What Really Matters

by John Holbo on August 8, 2017

I tend to post about relatively frivolous stuff. But today is shaping up pretty serious. Global warming report. North Korea and Trump rattling sabers. I’m a pessimist at heart, which makes these headlines so alarming I have trouble thinking clearly. What do I think the really important, consequential issues are for humanity for the next hundred years?  Climate change and environmental destruction generally; the threat of some catastrophic, global war and/or the use, somewhere, of weapons of mass destruction. I guess number three would be: inequality and the threat it poses for the stability of societies and political orders, long-term. Everything else bad looks a lot smaller – more super-structural – than these three. I don’t have a lot of bright thoughts about any of the three. My poor brain likes to think about smaller, nicer things.

So what do you think? Am I right those are the big three? Are we screwed, long-term, because of them? Are you a pessimist or an optimist about the survival of humanity, the continuation of civilization in something like the form we know, past the next 100 years?

{ 137 comments }

1

Anarcissie 08.09.17 at 12:43 am

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Or something like that. We don’t have a lot of choice.

2

Bob Zannelli 08.09.17 at 12:48 am

Are we screwed? On the face of it, without a doubt. But then we only live in our own time and certainly earlier times looked pretty screwed too, so maybe our pessimism has a little myopia. However, one thing is certain, for everyone life is going to end badly, and it seems to me at some point that must be true for humanity too.

3

Roland Stone 08.09.17 at 12:55 am

Pessimistic. Fascinating to watch our civilization’s resolution of the Fermi Paradox play out in real time.

4

Cranky Observer 08.09.17 at 1:09 am

Climate change has the potential to be #1 not only in the near future but for the remainder of mankind’s existence, so that’s a tough standards to meet.

I would say though that a looming problem is that we have no idea how to operate an economy in either of the two directions we may be headed: (a) return to pee-industrialization levels of scarcity or (b) elimination of scarcity and the need to “work”.

For (a), in the 1980s and 90s it was common to respond to The Limits to Growth by pointing out that technology and economic activity shift in response to new shortages and change fundamentally in response to new discoveries, and the PC/Internet age seemed to be a perfect example. Yet there do also appear to be fundamental limits to the carrying capacity of oceans & farmlands, ability to extract resources and dispose of waste etc, and fewer limits to the evolution of new disease and pestilence. Will mankind handle these limits, either by self-control or by more magic, or will there be a collapse?

Conversely with (b), if mankind does continue with rapid technological development it is faintly possible that we could achieve Poul Anderson/Gene Roddenberry’s posited society without material scarcity in the not too distant future – say 2040. What would happen then? An enormous amount of the self-image of at least western societies is tied up in the concept of “work” and its attendant moral dimensions (as presumed). What if work is no longer needed, or even desired by most of mankind? The last 18 months in the US and UK have shown that the faction of mankind that believes in inflicting punishment on others is more powerful than many thought; many of the punishable offenses in the minds of that faction are violations of the morals of work. If there is no more work, will that faction calm down? Or start smashing things?

5

Michael Connolly 08.09.17 at 1:44 am

As I was walking in the neighborhood distracted on a beautiful day in Cambridge (Mass.) this afternoon, but not knowing about the nuclear threats, I was asking myself the same question – and came up with four: climate catastrophe, nuclear war,inequality, and the 6th extinction – which I see as a stand alone threat as the extinction is not due solely to climate change, but also to habitat destruction. (EO Wilson’s Half Earth proposal is a sane, visionary, and wildly improbable response.)

The institutions and personalities that govern us have created these threats and more. It is very hard to be optimistic. Just how many bullets can be dodged?

6

Donald A. Coffin 08.09.17 at 2:01 am

I think you have hit the three big ones.

I’m generally an optimist. But our (by which I mean humans as a whole, not the US as a political entity) failure to control the existence of nuclear weapons is disheartening. I think John Hershey’s Hiroshima should be required reading.

The window within which we need to act to prevent an environmental catastrophe is closing.

And the emergence of a political movement that seems to regard increasing inequality as a good thing…

I suppose I can be (personally) comforted by the likelihood that I won’t be around to see the destruction.

7

Adam Hammond 08.09.17 at 2:30 am

Dark optimist? Is that an option? I think that the human beings that exist in any time will build community and share fulfilling connections with each other and the world around them. I don’t believe that the human race is going to go extinct even from the confluence of all three of the horrors you point to. *We* would hate to live among those ashes. The humans that do will not know any better.

(Yes, it is possible that we would go extinct … it’s my natural optimism that we won’t)

8

sy 08.09.17 at 2:38 am

I find two things helpful when thinking about the future.

The first is that most things we’re worrying about in the future are things that are already happening. We already live in a world whose environment has been irrevocably damaged and diminished. A good exercise for getting a sense of this is reading an outdoorsy book from a century ago about the natural life in and around American cities: what people fished for, hunted, etc. U.S. Americans live under a regime that has real strengths in terms of civil society, speech and assembly, etc., but which is not a democracy in either the everyone-gets-to-vote or the whoever-gets-more-votes-gets-to-govern sense that is (more) true of post-WWII Western European democracies and perhaps never has been.

The second is that people are resilient and quickly reset their baseline expectations. If we lost nine-tenths of our economic output and 80% of our population we would be at the state of the species c. 1800. I wouldn’t want to live in 1800, although it would be fun to talk to Coleridge, but people at the time muddled through and many didn’t even mind much. Or look at post-black death pre-reformation Merrie England.

9

Yankee 08.09.17 at 2:39 am

All those things you mention and others like them could be solved if we _would_ solve them. Therefore the central problem of the age is to improve our collective ability to make collective decisions.

That, and learning how to not have so much stuff.

10

Eli Rabett 08.09.17 at 3:05 am

Let’s hear it from Corey Robin about how Trump is less likely to start a war than Clinton.

11

Longtooth 08.09.17 at 3:07 am

Humans have and will always continue to attempt to produce more with less human energy consumed, and use the excess to improve standards of living (albeit not necessarily fairly). The population of Earth has a wide difference between that portion which has benefited most from those who have benefited less… both geographically and intra-regionally.

The means of producing more with less human energy is by using other forms of energy (mostly). Most of that energy if not all of it is from fossil fuel sources which have a byproduct that “poison’s” the atmosphere such that the effect is increasing heat trapping from Sun energy. which we refer to as “global warming” or “climate change”.

There is no yet known human means of limiting the uses of fossil fuels and a huge proportion of the Earth’s population has yet to benefit as much from its uses as others (e.g. advanced nations v not-so-advanced). There is as yet no known means by which humans can cooperate in what is perceived as a “fair” manner on a global basis. Perhaps a single global enforcement agent can be created… which is thus a global police state, but it’s unlikely that such an agent can enforce effectively or at all in practice without simultaneously creating global wars. Indeed, even intra-regionally (intra-nationally) there’s no evidence of constant cooperation, much less internationally.

So Global Warming will continue until the human population declines precipitously (starvation, wars, pestilence) and thus reduces demand for cheap energy (coal, NG, oil). But reducing demand doesn’t reduce atmospheric poisoning which is accumulative so global warming continues, just at a slower rate.even IF the global population is decimated.

If the advanced nations can’t even cooperate intra-regionally, why would anyone think or believe it can do so internationally and completely? In the U.S. it can’t even agree that NAFTA is a cooperative benefit. In the EU it can’t even agree on a common monetary system (central authority), or for that matter, a cooperative migration system within it. China obtains a intra-regional cooperation by fiat and even that is tenuous.

Global trade can’t even agree on “fair” trade rules or how to enforce them so why would one think it can cooperate on energy use and costs which are at the genesis of standards of living growth .. which is another name for economic growth. What nations are willing to stagnate their economic growth to zero by eliminating 99.9% of fossil fuel uses (either domestically or by imports from nations that use fossil fuels)?

The US just bailed on an international voluntary agreement. Why wouldn’t other nations if they decided it would benefit them to do so? Why wouldn’t the U.S. do it again in later years (assuming Trumpism goes away in a few years or a decade) when the implications are far worse than they are perceived at present?

And keep your eye on the ball. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing at an increasing rate (year-year delta is increasing over time… not constant). Not only does it have to decrease (not just maintain a constant rate of increase), it has to decrease at an increasingly decreasing rate.

Everything else is short-term perturbations, including nuclear uses in wars unless the global supply of it is unleashed in a very short time period. Humans are pre-programmed to deal with the clear and present dangers to themselves… everything in the potential future takes 2nd or 3rf seat in the scheme of things. Gov’ts want to survive and will do almost anything to insure their survival… and that survival is always in the present tense… they’ll deal with the future when it arrives. Civil wars, revolutions are their ultimate means of dealing with it.

12

Kien 08.09.17 at 4:02 am

Hi, I suggest the top 3 issues (in descending order) are:
– climate change
– the refugee crisis
– sustained secular stagnation with low or zero growth.

Nuclear conflict is remote so long as the US doesn’t panick. The Korean issue can be solved easily if the US were prepared to withdraw from East Asia. It’s an issue so long as the US continues to threaten North Korea.

The refugee crisis might not seem so important to (inward focused) Americans, but it is a genuine issue for humanity.

All three issues will melt away with long-term sustainable and globally inclusive growth. The US should want to make One Belt One Road a success.

Just my take!

13

Pavel A 08.09.17 at 4:48 am

I guess my top four-ish existential threats are:
– Nuclear war, because we learned nothing from the Cold War
– Climate Change, because it’s there and it’s not going away for a long, long time
– Social collapse due to automation and immiseration of the workforce, resulting in a rise of white nationalism, etc
– Antibiotic-resistant plague (it’s more or less also here in the form of MRSA)

@Eli Rabett
I thought that was Kidneystones. I’ve been waiting for him to come back some I could politely ask him about how his “Trump is an isolationist and better at international relations than Clinton” thesis is coming along, and how deeply I could shove it up his (probably withered) ass.

14

Matt 08.09.17 at 4:56 am

I’m not sure if any civilizations that I consider worth living in will endure in the long run. Biological extinction of humans seems unlikely though, at least on timescales less than geological.

I wrote this here 5 years ago:

Like rats, dogs, and pigeons, humans are among the last vertebrate survivors standing when they overtax and homogenize ecosystems.

Will the survivors even resent their ancestors’ destruction of so much that was irreplaceable? I can’t summon much wrath about the 18th century colonists who turned eastern American forests into stumps and ashes, though they were wasteful on a scale that would make even a 1950s logger of old growth forests blush. I feel wronged by the (presumably) anthropogenic extinction of the North American megafauna, but only in a diffuse and bloodless way. I don’t feel visceral disgust over the destruction of the saber toothed cats the way I do over the poaching of endangered big cats in the present day. A century from now, when many of those big cat species are extinct, someone of my age may likewise feel only a slight twinge that the snow leopard (and perhaps snow itself) are gone. Only the people who remember what it was like before can get really angry, and we’ll die off eventually.

15

nastywoman 08.09.17 at 6:31 am

– wandering through ”the Loveliest Castle in the World” -(Leeds) – yesterday – and eating an excellent ”Surf and Turf” in ‘the Old Mill’ in Ashford and then reading a bit of ”Much Ado about Nothing” in a bed in the Eastwell Manor makes you a everlasting optimist.

If British cooks can cook as well as Italian Ones progress is unstoppable!

16

Tabasco 08.09.17 at 8:03 am

Humanity will muddle through, as it always has. But the costs will be not insignificant.

17

Neville Morley 08.09.17 at 9:00 am

Deeply pessimistic, above all with respect to climate change and environmental degradation, to the point where I catch myself skipping stories on such topics as I simply don’t want to know any more. And that points perhaps to a wider issue, underlying all of these: feeling of loss of agency, that there is nothing we can do about any of this, except perhaps make it incrementally worse in the case of climate/environment.

18

Faustusnotes 08.09.17 at 9:00 am

Those were likely Italian cooks, nastywoman, and they’ll be back on the mainland in a year. The very opposite of progress…

19

Blutowski 08.09.17 at 10:51 am

Look on the bright-side. The nuclear winter resulting from the Korean conflict might balance out the effects of global warming.

20

Katsue 08.09.17 at 12:21 pm

I’m quite pessimistic. I don’t think most of our political class is at all serious about these issues – not in my country and, more consequentially, not in the US.

21

RD 08.09.17 at 2:26 pm

The human race is a disease organism.

22

alfredlordbleep 08.09.17 at 2:30 pm

Much Ado About Nothing
CLAUDIO
O, my lord,
When you went onward on this ended action,
I look’d upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love:
But now I am return’d and that war-thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying, I liked her ere I went to wars.

A problem for many now is the opposite: driving way war-thoughts so
the pleasures of the world, soft and delicate—or merely existence—may go on and on.

23

JRLRC 08.09.17 at 3:10 pm

I´m pessimistic. The most consequential issues:

-Climate change -obvious reasons…
-Inequality -the effects on social stability, democratic quality and individual freedom.
-Corruption and violence -for example, as a LatinAmerican, living in LatinAmerica (México), I can´t stress enough the relevance of the consequences of the “war on drugs”.

And there is the combination and interaction of the four.

24

Raven 08.09.17 at 3:16 pm

Tabasco @ 16: How much of humanity, in what condition? Some indeed may be well placed to survive, even prosper. Very large numbers of others live by encroaching seashores or under increasingly intolerable climates, especially for growing food — and have nowhere to migrate except where someone else already lives, which is why the US DOD (under Obama) declared worldwide climate change a longterm military issue of critical concern.

25

William Berry 08.09.17 at 3:33 pm

@Neville Morley:
” . . . I catch myself skipping stories on such topics as I simply don’t want to know anymore.”

Thanks for having the guts to express something that I have been embarrassed to admit even to myself.

Having witnessed the utter defeat of everything I worked for and dreamed of in my years as a labor and sometime Democratic activist, I now find myself spending a lot more time on the “Master Chess Games” website playing over old games by the likes of Alekhine, Capablanca, or Fischer. Amazing how that sort of thing can actually distract one for a while.

26

Raven 08.09.17 at 3:34 pm

John Holbo: Let’s just say I used to be considerably more optimistic before the US elections of 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2016. The US by itself made such famously bad decisions about climate, alone, during the W administration, alone, that I have to think even some portion of the severe weather (e.g. tornadoes, heat-encouraged wildfires) now lashing us is self-induced from that period; we missed the opportunity to take a different turning. Unfortunately the rest of the world also has to deal with the heat, energetic weather, and rising tides.

(Yes, I know the rest of the world has agency too. Not my point. That doesn’t diminish our, the US’s, responsibility for our actions, even under idiots. We shouldn’t be letting idiots take the wheel.)

27

William Berry 08.09.17 at 3:34 pm

“any more”, not “anymore”

28

Raven 08.09.17 at 3:53 pm

Longtooth @ 11: “Not only does [atmospheric CO2] have to decrease (not just maintain a constant rate of increase), it has to decrease at an increasingly decreasing rate.”

I understand what you mean, but I think you’ll want to put that as: “… decrease at an increasingly increasing rate.”

The levels of CO2 have to decrease; the rates of decrease then have to increase.

29

Omega Centauri 08.09.17 at 4:03 pm

A lot of good comments.
Some have the notion that we will be consumed by runaway AI, but I think that unlikely. Or that we will use genetic engineering and cyber implants to such an extent that we cease being humans as currently defined. But, I think these are silly SF ideas, and would go with John’s list.

Nearer term, and the source of a lot of this is the cultural/political term away from rationalism. TYhis is especially advanced in the US. My hope is that Trump will mess things up badly enough (but still survivable), that we learn our lesson, and make the cultivation of epistemology an essential skill for all citizens. But, this remains to be seen.

30

Yan 08.09.17 at 4:05 pm

“Let’s hear it from Corey Robin about how Trump is less likely to start a war than Clinton.”

Yes, let’s hope Trump really does start a nuclear war. It will be worth millions of innocent lives just to rub Hillary’s critics noses in it.

Also nevermind that despite knowing that any increased tensions among nuclear powers would be handled by our deranged mental five year old in chief, the Democrats overwhelmingly voted for tension ratcheting sanctions.

Gosh, officer, I just gave the toddler the bazooka. But I also made homophobic jokes about him and screamed at him to prove he’s not a traitor or a sissy. I thought for sure that would prevent him from shooting anybody.

31

JRLRC 08.09.17 at 4:20 pm

“Corruption and violence” includes dangerous idiot king Trump.

32

reason 08.09.17 at 4:35 pm

I always was of the view that humans are smart enough to make a real mess, and not smart enough not to do it. It is a bit like the old story about computers, to err is human, but to really fuck things up you need a computer. Tools are the problem. But it is also remarkable how many of the really nasty things we could already have done, we haven’t. It looks like there is social technology available to stop us really screwing up (let’s face it there are a very large number of crazy people in the world). That is one of the reasons we need to fight against both the oligarchy and rising authoritarianism.

33

reason 08.09.17 at 4:50 pm

Cranky Observer @4,
your dichotomy is not really a dichotomy, both can happen at the same time. The reason is simple, the products of the economy are diverse. We can have a massive excess of income and all starve, like the fabel of Midas. We all suffer massively from money illusion.

34

Ogden Wernstrom 08.09.17 at 6:20 pm

@21 RD 08.09.17 at 2:26 pm:

The human race is a disease organism.

Let’s – at the very least – try not to eliminate the carbon-unit infestation until the silicon-unit replacement is ready.

35

Heliopause 08.09.17 at 7:34 pm

“Am I right those are the big three?”

I might have thrown in the price of beer, but your three are a pretty good start.

“Are we screwed, long-term, because of them?”

Yes. In terms of climate change our species needs to be spending much more time now on plans to mitigate the inevitable catastrophe. Any movement toward arresting it needed to be started thirty years ago, and the best our center-left technocrats can come up with now is a non-binding agreement that puts off all the hard work until well after they’ve all retired and gone parasailing with Richard Branson. Also, notice that the linked NYT article predictably casts this as Trump-themed morality play. Uh, gang, whatever the climate ends up being, Trump will have been no more than a pimple on its buttocks. If we want to get serious about addressing problems the first step will be to stop blaming Trump for them and take a hard look at the broad social systems that brought them about in the first place.

In terms of large-scale war, we don’t have much of a choice, do we? The official center-left faction in the U.S. is agitating for an intensified cold war with a country that has 1700+ more nuclear warheads than North Korea does. So one side wants to start WWIII in North Korea and the other wants to skip the proxy war entirely and start it straightaway. My advice is, flip a coin.

As for inequality, see above. Our technocratic overlords actively oppose anybody who attempts to address this problem, so here’s another one where we’ll have to keep on keeping on and hope for the best.

On a more positive note, some of us are getting old and will be dead before society completely collapses and roving rape gangs take over vast swathes of the sun-baked, desolate countryside.

36

bruce wilder 08.09.17 at 7:36 pm

I fear some critically important part of the ownership class, for whom most of the political class works, is already well along a path to combining these three problems into an integrated solution set. It is not difficult to anticipate how a Silicon Valley Titan might see the “obvious” as the engineering of a successor species (new, improved, did you see that TED Talk?) followed by radical population reduction even onto human extinction. John Galt without the bother of the parasite poor weighing down the carrying capacity of the earth would be free to mobilize resources for the Singularity! How great would that be? Aren’t you excited? [ /sarcasm]

And, it might not be one of the great and good pulling the trigger. It might be some unfortunate in the 10th year of his graduate program in a microbiology lab, who cannot get published under his own name, but can engineer a fantastically contagious and lethal flu. (Engineering a lethal flu has already been done; ditto for “accidental” release of same. We do not need nuclear, with its army of engineers; a guy with a pipette and a test tube can “solve” the problem of human overpopulation and maybe save the snow leopards.)

When we conceive of “what matters” as collectively unsolvable problems, we invite solutions to come by another path.

37

Howard Frant 08.09.17 at 8:01 pm

What would this discussion look like if not for Trump? But Trump is a temporary aberration.

You’re all aware of the dramatic decline in extreme poverty worldwide? Given that, and given that poor countries are continuing to grow faster than rich ones (India, e.g., grew at 7% last year) it’s surely not true globally that inequality is increasing, however true it is within, say, the US. JH didn’t say otherwise, of course. Still, not all the news is terrible.

https://howardfrant.blogspot.com/2015/10/good-news-about-good-news-its-real.html

38

Theophylact 08.09.17 at 8:45 pm

What I worry most about is lack of resiliency. After the next major collapse, the resources that fueled the rise to a reasonably comfortable civilization will be largely gone: high-quality ores, easily accessible fuels, rich soils. I’m a chemist, but I wouldn’t be able to produce something as “simple” as a safety match without an enormous establishment behind me. And the support documents for recreating a civilization are increasingly available only on media that will become unreadable after the collapse.

Asimov’s Encyclopedia Foundation, pretext though it was, still served its nominal purpose. We have nothing.

39

Jeff R. 08.09.17 at 9:20 pm

I’m pessimistic about technology, in general. The trend looks to me like the amount of damage a deranged individual of even modest means can do is going to keep on increasing up to the point where developed countries have to choose between chaos and a maximally oppressive totalitarian state. (Or, of course, both, the Terry Gilliam’s Brazil scenario). In particular, I’m worried about what happens when a hobbyist can put together a precision-guided mortar round, but there are lots of other routes.

And the same effect on the nation-scale as well. Maybe it’s all accidents of geography that allow a nation as poor as North Korea to go nuclear, but it’s also likely that 70 years of technological and engineering advances have rendered every step along the way that much easier to do, and getting moreso ever year that we don’t collectively collapse into barbarism. The window during which nonproliferation was possible seems to be over or nearly over, and, well, with maxed proliferation the odds get stronger that someone’s going to misjudge an opponent’s willingness to actually retaliate (or accurately judge that they won’t), that someone’s going to believe that when the time comes they’ll be able to claim that the weapons they sold to terror groups were stolen and generate enough doubt to avoid retaliation, or to just put too much control over weapon use in the hands of the wrong individual…

Not to mention the prospect of advances far enough that nations skip a generation of weapons of mass destruction and go straight to superviruses or super crop-blights or laser-induced fusion bombs or whatnot.

40

Dipper 08.09.17 at 9:42 pm

Cheer up folks:

Global warming will take longer than has previously been predicted, and nothing really bad will happen this century. We have time to sort it, and haven’t really got serious about the technology yet.

Nuclear threats have been here for a while. The risk of accidental detonation was cited by many as meaning we wouldn’t get to the end of last century, and here we all are. It is quite likely the current war of words over North Korea will be contained.

Poverty is declining world-wide. The overall birth-rate is set to fall and population set to stabilise. AI is going to create more jobs than it destroys, and they will be better jobs. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic.

41

J-D 08.09.17 at 10:04 pm

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

42

Yan 08.10.17 at 12:10 am

43

sidd 08.10.17 at 12:22 am

Re: “Global warming will take longer than has previously been predicted … ”

Which previous predictions would those be ?

” … and nothing really bad will happen this century.”

As far as I can see, really bad things are happening already. Well, I suppose maybe the current dieback of corals isn’t really bad or destabilization of Thwaites. But bot are, in my book, really bad, and the consequences of the second might play out in decades, not centuries.

sidd

44

J-D 08.10.17 at 12:39 am

45

Andrew Hamilton 08.10.17 at 2:24 am

I’m 70 years old and live out in the woods and really don’t have a dog in this fight or predictive enterprise, but here goes:

I was a fed biologist trying to figure things out with the aid of numerical ecological and climate models, and decided that science is a herd activity. So I’m still sort of a climate-change denialist, if that means we don’t go ape-shit when there is a storm off the Georgia banks or a forest-fire in Australia. Maybe we got time there.

Nuclear threat been around a long time. I discounted it when we did the duck-and-cover drills, what is this foolish shit? Hide under a desk? Trust in deterrence, man, and trust that two nut-jobs don’t end up heading opposing nuclear powers. You got no other option.

Inequality sucks. What you have to do is tax the shit out of high incomes. Seems simple to me– it was what they did when I was coming up. I think the Beatles wrote songs about it, from the wrong end. Tax Man. They were irritated that they earned all that money by being the Four Mop Topas and the government wanted to take it away.

But the living out in the woods has me sitting in the only restaurant within forty miles seeing the geezers watching Fox News, and when the satellite feed goes out they still sit there, and you half-hear phrases about the government doing this or the government doing that, the government not giving us free snow-plow service as well, the government just not getting it, not understanding that we are sick and tired of paying for the things we get. I’m sitting out here with the salt of the earth, and they are Taxed Enough Already, even though their taxes went down and there was a payroll tax holdiday that no one told them about.

So I think that the real threat to the future of the world is that the one semi-assed country that has held it together, the good old USA, a country that pretty much worked by more or less working together, has submitted itself to a mass incitement of a stupidity of gimmie, opened itself to mass propaganda, sits listening to Rush Limbaugh and worse, and is doomed. I think that global warming, you could do something about it, and global nuclear obliteration, that’s something we’ve always managed to slip past, and poor people getting fucked, well when has that ever counted?

The real problem is that a lot of Americans are sitting around watching three morons on Fox and Friends. As I say, I’m 70 years old, knew a world before television, and once I saw it coming, saw the Peanut Gallery on Howdy Doody, I knew we were doomed.

46

Sebastian H 08.10.17 at 2:38 am

I think you hit the major ones, but in the medium term I have another worry–what happens when bio-tech tools get to the point where a reasonably smart Unabomber type can create a super-bug in his home? I guess we have to hope that immune defenses can be boosted at the same time but I’m not sure that’s going to be symmetric.

47

Hidari 08.10.17 at 6:29 am

‘Poverty is declining world-wide.’

This is taken as being axiomatic in certain (media) circles but it is actually a more controversial opinion than one might think.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2010/07/is-global-poverty-reduction-a-political-myth/

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/exposing- great-poverty-reductio-201481211590729809.html

http://www.globalresearch.ca/world-bank-report-challenges-notions-of-declining-poverty-in-africa/5483152 (caveat lector for this last source)

http://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/5849/2745#.WYv9G_5hnIU

(NB: there are more ‘academic’ papers in peer-reviewed journals that make the same points but I can’t find them right now. Generally speaking it’s easy, via ‘neutral’ Google to find papers that argue that capitalism has ‘lifted millions out of poverty ‘etc. and much more difficult to find papers that argue the converse).

48

Faustusnotes 08.10.17 at 6:48 am

Brian Aldiss had a theory that once a civilization developed nuclear weapons it was done for. This is because once you have them, the only way to not destroy yourselves is to permanently avoid any crazy, selfish nasty people from getting access to them, and avoid any scenarios that might lead tot heir inevitable use – forever. Obviously there’s a vanishingly small chance of that happening. We get to see what that risk looks like in real time. And contra the ” we survived it before it’ll be fine this time too” crowd, eventually it is going to be worse than our past experience. If not this trump, the next one…

49

Raven 08.10.17 at 6:58 am

Howard Frant @ 37: “But Trump is a temporary aberration.” — So was W; yet the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan continues, the ~3,000 killed on 9/11 and the ~650,000 killed in war thereafter remain permanently dead, and there’s good reason to doubt this would have been the outcome had the 2000 election result differed. So, for that matter, was Reagan; yet the shift in income from the lowest 90% to the top few% continues, and is by many thought a Good Thing, such is the force of his propaganda. Do you really think Trump’s after-effects will be as temporary as himself?

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interrèd with their bones.”
— William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II.

50

John Quiggin 08.10.17 at 7:32 am

To take the most optimistic view possible, if we can survive Trump and if his fall takes the Repubs down for three Presidental terms, we should be able to fix global warming and turn the tide on inequality. But it’s hard to be optiyabout nukes.

51

derrida derider 08.10.17 at 7:59 am

Oh, life will go on – including human life. But maybe not 8 billion human lives.

The one bright spot is knowledge is so widely dispersed now than it cannot be unlearned by the species. True, “After such knowledge, what forgiveness” – we’ve learnt enough both to inflict the current plague of humans on the earth and to end it in distinctly nasty ways. But neither the species nor civilisation is threatened. The very thing that has made 8 billion people possible – modern technology -will allow survivors to quickly rebuild civilisation after technology-induced disaster. Who knows, maybe that will start another multi-millenia cycle – the Hindu idea of long eternal recurrence realised.

So I think in the very long run the prospects for humanity are bright. Maybe not so much, though in the mere long run; I worry for as yet unborn grandchildren..

52

MFB 08.10.17 at 8:02 am

Global warming and nuclear war are, in my opinion, the two big problems. Of course that assumes that global warming includes the consequences of oil depletion absent any large-scale alternative to it. There are technological fixes, and perhaps they will be implemented, but they are expensive and I have doubts as to whether the fixes will happen in time, in which case ocean, air and a large part of land transport will be gravely limited precisely at the time when we need it, when global warming will be reducing food production and making migration and redistribution ever more urgent. (Oh, and depletion of hydrocarbon fuels will also reduce fertilizer production, reversing the effects of the “Green Revolution”.)

Also, the two are not separate, they are very closely connected. Nuclear war becomes more likely when powerful countries with nuclear weapons feel themselves threatened and losing power. America gambled on its control of hydrocarbon fuels being the way to hold on to power; if the significance of those fuels declines (and it will have to if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, and indeed if we are to escape using oil and gas up completely) then America will perceive itself weaker. Meanwhile American foreign policy is on the whole based on encouraging conflict between countries which America wishes to control, either through paranoia or regime change. Such conflicts have reached the point at which America is effectively at war with two nuclear powers (Russia and North Korea) and in a cold war and a trade war with another (China) which is allied with the other two.

If there’s a nuclear war, then global warming will probably not be stoppable, because what remains of our civilisation will run on coal because it’s the cheapest energy source.

I suppose this is very pessimistic. I know that it is possible to sort things out. I just do not see any sign of people in power wanting to sort things out.

53

Raven 08.10.17 at 8:24 am

Hidari @ 47: “[contra] ‘Poverty is declining world-wide.’” — That whole Reagan & post-Reagan increasing-income-inequality thing I just alluded to, where the poor get poorer while the rich get richer, would be another contraindication. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders addressed that issue during this last election.

Lumping everyone together as sharing in an overall increase in “wealth” (when the gains go all to the top 1 or 2%, and most are actually losing income) is disingenuous, yes.

54

TM 08.10.17 at 10:04 am

What will bring down humanity: stupidity, cowardice, or evil? One gets the impression that all three are increasingly in play.

Fools, Cowards, or Criminals?
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/08/17/marcel-ophuls-fools-cowards-or-criminals/

55

novakant 08.10.17 at 10:37 am

Let’s hear it from Corey Robin about how Trump is less likely to start a war than Clinton.

Well, I don’t think it makes much sense to speculate who would be more less likely to start a war, but Clinton did threaten to “totally obliterate” Iran in 2008 and has generally been one of the most bellicose and militaristic politicians in recent memory – and lest we forget, she was an Iraq war supporter. That alone should have disqualified her, but alas…

56

alfredlordbleep 08.10.17 at 12:20 pm

Sebastian H @46: to which may be added (one among others):

. . . In the mid-1990s, the Pentagon uncovered an astonishing firewall breach that could have allowed outside hackers to gain control over the key naval radio transmitter in Maine used to send launching orders to ballistic missile submarines patrolling the Atlantic. So alarming was this discovery, which I learned about from interviews with military officials, that the Navy radically redesigned procedures so that submarine crews would never accept a launching order that came out of the blue unless it could be verified through a second source. NYT March 14

(The meaning of two-factor authentication!)

57

Monte Davis 08.10.17 at 12:31 pm

Maybe it’s Boomer chronocentrism, but I still feel a particular “edge” w/r/t nuclear weapons. First, their destructive potential was not, like that of climate change or inequality, an emergent downside of the abundant fossil energy or rapid economic growth we wanted. It was the whole point from the start.

Second, we’ve spent trillions over seven decades ensuring that that destructive potential could be realized almost instantly. Unlike climate change or inequality, the time lag between OMG, this is really happening and a catastrophic, irretrievable result could be half an hour.

The combined US+Russian nuclear stockpile has declined from the floridly insane 70,000 of the mid-1980s to a merely MAD 14,000; that’s inarguably a good thing. Mutual deterrence has “worked,” by its own closed-loop logic, since 1949; that’s inarguably a good thing. But the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel seem to think 100-300 adequate. Both Washington and Moscow could dismantle 90% of their arsenals, still be the Big Boys, still credibly threaten a dozen WWIIs’ worth of death in an afternoon: isn’t that “security” enough?

Until then, to fret over allegedly undeterrable rogue nations, rogue US Presidents, or mad jihadis with One Whole DIY Dirty Bomb!!! is to keep ignoring the elephant in the room.

58

Yan 08.10.17 at 1:59 pm

@45 “…opened itself to mass propaganda…”
“The real problem is that a lot of Americans are sitting around watching…”

I enjoyed this post, but this common, appealing, and popular diagnosis–people should stop being gullible–is far too easy and gets causality backward.

This is not how propaganda works. It does not wait for an audience to invite it in. Propaganda manufactures a willing audience. If it’s propaganda, then by definition the audience is neither the cause of the problem or to blame for it. It’s the machines that manufactures such audiences and the economic and political system that trades in such machines

59

nastywoman 08.10.17 at 3:16 pm

– on the other hand and thinking a lot about the ”Tudors” and their Times – to see and especially smell ”Much Ado about Nothing in the original ”Globe” would be tempting enough to renounce a bit of the progress we have made until then?

Like I actually don’t need Fridge Magnets from Oxford.

60

RD 08.10.17 at 3:47 pm

Ogden @ 34
Not quite sure what to make of your reply.
The consensus here is that human survival is a good thing.
Please inform me what contribution to the good of our home has our species made.
Please compare the condition of Chesapeake Bay, e.g., when the first Europeans set eyes on it with it’s state ca. 1960, say.
Trade a life rich estuary for an open sewer, chromium smelters and shipyards.

61

Dipper 08.10.17 at 4:00 pm

@ Raven, Hidari “Poverty is declining world-wide” yes I’ve seen the google posts and the charts, which is why I said it, but I also caught up with an old friend recently who has spent thirty years working on the front-line of international aid, mainly in Africa but also parts of Asia. He was emphatic that things were getting better.

@ Sidd 43

Which previous predictions would those be ? those that extrapolated temperature from the peak of the el-Nino around 1997 and said we would be facing disaster right now.

From a human perspective nothing really bad is happening, and nothing irreversible is happening. The clathrate gun is not about to go off any time soon. From a wildlife perspective there is quite a lot of things happening, most of which will reduce bio-diversity. However, most of the things (apart from extinctions) would seem to be reversible including coral bleaching which repair themselves when the temperatures cool. Don’t get me wrong, it would be better if we didn’t have global warming, but there is time to sort this out.

The agriculture industry, particularly beef farming, seems to be a major contributor to global warming due to the large amount of methane it produces. We will know things are serious when that gets a massive climate tax.

62

Hidari 08.10.17 at 4:04 pm

@51

Here’s a more academic restatement of some of the articles I linked to:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X04000075

albeit from 2004.

Of course CT has had numerous posts on why the related factoid, that global violence/war has fallen, (as proposed by Steven ‘Pinker the Thinker’) is also questionable. (http://crookedtimber.org/2011/10/16/violence-down-claims-pinker-the-thinker/)

That both of these claims are beyond rational disputation are presuppositions of the so-called New Optimists.

63

Hidari 08.10.17 at 4:19 pm

Incidentally, on the three ‘legs’ of the catastrophe stool on which we all seem to be uneasily perched: inequality (poverty), environmental collapse, and war (political instability) cf this:

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/02/scheidel-great-leveler-inequality-violence/517164/

https://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/west/pdf/Burton-Chellew_etal_13.pdf

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-war-risk-increase-syria-isis-heatwave-drought-a7155401.html

https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21725009-rich-pollute-poor-suffer-climate-change-and-inequality

What all these links suggest is that if we do nothing we might end up in a vicious circle, with climate change causing increasing inequality, which in turn prevents further action on climate change, which causes more wars/political instability, which causes, more inequality/poverty, which causes more inability to deal with climate change, which (ceteris paribus) causes more climate change, which causes, more inequality and so on und so weiter.

Don’t forget the Club of Rome!!

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/limits-to-growth-was-right-new-research-shows-were-nearing-collapse

64

marku52 08.10.17 at 4:23 pm

“Lumping everyone together as sharing in an overall increase in “wealth” (when the gains go all to the top 1 or 2%, and most are actually losing income) is disingenuous, yes.”

But on AVERAGE, man, we are all getting richer!

/S

65

Sammavaca 08.10.17 at 5:40 pm

My dystopian or pessimistic bad case projections look similar to those of others: Increasing population and scarcity of resources in the context of severe environmental pressures due to climate change might lead to wars, genocides and – ultimately – more severely regimented and militarized forms of social control, abetted by sophisticated infotech-enabled population thought and behavior management. We might also see a resurgence in forms of labor subjugation and management once considered abolished: including slavery, serfdom and similar arrangements that more or less permanently bind laborers to some power center. Those with the requisite knowledge and management skills will enjoy somewhat better lives by contributing those skills to the control apparatus, happily enjoying a share of the costly higher pleasures afforded to the extractive classes. The less fortunate many will be kept mostly docile and bewildered by the sexual, mind-altering and fantasy pleasures that can be delivered by relatively inexpensive technology.

Of course, this is just a variant of the usual kind of dystopian warning. Things might turn out somewhat better, with a more democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcome, in which the challenges of a large number of people living on a strained planet are met with a more cooperative system of distributed power and responsibility, and greater sharing of wealth and income.

I think one way or another, our way of life on this planet is going to have to become more planned and organized, with less reliance on profit-seeking, entrepreneurial free capitalist agents and decentralized and undirected, desire-creating-and-satisfying consumerist innovation as the determinant of social innovation.

66

Kiwanda 08.10.17 at 5:50 pm

Hidari:

(The aljazeera link didn’t work for me: here’s another try.)

The last two articles point out the difficulties in measurement: how income translates to purchasing power, especially regarding what can be purchased, and whether the measurement criteria have been consistent over time. And, whether the rates are relative (fraction of population) or absolute (total numbers): population growth has meant that the absolute rates can go up even when relative rates go down.

However, the most important purchase is surely food, and there has been considerable progress on that, in the last 25 years, although one in eight people in the developing world don’t get enough to eat.

Infant mortality has been reduced by half in the last 25 years, as well.

So it is possible to see some progress in world well-being, without taking the money-centric view that the articles properly criticize.

The first two articles point out that any reduction in poverty that has occurred is not uniform across the world: it’s mostly China, and to a lesser extent India, I think. So, two countries where many people live are doing better. But, Africa not so much, and inequality is horribly large and growing in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world.

On the one hand, I tend to dislike this kind of accounting: more people getting enough to eat is a good thing, regardless of where those people are.

On the other hand, I think it might be that workers in the U.S. and elsewhere are selling their labor in competition with workers in China, and so have seen their incomes and workplace power stagnate as a result. Hopefully income and labor costs will eventually rise enough in China that that U. S. workers will no longer be so severely undercut. (Although, then capital might chase low labor costs to Africa; this would (I hope) be good for Africa, but still.)

67

Doug K 08.10.17 at 6:31 pm

William Berry and Neville Morley:
” . . . I catch myself skipping stories on such topics as I simply don’t want to know anymore.”

Gary Shteyngart started collecting watches and geeking out over them, see link from my name..
I told him how I had got into watches at the start of 2016, when our nation was vulnerable but still whole. “Ah,” he said, in a burst of European pragmatism, “but you are a little Russian émigré. You know if you need to you can put these watches in your pocket and sneak across the border to Canada past Buffalo. And you can survive.”

Myself I started to collect fly-fishing reels from early to mid 20th C English manufacturers.. no emigre use at all unfortunately, but a comfort and a solace.

My sense is that we’ve run out of time on climate change, which is happening faster than the models predicted. Sea rise will produce floods of refugees to add to those already moving across the Mediterranean and Pacific, as well as massive disruptions in the US as Florida, New York, LA subside into the waves. Much of the world has seen civilizations collapse within living memory, but the coming collapse will be global. The US and a few other countries haven’t seen anything like it and no-one here is taking it seriously: we are quite unprepared. It seems unlikely that we have as much as 100 years, my guess is 30-40. I am sad for my children but the non-human living world will probably find its condition much improved, see for example how the natural world is thriving around Chernobyl. So there’s that.

The failure of capitalism and its subversion of democracy, seems to me a proximate cause of all the rest. A majority of US voters voted for a Democratic president, Senate, and Congress. Back in 2000 if we’d had the President Gore whom the country voted for, the rest of history would have been much different. So it goes.

68

Doug K 08.10.17 at 6:54 pm

At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the mastodontic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
“Cheer up, sad world,” he said, and winked—
“It’s kind of fun to be extinct.”

– Ogden Nash, Fossils, for Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals.

Why I think the collapse will be global – every manufactured object currently made, is dependent for its existence on a supply chain that crosses multiple borders. I work inter alia on the software that monitors those supply chains, and am still surprised by the extent of the dependencies, from slave labor for rare earth minerals in Africa through the concentration of hard drive manufacturers in S. Korea, to Foxconn and beyond. Disruption is easy, and not nearly as profitable/valuable as Silicon Valley thinks.

69

Pavel A 08.10.17 at 8:45 pm

@Dipper

“Global warming will take longer than has previously been predicted, and nothing really bad will happen this century. We have time to sort it, and haven’t really got serious about the technology yet.”

No. In fact, you’re going to start seeing some of the catastrophic effects of AGW in the next 30 years or so (collapse of arctic food web, slowing down of the AMOC, ocean acidification/deoxygenation). Also, go read up on the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis.

“Nuclear threats have been here for a while. The risk of accidental detonation was cited by many as meaning we wouldn’t get to the end of last century, and here we all are. It is quite likely the current war of words over North Korea will be contained.”

No. Past behaviour is not always a good predictor of future behaviour. If it didn’t kill us in the past (when we were hyper-vigilant about MAD), it doesn’t mean it can’t kill us today (when a sizeable chunk of the population may not even know what MAD is).

“Poverty is declining world-wide. The overall birth-rate is set to fall and population set to stabilise.”

No. While the total amount of wealth in the world is increasing, so is wealth inequality, particularly in the US (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/8/16112368/piketty-saez-zucman-income-growth-inequality-stagnation-chart). Stabilizing populations will not lead to a more equal redistribution of wealth because it was not population size that was leading to income inequality in the first place.

“AI is going to create more jobs than it destroys, and they will be better jobs. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic.”

No. AI is not set to create more jobs than it takes away and literally no one is predicting this. However, you will see entire categories of jobs in the highest-employment sectors (logistics, service, warehousing, data-processing/collection) disappear almost completely (http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/where-machines-could-replace-humans-and-where-they-cant-yet).

70

Pavel A 08.10.17 at 9:22 pm

@Andrew Hamilton

“As I say, I’m 70 years old, knew a world before television, and once I saw it coming, saw the Peanut Gallery on Howdy Doody, I knew we were doomed.”

Sorry to be a dick, but we as a species managed to start one of the most destructive conflicts (WWI) completely without the influence of TV. Once the next most destructive conflict came along (WWII), only a small proportion of the US owned a television set. We’re more than capable of committing the deepest acts of savagery and destroying ourselves using bronze-age technology.

71

engels 08.10.17 at 9:35 pm

Apologies for posting this here but for whoever it was on the now-closed anti-semitism thread who was howling with protest at the suggestion South Park bore any resemblance to the alt-Right:

https://theestablishment.co/how-south-park-helped-empower-the-alt-right-a65abcc88c9b

72

RD 08.11.17 at 1:39 am

Pavel A,

So No TVs = WWI
Few TVs = WWII
Many TVs = Brotherhood among men?
No?

73

Peter T 08.11.17 at 2:16 am

We’ll have some better reasons for optimism when Minister for the Environment is the most important cabinet position.

74

Pavel A 08.11.17 at 2:24 am

@engles

Cartman is perfect prototype for the modern ironic Nazi.

75

LFC 08.11.17 at 5:13 am

Pavel A @69

Haven’t been following this thread, but re your response to Dipper on poverty:

Poverty and and wealth/income inequality are separate (albeit not wholly unrelated) phenomena. Poverty can go in one direction while inequality goes in the other. The number of people in extreme poverty (as defined say by the World Bank line of $1.25/day or whatever it is now) has been falling, but last I checked there are still *at least* some three-quarters of a billion people (i.e. approx 750 million) in extreme poverty. Rates of inequality, particularly within certain countries, have, by contrast, been increasing.

76

Faustusnotes 08.11.17 at 5:45 am

Dipper, nobody extrapolated from the peak of the 1997 El Niño and since then things have just got worse – temperatures are now higher than that El Niño without any strong El Niño effect. It’s hilarious that you’re saying this during an intense European heat wave, but of course you know what you’re doing.

77

Dipper 08.11.17 at 7:04 am

@Pavel A

well you’re a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day aren’t you.

Also, go read up on the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis. because obviously I made that comment without having read anything at all about it. The other examples you give are all reversible, and you give a timescale of thirty years, hence it is solvable.

Growing wealth inequalities in the US (and for that matter the UK) are matters for those countries, but elsewhere economies are improving and peoples lives getting better. The fact that some people are getting very rich does not negate the fact that a lot of people are getting a bit richer. There are lots of articles that make this point, and people on the ground also make this point. What are you bringing to this debate other than a wish for it not to be true?

literally no one is predicting this apart from me who is literally someone who is predicting it. There are lots of jobs now that if you went back thirty years you could not explain to someone. Social media managers, people who are paid to play computer games. the history of computing is full of people saying we would only ever need three computers etc etc and completely failing to predict the scale of what has actually happened.

Is the sun shining where you are now? Don’t worry, it will rain soon.

78

John Quiggin 08.11.17 at 9:11 am

” those that extrapolated temperature from the peak of the el-Nino around 1997 and said we would be facing disaster right now.”

Except that (AFAIK) no one did this. Everyone on the pro-science side understood the El Nino, and agreed when the do-nothingists made the point that this was an exceptional year.

By contrast, everyone on your side has either used the 1998 El Nino peak as a starting point to proclaim a “pause”, “hiatus”, “end of warming” etc or (the minority) said nothing while their allies made this bogus claim.

Having written this, I don’t know why I bother. Anyone still on the political right is committed (either overtly or by tacit consent) to the claims that Trump won the popular vote, Brexit will generate huge financial benefits, Obama is a Kenyan Muslim etc etc.

79

Layman 08.11.17 at 12:34 pm

Dipper: “There are lots of jobs now that if you went back thirty years you could not explain to someone. Social media managers, people who are paid to play computer games.”

This is a failure of imagination that confuses the medium with the role. There were jobs for people who managed public relations and company reputation 30 years ago. I suspect that not very many people get paid to test games (I’ve done it, and no one paid me), but to the extent there are now, there were people who were paid to test games 30 years ago. It’s like saying there weren’t any actors before television, ignoring motion pictures, radio, and several thousand years of the stage.

80

Dipper 08.11.17 at 2:01 pm

@ John Quiggin

Well there was a hiatus. And now its finished and the temperature has gone up again. As I’ve said elsewhere, the temperature record is debatable but the CO2 record isn’t, and as I’ve said above global warming is happening.

“Brexit will generate huge financial benefits” is a gross misrepresentation of the campaign which for Leavers was primarily about democracy and who makes the laws of the UK. So, in rare agreement, I too don’t know why you bother.

81

bruce wilder 08.11.17 at 3:09 pm

“The fact that some people are getting very rich does not negate the fact that a lot of people are getting a bit richer.”

I suppose that many people who have been getting spectacularly richer (sometimes referred to as the one-tenth of one percent) have been doing so by means that effectively immiserate large swaths of the 99%. So, yes, the fact that some people have been getting very rich does directly relate to the fact that very large numbers of people have experienced income stagnation and increased precarity.

Wealth and productivity are consequences of social cooperation and the exercise of political power in directing and structuring that cooperation. It is never the case that great wealth is independent of the subordination of others, either in production or consumption.

It might be argued in particular cases the wealth that has been the by-product of advances in organizing economic cooperation has been the outcome of a mutually beneficial bargain that has also enhanced the welfare and security of the subordinated. It might be the case that a positive-sum game is being played, but it might also be the case that a cruelty is being perpetrated, an injustice practiced, that power is manipulating social cooperation to divert income upward even when that diversion actually reduces total output or overall welfare. I do not think we can presume a positive-sum game in the absence of manifest countervailing power from below.

It is an apologia for the cruelty of great wealth and power to claim that instances of immiseration are balanced by abstract and diffuse gains and to attribute that immiseration primarily to agency-less economic forces like globalization, rather than deliberate strategies of economic organization.

The evidence from the last forty years of the economic and political history of the United States has not been particularly ambiguous or subtle. Technological change has made possible gains from greatly increased productivity and nearly all those gains have been diverted to the top twenty per cent, with most gains going to a tiny sliver. That has been accomplished by an exercise of power, both in executing designs from above and in demolishing the means to resist from below.

“What really matters” is an expression of the powerlessness from below that has been created in the course of creating our political situation and circumstances. It is a recognition that the masters of our global political economy are more than willing structure social cooperation to produce misery for the many if that misery pays dividends for the very, very few, and there appears to be no effective institutional means left to counter their determination. Democracy, you will pardon the expression, has been trumped.

82

Raven 08.11.17 at 3:12 pm

Layman @ 79: In the early 1970s, my dormitory neighbor’s brother worked for a little Wisconsin company called Tactical Studies Rules, and visited with their booklet for medieval miniature gaming titled Chainmail (which had a fantasy supplement in the back). Several of us ended up playing, with him moderating, multiple sessions over weekends of what turned out to be their next and much bigger [3-booklet!] game, Dungeons and Dragons….

83

Collin Street 08.11.17 at 3:30 pm

It’s hilarious that you’re saying this during an intense European heat wave, but of course you know what you’re doing.

The charitable assumption is surely that he has cognitive problems rather than presuming bad faith, no?

84

RD 08.11.17 at 3:58 pm

Add in the disappearing sperm to your worries.
“Children of Men”

85

Suzanne 08.11.17 at 4:19 pm

@55: …and she claimed responsibility for the groundwork that created the Obama Administration’s Iran deal eight years later. Unlikely she would have undercut or destroyed a deal for which she was eager to take credit.

@30: The nose-rubbing is ready to go right now. No war necessary.

86

Hidari 08.11.17 at 4:19 pm

The idea of ‘Future Shock’ is of course a staple of the New Optimists, who are always careful to make their predictions vague enough to be irrefutable. E.g.

‘There are lots of jobs now that if you went back thirty years you could not explain to someone.’

This is a kissin’ cousin of the must-proclaimed aphorism that in ’30 years time’ (or whenever) ‘we’ will ‘all’ be doing jobs that ‘no one’ can even contemplate now. Well….perhaps. Who knows?

But as a claim about the past this is self-evident nonsense.

https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/a-myth-for-teachers-jobs-that-dont-exist-yet/

‘HR magazine published a list (from a now defunct website) of the Top 10 “in demand” occupations in 2009:

1. Registered nurses

2. General and operations managers

3. Physicians and surgeons

4. Elementary school teachers

5. Accountants and auditors

6. Computer software engineers

7. Sales representatives and managers

8. Computer system analysts

9. Management analysts

10. Secondary school teachers’

It is obvious that every single one of these jobs clearly existed by, say, 1952, and many of these jobs can be traced back hundreds (or for that matter, 1000s) of years. But what about the zany future kids?

‘The current top ten dream careers for children:

1. Professional Athlete
2. Performer
3. Secret Agent
4. Firefighter
5. Astronaut
6. Veterinarian
7. Doctor
8. Teacher
9. Pilot
10. Zoo Keeper’

Again every one of these was a clearly defined ‘job’ by, say, 1955. Many of them would have been clearly understood as a job by the ancient Romans.

Incidentally, it’s also a myth that the technological future is inherently unpredictable. In fact, almost literally every single one of our current technological advances could have been, and, in fact, were, predicted by ‘futurologists’, science fiction writers, academics etc (not in detail, obviously, but broadly). The problem with predicting the future is not its unpredictability, the problem is ‘false positives’: futurologists etc. predicting things which did not, in fact, happen. What’s almost impossible is to separate the noise from the signal, working out what predictions will happen from those that won’t. So things like smartphones, the internet, robots, ‘AI’ (e.g. translation machines), computer terminals in every house etc. were clearly predicted by numerous people by the 1960s (and by some people an awful lot earlier), the problem was that the same people also predicted moon bases, trips to Mars, ‘real’ artificial intelligence, nuclear fusion etc.

So forget the idea that there is going to be some radical and fundamental technology that will erupt ‘out of nowhere’ and change ‘everything’, before the end of the century. Won’t happen. Don’t get me wrong: radical technological changes will happen, but someone, somewhere, will have predicted it.

No: the problem will be all the things that we now think will happen but, will, in fact, not (e.g. the fact that almost everyone in the 1970s believed that manned interplanetary travel was not just likely but inevitable by the early 21st century).

87

Hidari 08.11.17 at 4:30 pm

‘There are lots of jobs now that if you went back thirty years you could not explain to someone. Social media managers, people who are paid to play computer games. the history of computing is full of people saying we would only ever need three computers etc etc and completely failing to predict the scale of what has actually happened.’

The idea the 30 years ago people would not have understood the concept of ‘social media managers’ or ‘people paid to play computer games’ is self-evidently ludicrous. Social media is 20 years old (or, to put it another way, the distance in time between the Edwardian era and the Jazz Age), but predecessors of social media go back much further than that. In 1987 people would have quickly understood social media (if you explained in terms of existing technology, e.g. the arpanet and email). https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-history-of-social-networking/

Again, given that computer games were invented in 1962 (that’s not a misprint) (i.e. before most of the people reading this comment were born) I think that people in 1987 could clearly have grasped the concept of people being paid to pay computer games, given that that job already existed by then and was not new.

https://www.jesperjuul.net/thesis/2-historyofthecomputergame.html

But wild overstatements about what people in the (very recent) past ‘could not have imagined’ are a leitmotif of the New Optimists. They persistently overstate the realities of technological change and ‘future shock’ to justify their own wildly inaccurate predictions of just what the future will bring.

88

Pavel A 08.11.17 at 4:57 pm

RD@72

It’s… it’s not a linear graph. There wasn’t a next point to extrapolate to. The only thesis there was that TV was not around or barely around when man was committing grave horrors against man.

LFC@75

Yes, I should have disambiguated between extreme poverty and general income inequality. A decline in extreme poverty isn’t related to the stagnating wages of OECD nations.

Dipper@77

“The other examples you give are all reversible, and you give a timescale of thirty years, hence it is solvable.”
No. There is currently no known way to dredge up ~130 Gigatonnes of CO2 from the oceans (that is efficient and doesn’t cause other environmental catastrophes as a side effect). There is also no known way to remove about ~280 Gigatonnes of atmospheric CO2 introduced by humans. Even at null emissions, we’re locked in for 1.8-2.1 deg C in warming by the end of the century and serious ecological changes far, far earlier. Nothing indicates that we will be able to reduce emissions to 0, much less reverse current global CO2 load within 30 years. i.e. Don’t make shit up.

” The fact that some people are getting very rich does not negate the fact that a lot of people are getting a bit richer.”
No, it actually does. The rate of wealth hoarding is increasing (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-16/rich-retirees-are-hoarding-cash-out-of-fear, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/8/16112368/piketty-saez-zucman-income-growth-inequality-stagnation-chart) and all those other economies (except for the poorest ones, which can grow quickly during the initial stages as they capture the cheapest labor market away from China) are experiencing the same problems of slowing economic growth, less social mobility and stagnating lower-end wages (http://www.clb.org.hk/content/wages-and-employment).

“apart from me who is literally someone who is predicting it. There are lots of jobs now that if you went back thirty years you could not explain to someone.”

No. There is no *knowledgable* and *intellectually honest* person predicting that automation will crate more jobs than it will destroy. In fact, the trend is already here: middle-skill and low-skill jobs are disappearing at a faster rate than high-skill jobs are being created. This will only accelerate as large swathes of logistics (trucking, warehousing) and the service economy become automated (https://qz.com/1010831/the-middle-skill-job-is-disappearing-in-rich-countries/, https://www.wsj.com/articles/next-leap-for-robots-picking-out-and-boxing-your-online-order-1500807601?mod=pls_whats_news_us_business_f). Most jobs of the future are going to be shit (http://www.bradford-delong.com/2017/07/on-the-wealth-of-humans.html#more) “personal servitors, social engineers, and innovators, analyzers, assessors and creators.
Translation: Sex slaves, con artists, and a few very very lucky geniuses. The vast majority of us will be lucky to get one of the first two jobs.”

“Is the sun shining where you are now? Don’t worry, it will rain soon.”
Maybe you should shuffle off this mortal coil already and let the rest of us clean up the shit you left us with.

89

sidd 08.11.17 at 5:54 pm

1) Re: coral bleaching reversible with lower temperatures

The point is that temperatures will not decrease for a very long time,at least on century scales. Corals may not ever recover.

2) predictions made by extrapolations of temperatures in a Nino year are misguided and no serious climate scientist did so.

sidd

90

Raven 08.11.17 at 10:16 pm

91

Raven 08.11.17 at 10:31 pm

Pavel A @ 88: “There is no *knowledgable* and *intellectually honest* person predicting that automation will create more jobs than it will destroy.”

Rather to the contrary, we had Isaac Asimov, in 1953’s The Caves of Steel, presenting a scenario wherein automation is proposed to replace eventually all human jobs… but, say the proponents, this is a good thing, as it will give the displaced human beings a life of leisure to pursue more ennobling endeavors. (Thus presumably the plan was not to simply eliminate their incomes and benefits so that they quickly died… as the current GOP version seems to be.)

92

Howard Frant 08.12.17 at 6:51 am

Sorry, Hidari, I didn’t read all of your links. But I did go to the World Bank website, and it still looks to me like there’s beena big reduction in global poverty. And this is *not* just China, Vietnam and Brazil. It’s also pretty dramatic (though less so) in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Mexico, in fact pretty much everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa. And it’s not just people moving from $1.25/day to $1.30.

http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNetPPP2005/index.htm?1

This needs to be kept separate from the fact that in wealthy countries inequality is growing dramatically. Here’s a good graph:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/07/opinion/leonhardt-income-inequality.html

93

Dipper 08.12.17 at 10:02 am

@ various, particularly Pavel A

A few minutes googling on a distinctly average and normal August morning.

Poverty. From “Our Africa”“Over the last 30 years, worldwide absolute poverty has fallen sharply (from about 40% to under 20%). But in African countries the percentage has barely fallen. Still today, over 40% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa live in absolute poverty.”. So in making the case that Africa is still in crisis, they point out that poverty elsewhere has declined sharply. And from the Borgen project “Poverty in South America has declined within the last two decades. In 1990, 12.2 percent of the population was living on $1.25 per day; that number has dropped to 5.5 percent despite the population’s rising from 422.3 million in 1990 to approximately 581.4 million.”

Temperature increase. Here’s one from the Guardian in 2013. “Since 1990, global surface temperatures have warmed at a rate of about 0.15°C per decade, within the range of model projections of about 0.10 to 0.35°C per decade. As the IPCC notes” so someone the IPCC considered a serious person was predicting 3.5°C over a century and actually it is only 1.5°C. That means we have over twice the time to sort things out than the 3.5°C prediction gave us.

Getting rid of CO2 from the oceans is clearly going to take a long time. In as much as one can say things that happen in nature are “good” or “bad” the increase in CO2 and warming of the oceans is a “bad” thing, but there is as yet no evidence of anything irreversible. It would clearly be a “good” thing to stop pumping CO2 into the ocean but it would seem we have more time than some state.

Extreme weather. Far be it for me to explain statistics to so many very clever people, but you really cannot extrapolate anything from a heat wave in one place at one time. A theory that predicts extreme events needs a lot of extreme events to validate it. Whenever an extreme heat wave or downpour occurs folks say “this is evidence of more extreme weather” which of course it is, but similarly every day the weather is in the normal envelope is evidence against the theory of more extreme events. And even if true, from a human perspective given we have extreme events anyway as part of “normal weather” it isn’t clear that a few more is a radically different situation.

AI. Thirty years ago there were TV programmes in the UK pointing out that the development of computers and robots would massively reduce the need for workers in manufacturing and we would be faced with massive unemployment problems, and here we now are with manufactured items all around us, pulling in massive numbers of people because we have too many jobs. We will find a way of creating employment from AI. Some of it may not be the kind we like, such as state surveillance, but that is another discussion.

94

Hidari 08.12.17 at 12:47 pm

@92: From the academic article I linked to, which obviously no one read:

‘The fact that the World Bank is the near-monopoly provider (of poverty statistics) introduces a further complication. The number of poor people is politically sensitive. The Bank’s many critics like to use the poverty numbers as one of many pointers to the conclusion that it has accomplished “precious little,” in the words of US Treasury Secretary O’Neill; which then provides a rationale for tighter US control of the Bank.’

It’s really unbelievable that so many people take the World Bank as a neutral arbiter of economic truth, even after Stiglitz was ‘forced to’ (or ‘encouraged to’ depending on your point of view) quit (allegedly the order to fire him came from Larry Summers, the United States being, the so-to-speak, World Bank’s ‘boss’). (https://www.globalpolicy.org/social-and-economic-policy/the-three-sisters-and-other-institutions/internal-critics-of-the-world-bank-and-the-imf/42796-joseph-stiglitz.html)

The World Bank has a vested interest in encouraging people to believe that its own poverty ‘reduction’ strategies are working. And at the same time the World Bank has a de facto monopoly on the production of ‘poverty reduction’ statistics. Do we see a problem here?

This does not, of course, mean that the statistics are all made up, or fictional, or anything like that. But it does mean that due care should be taken in terms of their interpretation.

(Remember that World Bank statistics all assume that everyone in all the ‘developed’ countries is rich. In other words, those people you see, homeless, begging, obviously on drugs, at the corner of the street on the way to work? They don’t show up in the poverty statistics, because the World Bank assumes that all poor people are in the Global South).

Dipper’s comments about global warming, and global poverty are of course, nonsense. But he’s right about the ‘threat’ to jobs from ‘automation’.

95

nastywoman 08.12.17 at 1:29 pm

As the question was: ”What Really Matters”? -(in summer – in August) let me report from Europe, that what really matters in Europe – in summer – in August IS that our vacations don’t get spoiled -(by bad weather – and climate change) – and YES – it was too hot on the beaches and then it rained ”cats and dogs” in London – and now it’s too cold in the middle of Europe – and are we screwed, long-term? – for sure the Internet tends to says:
Yes? –
BUT everywhere – and especially when Deep Thinking likes to shut down in August in Europe -(as even all the European Deep Thinkers are taking some well deserved ”time out) one meets so many ”optimistic” people on vacations – who are sure – absolutely sure that also next year and the year after next year – and for sure many more to come there will be the five – six – seven weeks for galavanting around URP – or even to California – or to Manhattan… and the restaurants are booked solid – and a major worry seems to be NOT to spoil such fun by the occasional bad tempered taxi driver -(or dudes on the inter tubes?)

Are you a pessimist or an optimist about the survival of humanity, the continuation of civilization in something like the form we know, past the next 100 years?

96

Dipper 08.12.17 at 2:23 pm

@ Hidari

“Dipper’s comments about global warming, and global poverty are of course, nonsense”.

Warming. Which bit is nonsense? That the IPCC gave an estimate of rates of heating that ranged from 1 to 3.5 and the number so far is coming out at 1.5? Hence there were serious estimates which were way above what we currently see?

Poverty. On my side I’ve got the only data available albeit from an organisation that as you’ve said has a vested interest in saying it is eliminating poverty and I’ve got the opinions of a thirty-year veteran of international aid, and on your side you have nothing for the reasons you have given. How do you know I am talking nonsense, given you by your own admission have no idea what the truth is?

I don’t make this stuff up. I do my reading. It is selective reading because all reading is selective. It is interpretation because everyone interprets what they read. It is just an opinion like anyone else’s. I don’t see why the fuss.

97

Anarcissie 08.12.17 at 2:34 pm

Work: work, in the sense of employment, is a BDSM relation, in which some dominate, subjugate, and exploit others, partly for stuff, but mostly for the pleasures of the relationship. Already there are innumerable hordes who do makework. Machines can do anything mechanical, but they cannot suffer. Only human beings and other large animals can suffer (as far as we know). Therefore, there will always be jobs and employment/unemployment, at least until anarcho-communist utopia ensues. I imagine the machines doing the smart stuff while humans do grunt labor: a White Man sitting in his cubicle playing games with prostitution ads on the Net while the illiterate Guatemalan cleaning lady empties his wastebasket.

Inequality and social decay: See ‘work’, add ‘cops’.

Climate change: The Earth and its attendant astronomical objects is a very large system which is not well understood. It might, for no predictable reason, cease to be the stable quasi-organism we are used to, and throw a fit, or it might just plod along. The most intelligent strategy would be to try to prepare for anything and, of course, to avoid provoking trouble. Therefore, something else, like hysterical exchanges of insults in the media, will be done. But we might slip by if the aggressive greed isn’t too effective.

Other, and the aliens among us: I think only Pavel A mentioned microorganisms. Microorganisms not only have been around billions of years longer than we have, and of course outnumber, outweigh, and outperform us, but they are more intelligent than we are, although in a different way. For example, they have already defeated all known antibiotics in principle and probably soon in practice; it took them about 90 years. Something similar is true of all the hosts of lowly creatures, worms and insects and fungi and such.

‘You looking at me?’

98

Faustusnotes 08.12.17 at 2:58 pm

Dipper there was never a hiatus and only a fucking idiot would believe such rubbish.

99

Howard Frant 08.12.17 at 6:11 pm

Hidari @94

OK, I took a brief look at your academic paper. Those cool-looking charts at the beginning are essentially a rank-ordering, and they tell us that the Third World hasn’t caught up with the OECD, which is not a surprise. In particular, note that he talks about the “collapse” of Africa. There was no collapse; Africa just lost ground *relative* to other parts of the world.

I didn’t get down into the weeds about where the WB’s numbers come from, but it didn’t seem to me that he was showing a systematic bias in their estimates. If we look at absolute numbers in absolute poveerty, the WB numbers show almost a billion fewer people in poverty in 2011 than in 1990. If we go back to the paper, Fig. 3 shows a clear shift to the right and squeezing of the world income distribution. He devotes one sentence to this.

100

Kiwanda 08.13.17 at 5:04 am

Howard Frant: maybe Hidari didn’t notice my comment observing that there are non-monetary measures of well-being, independent of self-serving monetary estimates by the World Bank. In addition to the links I gave showing substantial improvement regarding hunger and infant mortality, there’s also some data on literacy, for which a positive interpretation would be that illiteracy has fallen by roughly half, pretty uniformly across the developing world (subsaharan Africa being an exeception). There’s also maternal mortality (down about 40% since 1990).

This is, again, not to discount growing inequality, and food insecurity in “rich” countries (1/8 in the U.S.). But starvation, infant mortality, maternal mortality, illiteracy have all seen strong reductions since 1990.

101

Dipper 08.13.17 at 12:34 pm

@ Faustusnotes

“Dipper there was never a hiatus and only a fucking idiot would believe such rubbish.”

from here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_hiatus – it would appear that Universities are packed with fucking idiots. One of the reasons that some fucking idiots proposed for the hiatus is to do with oscillatory movements of deep ocean currents; that there is an interchange of heat between the deep ocean and the surface/atmosphere of which el Nino is a part. This means that although the additional warming is constant, the increase in the surface temperature is not constant but rather moves in jumps and plateaus due to oscillations of deep oceans and periodic El Ninos.

This is how our understanding of the physical world progresses; fucking idiots see stuff, ask questions about it, propose theories, do experiments and make measurements, and don’t care about being called fucking idiots by other fucking idiots.

102

Raven 08.14.17 at 12:28 am

Dipper @ 101: From the article you linked but evidently did not read:

Research reported in July 2015 on an updated NOAA dataset casts doubt on the existence of a hiatus, and it finds no indication of a slowdown even in earlier years. … Another review finds “no substantive evidence” of a pause in global warming. A statistical study of global temperature data since 1970 concludes that the term ‘hiatus’ or ‘pause’ is not justified.

103

John Quiggin 08.14.17 at 1:21 am

There’s no point arguing with climate denialists about anything. Once someone has revealed themselves as a denialist, they’ve shown that they aren’t engaged in reasoning, just in playing debating tricks in support of a predetermined conclusion. It’s just that this is easier to see when they talk about climate science.

See, for example, the Cato Institute.

104

Raven 08.14.17 at 1:44 am

John Quiggin @ 103: With your permission (and giving credit), I’ll bookmark and quote that verbatim henceforth.

105

John Quiggin 08.14.17 at 5:43 am

Raven @104 You’re very welcome.

106

Dipper 08.14.17 at 6:58 am

@Raven. I did read it.

“finds “no substantive evidence” of a pause in global warming” is not the same as saying no pause in increase of surface temperature, hence my comment that the additional warming is constant. To repeat, the theory is that the additional heating is not uniform through the ocean hence there is no constant increase in surface temperature.

The point is that if this is how surface temperature works then we can continue to expect to see it working like this. We will have periods of no increase with deniers saying “there is no global warming” followed but periods of sharp increase with alarmists saying “disaster is imminent”.

One thing this debate shows is that there’s no point arguing with climate alarmists about anything. Once someone has revealed themselves as an alarmist, they’ve shown that they aren’t engaged in reasoning, just in playing debating tricks in support of a predetermined conclusion.

107

John Quiggin 08.14.17 at 7:22 am

Dipper @106 Just give it up. Or else, do a PhD and some real research. Then come back and tell us what you’ve found.

108

J-D 08.14.17 at 9:52 am

If people were suggesting that surface temperatures are increasing (or have increased, or will increase) uniformly at a constant rate, then an observation that they are not doing so might be important and relevant. Bue since people are not suggesting that surface temperatures are increasing (or have increased, or will increase) uniformly at a constant rate, the observation that they are not doing so has no value as a contribution to the discussion.

109

Raven 08.14.17 at 10:19 am

Dipper @ 106: “I did read it.” — And you quote one snippet while ignoring the parts before and after which contradict your attempted interpretation of it. Is this a matter of mere unlucky selection, reading incomprehension, or disingenuity?

“finds ‘no substantive evidence’ of a pause in global warming” is not the same as saying no pause in increase of surface temperature….

1) Actually, it pretty much is; at least in an empirical i.e. fact-based discussion. In a hypothetical or even faith-based discussion, oh, well….
2) You miss the item before saying “Research reported in July 2015 on an updated NOAA dataset casts doubt on the existence of a hiatus, and it finds no indication of a slowdown even in earlier years.”
3) You miss the item after saying “A statistical study of global temperature data since 1970 concludes that the term ‘hiatus’ or ‘pause’ is not justified.”

Face facts: the article you linked didn’t support, but rather contradicted, the position you linked it to support. I realize this is embarrassing, but you only compound it by attempting (and so thoroughly failing) to obfuscate the issue, like a squid squirting ink.

Qui ment, afin de masquer ses erreur, se montre le mal de sa mentalité.

110

John Quiggin 08.14.17 at 10:45 am

Again, comment @103 applies. Toss the ball back and forth with Dipper by all means but remember that’s all we are doing here. This is someone committed by his choice of party to the view that Trumps inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Even if he chooses to back away from an utterly indefensible point from time to time that’s just a tactical retreat like giving up a professional foul to stop a goal.

111

Tom Slee 08.14.17 at 11:48 am

@John Quiggin. your guilt-by-association style of argument does nothing for your cause or for the quality of discussion on this site. In particular:

Anyone still on the political right is committed (either overtly or by tacit consent) to the claims that Trump won the popular vote, Brexit will generate huge financial benefits, Obama is a Kenyan Muslim etc etc.

This is someone committed by his choice of party to the view that Trumps inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Even if he chooses to back away from an utterly indefensible point from time to time that’s just a tactical retreat like giving up a professional foul to stop a goal.

Can you not see that this is arguing in bad faith? I’m sure there is a name for this kind of fallacy and that, unlike me, you know what it is. If your opponent (in this case Dipper) says things you disagree with, it confirms your worst suspicions that they are outside the realm of reasonable discourse and believe Obama is a Kenyan Muslim. Why not throw in that they probably oppose gay rights and sympathise with Charlottesville neo-fascists while you are at it?

And then, if your opponent says something you do not disagree with, you assert that it is not a reflection of what they really believe, but is simply a dishonest tactical ploy.

I would love to know how you get these insights into what is really going on in your opponents’ brains. For someone who tells others to “do a PhD” this is a lamentably shallow kind of discussion.

112

Raven 08.14.17 at 12:04 pm

But, John, the readers can keep drawing conclusions from that behavior… likewise if others were to ‘down tools’ and walk away leaving it uncontested.

So is it better or worse to keep pointing out the errors of reasoning and falsehoods-to-fact (no matter whether the disputant concedes)?

113

engels 08.14.17 at 12:51 pm

here we now are with manufactured items all around us, pulling in massive numbers of people because we have too many jobs. We will find a way of creating employment from AI. Some of it may not be the kind we like, such as state surveillanc

Dippernomics

114

Dipper 08.14.17 at 2:15 pm

@ Raven

“finds ‘no substantive evidence’ of a pause in global warming” is not the same as saying no pause in increase of surface temperature….

1) Actually, it pretty much is; at least in an empirical i.e. fact-based discussion.

So your proposal is that a constant extra warming of the planet leads directly to a simultaneous increase in surface temperature, or a constant time lag, and you think this is supported empirically? Have you looked at the data? It is very choppy on a year-to-year basis. On the basis of your theory this would mean some years we have additional warming, but some years we have climate cooling; is that what you are predicting?

There is a clear relationship of peaks and troughs with El Nino and La Nina respectively, both of which are linked to deep ocean currents, so there is a clear reason to think that the relationship between extra warming and increases in global surface temperatures are mediated in some why by deep ocean currents which are not completely understood.

As for the hiatus, the data is there for anyone who wants to have a look, and after 1998 there was a fifteen year period in which there was no sign of persistent increase up to 2014 when there was a sharp increase, so I think I and others are entitled to refer to this as a hiatus in the global surface temperature anomaly. It doesn’t mean global warming isn’t happening, it means there isn’t a straightforward relationship between additional warming and the coincident surface temperature.

@ Tom Slee it is very kind of you to wade in but Prof Quiggin’s pythonesque “and your mother was a hamster” stuff is really just amusing. There’s a reason people study economics rather than do the hard stuff. Leave him, he ain’t worth it.

115

Raven 08.14.17 at 4:01 pm

Tom Slee @ 111: “Can you not see that this is arguing in bad faith?”

But, Tom, he is referring to a known and recurrent pattern of doing exactly that among right-wing trolls*, as exemplified by the persistent disingenuity just shown here in this thread, for instance in #101/#106 above.

* They’ve flooded political discourse, particularly during the campaigns:
Meet the GOPers Trolling Hillary From the Left
Paid Commenters Hired By Fox News To Spread Right Wing Talking Points Across The Net
BUSTED: Trump-loving comment trolls pose as Sanders and Clinton supporters to divide Democrats
Russian internet trolls were being hired to pose as pro-Trump Americans – Business Insider
The Russian troll army that helped swing the election for Trump
Before the Flood – The Deniers
What I learned from debating science with trolls
The ultimate guide to shutting down climate trolls

116

Raven 08.14.17 at 7:57 pm

Further to Tom Slee @ 111: “… guilt-by-association…. I would love to know how you get these insights into what is really going on in your opponents’ brains.”

Possibly JQ follows the news and reads articles like “Political activities of the Koch brothers”, showing the range of issues they push with their petrodollars… oddly enough, the same issues those right-wing trolls push, and that Trump pushes, e.g. his assertion that “Climate change is a Chinese hoax.”

But perhaps it’s all just a remarkable set of coincidences.

117

John Quiggin 08.14.17 at 10:42 pm

I’ll concede that I overstated the position in @110. But, in response to Tom Slee, the whole point is that there is no argument in good faith to be had with Dipper and other climate deniers.

As to “how I get these insights into what is really going on in your opponents’ brains.”, my answer is, by seeing the same stuff for 20+ years of climate denial, during which talking point after talking point has been raised, refuted and discarded when it ceases to be useful. I debated climate science deniers back when I imagined some of them were genuine sceptics, but realised in the end that there was no point.

I’m old enough to remember when the satellite record was supposed to show declining temperatures in the troposphere.

https://www.skepticalscience.com/satellite-measurements-warming-troposphere.htm

When the error in this claim was demonstrated, did Dipper and the rest concede that the evidence supported mainstream science? Of course not. They moved on to the next bogus claim (global warming stopped in 1997!) then the next and so on.

118

Layman 08.14.17 at 11:27 pm

“I would love to know how you get these insights into what is really going on in your opponents’ brains.”

The standard methods are 1) listen to what they say or 2) read what they write. Is there any doubt that Dipper is arguing in bad faith across all of these issues, repeatedly?

119

Raven 08.15.17 at 1:41 am

Dipper @ 114: “So your proposal is that a constant extra warming of the planet leads directly to a simultaneous increase in surface temperature….” [emphases added] — and with all that loaded strawman argument you win the booby prize.

“Extra”? — As opposed to, say, none?

“Leads directly — Ah, doesn’t ‘warming’ mean ‘an increase in temperature’?

“Simultaneous”? — Oh no, let’s assume for the sake of your argument that ocean-warmth increase results in a set time-delay [of whatever length] before a resulting land-warmth increase. Even so, from the very start of the warming trend, there would be essentially a continuous conveyor belt of warming effects running from ocean to land; thus that “gap” between ocean and land would not cause a “hiatus” or “pause” is warming.

Of course, the sun also shines directly on the land, warming it, so there is no delay, but wasn’t it nice to play-pretend for a moment that the sun only shone on the ocean?

120

Pavel A 08.15.17 at 2:48 am

Dipper@114:

“As for the hiatus, the data is there for anyone who wants to have a look, and after 1998 there was a fifteen year period in which there was no sign of persistent increase up to 2014 when there was a sharp increase…”

No. Since you bothered to quote wikipedia, here is a sentence you may have missed:
“Global temperature is subject to short-term fluctuations that overlay long-term trends and can temporarily mask them. The relative stability in surface temperature from 2002 to 2009, which has since been dubbed the global warming hiatus by the media and some scientists,[45] is an example of such an episode.[46][47] 2015 updates to account for differing methods of measuring ocean surface temperature measurements show a positive trend over the recent decade.[48][49]”

Also, because your level of literacy is somewhat subpar, here is a picture. Maybe it’ll help you figure out what trends look like: http://i.imgur.com/4SSWJIh.gif

Here is another that tracks hottest years on record: http://i.imgur.com/EI7MsJC.gif

They’re nicely colored so your tired old eyes can differentiate between this year, the year before that and even the year before that!

“AI. Thirty years ago there were TV programmes in the UK pointing out that the development of computers and robots would massively reduce the need for workers in manufacturing and we would be faced with massive unemployment problems, and here we now are with manufactured items all around us, pulling in massive numbers of people because we have too many jobs. “

No. Most US manufacturing jobs have been lost to technology, not globalization: https://www.ft.com/content/dec677c0-b7e6-11e6-ba85-95d1533d9a62

Most of the well-paid manufacturing jobs have been replaced by low-paid dead-end service jobs. The glut of min-wage service jobs is basically meaningless and many of these jobs will also be automated away in the near to medium future (see kiosks for a start).

Also, your idea that we’ll just “create some news jobs we can’t possible think of right now because something something invisible handjob” is just a fantasy. We know some of the kinds of jobs we’ll be creating, and none of them will be well-paying or particularly plentiful.

Tom Slee@111

Apparently you have no idea what the phrase “arguing in bad faith” means. The internet is there to help you.

121

Dipper 08.15.17 at 8:24 am

@ Raven and others.

What I argued right at the start was that global warming was taking longer than many had previously argued, and hence we had longer to address this issue than many have said. I haven’t disputed anywhere in this thread that the earth is warming up, nor that this is man made. I pointed out that the IPCC had published a range of 1C to 3.5C, but to date the measurements were showing 1.5C. If at a later date we find heating has speeded up or slowed down, this doesn’t change the fact that at the moment it is 1.5C. I also pointed out that the variability of the surface temperature record means that we have observed periods of sharp increase and periods of stability. That is in the data which Pavel A has kindly linked to. So it is an indisputable fact that the temperature peak at 1998 was higher than all but two of the subsequent fifteen years of HadCrut data, and it is an indisputable fact that the last three years of data have shown a significant increase on the 1998 number. Raven’s “statistical analysis” paper “corrects” the HadCrut data and says there wasn’t a pause just a significant slowing. But so what.

As for arguing “in bad faith” I have no idea what that means in a scientific context. There are experiments, theories, analysis. These things stand in isolation from the people who publish them and are there to be probed and discussed. Arguing that someone is proposing a scientific argument “in bad faith” is meaningless from a scientific viewpoint. It just means someone you don’t like has won the scientific argument, doesn’t it?

122

Hidari 08.15.17 at 10:00 am

Good article in the Guardian (not often you hear that phrase nowadays) about denial both on the right AND the left about the realities of ‘Climate Change’.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/14/identity-politics-left-priority-saving-planet-climate-change-denial

123

Raven 08.15.17 at 9:49 pm

Dipper @ 121: “As for arguing ‘in bad faith’ I have no idea what that means in a scientific context. … It just means someone you don’t like has won the scientific argument, doesn’t it?”No.

See also: disingenuous adjective not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does. synonyms insincere, dishonest, untruthful, false, deceitful, duplicitous, lying, mendacious; hypocritical

124

sidd 08.16.17 at 4:10 am

I do not think there is an easy way to obtain surface temperature increase from anthro radiative forcing. Something like 90% of excess anthro forced heat flux goes in the oceans, so a much better number to track is ocean heat content. There is a strong signal there and among other things it is killing the corals, driving fish north, and destabilizing west Antarctica. That last one might make people wake up. Some, anyway.

sidd

125

Hidari 08.16.17 at 5:57 am

@120
Attempting to get away from Dipper’s anti-science (and it seems, ‘objectively’ pro-Nazi, according to his deathless comments on Belle’s thread) opinions, let’s move onto a positions of his that is arguably correct.

It is highly debatable that technology will cost jobs and leave millions of people unemployed. Yes I know that’s what a lot of newspapers say (gloom and doom sells papers) and I know that there is some evidence to the contrary (i.e. the contrary of my thesis). But this evidence is overwhelmingly based on the sole examplar of the United States. Looking at the global picture, a more complex picture emerges.

The problem is that most Americans are under the impression that the US is a particularly highly developed country (i.e. overall) forgetting that the US also encompasses the Appalachians, the ‘Deep South’ and rural Alaska as well as New York, Seattle, and San Francisco.

” The evidence suggests there is essentially no relationship between the change in manufacturing employment and robot use. Despite the installation of far more robots between 1993 and 2007, Germany lost just 19 percent of its manufacturing jobs between 1996 and 2012 compared to a 33 percent drop in the United States. (We introduce a three-year time lag to allow for robots to influence the labor market and continued with the most recent data, 2012). Korea, France, and Italy also lost fewer manufacturing jobs than the United States even as they introduced more industrial robots. On the other hand, countries like the United Kingdom and Australia invested less in robots but saw faster declines in their manufacturing sectors.’

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2015/04/29/dont-blame-the-robots-for-lost-manufacturing-jobs/

If the ‘robots causes unemployment’ thesis were true, of course, the countries with the highest unemployment rate would have the highest rate of technological development. But this is obviously not true.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_unemployment_rate

Likewise, generally speaking, the countries with the lowest unemployment rate tend to be highly technologically developed.

CF also this:

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.IND.EMPL.ZS

CF also this: https://news.vice.com/story/relax-robots-arent-taking-your-jobs44'Hennessy draws an interesting link between automation and part-time work. She believes that the almost alarmist conversation about automation is fuelling the proliferation of more short-term, precarious jobs.

“The more fearful people are that they are going to lose their jobs to robots, the less they will demand in terms of workplace conditions,” she says.’

The idea that a robot will take your job has become popular amongst the ‘soft’ left but actually its implications are deeply reactionary.

126

faustusnotes 08.16.17 at 7:40 am

Oh Dipper, Dipper, Dipper…

The data on global temperature is a serially-dependent time series, which means that there will be times when temperatures run consistently above the trend line, and times when they are consistently below it. The times below it are no more a “pause” than the times above it are an “acceleration”. These variations around the trend are irrelevant to the trend. Now, investigating the specific reasons for the serial dependence might be interesting to physicists, but you aren’t talking about physics – you’re talking about a bullshit “pause” in a serially-dependent data set. When you talk about that, you’re talking bullshit, and only a fucking idiot would believe that.

And just as an aside, with reference to other fucking stupid ideas – there is little evidence that el nino affects the rate of increase in the serially dependent data series in the way you were alluding to above – it affects the level. If you classify all years in the data set into el nino or la nina years using the commonly agreed-upon index, you find the same trend in the two sub series, separated by a constant difference in level (someone did this years ago at one of the science websites, and the deniers ignored it in favour of their stupid ignorant pretense that the temperature isn’t increasing).

In case you don’t understand what any of this means: el nino is not driving the constantly increasing temperature of the earth. CO2 is doing this. There was no pause. Noone extrapolated from the last temperature in 1998. If you want to talk about a pause then you need to start talking about acceleration now. Are you interested in doing that? No. Then stop talking about pauses, extrapolations, el ninos, and focus on what matters: CO2 and the trend.

127

Raven 08.16.17 at 12:07 pm

Faustusnotes @ 126: Trying to find a typographic depiction in this font for a trendline—- with datapoints (0) that vary above and below, yet don’t break the trend, I get this:
…-0-0-0-⁰-⁰-⁰-0-0-0-₀-₀-₀-0-0-0-⁰-⁰-⁰-0-0-0-₀-₀-₀-0-0-0-…
The underlined subscripts being the “cooler” temperatures Dipper reads as “pauses” though in fact they don’t break the trend at all, they’re part of the trend. (The usual procedure is that a trendline is drawn through the data, not the other way around, so it’s absolutely typical that there are data points on both sides of it!)

128

Layman 08.16.17 at 1:30 pm

@Hidari, I don’t find that Brookings Institute post very convincing. It seems as if they found that countries who automated manufacturing all lost manufacturing jobs, and then set out to dismiss the relationship without taking any other factors into account. It isn’t obviously true that the relationship between number (or percentage) of robots deployed and jobs lost will be identical in every country regardless of the structure of that country’s economy; and it isn’t clear to me that treating all manufacturing jobs as identical for the purposes of the analysis makes much sense. Automation is impacting different kinds of manufacturing at different paces, because different kinds of manufacturing require different sophistication in automation.

The questions to ask are: Are manufacturing jobs as a percentage of the economy increasing or declining? They’re declining. What labor component of the economy has been growing as manufacturing has declined? Service jobs. Are service jobs amenable to automation? Yes, they are. Will they be automated? Almost certainly. What then?

129

Dipper 08.16.17 at 3:58 pm

@faustusnotes – Hallelujah. Near agreement. Yes the CO2 is the key element, and whilst we can, and have, argued about temperature, the (geologically) recent massive increase inCO2 level is pretty unarguable, the only feasible explanation being human activity, and the inevitable consequence of this will be a warming of the planet. And that warming, give or take volcanic activity or soot from burning solid carbon, will be constant as I said previously.

But how fast is the warming? This is not easily calculable due to factors such as whether there is more water vapour in the atmosphere or less due to warming, and whether there is more or less cloud cover. And the rate of warming is significant as this indicates how much time we have to put in place technological solutions. So in the absence of a proper theory, we have to try and measure the temperature of the planet, and that pretty much means measuring the temperature of the oceans due to their enormous heat capacity.

If my chosen measure of “global temperature” is surface temperature of the oceans, then this is going to be affected by factors that affect how heat is distributed in the ocean, and some of these things are cyclical, and some are poorly understood. So yes I know El Nino does not generate heat, but it does influence the time series of surface temperature which is our agreed measure, and the periodic nature of El Nino means there is a periodicity to the temperature measure. My point was that IPCC predictions had been in the range 1C to 3.5C and measurements are coming out at 1.5C, so those using the 3.5C estimate to demand immediate costly actions appear to have been alarmist. This has consequences in countries such as the UK which have spent millions subsiding technologies that in retrospect should have been given more time to develop.

As for the future, it may be that we continue to see surges and pauses in the temperature measurement although the warming is constant, so having had a strong El Nino in the last two years we may see a pause in the temperature record but not the warming of say ten years, with lots of articles saying that this shows there is no such thing as climate change, and lots of people saying look how much arctic ice there is when climate change people said it would all disappear, but this is just another pause before another strong El Nino sends the surface temperature shooting up again.

@ Raven – some more obviousness. Your periodic chart shows a prescribed frequency of up and down around a trend line. But you have assumed you know what the trend is, and hence whether a point is above or below it. If you don’t know what the trend is and your only measure of the trend is the slightly random data then you don’t know at any time whether you are observing points above the trend or below it. If someone throws a dice and produces the sequence 1 3 3 6 6 2 6 6, then if I’m not allowed to see the actual dice I don’t know whether I have a dice with no 4’s and 5’s but two sides are both 6’s, or whether I’ve just randomly had a lot of 6’s and no 4’s or 5’s on a standard dice. The best we can do is to make better guesses through accumulating more data.

130

Hidari 08.16.17 at 4:39 pm

@128

You can have a look at the relevant Wikipedia page for up to the minute discussion.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_unemployment

It should be stressed that, according to Wikipedia: ‘A clear majority of both professional economists and the interested general public held the optimistic view through most of the 20th century.’ (i.e. that technology will NOT lead to unemployment). While the article is a big cagey about this (dating doubts from about 2012 onwards) I suspect that the most commonly held viewpoint throughout the economics profession is still that, while, obviously, in the short term, automation can lead to unemployment, in the long term, these jobs will somehow be ‘made up’ somewhere else. (Evidence that this is not the mainstream view is anecdotal and ‘off the record’).

In any case, looking at ALL the data so far, literally all of it, the first thing that strikes one is that it is prospective: i.e. it is all predictions of what might be the case, in 20/30/40 years time. Now of course, that makes it hard to refute. And, ipso facto, it might be right.

But what one can state with absolute certainty is that as of August 2017 there is no evidence, whatsoever, that this technological unemployment is currently happening.

Here’s a map of the top ten most ‘roboticised’ countries on Earth.

https://www.mapsofworld.com/headlinesworld/technology/top-10-countries-robot-density/

They are:

South Korea – 347
Japan – 339
Germany – 261
Italy – 159
Sweden – 157
Denmark – 145
United States – 135
Spain – 131
Finland – 130
Taiwan – 12

i.e. South Korea is the most ‘roboticised’ country on Earth, Japan is the next and so on.

Now currently the South Korean unemployment rate is 3.6% Japan’s is 2.8% Germany’s is 3.9% and so on. It’s true that other countries are not doing so well (Spain, Italy e.g.) but that’s mainly due to the insanity of the Euro project.

Generally speaking, the more automated, the lower the unemployment. And these are not ‘McJobs’ either. Nor are, say Denmark or Sweden associated with poor working conditions.

Now here’s a list of countries with extremely high unemployment rates (these lists all differ a lot, so this is not definitive).

Afghanistan, 35%

Botswana 20%

Chad 22%

Djibouti 60%

Gabon: 28%

And so on.

It can be clearly seen that ‘too much technology’ is not, generally speaking, the obvious cause of high unemployment, as of 2017.

In other words, in 2017, ceteris paribus, the more ‘automated’ a country, the lower its unemployment rate, and the less ‘automated’ a country, the higher its unemployment rate. Might change tomorrow but there’s no sign of that today.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_unemployment_rate

131

Raven 08.17.17 at 1:28 am

Dipper @ 129: “Your periodic chart shows a prescribed frequency of up and down around a trend line. But you have assumed you know what the trend is, and hence whether a point is above or below it. If you don’t know what the trend is and your only measure of the trend is the slightly random data then you don’t know at any time whether you are observing points above the trend or below it.” — O.M.G. how backwards you’ve gotten it.

I’d already said in 127: “The usual procedure is that a trendline is drawn through the data, not the other way around, so it’s absolutely typical that there are data points on both sides of it!”

See Linear trend estimation for detail and illustration.

132

Layman 08.17.17 at 3:03 am

Hidari: “In other words, in 2017, ceteris paribus, the more ‘automated’ a country, the lower its unemployment rate, and the less ‘automated’ a country, the higher its unemployment rate.”

Now you’re doing what Brookings did by not considering other factors. I’d rephrase that to say ‘the _richer_ a country is, the lower its unemployment rate’.

And why are you looking at unemployment rates, anyway? What’s happened to manufacturing jobs as a percentage of the economy? What kinds of jobs have replaced those manufacturing jobs? How amenable are those jobs to automation? What happens then?

133

Peter T 08.17.17 at 3:35 am

Dipper:

“But how fast is the warming? This is not easily calculable due to factors such as whether there is more water vapour in the atmosphere or less due to warming, and whether there is more or less cloud cover.”

Less water vapour?? Temperature vapour laws were worked out centuries ago. Water vapour has been calculated in as the biggest positive feedback factor in global warming since Arrhenius.

The biggest cooling factor is aerosols – particularly sulphates. Hence various half-arsed engineering solutions (masking CO2-driven warming does not solve the problem). Which have problems of their own.

The paleo evidence points to the higher end of the band of uncertainty.

Look – while the mechanics of this are quite hard, the basic science is high school level, and the discussion is easily comprehensible at that level. There are people out there prepared to help – use them.

134

Faustusnotes 08.17.17 at 4:48 am

Dipper, massive goalpost shifting there. You were discussing the temperature trend, which has no direct connection to the equilibrium climate sensitivity you have now switched to talking about. There is not and never has been a discussion of “pause” in the ECS and pretending that is what you were talking about is disingenuous. It’s also irrelevant: even if the ECS is 1.5c that simply tells us where we will end up once thecimate settles at any given co2 concentration. It doesn’t tell us anything about how fast we’re getting to that limit, which is way more relevant in the short term. Yes if the ECS is 1.5 the planets temperature might only increase by 3c but if we get to that 3c limit in 10 years we’re all fucked. The trend line you were previously waxing lyrical about is important for this reason. It also tells us nothing about the ECS.

You wanted to claim a pause because you want to say we should do nothing. You have shown you don’t understand the statistics of your stupid so called pause so you’ve immediately moved on to the silly ECS is only 1.5 argument to hide your ignorance but keep up the do nothing conclusion. Weak sauce.

It’s also unlikely the ECS will be 1.5c because of the evidence from paleoclimate. We know that co2 has increased in the past and temperatures increased by a lot, so if the ECS is 1.5 we have no explanation for those past excursions.

Oh, and the new “lower” estimates of ECS are based on a couple of shoddy Bayesian estimates that were clearly designed to produce a low value. They’re published bubtheyre not credible .

135

Dipper 08.17.17 at 6:56 am

@ Raven. That’s all very obvious, but you noticeably haven’t applied that to your data in the example you give higher up. After six points you have three “on the line” followed by three “above the line”. So at that point your trend line should be gently upward sloping, not flat as shown. It is only flat because you have knowledge of subsequent data.

136

Raven 08.17.17 at 12:48 pm

Dipper @ 135: The above trendline is flat and not upward sloping because (1) in this particular case, realistically it is a line of typed hyphens interspersed with zeroes, superscript zeroes, and subscript zeroes, limited by its typographic medium to the typed line; (2) see Linear trend estimation: “If there is no prior understanding of the data, then the simplest function to fit is a straight line with the data plotted vertically and values of time (t = 1, 2, 3, …) plotted horizontally.” (However, that straight line may be and often is sloped, i.e. at an angle other than horizontal.)

137

Faustusnotes 08.17.17 at 1:10 pm

Dipper I think ravens typographic representation doesn’t work. It simply can’t be done in that format. But in your response are you trying to analogize and suggest we don’t yet know the trend of the global temperature series and need more data?? Because that is madness.

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