Parallel universes

Of the 20 years or so that I’ve been observing climate change policy, global developments over the past year have been the most hopeful I can remember, particularly as regards electricity generation

* The Paris Conference was a big success, at least relative to expectations
* Coal-fired power stations are shutting down around the world
* China has reduced its coal use for two years in a row
* India has increased its coal tax, and greatly expanded use of renewables

Whether emissions reductions will be big enough and fast enough remains to be seen, but at least we are going in the right direction.

As far as climate science is concerned, the string of temperature records broken recently has killed any idea that we are in a ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’. Even the favorite source of deniers, the satellite data from UAH, is now showing a new record. The only remaining issue is the second-order debate over whether there was a pause or perhaps slowdown at some point in the first decade of the 2000s.

At the same time, following the US election, I’ve been paying more attention than usual to rightwing blogs, most of which run climate denialist pieces fairly regularly. Given that nearly all the major US coal companies are now bankrupt, and that coal-fired electricity is declining rapidly, I’d have expected a lot of “wrecking ball” pieces on the supposed damage to the economy (in reality, the effects are small and mostly offset by the expansion of renewables) now that mitigation policies of various kinds are taking effect.

But I don’t see anything like that. Rather, most of the articles I’m reading are claims of victory in the debate over both science and policy. Here’s a fairly typical example, with the title “Is the Climate Crusade Stalling?

We really do live in parallel universes.

186 thoughts on “Parallel universes

  1. Well, I am impressed that she used an impeccable source like the Daily Mail to support her arguments.

    As far as I can see the entire US right wing and most US climate denialists are becoming more and more irrational. Not only are they in a parallel universe but the universal laws of nature are completely different in the two universes

    David Frumm, President G. W. Bush’s speach writer at the time of 9/11 described the parallel world conservatives in the USA lived in back in 2011. The universes have diverged even more since then.

    “Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.”
    http://nymag.com/news/politics/conservatives-david-frum-2011-11/index2.html

  2. Is Denyocat alive or dead? Either way, the kitty litter at the bottom of the box is full of cats**t.

  3. Yes, you see this in threads at Catallaxy all the time: at the time all of the evidence is solidifying against them, they claim to be more convinced it is actually climate science that is on its last legs. I think it shows the insidious power of modern instantaneous publishing and communications (the internet and Fox News) to disseminate crank theories with greater ease and frequency than ever before. (And, of course, the power of political ideology to cloud ability to treat evidence with any sense of objectivity at all.)

  4. How was Paris a big success?
    You need to adjust Chinese decline in coal by the continuing decline in GDP and for the increase in crude oil and natural gas. China Coal GDP

    Declining GDP’s will always reduce carbon emissions. Degrowth is the only way out.

  5. It is the same universe, just a corner of it where some people will do anything at all for money. The current main stay of the denialists, having lost miserably on every other point of science is

    “The CO2 Coalition bases its main argument on the following: “CO2 is a nutrient that is essential to life. CO2 at current levels and higher enables plants, trees, and crops to grow faster and more efficiently. It is essential for life.”

    a little on Harnett-White reveals the strategy afoot

    http://blogs.edf.org/texascleanairmatters/2015/08/24/hartnett-white-and-pals-twist-science-for-sake-of-fossil-fuel-interests/

    It would be almost the better outcome for Ted Cruz to win the presidency as the end result of that would be the very rapid denigration of the entire denialist movement along with a huge loss of face for the United States. It is one thing to fight a guerrilla campaign with science, but outright war would require a rapid and concise conclusion.

    The war on science is entering its final phase.

  6. * The Paris Conference was a big success.

    Opinions run the whole gamut. The claim it is a “big success” is a mere hopeful assertion. Hansen thinks it’s a fraud and a fake.

    “It’s a fraud really, a fake.” It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.” – James Hansen.

    “Canadian climatologist Gordon McBean, the president of the International Council for Science, told CBC News there’s a generally positive feeling about the Paris agreement in the scientific community.” So, McBean notes a “generally positive feeling”. On its own a “generally positive feeling” means little to nothing. The real physics is the only thing that counts. McBean says it’s “largely not possible” that the world will meet the 2 C target.

    * Coal-fired power stations are shutting down around the world.

    I would like to see the stats for this. Global coal consumption shot up from under 2,500 metric tons of oil equivalent in 2001 to about 3,700 metric tons of oil equivalent in 2013. After that is grew slowly and then dipped in 2015. Will the dip be sustained into a decline? It is certainly possible but it is too early to say for sure. What is clear is that is already (most likely), too little too late, especially after the massive growth of 2001-2013.

    * China has reduced its coal use for two years in a row.

    It’s called an economic slowdown. Clean air policies may also be having an effect. Again, it’s too early so say for sure what is happening.

    * India has increased its coal tax, and greatly expanded use of renewables.

    “The utility electricity sector in India had an installed capacity of 288 GW as of 31 January 2016. Renewable Power plants constituted 28% of total installed capacity and Non-Renewable Power Plants constituted the remaining 72%.” – Wikipedia.

    This look hopeful in itself. However, climate tracker shows India’s emissions growing steadily into the future with zero noticeable effect from pledges.

    http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/india.html

  7. To repeat myself repeating myself, as an economist and policy analyst, James Hansen makes a great climate scientist.

  8. “We really do live in parallel universes.

    I’ve maintained for some time that there are people who simply have minds that are alien to me. I simply cannot comprehend how they ‘know’ what they know, where their certainty comes from, and how they manage to go through 20, 30, 40 or more years of adult life and be completely oblivious to simple facts and basic logic.

    I understand the motivations and actions of my dog far better than I do some of my fellow human beings.

  9. Global Average Warming is not the only area where ‘parallel universes’ are created. The methods of hard core propaganda seem to have been recovered in ‘communications’. The underlying belief seems to be that words can affect reality. I believe a necessary condition for the said belief to work is that those who create the ‘parallel universes’ have institutional power.

    Depending on the particulars of the case, dozends, hundreds, thousands, millions of individuals’ time is wasted by these communications experts. Without the effort of these individuals who fight the substitution of black for white, negative for positive, etc, the communications experts gain traction in institutional power.

    One more piece of evidence in support of JQ’s conclusion. One of the current PM’s first actions was to retire the previous PM’s Business Adviser, Mr Newman.

  10. @Tim Macknay

    You appear to have taken “parallel universes” to heart a bit much.

    GDP is usually quoted as a % growth.

    Or did you have your computer screen upside down?

  11. @Ivor
    I have to agree with Tim here, you need to be more clear with the statements – GDP is GDP and GDP growth is GDP growth. The 2 are different. When you say “Declining GDP’s will always reduce carbon emissions” – I immediately don’t interpret that as meaning GDP *growth* and carbon emission *growth* without it explicitly stated. We also have to be mindful that growth is a compounding thing so an economy growing at a steady (positive) rate each period will grow by more and more each period.

  12. @Tim Macknay
    I can’t tell from your very obtuse comment whether or not you read the graph again, as I suggested. So I’ll apply the principle of charity, and assume that your response was intended in good faith but you just misread the graph.

    You are correct that GDP is usually quoted as % growth, and the graph you linked to does in fact do that. The graph shows that the rate of GDP growth in China was around 7.5% per annum in 2014-15 (having slowed somewhat from a higher rate of around 12% per annum in 2000-2005). A growth rate of 7.5% per annum is not a decline.

    The graph does, however show that Chinese coal consumption in 2014-15 was declining at a rate of around 2% per annum (or if you prefer, growing at a rate of around -2% per annum), a rather precipitous change from the earlier growth rate of around 11% per annum in 2000-2005. Also, the direction of the curve suggests that the decline rate is set to increase (in contrast with the GDP curve which suggests that the GDP growth rate is stabilising.

    So, if the graph is correct in showing that Chinese GDP is growing at around 7.5% per annum, then Chinese GDP is clearly not declining. I hope this clears up the misunderstanding.

  13. “GDP is usually quoted as a % growth”
    No. GDP GROWTH is usually quoted as a % growth. GDP is usually quoted in dollars or equivalent currency. You’re getting confused by sloppy use of language.

    Slower GDP growth should indeed, all else equal, mean slower coal usage growth. But John’s point is not that Chinese coal usage is growing slowly but that it is SHRINKING. That is unequivocally good news.

  14. In related news (from the reality-based community), senior executives from the firm that controls China’s national electricity grid recently frightened Texan oil executives by telling them that China planned to phase out coal and oil on the grid and replacing them with renewables. A senior Chinese executive was also quoted as saying that there was no technical obstacle to doing this, further upsetting sensitive oil industry executives. Is there no end to Chinese perfidy ?!?

  15. @Tim Macknay

    Declining growth can either be declining rate of growth, or a decline in amount of growth.

    If the rate of growth in one year is lower than previously – that is a decline.

    If a car slows – its speed declines – even though it is still moving forward.

  16. @Ivor

    Declining growth can either be declining rate of growth, or a decline in amount of growth.
    If the rate of growth in one year is lower than previously – that is a decline.

    But not a decline in GDP, which was the original contention.
    I must admit I’m at a bit of a loss as to why you want to keep arguing the point. If you weren’t originally talking about a decline in GDP (as opposed to a decline in the GDP growth rate), then it made no sense to raise the issue of Chinese GDP in the first place, since it doesn’t support your contention that emissions reduction requires de-growth.

  17. @derrida derider

    Shrinking coal consumption is good news only if the causes of the decline will not reverse and carbon emissions from oil and gas do not increase as part of the decline.

    It is conditionally good news – not “unequivocally” good news.

  18. @Tim Macknay

    Yes, degrowth – for some economies – is the only way out now.

    An association between declining CO2 emissions and declining growth does support this contention.

  19. @John Quiggin

    We’ll have to agree to disagree. I am not sure how being an (orthodox) economist confers more climate policy skills than being a climate scientist. I am not saying it confers less, but I certainly cannot see how it confers more. Orthodox economists’ claims to have special policy skills are dubious at best given the failure of their macro.

  20. @Ivor

    An association between declining CO2 emissions and declining growth does support this contention.

    I think you’re reading far too much into the graph you linked to if you believe it provides any significant support for that contention. If it showed an actual decline in GDP accompanied by a proportionate decline in fossil fuel consumption (as a proxy for CO2 emissions) it would constitute much stronger support.

    But it shows a moderate decline in the GDP growth rate, which appears to have stabilised, and a precipitous decline in the rate of growth of coal consumption, to the extent that coal consumption is now in absolute decline. And, on eyeballing the graph, the different shapes of the GDP and coal curves suggest at best a modest relationship between the two (i.e. the decline in the GDP growth rate may account for some of the decline in coal, but clearly not all of it).

    I think as broad and sweeping a claim as the one that only de-growth can reduce GHG emissions needs somewhat more robust supporting evidence.

  21. @Tim Macknay

    The support is not insignificant. It is significant.

    It does not have to be proportionate.

    A modest association is an association.

    Google “degrowth”.

  22. @Ivor
    I know what degrowth is, thanks. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the significance of your China graph. I’m not terribly inclined to argue with bare assertions.

  23. @Ivor
    A decline in the Chinese growth rate to a tad below 7% is not the same thing as a recession. You need to think that Chinese statistics are political fiction to get there. The IMF for one does not share that view.

  24. @Ikonoclast
    If you treat the INDC pledges as predictions. In China’s case, they are ridiculously cautious: peaking ” before 2030″ when the reality is “about now”. India is more difficult. They refused to pledge any cap at all and officially plan to double coal power generation. But the coal plants are not getting built and new solar is coming in at the same price, according to Piyush Goyal. The economics of new coal plants are not going to look better next year to Adani, Reliance and Tata. Modi and Xi could improve their NDCs when they sign the Paris Agreement at negligible cost.

  25. @Tim Macknay

    No, I don’t. Where did I say I agreed with Hansen on nuclear power? I said essentially that I agreed the Paris Conference was a farce, that the climate is in serious danger (to put it colloquially) and that the fossil fuel phase out is far too slow. You cannot validly infer from those points that I agree with Hansen on nuclear power. To be honest I don’t understand why Hansen pushes that nonsense. It’s irrelevant anyway. The nuclear renaissance is dead. That is one piece of J.Q.’s analysis that is spot on. I checked it, as far as I can check such things out, and J.Q. was 100% right on that.

    However, I continue to take an opposing position to J.Q. on a couple of issues. The claim the Paris Conference was a big success strains all credulity. Basically, all the nations agreed to exactly… nothing. On the coal issue, recent developments are welcome, but it’s too early to call any real hope on that front. The real problem, once again, is the oil issue. The artificially engineered low price makes it harder for capitalism to break its oil habit. On the plus side, it could send fracking and tar sands out of business, forever one hopes. But the bottom line is we are changing far too slowly and capitalism as a system is the main reason that real, vital change is so difficult to get.

    Behind all arguments for different power mixes, we find, mainly, what are simply different camps of capitalism apologists who always frame their arguments like this. “No matter the problem, capitalism is the answer. Just use the markets this way, or regulate capitalism that way.” They’ve been saying this for 40 years. Meanwhile, the system has continued on an ever worsening and more damaging path. Now, in the 41st year (about) capitalism seems to be turning a little. Oh gee, thanks for that. What a responsive system! It only takes 40 years to make a course change of 5 degrees (when we needed a 180 two decades ago).

  26. Stop press on Chinese emissions: Lord Stern agrees with me: China’s emissions will peak before 2025 and may already have done so. The Chinese government disagrees. Whom do you trust more? China’s leaders have a vested interest in caution, and they are under no political pressure to change their official forecasts.

  27. @James Wimberley

    It is probably best to keep scare words such as “recession” or “depression” out of this context.

    A decline in growth is not necessarily a recession in terms of increasing unemployment and bankruptcies etc.

  28. PS. A tidbit from the (very readable) Green/Stern paper:
    “In the first half of 2015 …. crude steel production fell by 1.3 %, and cement production fell by 5.3 %, compared with the same period in 2014.”
    They also claim that the inequality connected to the old material-intensive growth model is one of the reasons given by leaders to Stern for the policy shift. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it makes sense in Realpolitik: overmighty subjects are a traditional threat to autocracies.

  29. @Ivor
    “Recession” isn’t a scare word but a term of art: two consecutive quarters of absolutely lower GDP than the previous peak.
    You were wrong, admit it.

  30. @James Wimberley

    It is probably best to keep scare words such as “recession” or “depression” out of this context.

    A decline in growth is not necessarily a recession in terms of increasing unemployment and bankruptcies etc.

    It was your choice of words not mine.

  31. Enough on Ivor’s derailment. He’s confused a declining rate of growth (what’s happened to GDP) with a declining level (what’s happening for coal consumption). That’s wrong, and no further correspondence will be entered into (any attempts to revive this subthread will be deleted).

    Ikonoklast, I’m not standing on my credentials as an “orthodox economist” vs Hansen’s as a climate scientist. You can assess my arguments right here. The problem is that you are quoting Hansen as an authority when he is no more qualified than you are. Looking at his actual arguments, he gets things wrong all the time, his support for nuclear power being typical. If you’re impressed by Hansen’s analysis, make the same case here, don’t just cite his conclusions as if they had some authority behind them.

  32. @Kevin O’Neill
    Start with Oreskes & Conway’s Merchants of Doubt and then for some interesting reading try Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoriarians http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf . BTW it is an early attempt at self-publishing using Word. I read it with two PDF readers.

    All you need in this case is a strong religious belief in unfettered Free Marked Economics, lots of self interest, complete immorality on some peoples’ part and a bunch of willing dupes (see Altemeyer) who can believe three impossible things before breakfast and it’s easy to explain climate denial.

    It also seems that there is a subset of the human race that easily believes in conspiracy theories (some of Altemeyer’s people who also can can believe three impossible things before breakfast) and you’re away.

  33. @jrkrideau
    All the IPCC would need to do is welcome the opportunity for a debate with qualified climate scientists, understood as authors or co-authors of at least 50 peer-reviewed articles on aspects of climate change.

  34. It also seems that there is a subset of the human race that easily believes in conspiracy theories (some of Altemeyer’s people who also can can believe three impossible things before breakfast) and you’re away.

    There are realistically two possibilities worthy of consideration:
    + Altermeyer — and not only Altermeyer, there’s been a lot of fairly-recent work by reasonably large numbers of people — are mistaken, and “authoritarian follower” types — are mistaken, and have not found anything real.
    + Altermeyer-et-al have found a real phenomenon, which is known to cognitive scientists under a different label. And presumably a fairly well-known one, given the numbers.

    The other possibilities can be dismissed:
    + the variability of what constitutes “political” means that “it’s a real phenomenon, but limited in its effects to ‘politics’ so the psychologists never spotted it” isn’t plausible: it also doesn’t mesh with Altermeyer’s results showing that authoritarian followership had impact in small-scale decision-making.
    + The idea that there’s a major and widespread set-of-patterns-of-behaviour-and-attitude that has some pretty significant effects on social outcomes but that was missed by psychologists until the political scientists found it is, you know, not plausible either.

    So. It strikes me that either “authoritarian follower” is no real thing at all, or it’s already better-known under the name the psychologists gave it, whatever that might be.

  35. @John Quiggin

    I am slightly baffled by parts of your comment. However, I accept my arguments for my position in this thread have been, in the main, poor. I’ll put it down to a bad day. We all have those.

  36. (I see Donald Oates picked this story up earlier)

    You need look no further than our own back yard to find Alternative Universe Nutters…

    http://joannenova.com.au/2016/03/nsw-state-branch-of-liberals-calls-for-national-climate-debate/

    If you go there to look my advice is don’t comment, it only encourages them, but it shows how destabilised the LNP is. How delightful that they want Abbott back. We have to hope that they get there wish.

    You have to wonder why the Libs would want to humiliate themselves in this way after Ted Cruz’s Senate “Debate” on climate science a little while ago, from which Cruz emerged looking like a total fool. But then it is not about science at all, it is about creating the impression that there is still a debate.

  37. Most arguments for and against AGW, as an emerging reality requiring preventative action, are not really arguments about climate change at all. They are proxy “system justification” arguments. The AGW denialist position is very obviously a system justification position. The current system, capitalism, is morally right, beneficial to all mankind and any concerns for the environment are entirely misplaced. This is the ideological supertext of the right-wing denialist position. The real, material position is, of course, the short term self-interest of a rich minority.

    It is less obvious, but the AGW arguments of the moderate left, those we might call social democrats, liberals, Keynesians and capitalist mixed economy advocates, are still proxy “system justification” arguments. Again, these arguments function within an ideological supertext where capitalism is implicitly regarded as indispensable for solving the very problems it has created. The practical result of such arguments is merely the continued justification of capitalism and not any search for real solutions to climate change problems.

  38. Great to know from JQ – yet again – that things are really on the improve. Just wish there was any evidence of this from the Keeling Curve.

  39. The US, and Australian, conservative approach to block change is just crazy. In a time of rapid social and technology change, if you try to block change in the name of protecting existing companies, you end up with yesterday’s industries. How many columnists said that we shouldn’t have a carbon price as it stuffed our core area of competitiveness ie energy (goal and gas). Well, so much for coal. Gas prices are so low its a worry. Yes, we may have done better with a carbon price done differently. A real private enterprise party (ie the Liberals) would embrace change as a way to create new business opportunities, not block change to protect current businesses.

  40. @tony lynch

    How unreasonable of you to require empirical evidence in the measurable physical outcomes. 😉

    What I fear might happen is this. Industrial-information capitalism will now belatedly change. Over the next 20 years, it will appear to change quite rapidly compared to its former snail pace of change. This will be trumpeted as proof that capitalism has delivered the solutions. However, the solutions will be too late; indeed they are already too late. But the real damage will be at least 50 years down the track when all the current culprits, apologists and enablers are dead.

    At the same time, I suspect the current system will go bad well before then. I do not see how the USA is on a sustainable path socially and economically even if climate and environmental damage do not bite for another 50 years. The destruction of education in the USA now is an astonishing and frightening phenomenon. There is really no way they are going to be able to run a technologically and socially advanced society of the back their currently devolving “education” system. The implications are frightening but outside this particular tread topic.

  41. As Robert Manne writes;

    “Yet, as many people now realise, something much more profound than all this (statist action) is required: a re-imagining of the relations between humans and the Earth, a re-imagining that will be centred on a recognition of the dreadful and perhaps now irreversible damage that has been wrought to our common home by the hubristic idea at the very centre of the modern world – man’s assertion of his mastery over nature.”

    IMO, the real challenge will be to develop an ecological humanism and/or an ecologically aware metaphysics without regress to mere mythicism, religionism or theocratic rule. A key issue might entail a moral elevation of impact science over production science. Our productive power is not our problem now. Our impact power on the natural and human world is our problem now.

  42. Tony Lynch

    There is evidence from the Keeling Curve. If you look at global oil consumption this has increased some 10 million barrels per day over the last 6 years to 94 million barrels per day. At the same time the oil consumption per person has dropped as has coal consumption per person.

    So the improvement in the Keeling curve is that it has not become as steep as it otherwise would have given the global population increase which is driving the oil consumption increase.

  43. On the two cultures from SMH

    Reminds me of Stephen Schneider’s book on science as a debating topic for the ignorant – see for example- Stephen H. Schneider, Tim Flannery introduction (2009) Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save the Earth’s Climate. National Geographic Society (November 3, 2009) ISBN 978-1-4262-0540-8.

    Seems to fit perfectly with cognitive dissonance which puzzles our host.

  44. @BilB

    But BilB, that is like saying a man who can’t swim and is drowning in 3 meters of water will soon be better off because the current is carrying him to a place 4 meters deep rather than 5 meters deep. Most models indicate that we are already too late. We should have started dropping the Keeling Curve two decades ago at least. We need outright emergency action now, on the slim chance we might still save ourselves. The most benign models of climate forcing and sensitivity have just a small chance of being correct so we have still a small chance of saving ourselves. But emergency statist and international action is needed now and it must reject all “markets will do it” arguments. The markets haven’t done it in time in relation to all but the most optimistic models. The evidence is already in on that.

  45. @John Hine
    Back when I was an undergrad I read a book called The Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson. I can’t claim to know much about his economic or political leanings (or credibility), but it was useful for me when thinking about lobby groups and coalitions influencing economic policies (and particularly subsidies) in my, then, State of WA. They were clearly established to “block change and protect current businesses”. These coalitions would include the LNP and ALP at different times.

  46. @BilB

    Remember – each barrel of oil is around 110 kg carbon or 400 kg CO2 and the Keeling curve is rising at around 2 ppm+ per year.

    See here: Keeling Curve

    This discloses no benefit from anything China and other states have done.

    Over 90 million barrels is equal to 9.9 X 10^9 kg. ie 10 GT when all our natural sinks are occupied with natural emissions.

    Due to the failure of every inter-governmental meeting, this trend will continue well past 2020.

  47. @BilB

    Remember – each barrel of oil is around 110 kg carbon or 400 kg CO2 and the Keeling curve is rising at around 2 ppm+ per year.

    See here: Keeling Curve

    This discloses no benefit from anything China and other states have done.

    Over 90 million barrels is equal to 9.9 X 10^9 kg. ie 10 GT when all our natural sinks are occupied with natural emissions.

    Due to the failure of every inter-governmental meeting, this trend will continue well past 2020.

  48. @Ikonoclast

    No, I don’t. Where did I say I agreed with Hansen on nuclear power? I said essentially that I agreed the Paris Conference was a farce, that the climate is in serious danger (to put it colloquially) and that the fossil fuel phase out is far too slow. You cannot validly infer from those points that I agree with Hansen on nuclear power.

    Indeed, and in fact I did not infer that you agreed with Hansen on nuclear power. I was trying to get a handle on why you quoted Hansen’s opinion on the Paris agreement. It seemed that you were quoting him as an authority, i.e. that his view on the Paris agreement should be taken seriously because he’s an eminent climate scientist. That struck me as odd, because Hansen’s main idee fixe when it comes climate policy (only nuclear can save us), wasn’t something I thought you’d agree with.

    You say you don’t understand why Hansen pushes the nuclear nonsense, as you put it. Perhaps it’s because, as Prof Q pointed out, Hansen is completely clueless when it comes to climate policy, notwithstanding his chops as a scientist?

    You’re quite right about the diversity of opinion on the Paris agreement of course, but you could have gone further to illustrate it. For example, both Andrew Bolt and Bjorn Lomborg are of one mind with James Hansen in believing that the Paris agreement was a fraud. Christopher Monckton, on the other hand, regards it as a grave threat to freedom and the sovereignty of the world’s peoples. 😉

  49. @Ivor

    “Yes, degrowth – for some economies – is the only way out now.”

    I’m not so sure. Watching this bloke, Tony Seba, is a bit refreshing.

    He may be over-egging the pudding a bit, but I’m not so sure that it’s by a huge amount. That example of a mere 13 years between not being able to see the one and only car in the Easter Parade to not being able to spot the sole, single, one and only horse in the parade (or at least this photo of it) is worth bearing in mind. It’s pretty startling. But so is the steep decline in prices of solar panels over the last couple of decades.

    I might have been primed to take this guy more seriously after reading a RMI piece, an extract from Reinventing Fire – http://www.rmi.org/reinventingfire

    Just as whale-oil suppliers ran out of customers in the 1850s before they ran out of whales, oil and coal are becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before they become unavailable even at high prices.

    Try Tony Seba anyway if you’re feeling a bit down in the mouth about prospects for getting rid of coal and oil.
    1. Biofuels, hydro renewable? desirable? (+ other topics) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uApxOjZzUdU
    2. Transport (among other things) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_NmWB-D7-Y

  50. @Newtownian
    Read Stephen Schneider’s book a few years back, and enjoyed it, in spite of some of the unfortunate incidents he recounts. The early episode where he was subjected to being quoted incompletely, and out of context, is a salutary reminder of how dirty the political process is. Scientists can of course brawl in an unseemly manner with each other, and it does happen, but the political process is one where most facts are left at the door. Politics is a whole new level of grime.

    On a slightly different note: there is a third parallel world, one where politicians acknowledge that climate is changing, but are deeply sceptical of IPCC processes, because they hold the ideals of the rugged individualist (of the fictionalised wild west) and refuse to submit to the advice or whims of a global body (like the UN). In this parallel universe, if they provide “solutions” at all, they are quite ironically ones that involve large scale interference in atmosphere and oceans, iron filings, sulphur smog and particulates to cause temporary cooling, mega carbon-capture and storage from the atmosphere itself, gigantic orbiting shade cloths, etc. It seems to have passed them by that any large scale interference in climate is, by the nature of a bounded and interdependent Earth system, something that will affect nations other than just the ones utilising these technologies. You can’t just stick a big shade cloth up in the sky and not expect other countries to be a tad annoyed at being collateral damage, for example. The rugged individualism of the big fix is an imposter, a poseur, hoping to prolong the coal project and the oil project, even while claiming technology (owned by a few) will save the day anyway, should the day need saving.

    Even the science mags aren’t immune from the big fix.

  51. Donald, your third parallel world is still based on this valid syllogism with an untrue premise and conclusion:
    1) If AGW is a problem it is fixable by government action
    2) There is no problem fixable by government action
    3) Therefore AGW is not a problem. QED

    All the many twists and turns of denialism follow from their subscription to premise (2).

  52. @rog

    It’s a pity Bernie Sanders uses this language. “The debate is over, and the scientific jury is in…”

    It’s not a debate, it’s a scientific investigation. The “jury” is not in, the evidence is in. Such imprecise use of language clouds what must happen. The scientific investigation occurs (and continues). The data is collected and analysed. Models are constructed and scientific predictions (with allowances for uncertainty) are made. Then the debate begins. Then we say, “Okay this is the evidence, these are the likelihoods of various outcomes. Now, what do we do about it?”

    However, since people blogging on this site love psephological analysis but dislike political economy analysis, I will make my predictions for the US presidential election.

    (1) Donald Trump will most likely win the REP nomination.
    (2) Hillary Clinton will most likely win the DEM nomination.
    (3) Hillary Clinton will most likely win the presidency.

    And now slip in a political economy prediction…

    (4) Whoever wins the US presidency, US policy will still be dictated by the plutocrats. The president (and Congress) are largely powerless except to do the bidding of the 0.01 per cent of rich people. This is the way the US system is set up. The US will continue to attack weak countries overseas, it will continue drone strikes, it will continue killing black people at home, it will continue increasing wealth inequality. It will continue privatising and wrecking its own education system. It will continue incarcerating people in world record numbers. It will continue doing all these things. This is the way the US system is set up. Nothing will change unless the people rise up and and change the system entirely. Until that day, if that day ever arrives, nothing substantive will ever change. Indeed, things will get much worse as the US slides further and further into corporate fascism.

  53. Democrat nomination determined by delegates, whoever they may be. Super delegate support of Clinton seems overwhelming- how democratic is that?

  54. If we don’t get three inches, man,
    Or four to break this drought,
    We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
    “Before the year is out.
    The pessimistic frame writes itself. As does the optimistic frame (which I tend to follow). The truth is somewhere inbetween, and the truth is much harder to discern, because there is no one philosophical or political perspective which fully describes the truth.

  55. @rog

    The USA is not a democracy. It is set up as a republic which strongly circumscribes democratic influence on governance. It was expressly set up this way in its constitution. The idea is that the rich and influential people, or those supported by the rich, are highly favored as candidates. The primaries system and the electoral college system are expressly designed to block the popular will. The founding fathers never wanted a democracy, they wanted an oligarchy and their constitution brilliantly delivers exactly what they intended.

  56. Returning to JQ’s original puzzlement at the lack of wrecking ball pieces, maybe (says the evergreen optimist) the inhabitants of the parallel universe have actually acknowledged that the argument has been comprehensively lost. Their dearly beloved talking points and “debate” against scientists are dead. I’m think this is shock and disbelief we’re seeing. Denial, then bargaining will be when the wrecking ball pieces are written. Roll on, acceptance.

  57. > Super delegate support of Clinton seems overwhelming- how democratic is that?

    The Democratic Party is a private organisation governed by privately-determined rules; demanding “democracy” in its internal processes is inappropriate, it’s not a state organisation and not bound by the obligations of same. If the democrats want to be “democratic” in their internal processes they can, if they don’t want to be they don’t have to.

    [except, of course, that the two main parties in the US are state organs in all but name, given the degree to which they’re formally recognised and entrenched. But demanding “democracy” in an organisation that shouldn’t even exist in the shape it’s in is kind of missing the point.]

  58. Maybe there are enough Sanders kids and they wont sell out as they get older ,and maybe the Baby Boomers will die off and get out of the way before the planet expires ….

  59. @Tim Macknay

    I’d like to know their prediction method. The article is not particularly clear on that point. It seems they were simply doing an energy analysis and then assuming increased use plus much the same energy mix as now. But that is just a guess on my part.

    I also wonder, wouldn’t most of the potential rise to 2030 already be “baked in” in the sense that the current CO2 level’s forcing effect and even current absorbed heat (in oceans especially) already will be driving heating until 2030? In other words, if we raise CO2 levels more from now until 2030 (say) won’t much of that forcing be even further down the track, say 2030 to 2050?

    But a couple of things makes sense. I absolutely agree with;

    “The researchers suggested switching $500bn in subsidies for fossil fuels worldwide to renewables as a “cost neutral” way to fast-track the energy transition.”

    Also, this is a real concern;

    “Hankamer said the fact that about 80% of the world’s energy was for fuel, and only 20% for electricity, meant “we don’t have any easy solutions”.”

    Our oil dependence is much greater than our coal dependence. Getting coal out of electricity generation is the much easier task, relatively speaking. Getting oil and gas out of our economy will be tougher. Getting rid of private petrol automobiles should be a huge gain for the environment. We should also plan to have far fewer private cars overall even if they are electric.

    An Australian government with any vision would immediately announce;

    (1) A Zero Emissions stationary energy plan with full implementation by 2030.
    (2) Cessation of all fossil fuel subsidies and transfer of these to renewable energy.
    (3) A carbon tax.
    (4) Planned phase out of all coal power stations (linked to point 1).
    (5) Planned closing of all thermal coal mines.
    (6) Submarine funds diverted to create national infrastructure like the point 7.
    (7) Electric underground metros for all capital cities.
    (8) High speed electric interstate train system.
    (9) Full NBN cable roll-out.
    (10) Full Job Guarantee as envisioned by MMT policy.

    And that’s just a start. Pay for it with a carbon tax, rich tax, defence savings and no involvement in Middle East wars which are none of our business. The economy would boom, in a good way, from these sorts of infrastructure stimuli. Unemployment would be banished apart from some frictional and some voluntary to a real level of maybe 2.5%. Don’t sweat it, there will always be some people who don’t want to work. Who cares when there are machines to do the unskilled work that people don’t want?

  60. @Ikonoclast

    Also, this is a real concern;

    “Hankamer said the fact that about 80% of the world’s energy was for fuel, and only 20% for electricity, meant “we don’t have any easy solutions”.

    I found that claim odd, because it doesn’t gel with most of the energy statistics I’ve seen. It’s a little ambiguous what he means by “fuel”. If he’s talking about transport fuel, then I’m quite dubious about the accuracy of the claim. Virtually all transport fuel is oil, and oil only makes up about 40% of global primary energy, according to the EIA. It’s possible his figure includes non-transport uses of fuel (e.g. heating and industrial uses), but then those kinds of fuel uses are presumably easier to replace with renewable energy than transport uses. Also the subsequent quotes do suggest he is talking about transport fuels. Strange.

  61. World coal production in 2015 was about 7.7 billion tonnes.

    World oil production, including unconventional oil, in 2015 was about 4.7 billion tonnes.

    World CO2 emissions from coal in 2015 were twice those from oil.

    Sometimes figures for coal are given in tonnes of oil equivalent, and this may result in confusion by giving the impression that the amount of coal mined was much less than it was.

  62. Unfortunately it is not realistic to expect electric car production to grow fast enough to offset the current depletion of existing oil fields and prevent oil prices rising again. However, once that price rise occurs it will further spur electric car adoption and then we’ll have another oil crash. And no, I can’t make you rich by telling you when oil prices will rise and fall.

    An interesting thing about the article on electric cars Tim linked to is it makes no mention of the effect of self-driving cars. If cars can drive themselves and serve as autonomous taxis, then electric vehicle production will never have to come close to that of internal combustion engine cars to wipe them out, as one electric taxi could provide the transportation services of 10 or more privately owned cars. Eliminating drivers from taxis lowers costs and frees up a seat. In addition, electric cars will have lower operating costs. This means the cost of using taxi services will be less. This means more people will use self-driving taxis resulting in their being more of them which will result in waiting times being less and so more people will use them in a virtuous circle. I’m not saying that private cars will disappear or need to disappear, but if taxis get a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient, then many families will do without a private car, or will make do with one instead of two or more.

  63. @Ronald Brak
    Try this piece on transport, batteries and self-driving cars. Covers a lot of what you’re talking about. I’m really impressed with his ideas – though pretty doubtful about the details of the calculations – about the space we will free up from reducing the area currently occupied by highways, roads and, in particular, parking. (I suspect my doubts arise from living in a strictly suburban environment with a mere square mile of city centre rather than in a large city.)

  64. The parallel universe Denialist thing, which is a globally coordinated effort, is about befuddling gullible people into being a voting body for manipulation by fossil fuel elites. It really is a global conspiracy. The irony is that those who seem to be most susceptible to being manipulated in this way are Libertarian conspiracy theorists and the red necks in our society. The red necks buy the story because it is against their interests to limit fossil fuel as these are the gas guzzling, tyre burnout, gun toting angry macho types who worship waste. The Libertarians buy it because they believe that they are against big government regulation of any kind, and because they see themselves as a persecuted minority so then they easily relate to the “outcast” clutch of religious zealot climate change denying scientists.

    It is a very sick mix of vested interests manipulating the gullible. The primary weapon of such ideological corruptions is the “big lie”. In the case of the parallel universe there are a huge number of these, but the key ones are that “all scientists are money obsessed schemers”, “climate change action is a global conspiracy to bleed the public”, and “there is no global warming”.

    There will come a time when the deliberate corruption of climate science for personal gain will become a crime against humanity, at which point the proceeds of such crime will be confiscatable.

  65. I am surprised at how slow change is. So many pundits jabber on about how fast change is in our society. I don’t see that. I see a society really slow to change. For decades we have known we need to change. Yet we have vastly more internal combustion engines than ever before. Most of our electricity still comes from coal. Only a small minority of houses have solar panels. Our (Australia’s) national broadband rollout won’t use efficient cable to house and it will be finished when? 2100? It must the slowest rollout ever.

    There are a few spots where things are a bit different. South Australia has made real advances on the wind power front. But in the main, we have hardly changed in decades. The pace of change is glacial (wrong metaphor I know) when it needs to move like a bushfire. This system is so slow to change, so slow to adapt. It doesn’t stand a chance of making changes in time. In fact, it’s already missed the necessary change window.

    Apart from computers and a few token solar panels, I am living in the same society I lived in when I was 20. I mean with respect to energy technologies which need to be changed. We have made almost no progress on the things that matter. Technical progress there is yes but I mean real progress on the ground in terms of installed and applied infrastructure and machinery. Of the latter, there is still only a tiny amount of what we need. It’s a sclerotic system which can’t change itself nearly fast enough.

  66. Ikon said:

    We should also plan to have far fewer private cars overall even if they are electric.

    I agree. Private cars should only be allowed for ‘important people’. Like in the Soviet Union – or something.

  67. @Ronald Brak

    Theoretically it is entirely

    realistic to expect electric car production to grow fast enough to offset the current depletion of existing oil fields and prevent oil prices rising again.

    It just needs a government program.

    If this does not materialise – then this is a clear indicator that the government is not serious about climate change or reducing fossil fuels to the extent required.

    The required level is the amount of carbon emissions that will result in a horizontal (or downward sloping) Keeling Curve.

    Nothing else is relevant.

  68. @Joe Blow

    The scenario you paint (special goods and services for the privileged) is actually more prevalent under oligarchic capitalism. Who gets all the private jets, helicopters and first class airline seats? Who gets the luxury cars while the ordinary people get the clunkers? Yes, it’s the rich people who get these privileges. Elite privilege is a problem not yet solved by any modern system; not by the oligarchic capitalism of the West and not by the state capitalism of the Soviet Union.

    There are other real possibilities. Self-driving, shared vehicles would mean that one vehicle would service the needs of say ten people on average. Then there is the possibility of much improved public transport. It’s revealing that the ultimate system to you is a system that delivers a private car. Bugger the environment and everything else eh? Who cares about that? So long as you can blow pollutants out your tailpipe, all is well with the world. Given your obsession with Soviet state capitalism and cars, I’d say your thinking remains in the 1950s.

  69. @Ivor

    Ronald’s reply epitomises the thinking of “let’s wait for the market to solve the problem”. This sort of thinking is all too prevalent on this social democratic blog. One would have expected a little more understanding here, at least, that radical political economy changes are the only way to deliver real change. This system (capitalism) will not and does not change fast enough and there are systemic reasons why it cannot deliver the radical and rapid changes necessary. The market has very demonstrably failed completely and utterly over the last four decades to deliver the renewable and sustainable changes we need IN TIME.

    Capitalism does not get the costings right. It cannot get the costings right because it values only and seeks only to increase the accumulation of capital. It seeks nothing else and it values nothing else. Other systems of decision making, like democratic decision making, are largely constrained, perverted, bought and suborned by capitalist ownership power. This system cannot make the changes necessary. It is intrinsically, systemically incapable of doing so. It cannot be placated, reformed or negotiated with.

  70. Come on Ikon, most of that rant is just plain rubbish. We are just in the process of buying a new car – a Corolla. It is almost exactly the same price in real dollars as 20 years ago and it is a far better car. Even basic cars now have luxuries that were unheard of 20 or 30 years ago. Millions of people around the world can now afford a car due to the relentless cost cutting and innovations of the free enterprise system. Your rant about private helicopters, jets and first class travel just exposes your ideology is based on envy, not love of your fellow pleb.

    Given that Capitalism is the term used for free enterprise and a market system, your use of the word for the system of the Soviet Union is also typical of the left – change the meaning of words so that people can no longer think straight and start believing that the ‘planned’ slavery you espouse is really freedom.

    The only thing I can remotely agree with you is self driving cars. These however, in case you haven’t noticed, are being designed and built by the very enterprises that you love to hate. They may well cause the partial demise of privately owned cars but not because of your much vaunted ‘planning’. It will be because it is cheaper or more convenient.

  71. Footnote: The really concerning parallel universe of unreality is the one in the moderate left where they think capitalism is okay and can still save us from AGW.

  72. @Joe Blow

    So could you afford a new car if workers producing it received Australian wages?

    How much carbon will you now send into the atmosphere?

    Capitalism is not the term used for free enterprise and a market system – it is the term used for expropriation of workers value by Capital.

  73. Ivor, the cost of labour is not the issue with car prices. How many man hours does it take to build a car?

    “Article from Quality Digest : Are Union Shops More Productive? lists the average time to build a new car for the major auto makers:

    Toyota: 19.46 hours
    Honda: 20.62 hours
    GM: 23.09 hours
    Ford: 24.48 hours
    DaimlerChrysler: 25.17 hours

    The Japanese auto makers are better on average. Toyota is 23% faster than Chrysler.”

    Killing the Australian car industry was a huge mistake, and exposes the LNP for the “good economic manager” frauds that they are.

  74. @Ronald Brak

    Unfortunately it is not realistic to expect electric car production to grow fast enough to offset the current depletion of existing oil fields and prevent oil prices rising again.

    Well, Bloomberg’s analysts differ from you on that point, evidently. But, like I said, prediction is tricky. As likely as not you could both be wrong.

  75. I am confident oil prices will increase at some point from 0 seconds to 3 years from now. I expect it to happen sooner rather than later. Was the recent price increase the start of this, or just a blip? I don’t know.

    It is not realistic to expect new electric car production to reduce demand enough to offset the depletion of oil fields within zero seconds. It is also not realistic to expect it to happen within 3 years.

    Technically it is possible to produce enough electric cars to offset the depletion of oil fields and prevent oil prices from rising within 3 years. Also, it is technically possible to drive all newly produced internal combustion engine cars off a cliff. But greatly increasing electric car production within a short period of time would be very expensive on account of how current electric car production facilities are limited. Lithium-ion and other battery chemistry production facilities are limited. Expertise in building electric cars and electric car batteries and battery packs is limited. The number of electric car models currently in production are limited.

    As scarcity is a real constraint (you may have noticed this) it is extremely likely that we would be better off devoting the resources required to eliminating coal use instead. For the current $5,500 US price of a Nissan Leaf battery pack, enough wind power capacity could be built to eliminate roughly 400 tonnes of CO2 emissions over its lifespan in a country like Australia. The battery pack in a vehicle is only likely to eliminate about 54 tonnes of CO2 emissions or less over its lifespan.

    But just because it makes more sense at the moment to use resources to eliminate coal use than to increase electric car production to reduce oil demand enough to offset the depletion of oil fields within zero seconds to three years, does not mean nothing should be done to promote the use of zero and low emission vehicles. If support is provided electric vehicle production could increase to a level sufficient to reduce oil demand enough to offset depletion of oil fields within a more realistic time period of 4-5 years.

    For example, I strongly suggest Australia introduce strict fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles with inefficient new vehicles taxed more than enough at the time of sale to eliminate the CO2 they are expected to emit over their lifetimes.

    I also recommend health externalities from vehicle pollution be priced into vehicle purchase prices.

    I recommend a carbon price of $50 a tonne be introduced in Australia immediately and raised $5 a year until it matches the cost of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it. At this point any petrol bought would then have the CO2 released from its use completely offset. And this could cost less than 10 cents a liter.

    Because of the potential self-driving electric cars have to rapidly eliminate internal combustion engine cars, I recommend Australia aim to have low emission self driving cars operating in at least one part of the country within one year provided there is a company that is up to it, and there is good evidence that the safety risk would be equal to or less than the use of human driven taxis.

  76. Tim, Bloomberg’s analysts quite evidently agree with me that it is not realistic to expect electric car production to grow fast enough to offset the current depletion of existing oil fields and prevent oil prices rising again. They don’t predict electric cars reducing demand enough to offset depletion in oil fields until around 2022. Six years from now. While I can’t be certain that oil prices won’t rise for 5+ years, that does not seem realistic to me.

    I think the problem here is I did not write what you think I wrote.

  77. @Ronald Brak
    Certainly, now that you’ve clarified that you were talking about a three year time frame, it’s clear that Bloomberg doesn’t disagree with you. Your earlier comment (intentionally or otherwise) created the impression that you disagreed with the Bloomberg analysis.

  78. Whoever turns out being right, the time to invest in lithium mines was last September onwards 🙂

  79. Ivor, just as BilB said, wages play a small part in the cost of a car. Capitalisms’ relentless ability to reduce costs by eliminating waste ( which is a cost ) and optimising production processes is why cars and other consumer goods are safer, more reliable and more affordable than ever.

    And, no, Capitalism is not ‘expropriation of workers value by Capital’. That has been thoroughly debunked and it is kind of funny hearing the odd person still saying it. It’s like the 70’s all over again. Most people have moved on and have come to realize ( despite a bunch of die hards trying to muddy the waters by changing the meaning of words ) that the only way to prosperity is via private enterprise.

    The reduction in absolute poverty since the 1970s, has been unprecedented. This is in large part to increasingly larger parts of the world dumping the idea of the revolutionary socialism.

  80. Well, I think it was pretty clear since I specifically wrote, “…and prevent oil prices rising again.” But, humans don’t do clear very well so I am not at all perturbed by you not understanding me. I could have made my point more clearly, but I find that the more pedantic I become in an attempt to avoid being misunderstood, the more people hate me. So I generally just don’t try too hard these days except to sometimes try to clarify when confusion arises.

    However, when it seems clear to me that unconfusing someone is not a realistic possibility, I often do nothing. So if I attempt to clarify a point it’s a compliment. But I have learned that some people simply don’t pay attention to clarifications and so there is no point in trying. Sometimes I see if it is possible to get someone who has made an incorrect statement about physical reality to admit that it was wrong, and sometimes I try to get someone who has made mutually incompatible statements to reconcile them, but both those activities probably just indicate that I have sociopathic tendencies.

  81. @BilB

    As you know, if

    Toyota: 19.46 hours

    was the cost of a car – the selling price would be around $1,946 if wages were $100 per hour.

    If you had provided the source for your information people would have read the actual report which indicated that this timing was the period taken by a number of workers.

    For example your digest says:

    In fact, the most productive auto assembly plant in North America, according to The Harbour Report, is General Motors’ Oshawa (Canada) No. 1 plant, in which workers take just 15.85 hours to assemble a vehicle. The plant assembles the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Impala, and is represented by the Canadian Auto Workers.

    Cars from Canada do not cost anywhere near $1,585.

    The time is the operating time for the plant. The number of “workers” is not stated. If you did into the actual source document you will find that the data relates to “assembly plants”.

    With robots and advanced machinery I can well understand that a plant can be built that will assemble vehicles by consuming a relatively small amount of last stage labour.

    Labour costs for the car industry output as a whole are not this.

  82. @Ikonoclast

    Footnote: The really concerning parallel universe of unreality is the one in the moderate left where they think capitalism is okay and can still save us from AGW.

    You’ve had a couple of goes at getting a bite on this point now, so I’ll give you one. 🙂

    You are correct, obviously, that what you refer to as “moderate left” approaches to global warming are predicated on the assumption that “capitalism”* will continue. However, you also imply that these “moderate left” approaches are actually disguised ideological defences of “capitalism”. I don’t really accept this interpretation (surprise!). So I’ve set out below the reasons why I, at least, support “moderate left” approaches, which I regard as essentially pragmatic (as opposed to ideological).

    (*Note: I put “capitalism” in scare quotes because, contrary to the assertions of some, it’s actually a rather slippery concept that often changes shape when you try to get a grip on it. That’s why I usually (!) avoid debating these kinds of topics – the fuzziness of the concepts of “capitalism” and “socialism” readily lead to endless, circular arguments).

    My reasoning is (more or less) as follows:

    – Getting societies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is clearly difficult. However, the plethora of policy and technology tools to address global warming, and modelling that indicates they can be effective at moderate cost, lend themselves to the view that it can be done;
    – The available evidence, from 20th century societies with centrally planned economies (and the remaining one or two “socialist” countries), and from government-owned energy intensive industry sectors in capitalist countries, provides absolutely no support for the view that centrally planned economies would somehow be more effective at reducing greenhouse emissions (or environmental degradation more generally) than those organised along “capitalist” lines;
    – There is no plausible strategy for getting rid of capitalism, at least in the short to medium term;
    – global warming needs to be addressed in the short to medium term;
    – the view that global warming simply cannot possibly addressed under “capitalism” (and by implication can be achieved under “socialism”) appears to be an unsupported, and essentially dogmatic, assertion (although I certainly acknowledge that it is possible that global warming will not be effectively addressed, whether under “capitalism” or some other system).

    I should note that some of my views on these issues have changed as a result of experience. I used to think that market-based mechanisms should be preferred because they would be politically easier to implement than regulation-based approaches. That was clearly mistaken – both approaches are equally difficult, from a political perspective.

    Obviously, I don’t expect you to agree with all or any of these reasons. Indeed, no doubt you and Ivor will venture to disagree with most, if not all of them. But hell, this is a blog thread.

    I’ll make one other point – even if I were to accept your claim that “moderate left” policies on global warming are essentially ideological, I don’t think “parallel universe” is an appropriate term for this particular difference of opinion, as it’s possible (IMHO) for people to have different opinions about how society should be organised, based on ideological views, while still living in the same (factual) universe. The “parallel universe” that is the subject of the OP is one in which its inhabitants disagree with the existence of readily verifiable empirical facts.

  83. @Joe Blow

    It is not as BilB said.

    Wages are do not play a small part in the cost of a car.

    Normal commerical incentives (ie competition) to reduce costs by eliminating waste ( which is a cost ) and optimising production processes is why cars and other consumer goods are safer, more reliable and more affordable than ever.

    Capitalism is only ‘expropriation of workers value by Capital’. That has not been thoroughly debunked and it is kind of funny hearing the odd person still trotting out such capitalist dogma.

    Most people are fed up with a bunch of die hards trying to muddy the waters by changing the meaning of words and pretending that capitalism is prosperity is via private enterprise.

    The reduction in absolute poverty since the 1970s, is not unprecedented. Poverty only falls when wealth is shared and the wealth of one is not built on the poverty of another.

    This is not in large part to increasingly larger parts of the world supposedly dumping the idea of the revolutionary socialism because eliminating poverty requires dumping of the idea of crazy capitalism.

  84. Ivor, hate to say it but you really need start reading a bit more than just the Green Left Weekly. And maybe travel a bit more. Wealth does not have to be shared to reduce poverty, you have to produce more. Sharing Bill Gates 40 billion dollars would add $5 to your portion of his wealth and be 2 days pay for the worlds poorest. After that its ALL gone. This is straight envy and wilful ignoring of facts.

  85. I would like to challenge the idea that consumption levels are the best measure of progress .To us ,living a life of higher consumption seems a natural good. It may be hard to believe but happiness levels dont seem much correlated with that. Once basic needs are secured over-consumption often makes life less enjoyable. Despite much effort, the best things in life are still cheap or free. I hope self destructive gluttony is not the essence of humanity that we have no choice but to work with . I hope it is a construct open to the possibility of change. Shiny new things are hard to resist.

  86. Ivor, you are yelling into the storm.

    One of the larger reasons for our steady loss of large businesses is to do with the value of the land that factories occupy. Times of low investment returns, which in Australia’s case was to do with the exchange rate of the dollar (65 cents to 110 cents), consecutive with abnormal inflation of land value have the effect of weakening the reasons for maintaining a business effort in the face of the opportunity of a windfall profit. Another very large reason for business loss is simply incompetent business management usually in older businesses where “bought in” executives have no real knowledge of or interest in the intention of the enterprise, and so can make flippant decisions to shut a business down. A good example of that in my opinion would be the demise of Email Limited.

    Capitalism is simply a methodology for the exchange of perceived time/value, nothing more.

    What I am intrigued about is how I do not see the Marxists amounts us pointing to the Syrian revolution, which is very much driven by the forces that Marx expounded and exacerbated by climate change, and to how successfully that is working out for that population.

  87. Sunshine, your comment is quite profound. The problem is that our cities are such a miserable living environment for the greater population that smelling the roses becomes ever harder to achieve.

  88. @Joe Blow
    Joe ; Many billions were given to the top end of town in England to save us from the effects of the GFC. Arguably this has turned out to be for no benefit .Apparently sharing that money could have given every English person a living wage for 4 years. Wouldn’t that have been a much better investment?

  89. Sunshine, I agree. There is in fact a bit of a trend towards a ‘minimalist’ lifestyle and the recognition that having too many things is stressful and weighs you down. I hope becomes more popular.

  90. Sunshine, governments handing out trillions of fiat dollars to ‘save the economy’ has nothing to do with Capitalism. This is the end result of years of meddling and tweaking to make the economy ‘run better’. The results are of course predictably disastrous. Apparently the answer for fans of Big Government is to meddle even more. Plan accordingly.

  91. I agree with that too, Joe Blow.

    I spend a lot of time contemplating a path to a quality future and what we can rationally expect to have and specifically need. The tablet computer has had a massive impact on the need for goods. Some people spend huge amounts of time playing games on them, my wife spends large amounts of time reading books, my daughter has just bought her first to serve her with her University lecture notes. Then they serve as music, video and movie players. While people are occupied on that one device they are not requiring much else other than food and a comfortable position.

  92. @Joe Blow

    I do not read Green Left Weekly.

    I travel a lot.

    Wealth does have to be shared to reduce relative poverty.

    Sharing Bill Gate’s wealth would give $40,000 cash to a million people but this is not what anyone proposes to do – it is a figment of your wilful imagination and ignoring facts.

    If you change the system by which Bill Gates accumulated 40 billion, the whole world benefits without capitalist greed or envy.,

  93. @Joe Blow

    Capitalists must hand out trillions of dollars because it is inherent within capitalism to not pay workers wages equal to the selling prices of their production. While governments can tax profits and use these to fund some final consumption, in general wages are the only source of final consumption.

    If workers do not have wages sufficient to purchase their production at capitalist prices either some goods go unsold or final consumption demand has to be boosted by various forms of monetary trickery.

    This then leads to a mountain of debt and a economic catastrophe.

  94. Ivor said:

    Poverty only falls when wealth is shared and the wealth of one is not built on the poverty of another.

    Now – you change that to ‘Relative poverty’. Muddying the waters again.

    Ivor, complaining about relative poverty has another name – envy.

    And if you change the system by which Bill Gates made ( not stole and you would have us believe ) $40 billion, you would have nothing – just ask a Venezuelan.

  95. @Joe Blow

    No – its called rigor.

    Relative poverty can be measured and dealt with.

    Absolute poverty, to the extent it is not relative, is hard to measure or deal with.

    In feudal times, the most wealthy did not have glazed windows or telephones or heart transplants but were not living in poverty.

  96. I see people are talking about capitalism on this comment thread.

    I don’t know what capitalism is.

    Oh sure, I know what I think it means, and I can easily look up its definition in a dictionary, but I don’t understand what people mean by capitalism when they discuss it online.

    For example, from what I read in online discussions, I don’t know if North Korea is capitalist or not. This is because I am under the impression that some people think the absence of capitalism results in the absence of inequality and environmental damage, and since North Korea has these problems it must be capitalist.

    Also, I have been told that capitalism is predicated on the destruction of other species. This means that if the United States made the minimum change required for it to stop destroying species, but otherwise made no other changes, it would no longer be capitalist.

    If people want to make any progress in discussions about capitalism I suggest that a definition that everybody or at least a large majority agree on, be arrived at.

    I don’t really care what that definition is, just so long as I can use it to understand what people are talking about. Once we have a definition then I’ll know what capitalism is, which nations or regions are or are not capitalist, and what would be required for a nation to become capitalist or stop being capitalist.

    I just have one request. Because I am young, my brain has not yet matured enough for me to understand abstract concepts such as definitions which contain ideas that contradict each other. So I strongly suggest you stay away from them. And this will have the advantage of enabling young people to engage in political discussion they are often excluded from.

    I will offer a definition, just as a starting point, which is based upon dictionary definitions:

    Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are mostly controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. Characteristics of capitalist states or regions are:

    (1) They have a large amount of private ownership of property.
    (2) It is legal and possible for people and groups of people to obtain more property than they already have.
    (3) It is mostly legal for people to work in return for money and/or property.
    (4) People are allowed to buy and sell property in markets that are to a large extent free.

    Under this definition, most people would live in capitalist areas but North Korea would not be capitalist and nor would regions where gangs or warlords do not enforce private ownership or prevent people from working or trading freely to a large extent. A region could not destroy other species and still be capitalist. And a region could be carbon neutral or carbon negative and be capitalist.

    This is of course just one definition. Other people may have other definitions that will prove to be much more popular.

  97. @Ivor

    It just needs a government program.

    Probably not.

    The thing to remember about EVs is their fan.tas.tic. performance. Then you have to look at price. The important price points in the USA at the moment are around 35000 to 40000 dollars(?) for mid-range cars and $22000ish for lower priced cars. Tesla are proposing to introduce a car – next year? – at the mid-range price … with the performance we can now only get from a fancy Porsche at more than twice the price. Not many years later, around 2022, they expect to produce a low price range car. All these cars will have a minimum range of 200+ miles, which seems to be what people insist on despite very few people ever making journeys this long.

    Next issue. Fleet managers. A lot of new cars are purchased by leasing/hire companies and other companies with fleets of several dozen or hundreds or thousands of vehicles. They have substantial operating and maintenance costs quite apart from fuel.

    There are fewer than 20 moving parts in an EV. A conventional ICE vehicle has over 2000 moving parts.

    Even if Tesla (or whoever) misses the price point by a thousand or two, a fleet manager’s eyes will light up like a cartoon character when looking at the near nil operating costs. Maintenance reduced to tyres, brakes, filling window washers, regassing aircon and routine washing and valet service. Nothing else. No routine oil changes. None of the potential calamities, apart from accidents, that beset the ICE powered vehicle.

    People will buy EVs because they want them. They’ll buy them because they’re the best vehicle available at the price and because they are so. much. cheaper. to run. This bloke thinks it’ll all be over for new ICE cars around 2030.

    As for people not buying cars at all. Current car-sharing schemes tend to run a ratio of 1 car to 15 users. I suspect that current users are not exactly representative of the wider population that might participate in the future. I’d think 1 to 10, maybe fewer in some places, might be more realistic. But that is still a huge reduction in the amount of parking space we now use that we will no longer need.

  98. @Ronald Brak

    The basic Wikipedia definition is quite good.

    “Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investment is determined by the owners of the factors of production in financial and capital markets, and prices and the distribution of goods are mainly determined by competition in the market.” – Wikipedia.

    Professor R.D. Wolff also gives a good basic definition.

    “Capitalism, for me as for many others, refers to a system of production in which a small minority monopolizes the means of production requiring the mass of people to work for them in order to secure their means of life (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). The work is organized such that the workers produce more – a surplus – than they are paid, a surplus appropriated by the employers as profit. The employers then use that profit so as to reproduce (and expand) the capitalist system and their favored position therein.

    Notice that this definition of capitalism leaves open whether or not the state has a large or small role, whether enterprises are large or small, etc. All such variations simply mean different kinds of capitalism if and when the basic organization of production common to all variations is that described in the first paragraph above.” – Prof. R.D. Wolff.

    Remember, “capitalism” is a complex concept describing a complex and very variable set of socioeconomic systems. You might have to read a book or two to get the full idea. It is unrealistic to expect full comprehension from simple definitions. One misconception you need to get rid of is that simply owning private property makes one a capitalist or that the existence of private property in itself makes a society capitalist. The qualifying conditions for a basic capitalism definition are as follows. The private property must be a means of production (say a mine or a factory). The income from this must be divided between wage workers and owners. This act of the owners taking a slice of income (profits) while doing essentially nothing, except “owning”, is the crux of the definition of “capitalist”. While some owners of small businesses might work and/or manage too, this is not so common in larger businesses. People then simply tend to “own” and to take income (profits) while doing nothing other than “owning”.

  99. Ikonoclast,

    There can be a capitalist economy in which every individual is an entrepreneur in their own right. The one thing that the economy requires is a medium with which to exchange value and that medium must be able to be stored/accumulated. The standard medium is metal in the form of uniform weight coins. Everything else that is presumed to be a property of capitalism is a downstream consequence/complexification of the embryo pure economy.

  100. Joe Blow, your relentless energy is tiresome. Large inequality is bad, whether accompanied by envy or not. Unrestrained capitalism would be a disaster for most people. The market is bloody brilliant, provided it is suitably regulated.

    I like to think we live in a society that is at least trying to give most of us satisfying lives. Such a society will be part capitalism, part socialism, will have institutions, and rules and regulations. Presumably it will also have right wing nutters, but nothings perfect.

  101. @BilB

    If every individual were a self-employed entrepreneur with his/her own means of production then it would not be capitalism. Imagine a village of tradespeople surrounded by one-person farms. Each tradesperson has their skill and owns the equipment to exercise it. Each tradesperson works alone for themselves with no employees. Each farmer works his/her farm with no employees. This would not be capitalism. Even if this village has a market (which it would need) it still would not be capitalism. In fact, such a system would be a kind of market socialism.

    Private property does not define capitalism. Other systems have had private property. Markets do not define capitalism. Other systems have had markets. As Prof. R.D. Wolff writes;

    “How an economic system organizes the production, appropriation and distribution of its surplus neatly and clearly differentiates capitalism from other systems.”

    It might be best to read this article by Prof. R.D. Wolff on his site. Just Google it.

    “Critics of Capitalism Must Include Its Definition”

  102. Of course it would be capitalism, Ikonoclast. You forget specialisation. Not everyone wants to or can do the same things, hence trade with a currency. Not everyone has the same physical and mental capabilities, hence variability of returns and ultimately disparities of wealth and eventually exploitation. The one thing that makes it capitalism is the currency. How it develops determines the type of capitalism it becomes.

  103. @BilB

    No, I beg to differ. It is not capitalism if all persons are self-employed and have their own means of production (capital equipment). Also, currency does not make a system capitalist. After all, feudal systems had systems of currency. That did not make them capitalist.

    It seems to be a common mistake to fixate on one or more obvious aspects of capitalism and then think that these define capitalism on their own. The obvious aspects which are NOT diagnostic of capitalism on their own are;

    (1) Markets – Capitalist systems must have markets but other systems also needed markets. The feudal system exhibited some markets. A pure slave system can have a market for slaves. Theoretically, market s o c i a l i s m could exist. Admittedly, markets are more organized and more extensive in a capitalist system, though a modern market s o c i a l i s t system would also need extensive markets.

    (2) Private Property – Other systems have private property. The phrase “goods and chattels” is of medieval origin and meant pretty much what it means today; “All kinds of personal possessions”. At least some feudal classes could legally own goods and chattels (have private property). From Old French chatel “goods, wealth, possessions, property, profit, cattle.”

    (3) Specialisation – Other socio-economic systems have exhibited specialisation. Feudal systems had specialised classes like Nobles, Clerics, Knights, Freeman, Tradesmen, Vassals and peasants. There was clearly specialisation in tasks and trades. Again speciliaisation is more extensive under industrial capitalism or any modern industrial-technological system.

    Admittedly it is a feature of capitalism that it extends the functions of the above (markets, currency, work specialisation) while often obliterating other social relations over time. Also, it needs to be remembered that capital is not just money (money capital) but fixed capital or asset capital like a factory and all its machinery.

    Prof. R.D. Wolff states;

    “How an economic system organizes the production, appropriation and distribution of its surplus neatly and clearly differentiates capitalism from other systems.”

    Capitalism organizes production (mainly) by having owners of large conglomerations of fixed capital (factories, mines etc). Wage workers are hired to make things using the capital equipment. Each item made might cost $25 in materials and depreciation, $25 in wages and be sold for $75. The capitalist owner makes all the decisions. What to make, who to hire, what to pay workers and the price of the finished goods. The capitalist owner is organizing production, deciding how much of the profit to pay out in wages and how much of the profit to give himself.

    The capitalist owner has more power than the workers (unless they strike or rebel). While the workers are “atomised” rather than collectively organised, the capitalist has more power than the workers. The capitalist has other limits on his power. Competition from other capitalists as market forces and government laws and regulation such as they may be will limit the capitalists power. But overall, in such a society, the capitalists (owners of productive capital) wield the most power and decide how to organise production, how to appropriate profits and how to distribute profits. The workers are more or less cut of these decisions. Variations exist of course where workers, as workers or voting citizens, are given some power. Social democracy is an example.

    But capitalism left to its own devices (with little regulation except laws which favour the rich) works as both Marx and Piketty have illustrated with their very different approaches. Wealth concentrates more and more in the possession of fewer and fewer people. Inequality increases. Immiseration of the people increases. This process continues until some kind of rupture or crisis occurs. The crisis might right the ship for a while. Social democratic laws might prevail for a while as under the New Deal and Keynesianism. But again and again capitalism trends back by natural tencdency to massive inequality, exploitation and serious crises. These are long, historical cycles. One lifetime is often not enough time to get the full picture. You need to do historical analyses of the trends as Marx and Piketty have done (with their different methods).

    Capitalism has proven itself to be an unreformable system in the long run. Its problems are intrinsic and systemic. The only option is to remove this damaging system entirely. It also plays a large role in ignoring external costs; that is in ignoring the human and environmental costs of its operations. Because the few super rich make most of the production decisions and control most governments by donations, payola etc. , only the needs of the super rich are fully considered.

    The needs of ordinary people and the environment are considered incidental and of little interest to the operations of capitalism. Representative democracy does play a moderating role. It gives the people some power, mainly over personal rights and some distributions (state spending), but little effective power over production decisions. This is why this system has found it so hard to change from producing energy from fossil fuels to producing energy from renewable sources.

  104. You can differ for all you are worth, Ikonoclast, but the fact remains that Capitalism did not arise from some convention establishing rules to operate by, it Evolved. Capitalism evolved from the needs and actions of people and their communities. Capitalism is the dominate economic mode because it works, and it works automatically.

    Yes. Capitalism suffers from issues of greed and poor sharing of wealth. Communism suffers from greed, chronyism and oppression. Socialism suffers from lack of performance incentive and is vulnerable to religious and imposed ideological domination.

    Capitalism with appropriate regulation and taxation is by far the most robust (and empirically the most dominant) economic reality, and I know that you will not agree with any of that. But that is how I observe the world.

    “The only option is to remove this damaging system entirely”

    Can you identify any examples of where this has occurred and led to an enduring solution?

  105. Further, Ikon, you are a bit fixated with the notion that “workers” are excluded from being capitalists themselves due to lack of availability to (money) capital.

    If a person cuts a stick to use to flail rice or wheat they have created “capital”. I once used a broom stick and 13 nails to increase the packing speed at a PET bottle plant 4 fold picking up 12 bottles at a time against the previous 3. Capital cost $5.00, impact huge for a packing contractor. In our capitalist economy people have choice. They can work for “the man” or they can work for themselves.

    The other issues to do with environmental degradation are failures of government, and yes there is the very real issue of big capital lobbying to their best advantage. The premium example at the moment is the failure to put a deposit on plastic containers.

  106. So what is the real impact of this so-called:

    Paris “big success” relative to expectations

    given that Australia’s path is already set, as argued here:

    Australia stands out as having the largest relative gap between current policy projections for 2030 and the INDC target. With currently implemented policy measures, Australia’s emissions are set to increase substantially to more than 27% above 2005 levels by 2030, which is equivalent to an increase of around 61% above 1990 levels. Australia’s Direct Action Plan does not put Australia anywhere close to a track that meets its INDC 2030 target. The additional funding announced in August 2015 by the Government for post-2020, should it be re-elected in 2016, would reduce this projected increase by only 2%, to around 25% above 2005 levels (equivalent to 57% above 1990).

    Of the nine industrialised countries assessed, Australia ranks eighth on its projected rate of reduction in per capita emissions, exceeded only by Russia, and eighth on projected improvement in emissions intensity for the period from 2012 to 2030, with Canada ranking worst.

    In July 2014, against international trends, the Australian Government abolished its nascent Carbon Pricing system by partly repealing its Clean Energy Future Plan, which marked a negative turning point in Australia’s climate policy. Before the repeal, Australia’s climate policy was projected to bring Australia halfway towards the announced INDC 2030 target (5% above 2005 levels).

    The repeal of the Clean Energy Future Package creates a large emissions gap

    The CAT has assessed recent policy developments in Australia, including the Emissions Reduction Fund, the scaling back of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and, as well the most recent emissions projections published by the Government. Contrary to government assertions (Australian Government, 2015b), the abatement task has increased considerably over the years, reflecting the negative consequences of the repeal and the Australian government’s amendments of key climate policies in recent years.

    The CAT estimates that before the repeal of the Clean Energy Future Package, Australia was on track to meet their 2020 target. With the repeal, policies fall short and a cumulative abatement task of at least 153 MtCO2e between 2013–2020 remains. The scaling back of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh by 2020 translates into an extra 97-141 MtCO2e of cumulative abatement required during the period 2012-2030. After accounting for this and the effects of the ERF, we estimate a remaining cumulative abatement challenge between 2013 and 2030 of between 1.5–1.7 GtCO2e (equivalent to roughly three years of Australia’s current national emissions).

    It is clear from our present assessment that currently planned policies are inconsistent with the INDC 2030 target and Australia needs substantially more policies to meet that target. To meet its 2030 emissions targets, Australia needs to decrease its emissions by an average annual rate of 2% until 2030; instead, with current policies, emissions are set to increase by an average rate of 1.5% a year.

    For the 2020 period Australia has a target under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period (2013–2020) to limit average yearly emissions to 99.5% of 1990 base levels (a 0.5% reduction). After taking into account Kyoto protocol accounting rules (notably a modified ‘gross-net’ accounting approach for LULUCF activities), Australia would be allowed to increase its GHG emissions by 23–48% above 1990 levels by 2020 excluding LULUCF.

    With current policies projected to increase emissions to 35 to 40% above 1990 levels by 2020, meeting the second commitment period targets may require very little, if any, action, due to the substantial amount of LULUCF credits or allowances that Australia obtains under this agreement. Put another way, the treatment of LULUCF under Kyoto rules allows Australia to continue increasing its emissions until 2020, yet still meet its 2020 target.

    Should Australia fail to ratify the Doha amendments for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, then its 2020 Copenhagen pledge will be relevant. The CAT estimates Australia’s unconditional Copenhagen pledge— to reduce emissions by 5% below 2000 emissions by 2020— is equivalent to approximately a 26% increase above 1990 levels of GHG emissions excluding LULUCF— after taking into account Australia’s inclusion of afforestation, reforestation and deforestation (ARD) emissions in year 2000 base level emissions and in the 2020 target year.

    In its INDC for 2030, Australia specifies that it will apply a ‘net-net’ accounting approach to its target. What this means is that “net” emissions, i.e. all national emissions including removals from LULUCF, are used to define the emissions levels used in both the base year and the commitment period. Even though there is large uncertainty associated with LULUCF data (e.g. in estimating sinks and high variability due to factors such as wildfires, droughts or other weather extremes), this approach allows for comparing like with like, as opposed to the modified gross-net accounting approach applied under the Kyoto Protocol, and which would apply for the period to 2020, should Australia ratify the second commitment period of the protocol, for its 2020 target.

    An important aspect of the Australian INDC is that the 2030 target remains provisional on the “rules and other underpinning arrangements of the agreement” and that Australia reserves the right to adjust its target. This adds an unusually high level of uncertainty to Australia’s contribution to the 2015 global agreement at this point. Should the target be adjusted and/or any of the underlying rules altered, this assessment will have to be updated.

    http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/australia.html

    A big success “relative to expectations” is a Claytons success.

  107. @BilB

    If a person cuts a stick to use to flail rice or wheat they have created “capital”.

    This is a common mis-conception. Under capitalism if you use the stick to create a commodity, then the stick serves as capital.

    Otherwise it is a tool.

    So Robinson Crusoe could never be a capitalist no matter how many tools and equipment he created.

    You really have to understand Marx to make sense of all this.

  108. Sorry, Ivor, Investopaedia begs to differ

    “The factories, machinery and equipment owned by a business and used in production. “Capital” can mean many things. Its specific definition depends on the context in which it is used.”

    and

    “Capital itself does not exist until it is produced. Then, to create wealth, capital must be combined with labor, the work of individuals who exchange their time and skills for money”

    Marx may have had a different take on it but we live in the present. A tool is capital if it is used in the production of a product for sale. Businesses can and routinely do produce their own production machinery ie capital.

  109. @BilB

    Yes, that is where the genius of Marx comes in.

    You cannot say

    If a person cuts a stick to use to flail rice or wheat they have created “capital”.

    If living in the present leads to catastrophe based on how people misunderstand Capital and returns on capital – how they are obtained – and what are the contradictions.

    You really have to understand Marx for the globe to get out of the mess classical economists, Keynesians, and monetarists have forced upon us.

    It is not possible to live in the present for very much longer.

    David Harvey has described 17 contradictions of capitalism – but he needed to understand Marx to reach this analysis.

  110. Ivor, you haven’t demonstrated any contradictions with the use of a stick used in the production of food for sale, other than to say Marx wouldn’t like it. The stick fits the modern definition of capital just fine.

    I asked the question “what is Marx’s ideal society” and came up with quite a few offerings most along the lines of this…

    https://polsci101.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/marx%E2%80%99s-ideal-community-real-or-really-impossible/

    …which fits my impression of the “perfect” society. Its a myth. I think that it is safe to say that the Marxists out there are suffering from Kodak Syndrome, failure to adapt. The only place where one might find anything approaching and ideal Marx community would be closed gate retirement villages where opportunities are managed, ambitions are dulled, the pace is steady, population is stable and everything is pre-funded from run down capital.

    On alternative universes the end might be near. The GWPF have a stunned article suggesting that the US Attorney General is considering legal action against climate deniers. He must think there is a strong enough case to mount an action. Some of the confidence might come from evidence of this nature…

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/new-video-why-scientists-trust-surface-more-than-satellites.html

  111. ahh I forgot I had two links

    Ivor, you haven’t demonstrated any contradictions with the use of a stick used in the production of food for sale, other than to say Marx wouldn’t like it. The stick fits the modern definition of capital just fine.
    I asked the question “what is Marx’s ideal society” and came up with quite a few offerings most along the lines of this…
    https://polsci101.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/marx%E2%80%99s-ideal-community-real-or-really-impossible/
    …which fits my impression of the “perfect” society. Its a myth. I think that it is safe to say that the Marxists out there are suffering from Kodak Syndrome, failure to adapt. The only place where one might find anything approaching and ideal Marx community would be closed gate retirement villages where opportunities are managed, ambitions are dulled, the pace is steady, population is stable and everything is pre-funded from run down capital.

  112. @BilB

    The contradiction is not inherent in the implement. It is in the value relations associated with its

    The so-called modern definition of Capital is not the definition that provides a realistic analysis of capitalism. That is why there was a GFC and its sequel – spreading negative interest rates and deformations in politics, such as Trump.

    You need a society to have capitalism and the social relations that constitute true Capital.

  113. Ikonoclast, I directly based the definition I offered on information in Wikipedia, but I altered it to avoid people making no true Canadian Yaksmen arguements resulting from the fact that nowhere are markets entirely free or people entirely free to make their own work arrangements. I strongly suspect there are schmibertarians out there in the world who would rabidly argue that there is no such thing as free markets in the world due to the existence of things like sales tax. And that once real free markets exist under true capitalism it will be glorious and they will finally become the heroic figures that sales tax is currently holding them back from becoming.

  114. Ivor, I’ve just had a look at Marx’s definitions for the key terms, and it is clear to me that Marx’s theory is incomplete. I don’t think that it could have been fully representative even for the time when he crafted it. He seems to be completely locked into the view that only the proletariat make things and their only avenue for disposal of those things is to a capitalist. His whole view of commodities seems to be an argument that one cannot have ones cake and eat it too and somehow that is an injustice imposed upon the proletariat by capitalists. Marx is locked into the view that there must be tension as a result of the consumption of ones production time.

    I think it is time to move it forward 150 years, at least for Australia. If you go to Bangladesh or India you will find plenty of evidence for the oppression of the worker that Marx describes (see micro investment), but in Sydney Australia you will have to look under 7 Eleven type stones to find real exploitation, exploitation which is illegal in this country. In the modern world everyone has the opportunity to become a self employed capitalist in which case the capitalist is profiteering from himself. The stick does not work in your Marxist thinking because Marx does not let the proletariat be the masters of their own destiny in his version of Capitalism.

  115. @BilB

    I am at fault for taking this thread off topic. We will have to take our “capitalism debates” to a new sandpit when it appears.

  116. Ikonoclast, the definition of capitalism in Wikipedia does seem fairly good, but you also provided one by Professor R.D. Wolff which makes the concept much more complex by the requirement “…a small minority monopolizes the means of production”.

    This means that somewhere between a small minority monopolizing the means of production and a large minority monopolizing the means of production, a country would switch from being capitalist to not being capitalist while still having private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets.

    In Australia the average wealth as measured by the current market value of everything owned by Australians comes to about $500,000 per person. So if we had a 100% wealth tax on all wealth above $500,000 and the revenue from that was redistributed, then Australia would definitely stop being capitalist since there would no longer be a small minority monopolizing the means of production. Everyone would equally share the means of production, or at least would be able to own as much of it as anyone else. And if the threshold for the 100% wealth tax was increased, then at some point above $500,000 a point would be reached where Australia would become capitalist again. Maybe at $800,000 maybe at $1,000,000. I don’t know where, as it would depend upon just what is meant by, “…a small minority monopolizes the means of production”, but at some point there would be a switch from not being capitalist to being capitalist.

    So according to Professor R.D. Wolff’s definition, we can definitely state that a nation is not capitalist if a small minority does not monopolize the means of production. So it is quite possible, depending on how “small minority” is defined, that low Gini coefficient countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Slovenia, and Kazakhstan are not capitalist.

    Personally, I don’t like Professor R.D. Wolff’s definition as it is not clear just what, “…a small minority monopolizes the means of production” entails. I also think that a nation where people can own private property, are able to obtain more private property, are able to work in return for money or property, and have markets where prices of the majority of traded goods roughly approximate what they would be if markets were free, could be described as capitalist even if a small minority does not monopolize the means of production.

  117. @Ronald Brak

    a nation where people can own private property, are able to obtain more private property, are able to work in return for money or property, and have markets where prices of the majority of traded goods roughly approximate what they would be if markets were free, cannot be described as capitalist as this is a basis of market socialism.

    Capitalism is this plus extra – workers receiving less value than they produced – the difference flowing through to the owners of MoP as demonstrated by Picketty and others previously.

  118. @Ivor

    I agree with Ivor’s explanation. The key point of capitalism is that workers are exploited in the sense that they receive only part of the value of what they produce. The other part of the value goes to the capitalist as profit. The capitalist receives this by virtue of “owning” a lot of productive capital. But how does the capitalist “own” a lot? He owns a lot of capital by virtue of owning a bit of capital previously and then making a profit on it. It becomes a self-fulfilling property of the system that large, successful capitalists, on average, will come to own ever more and more, without the state intervening to redistribute via taxes and welfare.

    How did the capitalist acquire his first moiety of capital? There are several ways, some of which are “primitive accumulation”, inheritance, speculation, entrepreneurship and even working for wages initially. These methods of initially acquiring capital are not all, in themselves, morally bad though some may be morally bad, at least in their long term outcomes for society. Some of the processes involved (eg. entrepreneurship) can be economically/socially good and useful in many senses and their morality must be judged on a case by case basis. We can’t, for example, prejudge all entrepreneurship as morally bad.

    The central moral ill of capitalism, and the real damage to people and environment which follows, arises with large accumulations of capital in the hands of (in the ownership of) a tiny, rich minority. These people acquire stupendous wealth without working for it. They may have initially worked for their start and there is nothing particularly wrong at that point (if they worked for it). But the endless burgeoning accumulation (and consequent inequality and even immiseration elsewhere) is a moral wrong and a social ill.

    The real problem with capitalism is not just the moral wrong of exploitation of workers and the great inequality which can ensue. It is the behaviour of the system itself. Capitalism has systemic tendencies. Both Marx and Piketty demonstrated (with different methods of analysis) that capitalism, on its own, has a natural tendency to generate ever greater welath inequality. This is while it has admittedly the power to generate great wealth. However, it generates great wealth, for some only, by not being concerned about the damage it does to others and to the environment. The profits are privatised and the human and environmental costs are socialised and externalised.

    In addition, unregulated capitalism has strong tendencies to boom and bust. These arise out of the capital accumulation cycle. The natural tendency of the system is to maximise profits, expand capital investment in production and yet squeeze wages. Wages are squeezed to maximise profits. Yet worker wages are the main way the capitalist system enables consumption of its products and and its general high production capacity. Workers have a high marginal propensity to spend and thus to consume. That is the say, they have to spend most of their income to live.

    When there has been over-investment in productive capacity and wages are squeezed, then consumption is not adequate. Capitalists will shut down some production and lay off some workers. This makes creates a downturn and it can turn into a stagnation or a depression. The capitalist system itself has no way to get out of this depressed equilibrium. It relies on Keynesian state spending or “pump priming” to get it out of this depressed hollow. When ideology, like neoliberalism, rules out Keynesian style state spending then there is no way out of depression save that of capital destruction. The main means of capital destruction are wars, entropy (idled factories and machinery just rust away), financial crashes, depressed production and deliberate “catabolic” break-up of productive capacity for short term survival (of capitalists and/or workers).

    Capitalism needs endless growth to remain healthy. It needs endless growth to continually stimulate the entire system. Without growth, capitalism does not merely stagnate (a truism at this point) it decays and falls into economic depression. It’s natural tendency and indeed systemic requirement to expand capital means that it must always expand production to remain healthy. Capital which cannot get return is simply left idle. It is not redeployed for example into social or environmental programs, for under capitalist accounting there are few profit opportunities in those fields.

  119. Ivor, a nation where people can own private property, are able to obtain more private property, are able to work in return for money or property, and have markets where prices of the majority of traded goods roughly approximate what they would be if markets were free, is a society were workers receive less value than they produced with the difference flowing through to the owners of the means of production.

    I will demonstrate why.

    If I can own private property then I can own means of production. If I own means of production and people are able to work in return for money or property I can pay them to use the means of production that I own. And I will give them less value in return for their labour than they create, otherwise there would be no point in my paying them to use my means of production.

    So even if this society prevented anyone from owning large amounts of the means of production, such as redistribution of all wealth and income more than a little above average, workers would receive less value than they produced with the difference flowing through to the owners of the means of production. And if that is what makes a society capitalist, then the society will be capitalist.

  120. @Ronald Brak

    These issues are not really suitable for blogs. It seems you have not read much Marx.

    In simple terms just compare the economics of a Robinson Crusoe with and without exploiting his slave “Friday”.

    RC owned private property, owned MoP, was able to work for more, for money etc etc.

    In an competitive society there is no way that you can give anyone less value than they produced. Any such gain is always competed away. This is standard bourgeois theory exemplified by such as John Bates Clark who said:

    “The natural effect of competition is … to give to each producer the amount of wealth that he specifically brings into existence”

    However under conditions of waged-labour, Clark’s theory cannot apply and therefore, Clark’s economics ends in catastrophe – when countervailing tendencies are exhausted.

    I don’t understand you last paragraph because, certainly, if waged workers receive less than they produce – the society will be capitalist or feudal or mercantile or slavery.

  121. You are all over the place, Ivor. This statement

    “In an competitive society there is no way that you can give anyone less value than they produced”

    is incomplete. It must contain the condition after society “with perfect knowledge”.

    A used car trader cannot operate in such a society as he has nothing to offer other than time opportunity (the car end owner did not have the money or could not get to the location of acquisition to receive the goods from the original vendor). Time and situation are money.

    If the lettuces are not bought form the field at the time of maturity then they will rot in the field and the value is lost. Time opportunity for the field worker, the produce transporter, the auctioneer, the restaurateur. Capitalism is a team effort which requires cooperation rather than exploitation.

    So John Bates Clark can be correct in a wage labour environment where greed is non existent and where the proviso is that “the real competitive value is only that which a buyer will pay”.

    Anyway this is a futile discussion as empirical evidence demonstrates that capitalism works.

    Marxism offers no alternative other than the commune where everything has no value, so where resources are plentiful people make babies and the outcome is overpopulation. So you say “but there are rules, one baby per couple”, and there you have it, regulation, regulation that is necessary for any system to be successful without destroying its resource base.

    I put it to you that where people feel they have no value as a result of their society then that becomes a form of slavery. And that is the primary reason why capitalism succeeds and communism fails.

  122. Well Ivor, you wrote, “A nation where people can own private property, are able to obtain more private property, are able to work in return for money or property, and have markets where prices of the majority of traded goods roughly approximate what they would be if markets were free, cannot be described as capitalist as this is a basis of market socialism.”

    “Capitalism is this plus extra – workers receiving less value than they produced – the difference flowing through to the owners of MoP as demonstrated by Picketty and others previously.”

    And I responded by describing how when the conditions in your first paragraph are met, the conditions in the second paragraph will also be met. However, I did not fully explain my position. Workers will provide their employers with more value than they receive. If they didn’t, employers obviously wouldn’t hire them. But workers receive more value than they give in time and effort, otherwise they wouldn’t work. This is because people in different situations value things differently. And this applies in benevolent societies where everyone receives a guaranteed income provided by progressive taxation, and it applies in evil societies where the unemployed are allowed to starve to in the streets. If I own capital in the form of a ship, it is pretty useless if I can’t hire labour in the form of sailors to operate it. And a sailor’s skills are pretty useless if there is no capital in the form of ships she can sell her labour working on.

    Allow me to elucidate further with a simple example:

    Let’s say I own some capital in the form of apple trees. And let’s say for whatever reason I don’t want to pick the apples myself, so I tell everyone who might be interested, “If you pick my apples for me you can keep a portion of them. Whoever offers to keep the smallest portion gets the job.” Furthermore, let’s say you really love apples and are willing to pick them in return for one quarter of the total. But the lowest offer anyone else makes is half the apples +1. Not being an idiot, you make an offer of half the apples and no one else makes a lower offer, so you get the job.

    Now this is a really good deal for you. In your opinion it would have been worth it to spend your time picking them for one quarter of the apples, but your successful bid came in at twice that amount, so clearly you are coming out ahead on this deal. If you weren’t coming out ahead, why would you agree to do it? And just to be clear, you are mentally healthy and don’t have some sort of compulsion to make bad deals and you are not mistaken about the deliciousness or quantity of my apples. Also, you are not dependent upon working for me. You could work for other people instead if you wished and you have your own farm which you could also work on and which is every bit as good and productive as my own.

    Also, I am coming out ahead on this deal. If I didn’t think keeping half the apples in return for you picking them was worth it I wouldn’t have accepted your offer. Now maybe it’s only just barely worth it for me, or maybe I would have been willing to let you keep 99% of them. Either way, I am still coming out ahead.

    So you can see from this simple example where I hire you to work with my capital in return for pay, you come out ahead otherwise you wouldn’t do it. And I come out ahead otherwise I wouldn’t do it. This example is very simple, there are many complications in real life, but it does ring true about human nature. I’m sure that you yourself don’t make purchases unless, at least at the time, you think you are coming out ahead. And by you I refer to all your drives, not just your rational, contemplative side. Sure you might regret a purchase, you may have been deceived, and we’re certainly not a society of perfectly equal freehold farmers. But generally speaking, mature mentally stable people do come out ahead in when we freely trade our labour and money in the marketplace, and that’s whether we are buying or selling. So overall, wage workers do receive more than they produce, and at the same time their employers give less then they receive.

    Just to be absolutely clear, I am not saying there aren’t many factors working against this in our society, and I am not necessarily saying they are not getting worse, but I am saying it is, overall, correct.

  123. Apple picking as you describe is not capitalism.

    Workers will only pick your apples if they get more value by doing this than working for someone else or growing thier own apples.

    If there are significantly more apples left over, the number of apple producers will increase until this surplus is competed away.

    When this process stabilises, all workers get a socially necessary wage and the number of producers have increased so each producer gets a socially necessary wage. This is then market socialism with greater employment than previously.

    You can only get a capita;ist profit if you have some means of maintaining some degree of monopoly over apple production or exclusive right defended by the State.

  124. “You can only get a capitalist profit if you have some means of maintaining some degree of monopoly over apple production or exclusive right defended by the State.”

    That is nonsense, Ivor. Farmers regularly strive to be a new player in a growing demand market, and those farmers who buy machinery to shake nuts out of trees, or crush olives for their oil or manufacture food pellets for their yabbies, shrimp and salmon, or machinery to distil their whiskey, etc, and who employ local labour to operate their plant, will all consider themselves capitalists. You do not have to have a monopoly or government protection to make a profit.

    Again the Marxian view is fixated on the notion that capitalism requires destructive exploitation.

  125. You do not have to have a monopoly or government protection to make a profit.

    You do, actually: in a truly competitive market, prices will be driven to the marginal cost of production.

    Which, you know, won’t cover most player’s costs. You need some form of niche protection, some anti-competitive barrier, to make a profit.

  126. Collin Street, that is just total nonsense. I manufacture a product into a market where I have 30 international competitors. I assure you I qualify as a capitalist, and I DO make a profit. There are many ways to maintain profit in a competitive field.

    But the one thing you need to understand, every business needs to make a profit in order to be able to operate. In a market where there are just 2 competitors and a fixed demand the price for the product will settle at a price that sustains both businesses, and the real competition becomes a tussle for the bigger share of the customer base. You are wrong in saying that prices will be driven to the marginal cost of production, they will be driven to the minimum sustainable PROFIT.

    I found this interesting from Investapaedia

    http://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/marginalcostofproduction.asp

  127. @BilB

    New entrants in a particular occupation can only expect the same income as every other producer – unless they can find some exclusive advantage or political benefit.

    If workers get less they will have incentive to leave their current occupation and move to increase the number of new entrants.

    Capitalism is a system based on stopping workers becoming capitalists. When too many workers become capitalists the capitalist system collapses.

    Marx described this predicament for wannabe capitalists in Colonial South Australia. They had so-called “capital” but no workers.

    The Eureka Rebellion was based on the problems of having too many workers adopying an alternative occupation.

    Marxism is fixated on science and analysis. The exploitation is not inherently destructive. The demand, unique to capitalism, for a constant return on capital is destructive.

  128. @BilB

    Do you employ workers? If you do then you are a capitalist, in essence, albeit probably a small scale, entrepreneurial capitalist unless I misjudge matters.

    If you employ no workers, then you are a self-employed entrepreneur but not a capitalist.

    If you are in partnership with one or more other people and you share all costs, profits, work and management tasks then your group is a workers’ collective.

    Of course, there are blurry edges or grey areas between these seemingly neat little categories. Also, micro-analysis like this does not do justice to the complexities that arise as the system gets bigger (becoming a system of systems) and evolves many types of enterprises plus a complex government sector.

    * * *

    You also say “Again the Marxian view is fixated on the notion that capitalism requires destructive exploitation.”

    Capitalism does not require destructive exploitation of people but it strongly, indeed inevitably, tends in that direction without social democratic intervention. Capitalism is only benign and equitable when it is forced to be so by laws, regulation, taxation and redistribution. Everywhere where law, regulation and re-distribution are lifted or not applied in the first place, capitalism gets very unequal and very exploitative, very quickly. The historical record demonstrates this numerous times. Piketty is the latest to prove the case and he proved it very comprehensively without resort Marxian theory. He used empirical data. Unregulated capitalism trends to ever greater inequality which entails among, other things, ever greater exploitation of labour and ever greater exploitation and destruction of the natural world.

    Regulated capitalism and the mixed economy (when democracy and government are strong) has proven to be more reasonable and equitable. However, the historical conditions for a reasonable accommodation between labour and capital are largely at an end. I wrote about this last point in the sandpit.

  129. Ikonoclast, Yes I employ, both directly and indirectly, and I have a business partner as well. We try hard to keep our direct workforce low by subcontracting as much as possible (my partners’s choice not mine).

    Ivor, I fear you are living in some parallel universe to the one I live in. Going on your definitions Capitalism in Australia has failed and must be close to collapse as almost 3/4’s of Australia’s workforce is employed by SME’s (emerging capitalists).

    (Small and Medium Enterprises) From a page that has gone missing however the facts will be close

    ““SMEs employ almost three quarters of the Australian workforce with the top five employing industries in the sector being construction, professional, scientific and technical services, retail trade, accommodation and food services, and manufacturing,” Dr Hong said.
    “While SMEs don’t have as big a spend on innovation as large businesses, in 08-09 the sector still invested $5 billion in Research and Development (R&D).”

    https://www.smallbusiness.wa.gov.au/business-in-wa/what-is-a-small-business/small-business-statistics/

    I take it Ikonoclast that you do not agree with Ivor’s interpretation of Marxian capitalism. It would be helpful if you two guys could agree on one interpretation and report back the proper interpretation so that we are all on the same page. For instance this one has me mystified

    “Capitalism is a system based on stopping workers becoming capitalists. When too many workers become capitalists the capitalist system collapses.”

  130. Ivor, if my apple picking example is not capitalism then you were in error when you wrote:

    “A nation where people can own private property, are able to obtain more private property, are able to work in return for money or property, and have markets where prices of the majority of traded goods roughly approximate what they would be if markets were free, cannot be described as capitalist as this is a basis of market socialism.”

    “Capitalism is this plus extra – workers receiving less value than they produced – the difference flowing through to the owners of MoP as demonstrated by Picketty and others previously.”

    My apple picking example has a private property, the ability to obtain more private property, the ability to work in return for money or property, and markets where prices of the majority of traded goods roughly approximate what they would be if markets were free, and employers receive more than workers contribute. But you say my example is not capitalism, so your definition of capitalism is wrong or incomplete and needs to be improved in order to be useful.

  131. @BilB

    “It would be helpful if you two guys could agree on one interpretation and report back the proper interpretation so that we are all on the same page.”

    I have offered simple definitions from Wikipedia and from Professor R.D. Wolff’s site. The quandaries you and Ronald Brak face in understanding these simple definitions are illustrative of the fact that simple definitions can be of little use for people with no grounding in a subject. I face the same problem when I try to understand Buddhism. Simple definitions of Buddhism just leave me more confused than ever.

    The only solution is extensive reading of primary source texts until you start to “get” the subject. Only you can decide if you want to invest that amount of time.

    It’s quite interesting to me that people are so baffled by the issue and concepts of “capitalism” as an object of study. It’s a testament to how thoroughly critical analysis of our economic system has been expunged from our education system. People are so indoctrinated into capitalism that they cannot step outside it conceptually and look at it analytically. The situation seems similar to earlier Christian eras when religious indoctrination was so thorough people did not have the conceptual tools to think outside their religion.

  132. Ikonoclast, if you “get” capitalism, then what would be the minimum change Australia would need to make in order not to be capitalist?

    Or if you prefer, what would be the minimum change another country such as Sweden would need to make to not be capitalist, as, if I recall correctly, you regard Sweden as being a capitalist nation.

  133. Ronald Brak :
    Ikonoclast, if you “get” capitalism, then what would be the minimum change Australia would need to make in order not to be capitalist?

    This is a real problem. Apart from Frank Stilwell (a Brit) I know of no Australian Left economist who has ever addressed this issue. It is worth looking at what Corbyn advisors James Meadway and George Galloway come up with.

    However, provided there is no degree of monopolisation, and enterprises selling on a market are either family or cooperatives sharing all information, then a free market will not support capitalist profits. They will be competed away. The only profits will be either windfall profits or short-run profits as a market adjusts to a new innovation. These profits are not capitalist profits.

  134. @Ronald Brak

    That’s a good question and a tricky one. I will address Australia as the issue since I know more about Australia than I know about Sweden.

    Firstly, I will need to make a few philosophical points. Problems of definition and categorisation occur in many fields. Let me approach this by first asking some illustrative questions. What are the minimum changes I would need to make to become a very good person? What were the minimum evolutionary changes a pre-human or pre- homo sapiens species needed to undergo to become fully human? Does one need to have a normal complement of human chromosomes (46) to be human? When Pluto ceased to be regarded as a planet by astronomers did it change or did the definition of “planet” change?

    The initial point I am making is that is not easy to make simple definitions and categorisations for complex phenomena with many constituent, interacting parts and ranges, gradations and overlaps of all types of components and processes. Indeed, trying to over-simplify matters will lead you into error. If you want a really simple answer to any genuinely complicated issue you are probably asking for the impossible.

    Now, to answer your question: “What would be the minimum change Australia would need to make in order not to be capitalist?”

    First some general points;

    (1) The change would be a process of many steps if Australia were to transition “organically” and without major disruptions. Capitalism in Australia would likely have to “evolve” over time into Socialism (or some other system) to not be capitalism any more. Or it could collapse quickly into barbaric anarchy. That is the other theoretical possibility if it faced some enormous disruption.

    (2) The precise point where capitalism overall ceased would be hard to discern. The system would grade off from one system type into another system type as it evolved.

    (3) “Evolving” seems a more likely sustainable and permanent path than rapid (and usually violent) radical revolution to a new system.

    Now, some particular points to roughly define the “change” conditions.

    (1) Businesses, enterprises and corporations would predominantly need to be cooperatively owned, managed and worked by the workers in said businesses.

    (2) The taking of income merely by ownership of property would have to predominantly have ceased except where property is held in common by some people as in (1) above or all the people generally as in a nationalised enterprise.

    (3) A state would still be necessary in my opinion. (Some Marxians and S o c i a l i s t s might disagree.) The state would need to be representatively, fully democratic at least, on the proportional representation system. This would be a minimum democratic necessity. The state would still undertake public works (probably considerably more) and levy tax. It would redistribute but to a lesser degree as less inequality should be generated in the first place.

    (4) Markets would still be very necessary in my opinion. Such a system might be called market s o c i a l i s m.

    (5) Private property would still exist as well as communal, public and “state” property. The following forms illustrate this.

    (a) Personal private property which does not generate income.
    (b) Personal private property which generates income from self-employment / entrepreneurship.
    (c) Cooperative property of worker cooperatives.
    (d) Public property as useable public spaces, infrastructures and utilities.
    (d) State and nationalised property (like QANTAS and Commonwealth Bank used to be).

    In practical terms, many law changes would be required to underpin a new ownership system. Workable laws would have to be evolved over time. I will tie myself in knots if I try to make my suggestions on the law front.

    Just as it would have been impossible for a person in the medieval world to envisage capitalism full-blown, it is impossible for a person in the capitalist world to fully envisage S o c i a l i s m. Because of advances in human knowledge and comparative studies, we are now more able to envisage and project socio-economic changes forward from our time than a medieval thinker would have been able to do in his time . Even so, we still cannot fully envisage or project all the details of new and as yet unrealised systems. True S o c i a l i s m, if it can exist as a development beyond capitalism, will have to evolve in many steps by many linked processes. The points I listed above merely illustrate how far I think I can see along a possible path.

  135. Topical.

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/shadow-boxing-abbott-battle-against-marxists-at-sydney-uni/4935686

    Actually my business partner was at Sydney Uni at the time all of this took place, on the student body council with Tony Abbott as well, so I await his detailed elaboration.

    Ivor if this

    “and enterprises selling on a market are either family or cooperatives sharing all information, then a free market will not support capitalist profits”

    is the best you have got as the bright hope for a better world then the capitalist discussion is done.

  136. BilB

    “and enterprises selling on a market are either family or cooperatives sharing all information, then a free market will not support capitalist profits”
    is the best you have got as the bright hope for a better world then the capitalist discussion is done.

    Quite right – Bye, bye capitalism.

  137. @BilB

    And if 40 years of stagnant wages (in real terms), the GFC, the current low growth stagnation and failure to deal with climate change are the best that capitalism can do then we really are done for. I for one do not think current capitalism is the final, best system possible for the rest of history, just as I do not think technological progress is finished already either. The thing that will finish us is blind adherence to a now obviously dysfunctional and obsolete system.

    Systems can work for a while and then become dysfunctional compared to new evolving needs and situations. The fossil fuel system worked well. Now we see that if we take it too far it will destroy us. The same is true of capitalism. It worked well for a while (for some but not all). Now we can see if we persist too long with it then it will destroy our society and our environment. It’s time to further evolve our systems both technical and socioeconomic. To insist on retaining capitalism indefinitely is a Luddite position.

  138. Ikonoclast,
    The whole proposal would be dead in the water right

    “(5) Private property would still exist as well as communal, public and “state” property”

    …there. The reason is that some one else would be deciding how much personal space each person would have access to for living.

    You make better logic with your appeal at 64 . My suggestion, forget Marxism, it is dead and buried, start imagining what the hybrid future capitalist economy looks like.

    When I moved to New Zealand in 1980 Robert Muldoon’s pre globalisation fortress economy was a very interesting place with some appealing properties. He applied a price and wage freeze in order to keep the economy working to his plan, so a study of how that all unravelled might provide an interesting view on future economies in a crisis (climate change) stricken world.

    One area that occupies my thoughts as a designer is how much property per capita can we morally acquire in the nest 40 years . How will our exhausted resources impact on on future communities, and what should I be designing with future resource competition in mind. I have a building design well advanced, a building designed to withstand all that climate change will throw at it and can be expected to endure for 150 years, and hope to get to building a prototype within 5 years.

    Predicting what people will be happy to live with is a big challenge.

  139. I should have added “start imagining what the hybrid future capitalist economy looks like”, as indeed Professor Quiggin does on a regular basis.

  140. Thanks for your reply Ikonoclast, and I probably should have explained my intent behind asking the question and saved you some in time in answering. I apologize for not being clearer, but I did think there were people and organizations that had given considerable thought to how to get rid of capitalism and that there might be off the shelf answers on the simplest ways to go about it.

    So far no one has disputed that capitalism requires people to be able to own private property, to have the ability to gain more property, at least some freedom to work in return for money or property, and the existence of markets where prices for many goods at least roughly track what they would be in a free market.

    So we can say that if a state or region got rid of any one of these things, it would not be capitalist.

    But some other requirements for capitalism to exist have been suggested and I am not convinced that without them a society would not be considered capitalist and so I do not think they should be included in the definition.

    For example, Professor R.D. Wolff includes in his definition: “Capitalism, for me as for many others, refers to a system of production in which a small minority monopolizes the means of production requiring the mass of people to work for them in order to secure their means of life (food, clothing, shelter, etc.).”

    This means that Australia could make a relatively small change, such as introducing a guaranteed minimum income such as Finland is trialing, and it would no longer be capitalist as no one would need to work to secure their means of life such as food, clothing, shelter, etc.

    But while Professor R.D. Wolff clearly thinks this would stop Australia being capitalist, I am not satisfied that this would be the case, as all the basic activities that we accept as being part of capitalist societies would continue, the only difference is people wouldn’t have to perform them in order to get necessities. So in my opinion, making it unnecessary for the mass of people to work for their means of life is not a minimum change necessary to prevent capitalism from existing. However, you may think it is sufficient, in which case it might be the minimum change necessary to end capitalism in Australia and the other changes you suggested could be skipped, such as the communal owning of businesses and the elimination of income from the private ownership of capital.

    But if you don’t think that a guaranteed minimum income would be sufficient to end capitalism in Australia, then that means you agree with me that Professor R.D. Wolff’s definition is not correct. Or at least not an accurate description of how you view capitalism.

  141. @Ronald Brak

    A Guaranteed Minimum Living wage in return for guaranteed minimum work with leave, super and compensation entitlements would be a huge achievement within a capitalist welfare state.

    It will last as long as capitalism makes its profits and revenues exist to fund GMIs. In due course, due to underlying contradictions within capitalism, GMI and other welfare provisions will be destroyed by capitalists when they next gain government.

    This, in different ways, is what happened in UK (Thatcher), US (Reagen), NZ (Roger) and Australia (Fraser/Howard) etc under cries that such provisions:

    “…reward the lazy and defend bludgers”

    or demands for “austerity”.

    In the long run – capitalism must cut all wages and this includes any GMI.

    I do not know what the reference to Quiggin’s so-called “hybrid future capitalist economy” is meant to point to – but it is bound to fail in the long run.

  142. Ivor

    “hybrid future capitalist economy” are my words, not Professor Quiggin’s, so please don’t assign them to him without his knowledge or agreement.

  143. @Ronald Brak

    A guaranteed minimum income is certainly a socialist measure. Whether such, on its own, would be enough to make an entire economy socialist is very doubtful. Despite my warnings about definitions and categorisations of complex systems not being easy, you seem to persist in wanting extremely simple and literal definitions. I am not sure this is the way to gain an understanding of categories in “political economy” or “comparative economics”. You really need to read a few books on the subject if you want to understand such matters.

    However, since you push me to it.

    “An economy is capitalist when a simple majority of economically active people derive their main source of income from wages while working for an enterprise which is privately owned, in the majority, by owners who are other than the workers themselves. Said owners control the enterprise directly or through hired managers and seek to take a profit from the enterprise.”

    This definition is simple and generally correct. Pedantically, I would have to offer further definitions of terms like “economically active people”. You will be able to cavil in detail with my definition just as I would be able to cavil in detail at any simple definition you offered for the term “human”.

    An analogy has occurred to me. I don’t know if it will help. Alcohol and water are miscible in all proportions. I happen to suspect that socialist and capitalist aspects in an economy are also miscible in all proportions. How much there is of each in the mixture is an important factor in explaining the behaviour of the mixture and its effects on people.

  144. …there. The reason is that some one else would be deciding how much personal space each person would have access to for living.

    Well, yes. This is true of the world we currently live in, too. Unless you think that my deciding that I want to live in your front room is something our current society supports, which you probably don’t.

    “Private property” isn’t actually private at all, you see. Privately controlled, yes… but the possibility of private control is provided by the state [==community] providing courts, police, &c to maintain that control, or rather to exclude others from that control.

    [if the locus that determines what property “is” a person’s is not external to that person, then a person’s property is whatever they claim is theirs and can make stick. With, you know, sticks, and pointy sticks, and what-have-you. Not what you want: so property rights have to be determined externally, and anything that can do that needs to basically be a governance structure. ]

    Private property is a communal construction: what’s yours is yours because the state — not you — decides it to be so.

    Again, we’re going deep under the surface. It’s, like, quantum economics or something: your normal newtonian-type insights, “private property is mine and I control it and it gives me freedom from control over others”, is only approximately true: pretty close to accurate in most circumstances, but there are circumstances where it becomes pretty damned wrong. Same with my point earlier about competition. It’s true, but not usefully so in most circumstances… but you need to be aware of it, so that when you drift into the area when it becomes importantly true you don’t get blindsided by the way things change.

  145. Which is to say, your stuff is yours because the police arrest anyone who tries to make it not-yours.

  146. Hartnett-White is on the board of Will Happer’s new venture, the CO2 Coalition, built from one part of the old George Marshall Institute (read Merchants of Doubt). She is at The Texas Public Policy Foundation. Happer and co recently organized an open letter from “300 scientists” (sic) to give to Lamar Smith to help him hassle NOAA and waste more taxpayer money.

    Of the 308 signers:
    214 are in US, of whom
    32 (approx) are in TX, including many oil guys who *know* NOAA was doing wrong
    plus a few ex-NASA engineers and administrators for the Johnson Space Center
    The Houston area is very well represented*.
    94 are from outside the US, of which
    24 are from Australia, @1! Coal. mining, Jo Nova, David Evans, etc …
    plus Judy Ryan (retired epidemiologist) who took a course from (retired minerals&oil) Marjorie Curtis … who write a lot of letters.

    * See <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/houston/?utm_campaign=sprout&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=1457009026&quot; for problems Houston is likely to encounter from storms and rising sea level …

  147. @Collin Street

    Please do not confuse personal private property with private enterprise.

    Ikon mentioned:

    an enterprise which is privately owned,

    You confused it with peoples front rooms (!!!) and various other misunderstandings.

  148. Ikonoclast, I certainly want an extremely simple definition because a simple one is much more useful to me on account of how I will be able to understand a simple definition. A definition I can’t understand is not useful to me. And I certainly want a literal definition because I find that definitions that contain metaphor tend to vary in how they are interpreted from person to person which greatly reduces the value of having a definition in the first place.

    But the definition you provided is simple and lacking in metaphor and I like it because I now know what you mean when you use the term capitalism. The definition doesn’t match all the ways you have used the term in the past, but if you stick to the definition from now on I will know what you are talking about.

    Now I’d like to see if other people want to get on board with your definition. Would anyone else be willing to use the definition for capitalism that Ikonoclast kindly provided?

    “An economy is capitalist when a simple majority of economically active people derive their main source of income from wages while working for an enterprise which is privately owned, in the majority, by owners who are other than the workers themselves. Said owners control the enterprise directly or through hired managers and seek to take a profit from the enterprise.”

  149. @Ronald Brak

    Oops, I made a mistake. I used the term “simple majority” when I should have said “absolute majority” or “more than 50%”.

    “An economy is capitalist when more than 50% of economically active people derive their main source of income from wages while working for an enterprise which is privately owned, in the majority, by owners who are other than the workers themselves. Said owners control the enterprise directly or through hired managers and seek to take a profit from the enterprise.”

    Further notes. From a Deloitte report in 2012;

    “The private sector (in Australia) employs 83% of Australian wage and salary earners, equivalent to 9.5 million Australians as at June 2011.”

    Now, this doesn’t exactly match my definition but at a rough guess about 80% of economically active people in Australia would derive their main source of income from wage work for private enterprise, as I defined things above. In turn, the defining of “economically active” will be somewhat problematic for my purposes. It is clear that non-working children and non-working students will be excluded. It is also pretty clear, I think, that the unemployed and pensioners will be excluded. However, self-funded retirees (whose super income is market linked or bank interest linked) might well have to be counted as economically active people as they are owners of shares in businesses directly or indirectly and usually derive their main income from that source. Self-funded retirees are capitalists or rentiers. Then, in turn, by a kind of technicality, recipients of defined benefit government super are not economically active and are not capitalists and/or rentiers…. or are they? Definitions get difficult at this point.

    Self-disclosure: I am a recipient of a defined benefit government super payment. I like to think I am not a capitalist or rentier. Question of the day, am I kidding myself in this matter?

  150. Self funded retirees are not capitalists because they use their assets to obtain their own living wage (which can be quite high). This does not disrupt the circular flow.

    However if a retiree uses their payment to employ a servant “on a wage” to grow vegetables which are then sold on the market for maximum revenue – then this is capitalism.

  151. @Ivor

    An interesting definition. But is not a self-funded retiree a “rentier” or “rentier capitalist”?

    “Rentier capitalism is a Marxist term currently used to describe … economic practices of monopolization of access to any (physical, financial, intellectual, etc.) kind of property, and gaining significant amounts of profit without contribution to society. The origins of the term are unclear; it is often said to be used in Marxism, yet the very combination of words rentier and capitalism was never used by Karl Marx himself.” – Wikipedia.

    Of course, all these problems of fine definition illustrate the relative futility (and probably social disutility) of attempting to tag each and every individual and enterprise as “capitalist” or “not capitalist”. More to the point is the identification of an entire system as capitalist, predominantly capitalist, mixed economy (mixed capitalist and statist, socialist or social democratic elements) or socialist and so on.

    To my mind, “capitalism” is a system tag and in turn various hybrid systems may exist in almost any proportions. “Capitalist” as a judgmental term is best reserved for the clear outliers who merit it. I will say no more on that point.

    It’s important to remember that some pure systems will never work. It is clear from historical examples trending that way, that a pure capitalist system would tear itself to shreds in short order. Pure socialism might disintegrate in a different way. However, in my opinion we need to move ourselves a long way towards the socialist end of the spectrum. Mere social democracy with a still predominantly capitalist base is not going to prove sustainable at this juncture in history (limits to growth plus late stage capitalism is a really dangerous combination) … again in my opinion.

  152. Further discussion of the definition of capitalism and so on should be taken to the sandpits, please

  153. @Ikonoclast

    If there is a degree of monopoly in the rent then it may be a form of capitalism due to this extra gain.

    But if rent only covers socially necessary labour costs to produce and repair the asset, there is no possibility of accumulating capital.

    There is too much junk in Wikipedia so cannot be used as a definitive basis for understanding these issues.

  154. I can’t resist another another post. Ronald Brak’s insistence of super simple definitions is a trap in many ways (intentional or not) and I fell into it. David Harvey’s marvelous short paragraph “definition” or explanation of capitalism given below illustrates well why my over-simplistic definition of capitalism falls well short of the mark.

    “Capital, Marx insists, is a process of circulation and not a thing. It is fundamentally about putting money into circulation to make more money. There are various ways to do this. Financiers lend money in return for interest, merchants buy cheap in order to sell dear and rentiers buy up land, resources, patents, and the like, which they release to others in return for rent. Even the capitalist state can invest in infrastructures in search of an improved tax base that yields greater revenues. But the primary form of capital circulation in Marx’s view was that of production capital. This capital begins with money which is used to buy labor power and means of production which are then brought together in a labor process, under a given technological and organizational form, that results in a new commodity to be sold on the market for the initial money plus a profit.” – David Harvey.

    In many ways, the above is an excellent and elegant short description of capitalism or at least of industrial capitalism. I am tempted at this moment to think it is the best short description I have found. It contains the seeds of understanding that capitalism is a process and an evolving process; that industrial capitalism could morph into something else like financial capitalism, information capitalism, prosumer capitalism or even prosumer socialism etc. etc. The first thing you need to understand if you are trying to understand capitalism is that you are trying to understand a system as it evolves before your eyes. There is no fixed target, definition or diagram which is going to be easily and simply understood.

  155. “I can’t resist another another post.”

    Please try harder, as any further OT posts in this thread will be deleted

  156. John Mashey,

    That list of 300 denialist signatories would be interesting to revisit in 5 and 10 years time to see if their opinions have changed.

  157. In this parallel universe, ex-minister speaks about how we (Austraya) are doing our bit, working hard to help businesses adapt to climate change, without considering the cuts they brought down the moment they got into power. Furthermore, it is misleading to talk about the money spent on climate change and mitigation research, without mentioning the current crop of redundancies of people doing the fundamental research upon which the mitigation and adaptation strategies are so reliant. This government, with a budget whose chief architect was Joe Hockey himself, did real damage, damage that is ongoing.

    On a lot of fronts, we are making good progress. Sadly, there are those who refuse to participate when they are the ones who can make the biggest difference, and that includes the government of the day. I think back to the early 1980’s, and how arguments about electric power cars would swirl around, with the inventors and the engineers (devoting free time) who would see it as something that could be made commercial, while on the other side of the fence the businesses and the governments said it couldn’t be done, so don’t fund it. Catch 22: fund it, and it can be done, or, say it can’t be done and don’t fund it. The missing meat in the sandwich was fundamental research that affected both the scope of available technology, and improved means to use it; some of that research was privately funded, some by government, but it always felt like driving with one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator. The same kind of loon arguments were applied to solar energy, and once again the arguments against it were based on the technologies available then, not on the new technological improvements made possible by investment in it; once again, many researchers, both scientific and engineering, led to what we have now. There is still scope for massive change in today’s solar energy methods, so we are nowhere near the limit of what is physically possible.

    Governments can make or break the necessary links that enable such changes to be accomplished. It is admirable that governments put some effort into research-to-business links, but that is really the tail of the dog; the rest of it is in the more blue-sky style, fundamental, research. We need to maintain, or to even increase, our efforts there. Fundamental research could just as easily be called keystone research, the stone that holds the rest of the arch above our heads.

  158. @Donald Oats

    With respect to the electric car, have you watched “Who killed the electric car?” The movie might seem dated now as Elon Musk has resurrected the electric car. However, it is not dated in the sense that it illustrates how new technologies or applications which we needed were delayed as long as possible by fossil capital.

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