47 thoughts on “New sandpit

  1. @Chris Warren

    I am not really sure how to reply but I will try. My sentence “The final crisis exposes the manner in which endless growth capitalism is detached from the reality of biophysical limits in a closed, finite system.” clearly shows how critical I am of capitalism. My brief mention of Marx illustrates how I combine modern Biophysical Economics analysis with aspects of Marx’s analysis highlighting how the crisis of contradiction (in rich countries only) has partly passed from exploitation of labour to unsustainable exploitation of nature.

    However, I remember in all this that ideology is superstructure and the real material world and material relations are structure. Frankly, I think a true modern Marxist would be very interested in the insights of biophysical economics.

  2. The main driver of excessive resource plundering (including energy) is commercial competition particularly in maximising profits. Cheap energy, or monopolised energy, provides a competitive advantage which boosts profits. (Cheap is a relative term, the actual price can be anything).

    The main threat to our future is that OECD nations have unsustainable economies and standards of living. The rest of the world has every right to have the same standards.

    The main reality, for a sustainable climate, is a fall in living standards in OECD economies and a rise in living standards for the global majority.

    Biophysical economics misses the main point when it ruminates about some vague question:

    Where does population growth need to stop to avoid over-shoot?

    As Mark O’Connor and William J Lines have shown – we have already overshot, not as an arbitrary population level, but at the life-style that commercial competition has created, and that a few enjoy (just those in the ‘West’).

    There is no solution to any of this, and no mechanism to create one. There is no political party, or electoral space, for an alternative set of laws out of Parliament that will achieve sustainability. No candidate will ever be elected on a zero-population growth platform or on a standard of living reduction program. No economist is going to call for tariffs to restrict imports from cheap but unsustainable producers.

    This may happen, but only when it is too late. We all knew what the future would be. It was made clear by the Club of Rome in the (late?) sixties, but no political momentum could be constructed except on the fringe.

    As O’Connor [in Overloading Australia] observes – our governments and media will not take the necessary steps – they dither and deny. O’Connor, and bio-economists, just do not understand why. They just add to the fog.

  3. @Chris Warren

    Everything you say (outside of your direct pillorying of Biophysical Economics) is correct.

    1. “The main driver of excessive resource plundering (including energy) is commercial competition particularly in maximising profits.” Correct!

    2. “The main threat to our future is that OECD nations have unsustainable economies and standards of living.” Correct! But I would add a very important second half to that sentence, “and the current attempts of China and India to emulate the OECD countries.”

    3. “… we have already overshot, not as an arbitrary population level, but at the life-style that commercial competition has created, and that a few enjoy (just those in the ‘West’).” Correct!

    4. “There is no solution to any of this, and no mechanism to create one. There is no political party, or electoral space, for an alternative set of laws out of Parliament that will achieve sustainability. No candidate will ever be elected on a zero-population growth platform or on a standard of living reduction program. ” Correct!

    5. “We all knew what the future would be. It was made clear by the Club of Rome in the (late?) sixties, but no political momentum could be constructed except on the fringe.” Correct! Except the “we” was only those people who really understood and took to heart the Club of Rome predictions.

    Within a year of reading and digesting Club of Rome, I was saying to people the world had to change and find a sustainable path. I was also predicting that the world would ignore this message (and fact) and continue on its doomed path.

    However, lumping biophysical economists (no matter what their actual ideology) in with those who add to the fog is well, I have to say this, just plain foggy ideological thinking in itself. BE is an attempt to turn certain aspects of economics (certainly not all of political economy) into a hard science. This hard science is another objective (non-ideological) tool for managing collapse or transition. Of course, if we don’t get the political economy right then no objective tools (not just BE) will work.

    Your sweeping rejection of Biophysical Economics makes no objective sense.

  4. @Ikonoclast
    I see problems with proposing available energy (exergy) as the fundamental “thing” to be “accounted”.

    In biology there is an idea of a limiting nutrient. The mass of living matter in (say) a slime pond will increase until it is using the maximum available amount of the limiting nutrient. The nutrient might be phosphorus in one situation and fixed nitrogen in another. It might be also exergy, eg, sunlight. Following any nutrient will likely yield understanding of what happing in the slime pond, but following the limiting nutrient will show you on how to immediately increase production. Indeed, if you resolve the supply problem of the limiting nutrient problem, another nutrient will become the limiting nutrient.

    What you are proposing is that exergy is the limiting nutrient for human society. I don’t deny the importance of energy but there seems no reason to presume that it is the limiting factor. Peak Oil will impact us in significant ways, but have you considered the impact of Peak Intelligence? I estimate we passed it around 50 years ago and just look around for the effects or the regression! 🙂

    More seriously, the claim that it’s all about exergy implies that exergy will enable happiness or satisfaction of our desires, or maximise a complex integral something-along-those-lines. Perhaps so if we were bacteria, but it doesn’t work like that for humans. You might be able to make a case that our “basic” needs – food, warmth, housing, transport, etc – are energy based, but certainly not the higher needs like security, respect, status, freedom, attractiveness, friendship, love and so on. Many of the things are basically insubstantial (or hallucinated) so only marginally affected by energy budgets. In fact, you might notice, money is a better accounting measure for these things than energy, though as we all know, a highly imperfect one.

    While humans as organisms live in, and are part of the physical world, where energy is a major determinant, humans as conscious entities, don’t. Though our consciousness is a product of (or a configuration of) our physical bodies, it is not a simple relationship. Biologically, consciousness developed to aid evolutionary fitness, not as a some kind of automatic or “logical” necessary part of being in the world even though we are constructed for it to seem like that. We is completely loaded with assumptions and and models* of reality that are skewed away from simple direct reading of the world, to fitness value. Fitness for a intra-group cooperative but individually competitive organism of about our shape, size and habits is not always about energy. As we know from Darwin’s dual theory of evolution, fitness is both about ignoring energy efficiency (sexual selection, eg, the peacock’s tail) and judiciously taking it into account (natural selection, eg, optimising nutrition sources).

    * For example, if a dense rock and piece of wood of the same weight are held in the hand the rock feels heavier. This illusion is ubiquitous and persistent. The processes that bring the sensation of weight to consciousness have been tweaked by evolution so that you unconsciously choose the object with less drag when used as a projectile. Wikipedia maintains a list of these cognitive biases that have been experimentally verified that currently runs to about a hundred entries.

  5. Allow me to recommend a recent book “Classical Econophysics” by Cottrell, Cockshott, Michaelson and Wright, to all concerned. Starting from first principles, it is an elegant synthesis of the statistical physics of energy, entropy & information, and marxist macroeconomics, by people with a good publication track record (and some Chartalism makes it in, too!).

  6. We do not need any more analysis or revamping of previous analysis in new terms.

    The facts are in. We need practical policy that can be rolled-out through political and social networks and against corporate opposition.

    Australia’s average ecological footprint is 7.8 hectares and the world average is 2.7. So we only have the moral right to a population half our current load, or reduce our footprint by half down to around 3.

    We need some policy mix of: a two child policy, immigration to match emigration, different tax rates for types of energy, more reliance on electric rail, and additional similar reforms.

    We do not need new economic concepts, it is now up to politics.

    Economics, as the discipline it has been, is redundant. There is no economically ‘rational’ argument supporting the need to cut population. No economist accepts falling productivity or trade restrictions or shorter working week. But to get down to 3 hectares per capita, this may be the only practical way.

    We have been through this before. There was no economic argument that resulted in abolishing slavery – this was a political/moral movement. There was no economic argument calling for equal pay for women – this was a political/moral movement.

    If a new economics is in the wings (I see none), it will have to much much broader than biophysical themes. Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth” is a better track to follow than Biophysical Economics.

  7. Ikonoclast, for what its worth or not, it seems to me biophysical economics is too young to come up with policy recommendations. I fully concur with you that economics cannot be separated from natural science and our current most general models (Arrow-Debreu type) treat the finiteness of resources (and the world) in such an abstract manner that some readers may even miss the link to the subject of concern to you. Our economic models require more than ‘input’ from scientists; joint work between (math-) economists and scientists is required – as far as I can tell.

  8. I had to read #35 twice before I could see that it wasn’t saying the opposite of what it was actually saying. Anyone who thinks Fukushima is a nuclear success story either hasn’t been paying attention properly or is in the pocket of the nuclear industry. Monbiot may have some other incomprehensible excuse.

  9. @David Horton
    In the pocket David and those nuts will kill us all and leave the earth a pockmarked mess. Could happen anyway the way the nuclear industry has been piling up its filthy waste inside. If you listen to Prof solar is outpacing nuclear and something has to. Its dirty dangerous insidious and nasty industry and in a 100 years time our kids are going to look back and see the nuclear industry, with all its lies and its peddlers who persist (BNC), as nothing better than asbestos or tobacco and likely much worse.

  10. @David Horton

    “Monbiot may have some other incomprehensible excuse.”

    Monbiot’s excuse could be quite comprehensible. His own site gives his bio;

    “During seven years of investigative journeys in Indonesia, Brazil and East Africa, he was shot at, beaten up by military police, shipwrecked and stung into a poisoned coma by hornets. He came back to work in Britain after being pronounced clinically dead in Lodwar General Hospital in north-western Kenya, having contracted cerebral malaria.”

    It is quite possible that George Monbiot has brain damage.

  11. Well the more economists that fight zombie ideas the better – in my book they include the following

    Efficient and oh so clever markets – make hideous messes
    Trickle down – which trickled up
    Free markets – free for some
    Unquestioning deregulation – gave Wall street con men a get out of jail free card
    Rational self interest – there is nothing rational about self interest
    The almighty power of price signalling – to make the poor unable to pay their utility bills
    Flexibility and productivity gains from labour – you work when and how we say with no pay rise
    Inequality doesnt matter because its a “zero sum game”- it does matter when its been rising for three decades
    The amazing power of quantitative easings – they dont seem to act too fast
    The priest like status of central bank announcements – we are always close to full employment
    The ability of a computational statistic model – the govt gets to treat us all like the same family in the SIMS.
    The importance of public services being profitable – double take.
    The right to expect tax cuts ad infinitum – if you believe in that, you are beyond help.

    Peter Radford may not be an official zombie fighter but he does a pretty good job of highlighting whats wrong with zombieism..

    http://rwer.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/where-is-the-redistribution-debate/#comments

  12. I haven’t been around in quite a while to this site, honestly I’m only back for the Chartalist discussion but a quick question:

    Has the Sandpit basically replaced the weekly Monday Message Board?

  13. Nevermind I found my answer. I visited the regular features category. I really should pay closer attention to what I read. My excuse is it is the weekend.

  14. Some of the info on this site (women for schappelle corby) is alarming to say the least. Especially when I see an executive of MQ bank get jailed for 12 years fpr moving 15million worth of cocaine through – you guessed it – Sydney airport. Shrink wrap your bags before you go on holidays. Maybe privatising the damn airport wasnt such a good idea after all (when workers and apparently executives of the owners are using innocents as drug mules).

    My god how sickening. Sorry Prof – this story needs an airing I agree with that woman. This exec of MQ bank got busted for importing 15mill worth of cocaine through Sydney airport on the same day Schappelle Corby goes through the airport. He gets 7 years, she gets life . Something wrong with this picture.

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