that it’s about Aeneas founding Rome.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.21.15 at 6:56 pm

BW: “Neoliberalism praises “institutions” but their institutions are strangely without substance: their regulators never punish, they nudge. “

Neoliberalism operates as a kind of Mandarin system. It’s not just “Paul Krugman praising Ben Bernanke and Olivier Blanchard as serious people”, it’s — well, look at the histories of Clinton and Obama for instance. Started as low social status, brilliant scholars, owe their success in some significant way to the system that let them rise. Of course brilliance is defined in a meritocratic system as the ability to reach the same answer that everyone else does, but elegantly. Regulators can’t regulate not so much because it would hurt the owners of capital (the traditional leftist answer) but because it would hurt fellow members of the managerial class.

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John Quiggin 12.21.15 at 9:28 pm

Here’s my take on neoliberalism, in the European sense of the term

http://johnquiggin.com/2008/09/27/neoliberalism-defined

and here’s a discussion of the US version, which I think has largely been displaced, both as a term and as an ideology by the global version

http://crookedtimber.org/2015/05/13/the-last-gasp-of-us-neoliberalism/

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geo 12.21.15 at 10:24 pm

Landru et al re neoliberalism: Eyes out for Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal, coming this spring.

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engels 12.21.15 at 10:51 pm

I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Bernanke or Blanchard but the idea that they’re not ‘serious’ seems a little implausible.

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engels 12.21.15 at 11:32 pm

I think the explanation of neoliberalism above is massively over-complicated. The ‘neo-‘ means a return to a paradigm of past, in this case liberalism of C19th century. So neoliberalism is basically classical liberalism, libertarianism, free trade liberalism, Reaganism, Thatcherism, etc, roughly belief in private property and markets as superior forms of social organization and a programme for expanding their reach into areas of life from which they’ve hitherto been absent. Obviously in terms of connotations and historical evolution etc there will be a bit more to it than that but some comments seem to be using it as a Rorschach blot on which to project their own favourite bug-bears about the modern world. I wouldn’t associate it specifically with the division of ownership and management, ‘technocracy’, or any of the other familiar CT comments section hobby-horses, I think.

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engels 12.21.15 at 11:35 pm

(‘Explanation above’ meaning various comments, not JQ’s posts)

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engels 12.21.15 at 11:51 pm

‘what we call neoliberalism is a label for a closed dialectic’

I think this a real thing but I at least don’t call it neoliberalism. Ymmv

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engels 12.22.15 at 9:46 am

How many neoliberals does it take to change a lightbulb? 3: one to privatize the grid, one to celebrate darkness, one to blame socialists
https://twitter.com/evgenymorozov/status/678486243110449152

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James Wimberley 12.22.15 at 12:25 pm

Engels #197: neat, but a missed target. Thatcher’s privatisation of electricity was one of her few successes. The crucial move was to recognize that the transmission grid is a natural monopoly, and has to stay either public or closely regulated, while generation can and should be competitive. Neither the UK, nor Texas, nor Germany, which all implemented versions of unbundling, have seen much in the way of mass blackouts. However, India had the world record power cut in 2012. The model is inherently much more favourable to the energy transition than the old silo model as in Arizona, scene of a bitter struggle over net metering. ERCOT in Texas, National Grid in the UK, and the four regional transmission operators in Germany are phlegmatic about managing high penetration of wind and solar: it’s an interesting technical challenge, no more.

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Cranky Observer 12.22.15 at 12:53 pm

= = = I think the explanation of neoliberalism above is massively over-complicated. The ‘neo-‘ means a return to a paradigm of past, in this case liberalism of C19th century. = = =

I did note this was a contentious question, here on CT and elsewhere. This is a counter-definition that is often brought up to deflect criticism of current US neoliberalism (as noted above I’m less familiar with Euro-neoliberalism, but I’ll take JQ and Paul Krugman’s word for how it works) as practiced by the Democratic Party’s insiders and managers. It does not take into account either the definition of neo (‘a new or revived form of’) or the social structures put in place from the time of the original Liberals through 1980 (Dewey, Hopkins, Johnson, etc in the US; even Bismark’s program of social reforms in protection of industrialism). Since the post-1980 neoliberals have fought so hard to dismantle those structures (or supported the nominal opponents of their constituents in dismantling them) it strikes me as a bit slippery to try to turn the clock back to 1700 and Locke it there. YMMV.

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engels 12.22.15 at 1:20 pm

It does not take into account either the definition of neo (‘a new or revived form of’)

It doesn’t? How not? (To revive something you have to return to to it)

<Ithat is often brought up to deflect criticism of current US neoliberalism

Huh? How am I deflecting criticism of US? Perhaps not importantly, how is David Harvey, who iirc gave a similar definition in his book ‘Neoliberalism’

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engels 12.22.15 at 1:23 pm

Since the post-1980 neoliberals have fought so hard to dismantle those structures (or supported the nominal opponents of their constituents in dismantling them) it strikes me as a bit slippery to try to turn the clock back to 1700 and Locke it there. YMMV.

Don’t know what you’re on about mate

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Bruce Wilder 12.22.15 at 2:21 pm

James Wimberley @ 198

California.

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Cranky Observer 12.22.15 at 2:30 pm

I don’t want to drift too far OT, but would like to note that much as with the “reform” of (= attack on) universal public education that while Chicago School-ization of the electricity system in the US [1] has had some positive and perhaps needed outcomes it has also had very bad outcomes for many consumers – unintended and intended – and IMHO has jepordized long-term stability of the system.

[1] and parts of Canada + Baja Mexico, to a certain extent

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SamChevre 12.22.15 at 2:31 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 202

California was a disaster because they privatized in a completely wrong-headed way. (I was peripherally involved in the debate–I was an intern at one of the major proponents of privatization–and they were saying in the summer of 1998 that California was doing privatization badly and it would be a disaster.)

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Cranky Observer 12.22.15 at 2:46 pm

IIRC MISO is up to ~75 auction markets having time horizons ranging from 5 minutes to 30 years, with FERC and the “independent monitor” pushing at least three more. Every time a new wrong-headed aspect of Chicagoization is discovered a new auction market is proposed. Sayings about epicycles and can only be failed come to mind but as we know There Is No Alternative(tm)

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Layman 12.22.15 at 3:23 pm

California is no true Scotsman!

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engels 12.22.15 at 3:50 pm

“it strikes me as a bit slippery to try to turn the clock back to 1700 and Locke it there”

Who is being ‘slippery’ ‘trying to turn to turn clock back to 1700’, and ‘deflect criticism from US neoliberalism’ ? What are you on about?

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Bruce Wilder 12.22.15 at 5:00 pm

engels @ 194

neo- means new, as Cranky observes. It is a common mistake to identify neoliberalism with conservative libertarianism, the more self-conscious heirs of “classical liberalism” (Milton Friedman liked to call himself a classical liberal. )

The neoliberals, though, were the successors of the New Deal liberals, those not-quite-social-democrats. The neoliberals were the next generation, who gave up in the simmering class war, that was the core of New Deal politics. That is Charles Peters’ theme: he declared himself tired of the stalemate in class warfare that characterized New Deal politics. Some were the successors to the “liberal Republicans”, a conservative wolves-in-sheeps-clothing faction that dissolved at that time. Brad Delong, with his supreme sense of historical context, has called himself an Eisenhower Republican. Some, like Clinton and Carter and Gore, occupied the space previously occupied by Southern populists, but without the racism. Clinton and Gore continued to use the rhetoric of “fighting” for the common man.

The Washington Consensus version of international neoliberalism occupies a similar position, in that it emerged as the competition with communism ended.

Rich is right to identify neoliberalism with the managerial class. It is the politics of dismantling the New Deal, from the perspective of those in charge of taking it apart while avoiding collapse and smoothing over crisis. Having unilaterally surrendered in class war, their job is keeping class war from breaking out again under one-sided assault from above, while continuing a very profitable program of controlled demolition and the construction of a new structure to manage and herd a growing precariat.

Their relation with the conservative libertarians is an interesting one to me, in part because it is so closely tied to the social structure of mainstream economics. To understand it, you need to understand that conservative libertarianism, as an ideology and economic philosophy, is not real, not organic — at least not in our era. It is a mask to wear in public for the most aggressive plutocrats. For pundits and intellectuals apologizing for plutocracy, it is a well-paid gig. Conservative libertarianism, backed by the elaborate but easily mastered structure of Econ 101, is nothing if not an impressive rhetorical engine, capable of turning out an endless flood of glib, content-free opinions.

For the neoliberals, it provides a useful foil, a way of arguing one’s own views in-contrast-to, that makes neoliberalism seem far less conservative and pro-plutocratic than it is. The back and forth creates the illusion of a debate and critical examination of ideas. And, most usefully, the conversation between neoliberals and the paid shills of libertarian conservatism can be treated as the serious adult conversation, that the children should not interrupt, so any answer given to real critics can be dismissive and condescending, the better to marginalize other points of view.

Paul Krugman rails against the strawmen of “freshwater” economics to burnish his own credentials as a political liberal of the old school (something he is not), then turns around and picks out certain economists for rituals of respect, policymakers like Bernanke or Blanchard, or allies like Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford. Once in a while, some one further afield will be dismissed or his ideas presented as an impenetrable puzzle. But, mostly he stays within a narrow range of respected interlocutors, and within that range, criticism is very muted. Krugman did not appear to even understand how his own publicly expressed views differed from Bernanke’s, so Bernanke’s reactionary politics remained unexplored. Bernanke remained a trustworthy technocrat in Krugman’s telling.

Neoliberalism uses libertarian conservatism, but does not share its ideas. It does not favor laissez faire per se, as the classical liberals supposedly did. They always want a program, and a complex one that needs lots of credentialled administration is thought best. Oh, and tons of policy analysis, too. The neoliberals are the practical people, who supply a bailout, while libertarians express hostility toward the victims and the bailout simultaneously. Thus, our political stasis is maintained thru the time of the cholera.

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Bruce Wilder 12.22.15 at 5:17 pm

SamChevre @ 204

Opportunities for looting are a success. Exposure of the looting in a crisis is the failure.

But, job 1 is to prevent reforms from precluding keeping most of the loot or getting more in the next round.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.22.15 at 5:41 pm

BW: “It is the politics of dismantling the New Deal, from the perspective of those in charge of taking it apart while avoiding collapse and smoothing over crisis. “

Or, from a European viewpoint, the politics of dismantling the postwar European project. Or, in a certain arguable and metaphorical sense, the politics of dismantling Mao Zedong Thought. In all three cases the levers of control were carefully kept, but class antagonism was dropped.

Neoliberalism is inherently tied to globalism in a way that makes comparisons with previous eras not very meaningful. It’s the way in which the international order is currently constructed, the way in which an avowedly Communist country can be the second most powerful in the world and be fully integrated into the world economy along with American libertarians and conservatives and, for that matter, Saudi Arabian monarchists. You can do whatever you like — or have powerful forces do what they like to you — in your own small wherever-you-come-from as long as you don’t disturb the neoliberal international order, which is why bankers are more important than Greece.

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engels 12.22.15 at 6:13 pm

Did some Googling and still no idea where you guys are coming from. On second thoughts I’d allow two meanings

-neoliberalism qua ideology = free-market liberalism (/classical’/pure’ liberalism etc)
-nl qua system = hyper-capitalism / capitalism with the gloves off

Really don’t think it’s much more complicated than that. Iinsistence on novelty seems awfully like bending over backwards to deny that things you don’t like are fairly predictable tendencies of capitalism.

(PS I very much disagree that is the ideology of the ‘managerial class’ or that it’s not inherently pro- laissez faire but I agree about not _identifying_ it with (US) ‘libertarianism’ – that’s a Mickey Mouse firm of something that’s more widespread and respected)

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Bruce Wilder 12.22.15 at 6:23 pm

From a European perspective, extending the European project in a way that disables the nation-state with its inconvenient democracy and potential for eruptions of national solidarity.

But, yes, all the various threads of neoliberalism are woven together in globalization.

The goal is to make globalization work. The corollary is that no one with actual power can be held responsible for local failures of institutions or whole countries. Which is handy, because small local failures, of electrical grids, or the American Red Cross, or banks, or charter schools, or private law schools funded by student loans, of Greece, of the Cooper Union, . . . such local failures, the more granular the better, can produce more loot for the globalised managerial class, which feels no attachment to or dependence on the merely local. Outsourcing the building of an airliner might be complex, but complex is what the managerial class does. It does not have to be efficient, as long as it adds to the power of the CEO. If it destroys a community, oh well.

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engels 12.22.15 at 6:35 pm

Neoliberalism is inherently tied to globalism in a way that makes comparisons with previous eras not very meaningful

Umm you do realize they had globalisation in C19th

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Bruce Wilder 12.22.15 at 7:04 pm

Oh, heck, they had globalization (for the globe they knew, which they did not think of a globe, per se) in the 11th century.

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engels 12.22.15 at 7:10 pm

Er okay but not capitalism so irrelevant. Anyway so why is comparison with previous eras meaningless then?

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Bruce Wilder 12.22.15 at 8:11 pm

engels, you oversimplified with your still completely unsupported claim of equivalence and your defensiveness is tedious. If you cannot manage these distinctions, fine, or simply do not want to, because you see no gain in understanding, fine. Don’t manage them. No one says you have to be interested.

If you want to draw out interesting parallels, of which I am sure there are many, do so.

If the whole discussion just bores you, stop participating.

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Val 12.22.15 at 8:23 pm

James Wimberley @ 198

Privatised electricity providers have not been “phlegmatic” about renewable energy here in Victoria (Australia). Indeed I would suggest they have deliberately misrepresented its impact.

Our benighted conservative government under the former leader Tony Abbott held a “review” (as in the sense of attack) of the renewable energy target (RET) here in 2014. I wrote about it at the time on my blog:

I looked at some of the submissions on the RET review, including one from my energy provider, Origin. Origin is calling for the RET to be lowered – and I am thinking about whether I should change my energy provider! At least they are not calling for it to be abolished, but even lowering it is a foolish step backwards.

One thing that makes me quite angry about the position of Origin and also that of the Electricity Suppliers Association of Australia, is that they talk a lot about the costs of renewable energy to the general public, through the RET and the carbon price, but there are two things they don’t seem to mention:
-People on low to average incomes in Australia were in general over-compensated for the costs of the carbon price – they received more in payments from the government than the costs that the carbon price was estimated to cause households.
-Energy companies make a profit from current household solar. Early Feed-in Tarriffs (FITs), which are the price the energy companies pay people for the electricity that they feed in to the main grid from their solar panels, were quite high, to encourage take up of solar panels. However, they have now been reduced, and electricity companies now sell the electricity for more than they pay for it. For example, Origin pays me 8c per Kilowatt hour (KwH) for energy from my solar panels, and sells it to other people for 22c per KwH.
It seems to me that they are not being entirely honest.

(The links have fallen out – if anyone is interested in what the electricity companies said the original post is here http://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/i-am-not-problem-plus-threats-to.html – following some great words by an Arrernte elder, very worth reading btw)

It’s not just the already privatised companies that are behaving this way, because of course the ‘neoliberal’ dominant view is that even state owned corporations should act like profit making businesses (arguably to the extent of deliberately misleading the public in this case).

However entrepreneurial capitalism has turned up alternatives, I must admit, and we now have a new company, Powercorp, that charges on what you actually use and is friendly to renewables.

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js. 12.22.15 at 9:25 pm

@Landru — Aren’t you sorry you asked?

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engels 12.22.15 at 9:30 pm

so why is comparison with previous eras meaningless then?

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engels 12.22.15 at 9:34 pm

It does not favor laissez faire per se, as the classical liberals supposedly did. They always want a program, and a complex one that needs lots of credentialled administration is thought best.

So the USSR was neoliberal but Thatcher was not?

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engels 12.22.15 at 9:39 pm

You know I always thought the right-wing jibe that some people on the left use ‘neoliberalism’ as an all-putpose bogeyman (meaning roughly ‘stuff about contemporary world I don’t like’) was unwarranted — after reading this thread In not so sure.

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engels 12.22.15 at 10:01 pm

Okay I just looked up David Harvey’s definition, which seems perfectly good to me:

“[h]uman well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an appropriate framework to such practices”

Bruce, why don’t provide one source from outside CT comments section that supports your view that neoliberals favour technocratic state administration over laissez faire?

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engels 12.22.15 at 10:02 pm

(Defn s/b “the belief that” – and apologies for multiple comments)

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LFC 12.22.15 at 10:53 pm

JQ noted @191 that there are two different senses of neoliberalism: one is (or has been) specifically tied to U.S. political and ‘intellectual’ debates, and the other is not.

The D. Harvey definition quoted by engels adequately covers the second, more general sense of neoliberalism. Confusingly perhaps, the so-called Washington Consensus is an expression of the ‘global’, general sense of the word, not the U.S.-centric sense.

The U.S.-centric sense, which JQ thinks “has largely been displaced” by the global sense but perhaps it hasn’t been entirely, seems to be what B. Wilder has in mind in the bulk of his comments above. Transposing this into the terms of British politics, one might suggest that Blairism = neoliberalism (U.S. sense) while Thatcherism = neoliberalism (‘global’ sense). Anyway, BW and engels are talking about somewhat different things, hence at least some of the confusion.

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js. 12.22.15 at 11:33 pm

I would like to ask if anyone can provide a succinct working definition, that we can keep in mind

Since I can’t hope to match the virtuosity of some of the other answers, I’ll try to focus on the “succinct” bit. (1) LFC et al are right about the two senses—or versions—of “neoliberalism”; (2) engels gets the more general sense pretty much exactly right, I think: neoliberalism in this sense is just the revival of classic 19th century liberalism; (3) for the US-centric “left neoliberalism”, “left” insofar as it descends from mid-century American liberalism, see this and this. But basically, it’s classic, laissez-faire liberalism with a bit of redistribution thrown in.

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bob mcmanus 12.23.15 at 12:24 am

Too much economics. A broader or Marxian understanding of “neoliberalism” would have to add the views of some acceptable post-modernists, culture/media theorists, or Marxians, descendants of the Regulation Schools, and explorations of “late capitalism”: Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, Ernest Mandel, Baran & Sweezy, Richard Sennett, autonomists, many many more.

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john c. halasz 12.23.15 at 12:48 am

I haven’t read through the whole thread, but really, has no one here read Philip Mirowski on the genesis of “neo-liberalism” via the Mont Pelerin Society?

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bob mcmanus 12.23.15 at 1:13 am

227: Yes, and I disagree with Mirowski very strenuously, to the extent I recommend not reading that book. Blaming Hayek and Friedman is like blaming Carnegie and Mellon a century ad a half ago. This isn’t Historical Materialism, it’s bourgeois moralism turned paranoia. Machine Dreams is somewhat better.

Besides above 226, both Politics and Vision 2nd ed and Managed Democracy by Sheldon Wolin are recommended. Or The Historical Turn in the Social Sciences. Or…

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 1:42 am

js: “neoliberalism in this sense is just the revival of classic 19th century liberalism”

And that’s why 19th century liberals would have done something like, let’s say, a global agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses that inevitably shuts down major privately owned industries.

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SamChevre 12.23.15 at 1:59 am

I’d argue that a useful definition of neo-liberalism should distinguish it from both classical liberalism and the directly state-managed forms of industrial organisation–classical socialism.

My distinction is that classic liberalism is focused on people; associations are assumed, but are peripheral to the theory, and institutional bureaucracy is ignored. Neo-liberalism includes bureaucratic institutions in its concept set, and in contrast to classical liberalism sees them as state-useable apparatus. So while classical liberals ignored unions and church schools, and socialists insisted that unions and schools be state-run, neo-liberals came up with ideas like the Philadelphia plan and the Bob Jones cases–private unions and schools are fine so long as they serve the state’s goals rather than the goals of their members. (I think in Europe, regulatory harmonization between states was a similar over-riding concern, but I know the details less well.)

In contrast to neo-liberalism, classic socialism is focused on direct state control of institutions. There seemingly should be a body of neo-socialism, focusing on social control of institutions given the institutional bureaucracies, but I am not familiar with it.

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bob mcmanus 12.23.15 at 2:22 am

Ach, ich bin des Treibens müde!

It is a symptom, a pathology of late capitalism that with the dispersion of subjectivity, agency is displaced onto the enemy/other. The enemy isn’t controlled by a vanguard.

Only labor, workers create value, from material circumstances not of their choosing. I am reminded everyday of how radical that idea still is.

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js. 12.23.15 at 2:23 am

Well, Rich, you’re just so obviously assuming the conclusion, though. But equally obviously, people like JS Mill (most less prominent than him) fought hard for what were then progressive causes that inevitably and obviously hurt property holders in their society. You could raise objections to what I said, but this one seems so hopeless.

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js. 12.23.15 at 2:33 am

@Rich Puchalsky — To be clear, I actually agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but I also think that the first wave of globalization in the mid-19th century is a lot more relevant than you seem to think (and with due respect to BW, I don’t think the 11th century is similarly relevant). So I think the historical comparison to the 19th century is quite apt.

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LFC 12.23.15 at 3:03 am

j.c. halasz @227
…really, has no one here read Philip Mirowski on the genesis of “neo-liberalism” via the Mont Pelerin Society?

I haven’t, nor have I read Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion, which I gather also has much on the Mont Pelerin Society.

But what of it? The original question asked for a succinct definition, not a genealogy or an intellectual history. I fail utterly to see how the (putative or actual) origins of neoliberalism (in its ‘global’ sense) in the Mont Pelerin Society invalidate what I or js. wrote above. The fact is that there is a distinctly U.S.-centric sense of the word that doesn’t owe much of anything, afaict, to Mont Pelerin. But cd be wrong, I s’pose.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 3:03 am

js: “So I think the historical comparison to the 19th century is quite apt.”

The best 19th century comparison that I can think of is the abolition of the slave trade. And that had little or nothing to do with classical liberalism: classical liberals generally opposed social liberalism. You can blur them together if you look back at the 19th century because many prominent liberals supported elements of what later were labeled as different types of liberalism, but it’s kind of useless as a guide to understanding current day events.

“There is no alternative” only works if neoliberalism appears to be actually better than the alternatives to people with some degree of power. It’s a control mechanism, and it’s not some kind of rerun of the 19th century. It’s not simply hypercapitalism that gets worse and worse until inevitable immiseration followed by revolution: that’s the same braindead excuse for failure that the left has been running on for the last 30 years.

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LFC 12.23.15 at 3:15 am

SamChevre @230
To the extent that I follow yr comment, I think what you are calling at the end ‘neo-socialism’ can be found as at least one part or aspect of democratic socialism. But this gets too OT, probably.

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SamChevre 12.23.15 at 3:18 am

LFC @ 236

Definitely OT, but I’d be very happy to have some author names — it’s a place where my categorization says “there should be something, but I haven’t found it.”

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LFC 12.23.15 at 3:54 am

@SamChevre
There are socialist traditions and authors who don’t favor state ownership (nationalization) but other types of ownership/control: e.g. worker cooperatives, workers’ councils, ‘participatory economics’ etc. Searching on any of those shd start to turn up the relevant lit. I might look at A. Nove, The Economics of Feasible Socialism, M. Harrington, Socialism Past and Future, perhaps something by J. Roemer, on ‘participatory economics’ R. Hahnel and M. Albert. For some of the intellectual history, an old book from the 1940s skewed in favor of non-Marxist socialism(s): A. Gray, The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin or the relevant parts of Manual & Manual, Utopian Thought in the Western World.

Btw, just ran across a bk that aims apparently to complicate the Mont Pelerin story; author is one Johanna Bockman (I think I’m spelling that right), subtitle is (presumably deliberately provocative) “the left-wing origins of neoliberalism”.

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LFC 12.23.15 at 3:57 am

correction:
Manuel (with an e)

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Bruce Wilder 12.23.15 at 4:00 am

LFC@ 224

Yes.

js. @ 232

What would Jesus say about . . . ?

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js. 12.23.15 at 4:34 am

What would Jesus say about . . . ?

Sorry, I don’t understand this at all.

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js. 12.23.15 at 4:41 am

RP @235: I maybe kinda sorta agree with you, to the extent I understand what you’re saying (which is limited). But I am honestly failing to see why anything you’re saying is supposed to be a response or objection to me. This bit, e.g.:

It’s not simply hypercapitalism that gets worse and worse until inevitable immiseration followed by revolution

You’re just reading in things that aren’t there in anything I’ve said. Honest.

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js. 12.23.15 at 5:02 am

The best 19th century comparison that I can think of is the abolition of the slave trade. And that had little or nothing to do with classical liberalism

It’s not about the slave trade, but I happen to be reading this right now (oddly). It rather makes me doubt that attitudes towards slavery had “little or nothing to do” with classical liberalism. (And slavery/the slave trade aren’t the only examples.)

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ZM 12.23.15 at 6:21 am

I think bob mcmanus makes a good point about looking at neoliberalism along with postmodernism, since they cover roughly the same era, except I would date postmodernism as starting a bit earlier, which means perhaps its end will precede the end of neoliberalism.

David Harvey wrote on both, and he wrote (and Jameson also I think) that a characteristic of postmodernism was that space (eg. architecture) became dominant over time (e.g.. proust) whereas in modernism time had been central. Architecture is also widely considered the art that is most connected to the economic, being that it costs so much, especially major buildings and precincts, and also because it is inescapable unlike art that is confined to a gallery or on one person’s wall.

David Harvey has an argument that as well as becoming the dominant field that the idea of space also changed in this period, from an earlier conception which he calls “container space” (newtonian and kantian I think) to a more relative conception of space after einstein — this makes more sense if you ignore the einstein bit (which is mostly irrelevant since he doesn’t mean relativity in the physics sense) and think that in a single space various uses and understandings are possible simultaneously — eg. built form, social use, economic use, resource flows, culture etc. This concept of space was crucial to the development of the Victorian Planning and Environment Act (1987), with the Minister at the time making a speech about it and writing an article. But this idea of relative space was also at a time when traditional morality was changing hence forms of excess and fragmentation in architecture, and the falling away of concepts of high and low art and a critical aesthetics.

The impact of postmodernism on the inadequate institutional response to climate change could also be looked at, eg. Lyotard’s “scientific knowledge cannot know and make known that it is the true knowledge without resorting to the other, narrative, kind of knowledge, which from its point of view is no knowledge at all” (1979). And related to neoliberalism is Lyotard’s statement that the “realism of Anything Goes is the realism of money: in the absence of aesthetic criteria it is still possible and useful to measure the value of works of art by the profits they realize. This realism accommodates every tendency (…) so long as these tendencies and needs have buying power” (cited in Farewell to Postmodernism). In Melbourne this is seen in planning like there being a building with the image of Pamela Anderson on the front, and also in how often economic criteria are given more weight than social or environmental criteria in development decisions.

” With the passage of time, postmodernism has not only developed dynamically in the strongholds it captured as early as the 1970s, such as literary writing and architecture, but it has also made bold sorties into domains closer to what the Marxist tradition has designated the socio-economic base….. From the 1970s until the early 1980s, a process of accumulation took place. In various domains, mostly independently, “something began to happen.” Ihab Hassan wrote about a new literary sensibility. Charles Jencks heralded the arrival of the postmodern style in architecture. Jean Baudrillard described the structures and myths of the emerging consumption society. Daniel Bell first observed the symptoms of the end of “traditional” industry” and later described the contradictions into which capitalism falls when the decadent lifestyles of the modernist avant- gardes spread to the masses of jaded consumers in the guise of free-market choice” (Bartosz Kuzniarz, Farewell to Postmodernism 2015)

A new interest in synthesising is identified as having emerged in the 1990s, centring around the question of whether it is possible to form positive norms from postmodernism and particularly looking at the possibility of a postmodern ethics.

I was a teenager, but the things I can think of as examples of this in the 90s were the idea and court ruling that land rights were due to Indigenous Australians and the accompanying reconciliation movement, and also the third wave feminist response to the second wave feminist Helen Garner’s book about sexual harassment at a university residential college which criticised her view that the young women should have elbowed the professor and not taken disciplinary action. Both of these examples are ethically normative approaches, but could be said to arise from strains of postmodernism re: counter narrative of the different experiences of women and indigenous people.

Kuzniarz sees this normative approach coming to fruition in the first decade of the 21st C : “We have gone from micrology to historical syntheses, from mimetic immersion in the fluid element of modernity to attempts at submitting its schizophrenic flow to ethical control.”And at the same time the left was transformed into “a left that is familiar with ethics, melancholy, concentration and at least some of the principles associated with the conservative worldview”

Looking to the end of postmodernism, Kuzniarz asks:

“Where does the encyclopedia end and the interpretation or authorial commentary begin?

Instead of the tired opposition between modernity and postmodernity, it is time to consider the difference between postmodernity and the world of the future.”

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engels 12.23.15 at 10:56 am

Js. Point taken on the US-specific usage, I’d missed that (but do feel it’s a side issue and the US defn of liberal = social democrat which it presumably stems from is itself completely nuts…)

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engels 12.23.15 at 10:59 am

RP @235: I maybe kinda sorta agree with you, to the extent I understand what you’re saying (which is limited). But I am honestly failing to see why anything you’re saying is supposed to be a response or objection to me.

🎵Welcome to the house of fun 🎵

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 12:05 pm

JS: “But I am honestly failing to see why anything you’re saying is supposed to be a response or objection to me.”

You wrote this: “[…] engels gets the more general sense pretty much exactly right, I think: neoliberalism in this sense is just the revival of classic 19th century liberalism; […]” Maybe you didn’t notice what engels was getting the general sense of right because you didn’t read what you were agreeing with?

engels’ story goes like this: capitalism is forever the same thing, gradually getting worse. So neoliberalism as ideology is just 19th century classical liberal, as system is “hypercapitalism / capitalism with the gloves off” and he “Really [doesn’t] think it’s much more complicated than that. Insistence on novelty seems awfully like bending over backwards to deny that things you don’t like are fairly predictable tendencies of capitalism.”

If people could read — which I know is a lot to ask — they might have noticed that this is pretty much the exact opposite of what I’ve been saying. My “insistence on novelty” is not an attempt to deny that things I don’t like are fairly predictable tendencies of capitalism. It’s an attempt to explain why something I *do* like — namely, a global agreement to pretty much eliminate fossil fuels by 2050 — is a result of capitalism.

I’m engaging with you, not engels, because responding to him is a waste of time. But you agreed with him, and I haven’t given up on responding to you. The result of not finding “novelty” — of saying that this is 19th century redux, or perhaps worse, “hypercapitalism” — is that you’re pretty much committed to seeing this agreement as a sham. But we’re all agreed that anthropogenic global warming is a real problem, and that if nothing is actually done, things will get steadily or perhaps catastrophically worse.

And I think that’s what the legacy of Marxism has committed us to. It’s not actually about historical materialism, or seeing different eras as different according to changes in methods of production. It’s about unvarying mental categories — capitalism is forever the same thing, neoliberals now are just the same as 19th century classical liberals — and insistence on the same story, which “this agreement is just a sham” is a part of. It’s one of the reasons why so many people react in a dismissive, purely negative way to this agreement, as if the agreement doesn’t give us a huge number of handles for political activism that weren’t there before.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 12:29 pm

bob mcmanus: “Only labor, workers create value, from material circumstances not of their choosing. I am reminded everyday of how radical that idea still is.”

I’ve often noticed that workers create the air that we breathe. Plus they run the water cycle, regenerate soil quality and so on.

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bob mcmanus 12.23.15 at 12:49 pm

248:I’ve often noticed that workers create the air that we breathe. Plus they run the water cycle, regenerate soil quality and so on.

Air and water are not values. They are valuable, things to care about.

I can’t believe I bothered to respond to that rabid drool.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 1:02 pm

Only workers create value*s*? Let me guess: this is some kind of long, circular definition. “Values” are defined as something that only human beings create, and all productive human activity is “work” which is definitionally only done by workers. I also see some negative definitions going in the other direction. Air and water are just “valuable”, passive “things to care about”, not products of work in themselves, although that work isn’t done by humans and relies on energy and other resources that human workers can destructively appropriate.

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ZM 12.23.15 at 1:36 pm

“And I think that’s what the legacy of Marxism has committed us to. It’s not actually about historical materialism, or seeing different eras as different according to changes in methods of production. It’s about unvarying mental categories — capitalism is forever the same thing, neoliberals now are just the same as 19th century classical liberals”

I don’t think this is true, if you look at the book I mentioned in my last comment it covers Marxist thinkers who have looked at things in terms of history and change eg Jameson and Zizek, and David Harvey is maybe a bit more of an orthodox Marxist but he has as well.

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MisterMr 12.23.15 at 2:58 pm

@Rich Puchalsky

In marxian economic theory, there are these concepts:

– “use value” – similar to what we now call “utility”;
– “exchange values” – more or less what we usually call “prices” or “equilibrium prices”.
For example, air and water have a lot of use value but small exchange value, while diamonds have small use value but a lot of exchange value.
This was in fact a famous problem of old economics, known as diamond-water paradox, see wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_value

In ricardian/marxian economics, the exchange value (aka the price) of stuff is supposed to depend exclusively on the quantity of labor needed on average to produce said stuff. Hence, diamonds are expensive because it takes more labor to produce diamonds, while water is cheap because you just need to go to a river and drink. Basically stuff has exchange value because you are paying people to produce it for you.

The marxian labor theory of value had a big problem, known as the trasformation problem, because basically it can work only if every industry has the same capital intensity, however at best of my understanding the sraffian “neo-ricardian” school of economics has exactly the same economic model, just with different names on the variables, and solved the trsformation problem.
Sraffa is the same Sraffa of the Cambridge capital controversy and, AFAIK, his economic theory has better empirical results than the othodox “neoclassical” school, which makes Marx’s labor theory of value rather scientific after all.

Redefining Marx’s concept of value in Sraffian terms, total net income (NDP) represents total labor value, so that marxian “value” is actually what we call average productivity; wages are defined as a share of total productivity, and the capital stock is “dead labor” in marxian terms. The price of each single product is not directly proportional to the live labor used to produce it because of the different capital intensity of various industry, however this deviation depends on the wage share of total income (so that when the wage share changes the price system has to adapt), and in the aggregate the average “value” (productivity) of labor doesn’t depend on the wage share, so that in the aggregate the theory works.
Or in other words: Marx was way a better economist than he is usually credited.

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engels 12.23.15 at 3:08 pm

engels’ story goes like this: capitalism is forever the same thing, gradually getting worse.

I don’t think that and didn’t say it but don’t let that in your way, it never does

I’m engaging with you, not engels, because responding to him is a waste of time

A small point, but may I point it that you are in fact responding to me, just in an extremely snotty way?

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 3:32 pm

MisterMr: “In ricardian/marxian economics, the exchange value (aka the price) of stuff is supposed to depend exclusively on the quantity of labor needed on average to produce said stuff. “

Thanks, but I’ve heard all of this before. The exchange value (aka the price) of air that does not cause global warming does not depend on the quantity of labor that went into the air, except in the sense that the more human labor went into modifying the air, the more it costs to fix the problem. The fact is that if we look at the “labor” that goes into keeping us alive, human labor is dwarfed by nonhuman labor. Only recently has the tradeoff become apparent that human labor can not in fact proceed indefinitely: that it is merely part of a common stock of effort that the ecosystem will support. Basing an economics much less a politics around “human labor creates value(s)” goes a long way towards explaining why actually existing socialisms were generally even worse than capitalist societies on environmental matters.

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MisterMr 12.23.15 at 4:26 pm

@Rich Puchalsky 254

I totally don’t understand what you are saying.
What has exchange value (prices) to do with the fact that we don’t die by global warming (use value)?

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Bruce Wilder 12.23.15 at 5:05 pm

engels did a workmanlike job of trolling the discussion of “neoliberalism”

If we were to deconstruct his techniques, would we by application of the deconstructivist critical frame, make him into a postmodern phenomenon?

The consequent derailing of the thread has taken on surreal qualities, as a version of Marx suitable for casting on South Park has trotted thru the comments. bob mcmanus sagely remarking apropos of nothing on how radical is the LTV, transforming to “rabid drool” in one exchange — it has a Zen quality.

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Bruce Wilder 12.23.15 at 5:13 pm

MisterMr: I totally don’t understand what you are saying.

Totally.

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engels 12.23.15 at 5:33 pm

Okay I think I’ve got it

Neoliberalism = politics Rich and Bruce don’t like
Trolling = people who disagrees with Ricb and Bruce

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engels 12.23.15 at 5:42 pm

Why did you leave me here so long with Uncle Walter?
https://youtu.be/AYoB8zHhQuU

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LFC 12.23.15 at 5:53 pm

@B. Wilder

I haven’t done a search to confirm this, but seems to me that Marx usually comes up at CT in the comment threads, when the main posts have dealt w/ something else. The one exception I can think of offhand was a post by C. Bertram on which of Marx’s works he would assign as an intro to students who have never read Marx before. And the discussions of Marx in the comment threads often tend to be frustrating, for one reason or another. But the comments in this thread did prompt me to go back and look at some passages in Capital v. 1, so I suppose not a total loss.

I don’t know much about contemporary Marxian economics nor am I a Marx expert, but my feeling, MrMister above notwithstanding, is that what is most valuable in Marx is usu. not the economics strictly speaking. R.P. Wolff has argued, or so I gather from occasionally looking at his blog where he often refers to his books, that the literary and the substantive aspects of Capital are closely if not inextricably connected, but istm one can appreciate a striking image like that of commodities casting “wooing glances” at money (Capital vol 1 ch.3) irrespective of one’s views of the somewhat stylized (as I think of it) economic model that Marx presents (in vol.1 at any rate).

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engels 12.23.15 at 6:03 pm

Fwiw I haven’t mentioned Marx.

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engels 12.23.15 at 6:05 pm

(Gotta love the idea you should only be allowed to on posts that specifically refer to him though)

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engels 12.23.15 at 6:10 pm

t’s supranational capital above all. This is a new paradigm, I believe..

Why??

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LFC 12.23.15 at 6:12 pm

@engels
Fwiw I haven’t mentioned Marx.

Haven’t read the whole thread but first mention of Marx/Marxism appears to be around 107/108 in exchange between RP and b.mcmanus.

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LFC 12.23.15 at 6:13 pm

Gotta love the idea you should only be allowed to on posts that specifically refer to him though

That is not what I said, engels.

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engels 12.23.15 at 6:16 pm

the idea is to severely limit the powers of nation-states to regulate capital or inconvenience it in any respect. I think this is what BW is saying and I concur. abb1

It does not favor laissez faire per se, as the classical liberals supposedly did. They always want a program, and a complex one that needs lots of credentialled administration is thought best Bruce

Hmm

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engels 12.23.15 at 6:24 pm

LFC, no, you just drew attention to the fact that Marxism tend to come up in the comments when it isn’t mentioned in the posts, and that these discussions ‘tend to be frustrating’

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engels 12.23.15 at 6:36 pm

LFC this is perhaps even less productive than the substantive (if that’s the right word) discussion, but I think I was the one who initiated the disagreement with Bruce’s and Rich’s definition of neoliberalism, which I believe Bruce considers a ‘derailment’, and I have not mentioned Marx

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 6:50 pm

If anyone wants a more productive discussion, one was had up around 142-146 with ZedBlank. Like it or not Marxism is going to come up in any historical discussion of “core theories of the left”, given what it did to rival socialisms, along with Enlightenment thought. I’ve already alluded to how New Left thought, if considered as a third core source, is highly vulnerable to absorption by neoliberalism — there’s no question that, as various people at LGM take care to emphasize, the neoliberalism of Obama really is the lesser evil when compared with conservatism or classical liberalism.

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bob mcmanus 12.23.15 at 7:20 pm

human labor is dwarfed by nonhuman labor

Fascinating. Tree labor? Rock labor? Shall we unionize the earthworms? Damn slacker lilies of the field toil not.

human labor can not in fact proceed indefinitely

Presuming you are not using some kind if Marxian or Arendtian distinction between work and labor, I certainly hope you are wrong, at least in the medium term. It does show the conservatism, the reactionary nature of most non-Marxian ideology.

MM brought in a Marxian technical sense of “value”, but that isn’t (all of ) what I meant (and wasn’t all Marx meant.) Let’s bring in a little Nietzsche, from IEP:

“The existence of a value presupposes a value-positing perspective, and values are created by human beings”

Yes, the tree makes oxygen, but the tree doesn’t care, because the tree doesn’t have a perspective or consciousness. Only humans, through the creation of value or the directing of desire, can say oxygen is good stuff.

Markets, institutions, supply/demand curves, capital…trees…neoliberalism…abstractions do not create or rank values. (Perhaps this is where to bring in Lukacs: bourgeois consciousness, capitalist consciousness, is not creative but nostalgic and reactionary, by denying history, they are doomed to repeat it.)

I brought in my figurative LTV mostly in response, perhaps reflexive, to the mention of Mirowski. His narrative of a shadowy cabal of right-neoliberals secretly oiling the oppressive machine offends me on multiple levels.

Workers create capital (and workers create neoliberalism) is not just a metaphor but an recognition of agency necessary for liberation.

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bob mcmanus 12.23.15 at 7:36 pm

The mention of Marx is only a problem in these threads because Puchalsky tends to froth and sputter at the name. I find it hard to avoid not because I am particularly ideological, but because the “legacy of Marxism” is critical, for instance in the historical or material or particularist turns in social science, in everything recent that I read.

Last book finished: Sherry B. Ortner, Anthropology and Social Theory 2006, in which she discusses the use of identity to disguise class in a New Jersey High School, and at length why Jameson and Raymond Williams, along with Geerts and Giddens and James Scott, are important to her work.

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js. 12.23.15 at 7:47 pm

If we’re talking about derailments, Landru surely deserves the gold medal.

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phenomenal cat 12.23.15 at 8:04 pm

Oh the humanity! Looking on from the sidelines while ruminating on my understandings of neoliberalism I find both BW’s and RP’s definitions pretty accurate. Yet the historical point or question engels’ has re: neoliberalism is not without merit. It doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and.

Go back and read Lenin’s analysis of the machinations of German bankers in concert with German heavy industry and the German govt. in South America– a dynamic that was called imperial capitalism 115 years ago. It bears striking resemblance to the globalism of the contemporary moment.

A key point that Wilder has made however is how neoliberalism takes on a fierce ideological/class component that is masked by economics (math and models are objective!) and technocratic competencies ( or at least the sense that managerial/technocratic competency is necessarily devoid of politics). This too me is the real innovation of neoliberalism. Class and politics are passe in the neoliberal world order, indeed such categories are irrelevant. Neoliberalism’s achievement is that it has totally altered what Raymond Williams called ‘structures of feeling.’ Politics, even just the recognition of class, is perceived to be vulgar and necessarily base in no small part b/c the dynamics of politics are constrained by collective interests. Whereas economic activity is FREEDOM.

A (seemingly necessary?) corollary to the neoliberal axiom that the economy will make you free is the reanimation of the classically liberal conception of the “individual.” Foucault in The Birth of Biopolitics, I believe, does a pretty good job of delineating a genealogy of Anglo liberal thought that leads right up to Gary Becker–he of the pernicious “human capital” fame. We are all now supposed to be entrepreneurs of our own souls and our material conditions– responsible in the worst sense of the word. It’s an interesting dynamic–as economic activity and governance becomes increasingly impersonal and technocratic (devoid of politics) individuals are increasingly politicized and personalized. Again, another achievement of neoliberalism: shifting the political into the domain of the purely personal, the psychological even.

mcmanus @ 270 “Yes, the tree makes oxygen, but the tree doesn’t care, because the tree doesn’t have a perspective or consciousness. Only humans, through the creation of value or the directing of desire, can say oxygen is good stuff.”

I see what you are saying, but really, a little epistemological humility is in order. You have no idea what perspective or “consciousness” a tree might have. Bottom line, it matters vanishingly little that humans can SAY oxygen is good stuff while the tree can’t. Trees and oxygen are fundamental conditions of human existence. Our vaunted “value-giving” power is superfluous by comparison. And if we indeed give “values” to the tree and oxygen the first probably should be something like reverence and gratitude.

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bob mcmanus 12.23.15 at 8:07 pm

226-228 is all I wanted to do here anyway, and I regret getting baited into prolixity. I usually leave the climate threads to those who think they can save the world, or as in this post, believe the world has just been saved. I am so relieved.

Back to Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Y’all wouldn’t like it.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.15 at 9:25 pm

phenomenal cat: “Bottom line, it matters vanishingly little that humans can SAY oxygen is good stuff while the tree can’t. Trees and oxygen are fundamental conditions of human existence.”

Yes. Even if you take humans to be the source of all (human) ideas of value, without oxygen humans are not going to be valuing anything. Bob m. writes that “abstractions do not create or rank values”, but anyone who thinks that there is something abstract about the need to breathe should try holding their breath for, oh 5 minutes or so.

But really what’s important is that we’re talking about an *economy*. Bob m. writes sarcastically about “tree labor” as if he’s unaware that it takes ecosystemic resources to sustain a tree, that trees effectively do work, and that resources that sustain a human worker are inevitably taken from the same pool of resources that sustain trees. I don’t blame bob m. for not knowing any of this, because he’s immersed in a creaky old ideology, but his notion of limitlessness is the same as the capitalist idea of unlimited business expansion.

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engels 12.23.15 at 10:02 pm

Well that’s one I’ve never heard before: Marx was wrong because he didn’t realise trees have feelings.

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Bruce Wilder 12.23.15 at 10:13 pm

Karl isn’t wrong; he’s dead.

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engels 12.23.15 at 10:29 pm

Ze: I agree the EU is a new development but I don’t think it makes comparisoms with the nineteenth century meaningless (apart from anything else most of the wirld isn’t in it, or anything like it). National specialisation otoh was very much an issue then.

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F. Foundling 12.23.15 at 11:38 pm

@phenomenal cat 12.23.15 at 8:04 pm
>You have no idea what perspective or “consciousness” a tree might have.

Don’t forget stones. How can you have any idea whether inanimate matter isn’t actually feeling and thinking all the time? Maybe it doesn’t want to be used and destroyed/transformed by us living beings? For all we know, we might all be committing murder each time we break an inanimate object! On the other hand, how can I have any idea whether *other humans*, such as, say, you, really *are* thinking? After all, that may not always seem equally obvious either. Clearly, all of my judgements and actions should be guided by a most healthy agnosticism in this respect…

>Bottom line, it matters vanishingly little that humans can SAY oxygen is good stuff while the tree can’t.

I suppose it also matters vanishingly little that Australia is demonstratively reachable by boat or plane, whereas Narnia for some reason seems to remain inaccessible. At least it matters vanishingly little to the Narnians, and that’s what counts, after all. Let’s not foeget that in the democratic self-governing community of fictional and non-fictional countries, the fictional ones have the overwhelming majority.

>And if we indeed give “values” to the tree and oxygen the first probably should be something like reverence and gratitude.

Reverence and gratitude make sense when directed towards conscious beings, because they are moral agents. Things that are beneficial or harmful without being moral agents do not deserve gratitude for the benefits or resentment for the harm. Newsflash: it makes no sense to be angry at the stone or chair that you stumble over, and to be grateful to the stone or chair that you use to sit on. Thinking, feeling and acting as if everything in our environment were human is just buggy cognition, or, let’s say, extraordinarily primitive and lazy thinking. You can’t survive if you consistently treat stones like humans, and if you try, you are only blurring the line that should prevent you from treating humans like stones.

Or, to put it in another way, trees have no respect for me and I see no reason to have any respect for them either. That doesn’t mean I have any intention of suffocating if I can help it.

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engels 12.23.15 at 11:47 pm

If we’re talking about derailments, Landru surely deserves the gold medal.

Quite the drive-by indeed

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Bruce Wilder 12.24.15 at 12:19 am

it was Landru asking a question, not engels being a dick about the answers

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F. Foundling 12.24.15 at 12:21 am

@Lawrence Stuart 12.19.15 at 3:37 am

>Faith in political progress got his (and modernity surely was a he) balls blown of in WW I, was starved in the Gulags, and went up the chimney at Dachau. Faith in technological advancement was vaporized at Hiroshima.

Sorry, all of this still doesn’t make me want to go back to tilling the earth as a serf at my lord’s manor. Not even if the Middle Ages were a she in your book.

>If our efforts to render the planet useful to us results in a negative outcome like climate change, it’s time to reconsider the act of ascribing value…

If my efforts to brush my teeth with a chainsaw result in a negative outcome, it’s time to reconsider the concept of hygiene.

>and consider what it means to be a non sovereign subject, …

…and I must recognise the oral microflora as my sovereign…

> to recognize our existence is something we make, and is equally a gift from something that gives.

Sorry, does not compute. ‘Things’ don’t give gifts. Not even Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, cute as it is.

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engels 12.24.15 at 12:29 am

Merry Christmas, Bruce, and a happy New Year

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js. 12.24.15 at 12:34 am

Rich — It seems like you’re using my comments as a conduit to argue against engels or an imaginary Marxist in your head or someone or something else. Which is cool, but it does make it difficult to know how to respond. Nevertheless a few points:

1. When I said that neoliberalism in the general or global sense is a revival of 19th century classical liberalism, I was aiming to provide a “succinct, working definition of neoliberalism”, not “neoliberalism, the final theory of”. As such, I’d humbly submit that my characterization has certain advantages. Still, if you or someone else wanted to amend it to add “and also a fetishization of technocracy”, I’d be sympathetic to that—it’s the kind of thing one does with working definitions!

2. Obviously, “revival of 19th etc.” doesn’t mean we’re just going to rewind and play the same tape again. Why would I hold that insane position? But when you’ve got “dismantling the New Deal (BW), “dismantling the postwar European project” (RP), a return to 19th century levels of inequality (some guy called Picketty), the “return of the gilded age” (various), a marketization of areas previously outside the scope of markets, and a general strengthening of the social position and power of capital and property holders as against labor and the social forces aligned with them—when you’ve got all this, it hardly seems insane to think that we’re witnessing and have been witnessing is in its broad outlines and several key features the sort of configuration of social institutions that defined 19th century classical liberalism. Hence, “return”, etc. But yes, the details are going to be different, as will certain key aspects. A point I didn’t mention earlier that because it seemed too fucking obvious! (Also, again, “succinct working definition”).

I’ll leave it there.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.24.15 at 2:07 am

js: “When I said that neoliberalism in the general or global sense is a revival of 19th century classical liberalism, I was aiming to provide a “succinct, working definition of neoliberalism””

A succinct, working definition that is also wrong doesn’t help. Up at #182 I wrote a single paragraph as a succinct answer (the second one). If that’s too much, you can just take the first sentence: Neoliberalism is the ideology of the ruling global managerial class. As that sentence implies, neoliberals believe in managing problems in a way that classical liberals really didn’t. Since this whole thread was about a global agreement to effectively eliminate fossil fuel use — i.e. an agreement to manage a problem — it’s a critical distinction to make: merely saying that neoliberals are like 19th century classical liberals gives people no analytical resources for understanding what this agreement means and how it’s likely to be carried out both in its good and bad aspects.

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john c. halasz 12.24.15 at 2:11 am

Oy Vey! “Neo-liberalism” is not the same as “classical” (economic) liberalism, “laissez faire, laissez passer”, nor a simple reversion to it. For one thing we’re dealing with a much different economic/technological era. Classical liberalism emphasized “competitive” markets and advocated minimal interference by the state in their operations. (That this is not an historiographically accurate account of the actual role of states in its emergence is ideologically beside the point). The state, a “night watchman”, was to guarantee civic order and property rights, but wasn’t to otherwise interfere, except to maintain a “competitive” market system, as with anti-trust provisions against monopolization tendencies. But “civil society” and voluntary institutions were to be welcomed, mediating between state and market processes.

“Neo-liberalism” originating with the MPS, who coined the term, insists that Mr. Market is an infinitely complex calculating machine that defies all human understanding, therefore there should be no government interference in its workings, which can only ruin its infinite “wisdom” , except insofar as such government measures enforce the dictates of Mr. Market. Monopoly tendencies are no worry, so long as they serve the goal of endless productivity. Therefore everything must be “privatized”, including the very notion of the public sphere itself, as a source of regulatory interference.

A much different historical era and a much different and more “globalized” regime of accumulation.

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js. 12.24.15 at 2:16 am

Sorry, I haven’t spelled this out but I should. You seem to take it as obvious that the Paris agreement is an expression of neoliberalism (in some sense, still not totally clear to me which). This isn’t something I’m conceding, not because I disagree but because I really have no definite view about it. I’d at least want some argument for why the agreement is an expression of neoliberalism, which as far as I can see neither you nor anyone else on this thread has provided. So arguments from the premise that the Paris agreement is an expression of neoliberalism are flat out question begging from my perspective.

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js. 12.24.15 at 2:19 am

My last is a response to Rich Puchalsky, in case that wasn’t obvious.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.24.15 at 2:48 am

js: “I’d at least want some argument for why the agreement is an expression of neoliberalism, which as far as I can see neither you nor anyone else on this thread has provided.”

Sorry, that goes beyond the scope of what I’m willing to write for a comment thread. It would take either detailed textual examination of the agreement or an argument of the order “It would odd if a number of neoliberal governments got together within a neoliberal world system and came up with an agreement that was not, itself, neoliberal” and then I’d have to go through major governments in turn: is Obama’s left-liberal, or neoliberal? Does China act internationally in a way that is meaningfully described as neoliberal? Are the controlling institutions and political parties of Europe adequately described as neoliberal? Etc. If people are still really thinking that neoliberalism is to a close approximation a re-run of 19th century classical liberalism, I don’t see how that argument is effectively possible within this space.

I’ve offered a theory and sketched it out. If you don’t like the word “neoliberal” you can instead substitute something like “this agreement was made by the global managerial class, the same one that makes trade agreements”.

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phenomenal cat 12.24.15 at 3:05 am

Well, Foundling, thanks for offering up such a stringent dose of anthropocentrism. It has a clarifying effect. But just so you know, “Thinking, feeling and acting as if everything in our environment were human…” is precisely backwards from the point I would want to make. But you make so many unwarranted conceptual leaps that I don’t know how to engage you profitably. Anyway, if you can’t see any reason for respecting “trees” much less having, at least once in a while, some gratitude for the multitude of animate and inanimate elements that make your life possible then who am I to argue?

Ze K, not sure I’m following you, but if I am I suggest you go back and reread what Lenin’s critique of Kautsky is actually about. If I’m not then ignore the suggestion.

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js. 12.24.15 at 3:07 am

Yeah, part of what’s weird about this is that this is partly an argument about what “neoliberalism” means and it s partly an argument about how best to characterize the dispensation we live under, and some people, including you I think, thinks it’s pretty obvious that the answer to one is the answer to the other, whereas others are less sure about that. (I studied philosophy for too long, so I just can’t assent to anything.)

But honestly, the “managerial class” thing doesn’t make that much sense to me, but I need to think more to come up with a coherent objection.

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js. 12.24.15 at 4:01 am

And old(-ish) and brilliant piece that may be up RP’s alley. But maybe not. It is tho one way to think about neoliberalism.

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engels 12.24.15 at 7:30 am

Fwiw I originally said neoliberalism was ‘basically’ the same as libertarianism, classical liberalism, Thatcherism, etc, not that they were all identical, and this was a response to the (imo) massively over-complicated definitions given by Bruce and Rich in the comments above that which imo still read like laundry list of things that piss them off. I said it was advocacy of the pure market and for its extension into new domains and I stand by that. I disagree that it is ‘the ideology of the managerial class’ or it favours ‘credentialed’ state ‘administration’ over ‘laissez faire’ capitalism. I didn’t say capitalism today is the same as 150 years ago just disagreed that comparisoms between two are ‘not very meaningful’ or that C19th capitalism wasnt ‘globalizing’. Etc etc

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engels 12.24.15 at 7:38 am

And Bruce I may also point that your last several comments to me have been nothing but content-free insults and abuse.

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Peter T 12.24.15 at 8:01 am

Just as concrete and steel lurked unseen inside Victorian neo-Gothic buildings, so the practice of managerialism is the practice inside the neo-liberal ideology of freedom realised through the market. It turns out that freedom involves a great deal of repression, and the invisible hand is prone to writing rude words unless stringently guided. Neo-liberalism, like most revivals, bears only a distant resemblance to its original.

The original liberalism was a movement in opposition to landed wealth and aristocratic dominance on the one hand, and the socialist leanings of the lower classes on the other. If, as Piketty suggests, inherited wealth returns, the neo-liberals will be its apologists (or at best moderators), not its opponents.

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engels 12.24.15 at 8:32 am

the practice of managerialism is the practice inside the neo-liberal ideology of freedom realised through the market

Maybe _a_ practice, just in my opinion not _the_ practice (I think the most important practice that lurks inside it is exploitation)

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engels 12.24.15 at 9:03 am

(But happy to concede that statement in my initial comment probably over-emphasised the similarities between what I take to be different forms of capitalist ideology.)

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Peter T 12.24.15 at 9:10 am

Apologies for the typo. Exploitation is a given (although how much and on what terms is a negotiation). What I’m getting at is that neo-liberalism embodies a major contradiction. The ideology proclaims the virtues of the market and the deadening effects of state direction of the economy. Yet the practice involves a great deal of market management, with the state nudging, prodding, defining, subsidising, protecting, guiding…

This sort of management is now a major middle-class niche. It attaches them as a class to current politics (much as empire did for the British and French middle classes 1850-1950), in opposition to those who find themselves being managed out of job security, social security and opportunity. It also attaches them in opposition to those who are aware that, fascinating as the dials and levers may be, we are running out of track and would seek to divert state efforts from enriching the elite to mending the world. So, in that way, a bit like classical liberalism.

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MisterMr 12.24.15 at 9:15 am

@Bruce Wilder 257
In fact I totally didn’t but reading the following thread now I’ve got a petter idea.
It seems to me that RP is summing oranges and apples and obtaining pears as a result.
My opinion on “neoliberalism” is:
1) Neoliberalism is an economic regime – by wich I mean a system wich redistributes the fruits of production in a certain way;
2) N. was born as a revolt against what we could call the “postwar compromise” regime, and against the failure of the soviet system. As a consequence, it is just a going back at pre-war, or 19th century if you prefer, forms of capitalism.

But RP in my opinion is mixing up the “economic system” neoliberalism with the fact that today we have better grasp of the ecological problem, while in the “postwar compromise” system, in the soviet system, and in pre-war capitalist system nobody really cared so we didn’t have summits about global warming.
It is a very good thing that we have summits about global warming, and this is one of the most important issues of today (possibly the most imortant), but I don’t think that it has anything to do with neoliberalism as such, and everything to do with the fact that we are blowing up the ecosystem today much more that we were blowing it up in the 19th century.
RP made the whole discourse less understandable to me mixing two very different meaning of the word “value” (prices vs. things we should care of), hence my apparently total OT derailment about the technical sense of labor value.
passing:
1) No, carrots don’t feel pain, I know it for certain after many years or research made of intensive carrot torturing. Also, I’m a vegetarian because I don’t like to hurt animals, if vegetables also had consciousness I would be in a sea of problems.
2) I don’t think the world managerial class is really such a different development vs. 19th century capitalism, they also had a political class different from capitalists, but the political class of the time mostly worked in order to keep the capitalists happy.

@LFC 260
To be clear, I’m not an economist and I think 99% of economists would disagree with what I wrote. However I recently did read Sraffa’s “production of commodities..” and some articles by sraffian economists, and I totally read Marx too much, so I stand for my position that marxian economics is sraffian economics plus some other additional hipothesis, and as such is much more scientifically acceptable today than is usually credited for.

@Ze K 273
But in the 19th century there was a lot of nation building, for example Germany and Italy were unified and Japan underwent a similar process. I think that as the scale of production increases, former national borders become too small, and there is a slow process of building larger nations. I think we are moving to a system of bigger nations, eg. we could see the EU as an infant new nation state, we are not yet moving to a system of supernational capitalism (if the process goes on we can end up with a world-nation, but this is still far in the future).

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engels 12.24.15 at 9:30 am

neo-liberalism embodies a major contradiction

I think I agree but am going to think about all this a bit more now.

Anyway: happy Christmas, timberers.

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engels 12.24.15 at 1:32 pm

“But I think we see the idea of “the renegade Kautsky” coming true. You can hardly tell American capital from German or Chinese capital anymore.”

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=proxy+war+in+Syria

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bianca steele 12.24.15 at 2:02 pm

2) N. was born as a revolt against what we could call the “postwar compromise” regime, and against the failure of the soviet system. As a consequence, it is just a going back at pre-war, or 19th century if you prefer, forms of capitalism.

In the U.S., this is not actually the case, as others have said. Neoliberalism as an ideology is an essentially reformist movement that starts in many ways a little farther back than the New Deal but for the most part accepts it as a given, and in other ways takes on “bourgeois” critiques of classical liberalism, as well as of the left. How far neoliberalism takes the free market (as opposed to just “the market”) as a given is probably open to question, and raises questions about anti-monopoly and other issues where American conservative economics is different from European preferences (differences neoliberalism prefers to sweep under the table).

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engels 12.24.15 at 2:22 pm

In the U.S., this is not actually the case,

Am I right in thinking this is a completely different sense of the word that has nowt to do with the concept non-USians mean by ‘neoliberal’? (So this is a bit like disputing someone’s analysis of ‘bank’ as a financial intermediary on the grounds that actually a bank can be a grassy thing by side of a river
..)

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bianca steele 12.24.15 at 2:33 pm

engels,

Can I rephrase your question as: Are you just saying that the word is used in a different sense in the U.S. and Europe? Since that’s what I said, the answer is yes. Neoliberalism as an ideology names beliefs and people who have little or nothing in common with the people described by non-Americans in these posts. And the history they describe is almost entirely inapplicable to the history that gave rise to that ideology.

As for “neoliberalism” as our current system, I see little use in Marx or in the Marxian idea that there is such a thing as “our current system” and there is use in describing it (other than in helping people get jobs in it), and if neoliberalism really is just classical liberalism or “capitalism” I don’t see why they feel it’s necessary to call it something different.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.24.15 at 2:34 pm

Peter T @ 301: “Exploitation is a given (although how much and on what terms is a negotiation). What I’m getting at is that neo-liberalism embodies a major contradiction.”

Yes. I described neoliberalism as a capitalist system and ideologically as “a liberalism”, so I think that we can take all of the general characteristics of capitalism and of liberalism as read. The managerial aspect is one of the features that make it different in an important way from previous liberalisms. See a previous comment of BW here: neoliberals “give up” on class war — that is also, I’d say, one of their defining markers. But they are aware that they can’t let plutocrats win the class war to the extent that neoliberalism is no longer seen as a the best of a set of bad alternatives by people who matter.

MisterMr: “It is a very good thing that we have summits about global warming, and this is one of the most important issues of today (possibly the most imortant), but I don’t think that it has anything to do with neoliberalism as such, and everything to do with the fact that we are blowing up the ecosystem today much more that we were blowing it up in the 19th century.”

We’re all agreed that the problem exists (i.e. anthropogenic global warming) but why does an apparent solution exist? Why are those summits about global warming happening, and will they translate into actual solutions or not?

It seems to me that answers to those questions fall into three main possible areas: 1) our current world system is capable of handling this problem; 2) our current world system is not capable of handling this problem (i.e. these agreements are shams), 3) our current system is a mixture of systems within which the capability for world action exists as a sort of emergency capacity. It’s sort of important to have an idea of which of these it is (or there are other options too) because it affects actions going forward. Or one of the answers is that there is *no* action that will make a difference going forward: I’ve written about that upthread.

MisterMr: “RP made the whole discourse less understandable to me mixing two very different meaning of the word “value” (prices vs. things we should care of), hence my apparently total OT derailment about the technical sense of labor value.”

But all “things we should care about” are being converted into prices. How much does it cost to solve the problem of global warming? Neoliberalism is going to make that show up as a price for individuals.

That’s not even my main objection, though. The whole Marxist apparatus of exchange value and use value and so on is hopelessly ignorant from a contemporary standpoint. Our whole existence depends on an ecosystem “economy” that we’re drawing from. It’s an economy because economy is about scarce resources.

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bianca steele 12.24.15 at 2:57 pm

engels,

To put it a different way, roughly, neoliberal Americans are reacting to east-of-the-Atlantic neoliberals, and were reacting from the left, and have pretty much remained on the left or at least left of center. Euro neoliberals may have been taking on Friedman et al. in reaction to social democracy. U.S. neoliberals were grudgingly admitting Euro neoliberals were making good arguments. U.S. neoliberals didn’t include Friedman himself. U.S. neoliberals never really envisioned demolishing the New Deal. Though they may have overestimated their ability to convince opponents of the New Deal that they had always been wrong, and to push through reform even at a slower pace than the left wanted.

I don’t myself see the point of calling Copenhagen neoliberal. It sounds in that context like the newest left buzzword that marks its user as too smart to think any actual deal could be any good. It may be accurate (the means chosen are adequately termed “neoliberal” because they effect reform through market-friendly measures), but so what?

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bob mcmanus 12.24.15 at 2:58 pm

Puchalsky, just stop it, you are making a fool of yourself with this phobia toward a straw Marxism that is stuck in the 2nd Int’l. Part of the problem with responding to you is the wealth of Marxian material, including many opposing perspectives developed even within the last generation.

(Consider this link and quote a step toward what’s different about Neoliberalism. I find it near useless to concentrate on a top-down (Mirowski) model of Neoliberalism which ignores the Gramscian elements of hegemony and overlooks the need to develop a counter-hegemony. Hegemonies are importantly bottom-up, see Jacques Ellul. Goran Therborn did the best development of Althusser, see Erik Olin Wright over at Jacobin this week.)

Notes from Post-Fordism A Reader 1994

“Most people seem to agree that there has been a substantial transition since the 1970s. For some people, this is the information age, for others postmodernity, global interdependence, or a new mercantilism-based society (where the state aids new areas of technical expertise). It can also involve more corporate control with banks and corporations more dominant. Some people see as flexible specialisation, with a versatile work force, flat teams, new social movements, and a new social economy [all these terms arise from Sternberg, apparently]. All the models assume an end to centralism and mass markets.

There are lots of marxist criticisms available, especially via Capital and Class [a marxist journal and theoretical school] : for them, the approach is too functionalist and systematic, ignoring the ‘non path dependent, contested and open nature of change’ (3). There may be no clear breaks, or no binary contrasts (and this includes criticism of the view that there are now old and new times). There are many determinations instead. However, postfordism in the New Times project already attempts to synthesise the economic and the cultural, and is not without its critics (including Rustin and Sivanadan). Post-Fordism is clearly a floating metaphor, involving different emphases.

There are three broad models of the transition from the British economy of the 1970s to the present: there are also several other important models, including work by Bowles and Gintis, a class based version of regulation theory, Lash and Urry on disorganised capitalism, or Harvey on flexible accumulation.”

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bob mcmanus 12.24.15 at 3:07 pm

310: But all “things we should care about” are being converted into prices. How much does it cost to solve the problem of global warming? Neoliberalism is going to make that show up as a price for individuals.

This is good, perceptive, accurate but if you ignore the Marxian concepts of commodification, alienation, reification you are depriving yourself of some very good tools for understanding why neoliberalism works, why resistance is difficult.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.24.15 at 4:01 pm

“this phobia toward a straw Marxism that is stuck in the 2nd Int’l. “

Stuck in the First International — let’s get our ancient historical grievances right.

“Damn slacker lilies of the field toil not” is funny, but they do work. Lilies are there because of coevolution with bees: the plant “works” and grows this food-plus-advertisement so that bees will spread pollen around, and the bees are sustained and do “work” pollenating other plants. One third of our food is supposedly dependent on bee pollination.

So the proletariat is always already an appropriator of surplus value, to put it into your terms as well as I can. The capitalist thinks, if he or she thinks at all, “I organized these proles using capital that I own, so I created value and I get the value I created”, and the proles, if they think at all, think pretty much the same thing. But their labor isn’t creating value. Their labor is using ecosystemic value that might have been used for something else, and there’s a limited supply of it.

I think that I’m aware that hegemonies aren’t simply top-down. I’ve written a lot here about the basic leftist problem of “Democracies, in theory, allow a majority of people to vote in the government that they want. So why do left-of-center parties have such a difficult time if the left supposedly represents the interests of the majority of people?” One of these reasons is that the majority of people would seemingly prefer to be one-up on the people just below them than to really have an egalitarian society. But another reason — if anthropogenic global warming and similar problems have mysteriously appeared in the “left” basket of problems to solve — is a fatal flaw in majority left ideology.

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MisterMr 12.24.15 at 5:29 pm

@Bianca Steele
I certainly used the term “neoliberalism” in the european sense, and didn’t think that the american sense was different. I think the european sense, that certainly includes Reagan and Friedman together with Blair, is more on the point, but since this is a problem of terminology I’ll leave it there.

@Rich Puchalsky
I think that we are in the case 3), a complex system with the possibility of emergency solutions. Well, I hope that we are in case 3.
On the price thing, I realize that this is a derailment but:
– I think that the price of things mostly reflects real costs of production, so if we for example stop pumping out fossil fuels because they are too polluting automatically the price of everything will go up, because production becomes more difficult, regardless of neoliberalism, communism or other economic systems. It is still a good deal if we can avoid eco-apocalypse.
– On the other hand I think that the wage share of total output is not determined by costs of production, so if the price of everything goes up it would be better to have a more equal distribution of income. However the two things are quite separate from my point of view.

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Bruce Wilder 12.24.15 at 7:55 pm

oh, my gosh, an interesting discussion has broken out

this is a completely different sense of the word

On this thread, at least four distinct denotations of the word, neoliberal, have been identified. I pointed to the first two, and made a later reference to the fourth:

1.) Charles Peters (Neoliberal Manifesto). This might be called the American sense, since it is tied up with the peculiar dynamics of American two-party politics, in which “liberal” came to denote supporters of FDR’s New Deal and its institutionalized programs of social insurance, economic regulation, financial repression and trade unionism, a structure the neoliberals were willing to cooperate with Reaganites in “reforming” (aka dismantling).

2.) Washington Consensus. The End-0f-History consensus of international policy economists on international economic development. An important marker, as international institutions like the IMF, World Bank and GATT sought a post-Cold-War rationale for their function in governing the New World Order.

3.) Mont Pelerin Society (documented by historian, Philip Mirowski). The deliberate, planned revival of laissez faire, Chicago School economics as a reactionary ideology, commonly associated with Hayek and Friedman. (Surprisingly perhaps, I share many of bob mcmanus’ misgivings: though the administrative machinations are real enough, I see them more as epiphenomenal, then as causally important — making them into primary “causes” tends to make the explanation into a conspiracy theory and superficial.)

4.) The late evolution and corruption of postwar European ordoliberalism in the extension of the technocratic European project in an anti-democratic direction.

This is very complicated, I will grant you. Welcome to the world of actual word usage. Since local context — American partisan politics, Euro politics, international politics, ideological construction — matters, we could almost say that these different uses belong to different political dialects.

There is a real and very important (imho) sense, though, in which these various usages have come to blend together and to point to different aspects of a common, global cluster of political phenomena. Increasingly, “neoliberal” is commonly used in discourse on politics to label this common global cluster, even if individual voices may continue to attach the connotations of their dialect and experience. When I say, “neoliberal”, I tend to think of “Brad Delong” or “Matthew Yglesias” as exemplars of a viewpoint, peculiar to American politics, but when I hear “neoliberal” I try to guess what the speaker’s dialect might be.

Quiggin, in his linked pieces, pressed for the view that the peculiar American connotations have been superseded by European and global developments. Quiggin’s characteristic wishful optimism leads him see neoliberalism’s imminent demise in these developments, which hasn’t proven to be exactly prescient, but, otherwise, fair enough.

If you want a succinct definition, then the development of common or related political phenomena worldwide, is an aid to your cause. As the neoliberal programmatic agenda has evolved from NAFTA to TPP and TTIP, this is more than justified. Davos Man it is! (see the link js. @ 295)

I don’t think the idea that neoliberalism is simply a wholesale revival of the classical liberalism of Adam Smith -> J.S. Mill works though. Hayek-Friedman were self-consciously engaged in such a project, but neoliberalism (narrow American meaning) arose as a partisan reaction to Friedman-inspired Reaganism. The neoliberals entered into a dialectic with the conservative libertarians, a dialectic that conveniently marginalized any other ideas from establishment’s political discourse. This became the Third Way politics of Clinton and, I suppose, Blair: a reaction and antithesis to Reagan-Thatcher. (Within mainstream policy economics, the faction corresponding to the neoliberals were the New Keynesians, for whatever that’s worth; they opposed Friedman’s monetarism, which went up in smoke about 1982, as well as the New Classical laissez faire dogma.)

I think it is important to see neoliberalism as originating in an antithesis to the attempt to revive classical liberalism (or more accurately with respect to the history of economic ideas, to revive ideas of the late 19th century Marginal Revolution, that displaced classical economics) and as the label we now give to the resulting synthesis.

I agree that using “neoliberal” for both the antithesis and the synthesis is confusing — that’s not my fault, that’s just the way the word has been used. I am saying notice that that is the way the word has been used. See that that is how this political ideology called “neoliberal” (the phenomenon more than the label) has evolved or emerged.

It is important to see this distinction, even if it is now, 40 years later, a wonky sort of embryology, precisely because neoliberalism is not simply a linear continuation or revival of classical liberalism or the liberalism of the Marginal Revolution, it is an adaptation to the evolution of the global economy.

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Bruce Wilder 12.24.15 at 8:01 pm

Bottom line, if you want to skip all my etymological wonkiness above, then RP @ 182 gets “neoliberal” today exactly right: “Neoliberalism is the ideology of the ruling global managerial class. “

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Bruce Wilder 12.24.15 at 8:45 pm

The reason I think my wonkiness can be worthwhile is that I think it helps in understanding something of neoliberalism’s imperviousness to criticism and the impossibility of organizing an effective political opposition cum programmatic alternative. There is No Alternative isn’t just a slogan; it is a design feature. How we got here is about tracing the co-evolution of architectures: the political economy and the political ideology that protects it.

I think it helps to see Charles Peters abandoning the class struggle, because it is a defining moment in that co-evolution. The working class is disappearing with the disappearance of the Fordist economy, as bob mcmanus points out, and concern about racism and sexism and so on actually fits nicely into the atomization of the individual needed by the managerialism of neoliberalism.

I know people think it is my hobbyhorse, and it is my hobbyhorse to be sure, but the fact that neoclassical economics is stuck in the 1880s, even more assuredly than is Marxism, is a critical support to neoliberal ideology. We cannot think about the economy we have, because we do not share a vocabulary of applicable concepts. Like the Mandarins studying the Confucian classics, our cadre of public experts are smart people with little relevant competence: a whole, vitally important profession with a possibly fatal case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

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Layman 12.24.15 at 9:21 pm

Bottom line, if you want to skip all my etymological wonkiness above, then RP @ 182 gets “neoliberal” today exactly right: “Neoliberalism is the ideology of the ruling global managerial class.”

Unfortunately, this is hardly edifying. Is any possible ruling global management class neoliberal, or could there be a ruling global management class that was not neoliberal?

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Bruce Wilder 12.24.15 at 9:50 pm

Layman @ 320

There could be conflict between competing ruling classes and competing ideologies, as has been the case historically. Whigs v Tories becoming Liberals v Conservatives, for example, in 19th century Britain. Free Soil Republicans v the Slavepower in mid-19th century U.S.

The fact that there is a single, globalized managerial class emerging is kinda of important to notice — the homogeneity of outlook and perceived commonality of class interests becomes a factor in the dynamic. And, one that must be founded, somehow, in the structure of the global economy, which that class and its ideology is so assiduously shaping.

The fact that it is a specifically “managerial” class deserves notice. The policy of deregulation, introduced by nascent neoliberals in the Carter Administration, has evolved into a general corruption of institutions by their management, which espouses neoliberalism. Piketty and Saez have alerted us to the extent to which exploding C-suite “compensation” figures in the new inequality. The pious praise of education as a remedy by neoliberals might be an angled defense of credentialism by the class that benefits most from the legitimacy of credentials.

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js. 12.24.15 at 10:02 pm

BW: @317 is helpful, thanks. (I’m still not convinced that the “managerial class” bit is decisive, but I at least kind of understand where people are coming from.)

317

bob mcmanus 12.24.15 at 10:08 pm

“Neoliberalism is the ideology of the ruling global managerial class.”

Later Veblen, and recently Nitzan & Bichler who use Veblen and his idea of “sabotage” might be useful here

Sandwichman at Econospeak

“Inequality and Sabotage: Piketty, Veblen and Kalecki (for anne at Economist’s View)”

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engels 12.25.15 at 12:46 am

Bruce (in case you’re through with the insults) I also thought your last post was interesting. I think possibly your senses 2-4 fall under what is ordinarily called neoliberalism whereas 1 is a separate and rather idiosyncratic US English homonym, which should be discussed separately?

I didn’t say neoliberalism was a conscious revival of 19th century ideas (that was Cranky I think) although I think you conceded it sometimes was. I said (as part of a longer explanation) that it was much the same thing, by which I meant that it shared the same ideals (pro-market, etc) and function (ideology of capitalist class), and I conceded that that may have been putting the point a bit strongly. I don’t think it is essentially committed to managerialism, credentiallism, imperialism, etc although I take Peter’s point about the tensions between ideas and practice.

I don’t think there is a ‘ruling global managerial class’ and in general I tend to think the genealogies you’re tracing may prove the history is complicated but don’t show a fairly simple structural definition can’t be given. I clearly unaware of what evidently seems to be a major controversy but my Googling has failed to bring up definitions very different from David Harvey’s, (and Quiggin’s and mine) – if you have references that support yours and Rich’s it would be interesting to see them (of course if you don’t that doesn’t mean you’re wrong…)

I’m not going to be online much now so apologies for (probably) not being able to continue this.

319

engels 12.25.15 at 1:09 am

(Ps. I think Peter’s point about class alliance with managers is important)

320

engels 12.25.15 at 2:06 am

(PPS. It seems to me that one of the most salient features of the term neoliberalism’ as used in discussions today that is that it is overwhelmingly used a pejorative. Which might suggest that for discovering its meaning interrogating of the intentions of those who originally used it as a self-description might be less than helpful…)

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LFC 12.25.15 at 3:06 am

MisterMr @302
so I stand for my position that marxian economics is sraffian economics plus some other additional hipothesis, and as such is much more scientifically acceptable today than is usually credited for

I probably shouldn’t have expressed any view on M’s economics earlier since I’m really not competent to have a view on it.

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Ronan(rf) 12.25.15 at 3:25 am

Neoliberalism: “They were good, the companions, they didn’t complain
about the work or the thirst or the frost,
they had the bearing of trees and waves
that accept the wind and the rain
accept the night and the sun
without changing in the midst of change.
They were fine, whole days
they sweated at the oars with lowered eyes
breathing in rhythm
and their blood reddened a submissive skin.
….

We moored on shores full of night-scenes,
the birds singing, with waters that left on the hands
the memory of a great happiness.
But the voyages did not end.
Their souls became one with the oars and the oarlocks
with the solemn face of the prow
with the rudder’s wake
with the water that shattered their image.
The companions died one by one,
with lowered eyes. Their oars
mark the place where they sleep on the shore.

No one remembers them. Justice “

323

john c. halasz 12.25.15 at 3:34 am

Just to add some about the role of MPS, which actually coined the term “neo-liberalism”. There were 3 strands, the Austrian school since von Hayek actually called for the original meeting, the Chicago school, with Stigler and Friedman as founding members and the Ordo-Liberalismus school with Eucken as a founding member, but the joint project was to combat the “road to serfdom”. I didn’t mean to imply that they were somehow an all-powerful cause, since obviously the stagflation crisis of the 1970’s, itself caused by the breakdown of Bretton Woods, potentiated their program far beyond their wildest hopes. But the strategy of seeding the public sphere with business-financed think-tanks to promulgate their ideas was quite deliberate and began to be implemented in the 1950’s. And the shifting fuzzy boundaries of what they were proposing was a deliberate tactic, searching out alternative points for launching their general offensive. So it’s little wonder that the term “neo-liberalism” is a bit fizzy itself and ever shape-shifting, since that was the intent.

What not the case is that “neoliberalism” is 1) simply a term for whatever people dislike about capitalism, nor 2) a revival, rather than a transmogrification of, classical market liberalism,- (Polanyi, who was polemicizing against the Austrian school, ironically wrote a manifesto in reverse for the neo-liberals),- nor simply an ideological revolt against the welfare state compromise, (rather than a deliberate program to use the means of state power against itself). This is not to say that MPS was its single source, nor that it was perfectly prescient, but only that it was a gradually emergent program impelled by the global capitalist crisis of the 1970’s, a “war of position” across multiple fronts, that aimed at transforming the institutional infrastructure of capitalism and founding a new regime of accumulation, as much a techno-structure as an ideology, right down to the level of transforming subjectivities qua “technologies of the self” in terms of “human capital”.

It does little good to say that capitalism is always capitalism, as if it were ahistorical, (oddly imitating the static equilibrium and ahistoricality of neo-classicism), any more than to deny the potency and perplexities of the social transformations that have occurred, as if it were normal and inevitable. That state power is used against the regulatory and fiscal capacities of states and that the power of states is progressively weakened in the interests of the extra-territorial power of capital, (paradoxically, since corporations as legal creations, derive from the law-giving power of sovereign states), is something historically new. Everything is to be privatized, including the very idea of the public-political realm itself, by means of the power of states. (Would a classical liberal have advocated for the privatization of prisons, public schools, national defense, etc.?)

In its anti-political economic reductionism and authoritarianism, what neo-liberalism amounts to is the bolshevism of the capitalists.

324

ZM 12.25.15 at 4:54 am

Merry Christmas!

Bosses Don’t Seem Right by C J Dennis

A Christmas Monologue

The thing’s all wrong (I sez to ‘im)
Now look, there’s this ‘ere Monday, Jim,
Comes before Christmas. Be a toff
An’ lest us ‘ave the Monday off.
‘E ‘ums an’ ‘ars. An’ then he’s got
To talk a lot of silly rot
About ‘ow business binds a man;
An’ ‘e don’t quite see ‘ow ‘e can
Afford to give me Monday in,
Seein’ he’ll lose a lot of tin
Under our capit’listic plan
Which sort of binds a business man
‘Lest his competitors was bound
To give the Monday all around.

If but (‘e sez) they would agree
To let the trade ‘ave Monday free
Then ‘e would do it. There you are!
Shows ‘ow Democracy’s a bar.
It’s competition, don’t you see,
That robs a man of liberty.
But, under Socialism . . . Wot?
Now, listen, I ain’t talkin’ rot.
I know that ‘e’s me boss. But look,
Our scheme of Gover’ment’s all crook.

Now, under Socialism, see,
If I said, “I want Monday free!”
Why, under right conditions, then,
They’d treat their men like they was men;
An’ seein’ it was Christmas week,
We would n’t ‘ave to go an’ seek
No favors. We’d just tell ’em flat:
“We’re takin’ Monday; an’ that’s that!”
Wot? Bosses? . . . Well, I s’pose there’d be
This, wot you call, Bureaucracy.

To rule us. Yes; per’aps there might;
An’ as you say, it don’t seem right
That they should want to boss a man . . . .
But wot about his Fascist plan?

Now, under that, we’d say, “look ‘ere
Us fellers wants this Monday clear.”
An’, bein’ reasonable like,
Blokes would n’t ‘ave to call a strike
To get their way . . . . Well, I suppose
There’s be Dictators — coves like those
To fed a coot on castor oil
If they decided not to toil
On Monday. That seems pretty tough,
All systems seems to treat men rough.

First published in The Herald, 27 December 1934

325

ZM 12.25.15 at 5:03 am

…. Cont…

But wot about Communists?
There’s freedom! If a man insists
To take a day on Christmas Eve
Without no ‘let’s or ‘by your leave’ –
Well, blokes is equal, ain’t they, when
The world is ruled is ruled by workin’ men…
Wot? Commissars, am such like coots?
Think they’d start putting in the boots?
Well, I dunno; per’aps you’re right.
But, square an’ all, it don’t seem right.

‘Ow could a man get Monday free
With bosses over ‘im ? Wot? Me!
Me work o’ Monday? ‘Course I did!
Think I was goin’ to lose a quid
In overtime ‘an miss the bus?
They can’t put nothin’ over us!…
But all this gover’ments a blight
At Christmas time. It don’t seem right.

(This was the only politics and economics related Christmas poem I could find)

326

Sandwichman 12.25.15 at 5:15 am

327

Ronan(rf) 12.25.15 at 5:53 am

I think we’ve hit on a definitive definition. And on Christmas day, of all days.

328

engels 12.25.15 at 10:23 am

What not the case is that “neoliberalism” is 1) simply a term for whatever people dislike about capitalism, nor 2) a revival, rather than a transmogrification of, classical market liberalism

Agree with 1 obv, but don’t think you can deny is sometimes in danger of being used that way (it’s Xmas so I won’t name names). I also agree with 2 I think (not sure I’d go as far as ‘transmogrify’ but would certainly be comfortable with ‘mutate’) and as I said was probably at fault for over-emphasising similarities in my earlier comment). And agree re radicalism/utopianism of neoliberalism.

329

Rich Puchalsky 12.25.15 at 6:19 pm

If we’re quoting poems, here’s one of mine for Christmas. Except it’s not for you, ZM, since you’ll read it too literally.

330

William Timberman 12.25.15 at 7:12 pm

jch @ 329

In its anti-political economic reductionism and authoritarianism, what neo-liberalism amounts to is the bolshevism of the capitalists.

Priceless.

331

F. Foundling 12.25.15 at 9:59 pm

@Rich Puchalsky 12.24.15 at 4:01 pm
>“Damn slacker lilies of the field toil not” is funny, but they do work. Lilies are there because of coevolution with bees … So the proletariat is always already an appropriator of surplus value, to put it into your terms as well as I can. … their labor isn’t creating value. Their labor is using ecosystemic value that might have been used for something else …

Well, I have to admit that this does begin to sound like a crucial disagreement within the left that can only be settled by force of arms, in a future full-scale civil war: one side thinks that workers are unjustly deprived of the fruits of their labour and should seize control of the means of production, whereas the other thinks that pandas are unjustly deprived of the fruits of their labour and should seize control of the means of production. Or perhaps this is just a rhetorical way to convey the message that the people who control the means of production would be well advised to moderate their economic activities by carefully taking account of their environmental effects. But that wouldn’t sound quite as radical and groundbreaking. Oh well… Whatever floats you boat, I suppose.

332

Rich Puchalsky 12.25.15 at 10:57 pm

The question of where value comes from is actually kind of important. “The people who control the means of production” well, actually, people don’t.

“The proletariat is the turtle of the left.” — John Emerson, from here.

333

F. Foundling 12.25.15 at 11:18 pm

@Rich Puchalsky 12.25.15 at 10:57 pm
>>“The people who control the means of production”
>well, actually, people don’t.

Pardon me, I misspoke. Of course, I meant the part that isn’t *already* controlled by pandas.

334

Rich Puchalsky 12.26.15 at 5:04 pm

Well, I started out upthread looking at The Archdruid Report as one of the best examples of doomerism out there, and here’s his latest specifically on the Paris Agreements. I think it’s worth looking at this one in a bit more detail.

Firstly, a lot of it puts me in mind about the old joke where someone says that “we need to learn how to die” (meaning that we need to learn how to accept individual death) and someone else retorts that actually 100% of the past population has managed to figure out how to die without any practice. It was always possible, from the beginning of contemporary concern about global warming, that we were doomed and that we already could essentially do nothing about it. That’s just physics. If we’re doomed, then we are, and so what’s the point in making plans? The plans made by doomers generally seem to me to involve thinking that they know how society is going to re-primitivise and how to prepare for this individually to a much greater extent than I think that they can actually know.

Secondly, if you take the rhetoric about methane releases, ice sheet collapses and so on seriously — in other words, if it’s true that in actual reality we’re at the high end of the range of possible climate sensitivities — then it was always too late to do anything. The article’s last paragraph includes “By the time COP-21’s attendees convened in Paris, it was probably already too late to keep global climate change from spinning completely out of control.” And, if you take the assumptions of the article as being true, then yes. Anthropogenic global climate change became something that the world had a chance of really responding to in, let’s say, 1980. The 1980s were the decade of Hansen’s testimony, the Green Party in West Germany causing some action to be taken, etc. Let’s say that resistance by fossil fuel interests delayed action for a full two decades, so that now in 2015 we’re at where we should have been in 1995. If climate sensitivity is really that high, I question whether those two decades mean much. The speed of global response, even had the politics been ideal, seems like a limiting factor. So not only can we really not do anything now, we really couldn’t have ever done anything.

But all of this assumes that we know more science than we actually do. The Archdruid writes: “Lurid scenarios of civilizational collapse and mass dieoff appeared in book after lavishly marketed book. Of late, though, that entire theme seems to have dropped out of the collective imagination of the activist community, to be replaced by strident claims that everything will be just fine […]” Well, there’s a market for lurid scenarios within a certain range, and yes, those get lavishly marketed. Activists don’t get lavishly marketed, and the lurid-scenario market gets a lot less popular as we actually get closer to having those lurid scenarios come true. I’ll believe that we actually know that they’re coming true when the IPCC says so. Suggestions that the IPCC is going to conceal the oncoming doom from us I regard as about equivalent to the suggestion that world scientists are in a conspiracy to concoct global warming as a plot for world socialism. There are complaints that the IPCC is always 5 years out of date, but if we’re doomed 5 years isn’t going to matter.

Thirdly, there are the complete “does not make sense” moments. Like this one: “[…] neither nuclear power nor grid-scale renewable power are economically viable in the real world. The evidence for this is as simple as it is conclusive: no nation anywhere on the planet has managed either one without vast and continuing government subsidies.” …but every form of grid-scale power has happened with vast and continuing government subsidies. Just because fossil fuel interests have successfully concealed their subsidies a bit better doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Grid-scale power is inevitably a function of government, and what “vast government subsidies” means is that essentially governments pay for it. Which means that our societies can pay for it. This is where right-wingerism is uncritically adopted where it becomes convenient.

I’ve been an environmental activist since some time in the 1970s, and I’ve seen a whole lot of doomerism since the 1970s. The people who predicted doom within the next few years have, of course, been universally wrong during that time — and have discredited environmental activism to the extent that anyone listened to and remembered them. The people who predicted doom within the next few decades have been kind of untestable. But there’s a Pascal’s Wager quality to the whole thing. If we’re doomed, how is ultimately futile activism going to hurt? And if we’re not doomed, saying that we’re doomed before we really are is sure going to hurt a whole lot.

335

bob mcmanus 12.26.15 at 6:00 pm

There is a huge gap between “Everything gonna be fine, let the system work” and “We’re all gonna die” and in that gap is a projected level of casualties ( X million Bangladeshis, Pacific Islands) that many of us find unacceptable. Since as far as I can tell, the most optimistic still project a high level of localized catastrophe (although the subject is avoided as in “We have prevented species extinction, so everybody calm down and be patient), I see no reason not to amp up the pessimism and catastrophism at least to a level that generates public demand for a global Manhattan Project or Moral Equivalent of War, or if that isn’t possible, as much as is possible including a considerable immediate cost as long as it is less than projected midterm and long term costs.

Honestly, I think we are still approaching this in an economistic framework, which considers a certain number of lives destroyed an acceptable price for stable monetary policy. In the aggregate, of course.

We could do better, and until the streets are rioting and the economy is damaged (prove it isn’t necessary by giving a zero consequence scenario with present efforts) by directing resources to addressing the problem I will frankly tend toward the doomer side. I have no faith in this current regime.

336

Rich Puchalsky 12.26.15 at 6:33 pm

I don’t think that anyone is actually saying “Everything gonna be fine, let the system work.” (Well, some people must be saying it somewhere. I don’t think that any environmental activists are actually saying it.) I’d characterize what I’m saying, to quote my first reaction on my own blog, as “We’re probably going to spend the rest of our lives making the goals of it [i.e. the Paris Agreement] become realized as actual facts. ” That implies that it is possible to do so, but not that it’s automatically going to happen if we just sit back.

If you look at the people who go in for a lot of pessimism, the reaction generally isn’t a global Manhattan Project or Moral Equivalent of War. It’s generally either straight to the individualist handbook — “How can I make my house into a doomstead?” — or from a more left orientation, the survivalist one — “How can I make friends with people who will band together with me in a locally survivable society?” So the range of solutions is more or less the range of solutions in the _Walking Dead_ zombie TV show.

The question isn’t whether we have faith in the current regime. The question is whether the current regime is really the only form of worldwide solution that’s in place, and whether we have to make use of it whether we like it or not. In other words, a “there is no alternative” question.

337

Val 12.26.15 at 9:16 pm

There are things that can be done and that we need to do, individually and collectively. Here are my priorities, in no particular order:
Reduce consumption (I am not talking here about ‘consumption’ in the mainstream economics definition of ‘what households do’ which is just another old patriarchal leftover idea – I mean consumption in the sense of ‘using up’ finite resources) by, for example:
– reducing motorised transport – walk or cycle whenever possible and where motorised transport is needed, favour public transport over cars
– reduce consumption of meats and processed food – increase production and consumption of locally grown fresh food
– improve building sustainability eg by better building standards, retrofitting, external shading, green roofs etc
– improve urban planning to produce ‘green’ cities and towns
– improve appliance efficiency and switch to battery operated and solar powered appliances as far as possible
– increase sharing eg car sharing, food swaps, house sharing etc

Switch to renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

It’s not about ‘going back to the stone age’ nor even the more (supposedly) leftist insults I’ve been subjected to here on CT such as ‘preaching individual moral virtue’ or ‘puritanism’. It seems to me a sensible program, as a start. However it clearly isn’t compatible with the current ‘economic growth’ paradigm, and that issue I think has to be tackled by the left, so I would add:
Critique the mainstream economic growth paradigm and show how stable state economies would work

Plus of course we should commit to working for genuine equity and equality, as I already advocated upthread.

So my request to CTers is, rather than arguing endlessly about abstractions, can you ground your arguments a bit? What do you think we should do (individually and collectively)? Can you improve my program?

I’m not opposed to discussion of abstract concepts, but from where I sit, in a part of the world that is steadily getting hotter and more bushfire prone http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/26/great-ocean-road-bushfire-destroys-more-than-50-homes
and where our government continues to be deceitful and incompetent on climate change http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/26/australias-carbon-emissions-are-increasing-government-report-shows
the discussion here has been somewhat frustrating.

Discussion and debate on the left are fine but let’s also have a program of action.

338

Val 12.26.15 at 9:22 pm

I should also add a transition plan to my program, because it would potentially cause a lot of economic disruption and job losses. So I guess rather than just “show how stable state economies would work” I should include as well “develop a transition plan from our current unsustainable, fossil fuel dependent, growth economy to a sustainable, stable state economy with meaningful employment for all”.

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Bruce Wilder 12.26.15 at 9:48 pm

RP @ 341: I think it is inevitable that there will be a complex spectrum of reactions to the concept of anthropogenic climate change entering the political culture, both as part of an emerging world culture and as a baseline context for thinking long-term and globally. Politics, even prior to the expression of ideas and interests, is a projection screen for human ambivalence.

Some people are going to be pessimists about the efficacy of collective action, or hostile to the authoritarianism of simplistic command-and-control frames, or inclined to instinctively favor climate engineering schemes; some will resist mightily the suggestion that God isn’t responsible for the climate as he is the weather (in their minds) and nature in general, and then turn around and assert dominion over the earth and an ethic of stewardship, just to confuse everyone; some are sure that wearing hairshirts and drying them on clotheslines is key and others will feel repulsion from such ideas. I could not hope to enumerate the variety of points of view; political leadership will have to find a course of action that seems at least superficially plausible to working ‘majorities’ (aka a shared consensus), so as to give some order to the work of distributed elites and legitimacy among the masses for what the elites choose to do. The IPCC is the current institutional forum for the necessary staff work; the Paris accords, the ritual anointing of common leadership intent.

The Archdruid loves his Toynbee. I can’t say I am up on Toynbee or Spengler. I am interested in the civilizational cycles of rise and fall, but not the literary, seat-of-the-pants sweeping god’s eye judgments of cultural vitality that those guys favor as narrative explanators. I keep my eye out for political and economic “mechanism” of a more prosaic sort.

If there is reason to be optimistic about Paris as an inflection point in organizing the world’s response to climate change driven by carbon emissions, it lies not in the politics per se, but it seems to me that it lies in the apparently rapid progress with which solar and wind power sources are advancing, technically. As eliminating human additions to the carbon cycle from power generation and food production becomes more technically feasible within the loose bounds of surplus available for infrastructure and capital investment, it becomes easier to imagine even a feeble response from the “halting state” of neoliberal politics being sufficient to keep us from crossing some imagined threshold beyond which lies a terra incognita of dragons and a chaos of positive feedback carrying the climate to ecological collapse and general dystopia.

I’m sure the Archdruid sees that technological optimism about the technology-driven economic trajectory of solar and wind (aka “grid-scale renewable power”) is the current capstone holding together the opposing pressures of the political arch of cautious optimism. Which is why he tries his hand at attacking it directly with the scorn of a peak oil veteran well-schooled in energy return on energy investment. It doesn’t make his argument strong enough for the assault he wishes to make.

I really have no clear idea why Bronze Age civilization collapsed and don’t quite grasp why the Roman Empire fell. I have some partial guesses. I think I know why Chinese civilization sank from Tang and Ming glory into a hopeless morass, while the world waited for Western Europe (and Britain of all the unlikely backwaters) to generate an industrial revolution. In that perspective, I do not find the Archdruid’s hypothesis that our civilization is passing an inflection point toward a, say, 300 year slide into a new Dark Age entirely implausible. We don’t need to debate that assessment, though, to see that overall worldview is just a channel, or an isthmus, connecting to a whole ‘nother continent-sized spectrum of political ambivalence about what it is appropriate to do in response.

Simple-minded doomer-ism that writes lurid scenarios into Hollywood B-movie scripts is like paranoia, a psychological defense. I don’t worry too much about it inspiring political paralysis — the people who flock to such tales are not even potential activists, let alone elites; it seems to me that it is just the collective unconscious wrapping its dim-witted mind around what is becoming a background awareness for our world political culture — we sleep perchance to dream, at $14/ticket. The Archdruid self-consciously, and with earned expertise, rejects that sort of Hale Bopp and Well Met apocalypso (though he seems to enjoy spinning his own SF fantasies.)

It seems to me that the Archdruid’s overarching frame of long-term (300+ year) civilizational decline is one opening to that other continent of ambivalence about what to do — the one where we are “doomed” — His personal affection for primitivism, which I agree with you, is likely to be less than usefully foresightful, notwithstanding.

Just taking the IPCC as gospel, it seems to me we are well-justified in thinking that gentle constraints on CO2 and equivalent emissions will not be enough. Even in IPCC scenario land, a 2 degree warming scenario is only fully plausible if the world dedicates substantial resources in the second half of this century to extracting CO2 from the atmosphere — an activity unlikely to pay the immediate dividends that drove humans to dump the CO2 into the atmosphere on the scale it has, in the first place. The need to take CO2 out of the atmosphere during the second half of the century to compensate for our present dilatory policies is a signal admission.

In good liberal fashion, I suppose we are suppose to have some faith in an accelerating progress, so that the magnitude of current commitments at Paris mount steadily in later rounds toward meeting the necessary thresholds of restraint and substitution.

Realistically, there will be shocks to the global system. People who see the Syrian refugee mess as a synergy of climate change with neoliberal politics run amok, as opposed to those who greeted the Arab Spring as a hopeful demonstration of the power of the new social media and spirit of democracy, seem to me to have the better argument. In the nature of things, this symphony won’t be a single movement scored for a steady crescendo till the fat lady sings. So, I do think the Syria crisis will pass, at least for those it doesn’t kill or ruin. And, then there will be a new round. (When Bangladesh begins to drown again ? ? ?)

In addition to accelerating the effort and investment we make in a new energy infrastructure, the future world will have to cope with many effects, even if we never do cross the threshold into feed-forward processes that overwhelm our capacity to affect anything by mere human self-restraint.

As long as we are the little people sitting in the dark and staring up at the screen where the lurid Hollywood script is playing out, then political paralysis, I suppose, is a problem. But, I think that real life is that the demand for political decisions and programs will multiply. They won’t multiply steadily — not a one movement symphony — but they will multiply. More and more of the natural world will require active management of some kind, in order to sustain the productivity of those lilies of the field. The Archdruid’s scenario of long-term civilizational collapse — as I understand it — rests on anticipating that far from political paralysis setting in, a political hypermania eventually takes hold, with the multiplication of efforts and resource demands undermining the whole structure’s ability to maintain itself. I suppose he imagines the hyperactive Emperor Justinian on a late Empire-Strikes-Back spree of law-giving, monument-building and conquering territory from the barbarians, all of which ends in a de-populating famine and plague, followed by a Dark Age.

So, granting that civilization collapsing is a bit mesmerizing, even at a distance of 300+ years, it nevertheless is true that it would be politically helpful to direct our attention away from what the Center can do toward what the periphery of localities, so to speak, will be called on to do. Not the big over-arching guidelines concatenated in Paris, but the local regional priorities and coping strategies. You know things like, building reservoirs for when there’s no snow pack; thinking thru when to let Florida drown. Thinking thru how carbon taxes — if we are going there soon — are going to show up in tariffs under a neoliberal trade regime. (There’s a neat trick.) An intensive agriculture, with controlled spillover. Nurturing protected reservoirs of nature against the real possibility of global extinction events. Remedying regional income collapse due to industrial transitions and financial calamity.

Realistic doom scenarios are not prescriptive of paralysis, just a different kind of preparation and mitigation. Not the Archdruid’s “Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush” primitivism, imho, but certainly a different part of the spectrum of political ambivalence — a part we need to see expressed more than we may need strained neoliberal optimism.

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Bruce Wilder 12.26.15 at 9:54 pm

RP @ 343: The question isn’t whether we have faith in the current regime. The question is whether the current regime is really the only form of worldwide solution that’s in place, and whether we have to make use of it whether we like it or not. In other words, a “there is no alternative” question.

Yes, and wrapped up in that is a deep question of multifarious feasibility. I fear neoliberalism will make it a Gordian knot, that the Mandarins will try laboriously to untie, while the control fraud that this the overarching theme of neoliberalism in action will fumble toward horrific “solutions”.

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Bruce Wilder 12.26.15 at 10:04 pm

Val @ 344

Comprehensive programs are a bit above my pay grade and beyond the scope of blog comments, but I heartily endorse the idea that we have to reduce consumption of energy, and that we could do so, with a little imaginative planning, without damaging social welfare.

We can do a lot of various things, because collectively, we are not constrained to do only one thing at a time. We can experiment, if you want to think of that way. We don’t need to prescribe a homogeneity of policy, program or lifestyle. But, we do need to accept a few key parameters as common goals and hard constraints, so that our diverse efforts do not just cancel each other out, and one of those is reducing all energy consumption worldwide. Everything we do, centrally and peripherally, has to go in that direction, or be compatible ultimately with that direction.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.27.15 at 12:48 am

It only makes sense to plan for what you can either do or convince other people to do — the most basic task of any activist is to figure out how to multiply their individual effectiveness, generally by organizing or informing other people or by joining an organization and helping the organization carry out communal efforts. I don’t think it makes much sense to make plans for what political leaders should do, because I don’t think that any political leaders read this. (Although I could be wrong! I once got some U.S. Congresspeople briefed on global warming issues because their staff read a Web site that I made. If any political leaders or their staff are reading this, feel free to contact me if you feel that I can be useful to you.)

I have my own plan for my own skills: Step 1 of which — make a list of the companies responsible for direct GHG emissions in the U.S. — is already done. (See comment #1). I’m not going to go into what Steps 2, 3, and 4 are, but they generally involve taking advantage of the perceived qualities of decision-making apparatus at the corporate and international levels. But the data for Step 1 are publically available for any other use: for instance, they could be used for particulars of an academic divestment campaign.

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John Quiggin 12.27.15 at 12:49 am

A few thoughts from 2003 on the relationship between neoliberalism and managerialism

http://johnquiggin.com/2003/07/02/word-for-wednesday-managerialism-definition/

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Val 12.27.15 at 4:26 am

@348
I don’t think it is beyond your pay grade Bruce – your system may be different, but in our adversarial political system, opposition and minor parties in parliament have very limited resources for policy development and quite lowly people (eg me) often end up having a large role. Of course it’s a coordination role and you draw on expertise as much as possible, but it’s about a program rather than detail – get a good policy platform and the detail can be worked out when it comes to implementation.

I guess also the fact that I used to be a policy adviser is part of the reason I would like to see people not just debating meaning, but also thinking about programs of action. Of course CT is not a policy site as such, but getting agreement on principles of a program of action from a wide range of leftish people would be a useful thing anyway.

For example you and I agree that reducing demand is a critical part of any realistic program and can discuss how to do it.

Even though Rich P and I have had a heated disagreement in the past (to the point where he said he wouldn’t engage with me again) I think we also agree that political advocacy has to be part of any program. However I think Rich’s views, as expressed above, sound somewhat unclear (something like ‘you can’t influence politicians but that’s what you should try to do’ – need clarification).

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