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. @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.

  2. @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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. @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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. @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.,

  12. @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.

  13. 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.

  14. @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.

  15. 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.

  16. @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.

  17. @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”.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. @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”

  21. 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.

  22. @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.

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

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

  26. @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.

  27. 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.”


    “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.

  28. @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.

  29. 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…

    …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…

  30. 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…
    …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.

  31. @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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. @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.

  35. 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.

  36. @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.

  37. @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.

  38. 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.

  39. @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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

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