84 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. Can anyone explain how the limit of 2 degree temperature increase was derived. Ordinarily an economic evaluation would determine that temperature can increase until MC of reduced CO2 = MB of reduced temperature. But it seems like the 2 (or 1.5) degree degree limit is not derived through economic tools.

  2. Well David, it was like when the doctor told my Uncle he had to stop smoking or he would be dead in 20 years, so my Uncle resolved to quit smoking in 19 years time. He willfully ignored the downside risks because he didn’t want to make the effort to change.

  3. @David
    its in the IPCC reports David. There are representative pathways that estimate how much warming we can expect for certain rates of emissions. 1.5 – 2C is like best case – lowest rate we can hope to achieve.

    The pathways are of course based on climate science predictions. The best case scenario (how much we can slow the rate of emissions, how fast we can achieve zero net emissions and how much we can take CO2 out of the atmosphere) is I guess based on economic tools as well as climate science, I don’t really know, but given that we are over 1C already it is also a bit of a common sense or realpolitik argument I guess.

  4. @David

    Economic theories such as marginal costs = marginal benefits do not work where the conditions of a competitive, free entry/exit, homogeneous product, market do not apply.

    Capitalists with various degrees of monopolisation, and control of State apparatus, are able to exploit fossil fuels which maximises private benefits (to their owners) while damaging the rest of the public.

    The utilisation of fossil fuel is facilitated by political economy not the economics you have cited.

    AFAIK the 2 degrees is a red herring and has no real basis. The real need is to level off the Keeling curve, and this is well stated by Ralph Keeling (son of Charles Keeling) here:

    Keeling

    You can skip to around 40 minutes in the video.

    He demonstrates that to level off Keeling Curve we must reduce by 57% globally.

    The message from the Paris failure is that this task – reducing by 57% = will not even start until well after 2020. So it really is all over.

  5. Ronald Brak’s short answer is a pretty good summary. Since I am neither as witty nor as succinct, I offer the following.

    “The Economist” online in its “The Economist Explains” series writes;

    “The two-degree maximum appeared initially in papers written by the Yale economist William Nordhaus in the mid-1970s. As “a first approximation” he suggested the world should not warm more than it had in the past 100,000 years or so—the period for which ice-core data were available. Given how little was known about the costs and damages of global warming at that time, Dr Nordhaus admitted that the estimate was “deeply unsatisfactory”. Nevertheless, European scientists discussed the two-degree limit during the next decade or so; in 1990 the Swedish Environment Institute produced a report that argued that, on the basis of “the vulnerability of ecosystems to historical temperature changes,” warming above just 1°C was not advisable. The authors knew it was too late to keep within this level, and so suggested 2°C instead. From thence the maximum was adopted by the European Union’s Council of Ministers in 1996; the G8 picked it up in 2009. During the chaos of the UNFCCC talks in Copenhagen that year, the two-degree limit emerged in glory, forming part of the deal made there between the world’s biggest polluters. In 2010 it was enshrined within UN policy.”

    The short answer is that it is a somewhat arbitrary limit to hopefully limit climate change damage; a limit which still appeared realistic when mooted and adopted.

    The slightly longer, group psychology and political economy, answer is that it is the kind of goal people pick when they want to fool themselves and each other. People don’t really want to face up to either the fear of a realistic assessment nor the pain, effort and sacrifice of making the real changes necessary to deal with climate change. Psychologically, people prefer to live in denial and pretend its not happening.

    In terms of politics and economics, we have a short to mid term focus (which actually mimics our social psychology of short to mid term focus). This tends to happen with semi-automatic or semi self-guiding systems like our mixed economy capitalism.

    Our political-economic system (mixed economy capitalism) in any case is not geared to making long term assessments and decisions nor is it geared to costing negative externalities. The two degree “limit” was an attempt to deal with these problems. When one examines it, all our attempts to deal with climate change to date have been cop-outs; the have simply kicked the can down the road. They involve a great “song-and-dance” pretence that we are doing something while in reality we do nothing of practical, effective significance. This has been the story to date.

    Along with these problems, we have developed an ideology that economics (economic “experts” and their determinations and policies) should lead our society. This position is misleading and dangerous as the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul has pointed out. We should in fact employ full citizen democracy, moral philosophy (humanist and religious) and scientific assessments to direct our society. Economics should then be about a fourth order concern.

    Our society suffers from “Economism”; from having made economics its guiding ideology and even its pseudo-religion. “Economism is reduction of all social facts to economic dimensions. The term is often used to criticize economics as an ideology, in which supply and demand are the only important factors in decisions, and outstrip or permit ignoring all other factors.” – Wikipedia.

  6. David, a slightly more technical answer that doesn’t involve my Uncle is that atmospheric CO2 concentrations can reach a peak of 475 ppm while still potentially avoiding 2 degrees of warming. This means governments don’t nearly have to make nearly as much effort to limit emissions as they would if the much safer and more sensible limit of 1.5 degrees of warming was chosen instead. It is the result of politics and not the recommendations of climatologists or economists.

  7. Automated Payment Transaction Tax. A discussion group, in which I am engaged, is weighing-up the potential for a policy promoting a micro Automated Transaction Tax (primarily a Financial Transaction Tax) as the sole tax for Australia.

    Has anybody done any modelling work in this area? Or, any thoughts and opinions?

    Thank you.

    Garry

  8. If you don’t give workers wages equal to the value of their production, they then need to use credit to purchase a reasonable share of good and services.

    Then this happens: DEBT

  9. David: You have asked one of the questions of the ages , Just like “Who made God?” It can’t be derived, it can’t be proven but there it is. A tenet.

  10. @Ronald Brak

    “atmospheric CO2 concentrations can reach a peak of 475 ppm while still potentially avoiding 2 degrees of warming.”

    That’s a dicey proposition. It might be right but I feel the chances are low (significantly less than 50%) that it is right. There is considerable concern now that even the current level (400 ppm?) might be triggering tundra, Arctic and seabed methane releases which will magnify and accelerate warming. If 450 ppm, for example, triggers runaway a greenhouse effect then it doesn’t matter if we hit 450 ppm or anything above it from our forcing. The climate system will run away anyway. The climate system could “runaway a good distance” and then self-limit and recover. But “runaway” will destroy civilization and probably send us extinct. The recovery will be of the order of millions of years; way too slow save homo sapiens.

  11. Pasted over from another thread. This needed to be sandpitted.

    Ronald Brak’s insistence of super simple definitions for “capitalism” 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.

  12. Ikonoclast, the likelihood of avoiding two degrees of warming after CO2 peaks at 475 ppm depends on climate sensitivity and how rapidly CO2 emissions are cut after the concentration peaks. In the past using the middle of the road estimate of climate sensitivity and emission reduction the chance of staying under 2 degrees of warming was pegged at 75%. What the chance would be now that estimates of climate sensitivity have been refined further, I don’t know. But the fact that last year temperatures rose to above freezing on the 30th of December at the north pole in the middle of winter after 72 days of continuous night is not a good sign.

  13. @Ronald Brak

    I give credence to those climate scientists and commentators who have been saying IPCC estimates are too conservative.

    Climate Science Predictions Prove Too Conservative – Scientific American, 2012.

    “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent, say a growing number of studies on the topic.”

    “A comparison of past IPCC predictions against 22 years of weather data and the latest climate science find that the IPCC has consistently underplayed the intensity of global warming in each of its four major reports released since 1990.”

    And from another Scientific American article in 2012, How the IPCC Underestimated Climate Change:

    “IPCC emission scenarios seriously underestimated global CO2 emission rates, which means temperature rates were underestimated too. And it could get worse: IPCC projections haven’t included likely feedbacks such as large-scale melting of Arctic permafrost and subsequent release of large quantities of CO2 and methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent, albeit shorter lived, in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.”

    “Projection (2012): The IPCC has always confidently projected that the Arctic ice sheet was safe at least until 2050 or well beyond 2100.

    Reality: Summer ice is thinning faster than every climate projection, and today scientists predict an ice-free Arctic in years, not decades. Last summer, Arctic sea ice extent plummeted to 1.32 million square miles, the lowest level ever recorded – 50 percent below the long-term 1979 to 2000 average.

    Why the miss? For scientists, it is increasingly clear that the models are under-predicting the rate of sea ice retreat because they are missing key real-world interactions.”

  14. Why the miss? For scientists, it is increasingly clear that the models are under-predicting the rate of sea ice retreat because they are missing key real-world interactions.”

    Almost as bad as economists?

  15. This is a brilliant article by David Harvey. It is well worth a read and it explains capitalism and the GFC very well. A key concept is that capitalism continually functions to move its crises around. My own opinion is that this could explain the supple interim power of capitalism but also its ultimate limitations. The article also bears on climate change as it explains why capitalism is committed to endless growth. The discussion is subtle where it deals with natural limits and the ability of capitalism to transcend them repeatedly but not necessarily indefinitely.

    http://davidharvey.org/2010/08/the-enigma-of-capital-and-the-crisis-this-time/

  16. Debt and financial crises. Debt and asset price inflation. Debt and boom and bust. Debt and wealth redistribution.

    Today I found data without much effort in support of my long held argument that there was a lot of ‘foam’ (debt) driving the spectacular share market boom prior to the GFC. Here it is the relevant data, an excerpt from the referenced smh article:

    “Total margin loan balances according to the RBA’s latest figures were $12.3 billion for the September quarter of 2015 compared with $11.9 billion a year earlier and $12.7 billion in the September quarter of 2012.

    Contrast that to the heady days of December 2007 when the sharemarket was at its peak and margin loans totalled $41.6 billion.”

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/business/markets/gen-ys-executives-seek-upside-in-margin-loans-20160207-gmo49j.html#ixzz42vInBbxz
    Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook

    One of the implications of debt driven booms and busts in financial securities markets for wealth distribution concerns superannuation.

    For several years workers, via compulsory superannuation contributions, bought debt inflated equity (shares) indirectly via superannuation corporations. The time span is approximately 2002 to 2007. The purchases were financed from wages (employees as well as owner operator entrprises). There is a implied wealth transfer, from productive work to speculative activity.

  17. Ernestine Gross :
    For several years workers, via compulsory superannuation contributions, bought debt inflated equity (shares) indirectly via superannuation corporations. The time span is approximately 2002 to 2007. The purchases were financed from wages (employees as well as owner operator entrprises). There is a implied wealth transfer, from productive work to speculative activity.

    So… when the bubble burst, many speculators pulled their money (profits primarily) built on speculation 1st leaving super funds with a significant loss? Thereby completing a rather rapid and significant transfer to some clever bankers?

  18. @Ernestine Gross

    I assume that the implications of this are that asset bubbles might still have a long way to fall. Asset bubbles are not being as heavily inflated now but they were heavily inflated in the relatively recent past. Following on from this, recent retirees with (compulsorily) market-linked super probably face big downside risks. This suggests to me that such persons should pay off all debt with their super immediately and possibly even deplete the remainder relatively fast. Why wait for it to collapse in value? The difference in depletion time might not be that great. But each person must make their own assessments and decisions of course. I am not a financial adviser of any kind.

    If the world economy stagnates long-term, which it now appears very likely to do, in my untutored opinion, then paper claims on future wealth (like super funds) may will find not much real wealth creation eventuates. The three reasons I predict long term stagnation are;

    (1) Limits to growth (resource limits and waste absorption limits) will have real negative impacts. Some limits can be resolved by substitution but not all. Climate change, sea-level rise and ecosystem disruption are special and powerful cases of environmental limits. These will do enormous human and economic damage over the rest of this century and beyond, IMO.

    (2) Developed countries face secular stagnation in any case. The long run record shows a declining trend in economic growth in developed nations since the 1960s. There are demographic and other reasons for this secular stagnation.

    (3) Capitalism, especially under neoliberalism and corporatism, which are still strengthening their grip over the global economy, cannot resolve its own contradictions and now favours contractionary policies like austerity. As real production contracts in many regions, asset bubbles are still inflated, albeit at lower rates, by the financial system. The gap between market values and fundamental values and realities gets wider and wider. Only a market collapse can resolve the gap.

  19. The Harvey piece is a very good read, Ikonoclast.

    I haven’t read it all yet but I like his conclusion approach. He identifies the real problem as…. ““Freedom” then becomes just another word to justify repression”…… and goes on to show that Marx’s thinking covered seven “moments” (I’ll call them vectors) that contribute to capitalism’s dominance, and all must be addressed consecutively in order to manage the excesses of capitalism and bring about change. An island of rationality in a sea of confusion.

  20. Ikonoclast, if you can’t give a definition for the word capitalist, then please stop using the term as it is useless and no longer functions as a word. Instead, please use terms that specifically describe the situation you are discussing. If you think about it, you will see that if you don’t do this and instead use the letter arrangement “capitalism” it will not be possible for myself or others to understand what you are saying without stopping to ask you just what you choose it to mean – neither more nor less, in each particular instance you employ it. And that would be, and is, tedious.

  21. @Troy Prideaux

    First, an apology. As on other occasions, I see my spelling errors (enterprise in this instance) immediately on other people’s posts!

    Well, who exactly gained is more difficult to determine than who lost regarding compulsory superannuation contributions. Using the share market indices in Australia as an indicator veriable, the indices have not ‘recovered’ to their 6000 plus level from 2007-08. They have moved around 5000 for a long time – about 2 years. Price indices ignore dividens. True. But dividends were paid prior to the bust, too. I conclude a non-trivial amount of compulsory superannuation contributions paid by workers during the said years is wealth lost by the contributors. This is wealth not available to first home buyers, etc. This is the relatively easy bit.

    Who gained? Not necessarily all speculators but not necessarily none. Yes, banks are the prime suspects. Lending institutions in Australia (eg CBA) pushed leveraged investments in financual securities very heavily then. Banks make money on lending. I don’t know how many margin calls and their values were not met. I do know that a lot of this type of lending was secured by mortages of real estate. Enforcing contracts is costly. (Finding out by studying the sequence of bank and other lenders’ Profit and Loss and Banlance Sheet reports is costly too, too costly for me.) My working hypothesis is the lending sector was a net beneficiary. More precisely, the various high level managers, traders, advisers, and their bonuses.

    All prices are related – the one generally applicable insight from general equilibrium theory. Note, the share market crash of 2007-08 (there was a cat bounce in Australia) was followed by a real estate boom in the major cities (several small cat bounces since then), subsidised by tax payers’ money (negative gearing, capital gains tax concessions). My working hypothesis is that there was a shift from leveraged investments in financial securities into leveraged investment into real estate. By shift I mean a significant portfolio adjustment.

    As hc mentioned on another thread, some phenomena is difficult to detect by econometric means. I believe the workings of ‘high finance’ is one such phenomena. One kind of needs to keep the nose on the ground while recording, roughly, many time series on a mental map to make any sense of what is going on.

  22. @Ronald Brak

    I second your request for Ikonoclast regarding ‘capitalism’ and ‘capitalist’. Ikon’s post are often insightful and well written, except for his insistance of using the said so far empty terms.

  23. @Ernestine Gross
    Corrections:
    #2, line 3: replace “as an indicator veriable” with “a indicator variables”

    #2. I should have been a bit more careful regarding the description of the loss borne by superannuation contributors. Let {P[t]/ leverage} denote the vector of share prices at date t, t = 1 to n (ie the period of the boom), given margin lending (leverage) and let {p[t]} be the corresponding time series of vectors of share prices, assuming no ‘margin lending’, then the loss at each date t is q[t](P[t]/leverage) minus q[t](p[t]) for all t = 1, …, n, where q is the portfolio weight, a vector, not necessarily constant over time. This definition ignores compound interest foregone during the period.

  24. Continuing on with the Submarine video series here is an offering from Boeing

    Surely we can some of these “on the side”. Would have been pretty handy to have looking for lost aircraft.

  25. Tony Lynch, Ikonoclast wrote, “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.”

    If there is no definition of capitalism that can easily and simply be understood, and what the term does describe is constantly changing, then using the term capitalism is pointless. If Ikonoclast wants people to understand him, he clearly needs to stop using it.

  26. @Ronald Brak

    Actually the definition provided is quite clear and can be easily and simply misunderstood by those with an honest effort.

    @Ernestine Gross

    Since when was a dichotomy between those who own the means of production and those who do not been empty?

    Since when was the dichotomy between the flow of funds into personal incomes and flow of funds into capital accumulation, empty?

  27. @Ivor

    What do you mean by ‘means of production’? What do you mean by flow of funds? And, under which conditions is the flow of funds into personal income different from the flow of funds into capital accumulation?

    For your information, I am not a scholar in Karl Marx’s writings, but I am not totally ignorant about economic history and the history of ‘economic thought’ either.

    The structure of economic relations (institutional arrangements, laws and regulations) prevailing in Europe in the 18th and 19th century are not identical with those we have experienced during our lifetime, including changes during this time. Hence, terminology, like ‘means of production’ had a reasonably clear meaning in the historical context in which Karl Marx wrote. At that time, there were no superannuation funds or small private savings which could be invested by the majority of the population in financial securities representing ownership of enterprises which, in some sense are ‘means of production’. The distinction between physical capital and financial capital was perhaps not as clear as now, and so on. The ‘international monetary system’ was totally different, etc, etc.

    I found Ferdinand Braudel’s book, The Wheels of Commerce, Civilisation & Capitalism 15th-18th Century, quite useful to get a little insight into the structure of economic systems, centred in Europe but affecting other parts of the ‘global economy’, during that period.

    Enough said regarding the emptiness of the words ‘capitalism’ and ‘capitalist’ in contemporary society.

  28. @Ernestine Gross

    I am flummoxed by someone trying to impute uncertainty into means of production. All economic life is production and surely this is well enough known for people to talk about GDP, productivity and output etc.

    As such things don’t fall out of the sky, they must be produced by some means.

    So what is the problem with describing “means of production”. What production has no means???

    Everyone should know that any monetary economy always has a flow of funds if commodities change hands. Flow of funds may confuse people embedded in barter economies – but it must be reasonaly clear even in economies operating with cowrie shells.

    Under capitalism, because of capitalism, the flow of funds into personal incomes is fashioned as waged-labour, and is less than the value produced by labour. The flow of funds into capital accumulation is greater than the value produced by capital and the final proof of this was produced by Picketty who noted that r (the rate of capital returns) > rate of growth.

    This does not apply to wages. The rate of wage increase rate of growth.

    Capital income accumulates – wage income exhausts.

    Economic inequality, economic injustice, and economic catastrophe are therefore inevitable.

    The existence of superannuation makes no difference whatsoever. Superannuation is only an amount of pooled capital seeking maximum returns. It pays part of its proceeds to individuals just as shares investors also receive part of the proceeds of the capital they have pooled.

    Pooled capital existed in the nineteenth century and the contradictions inherent in pooled capital are identical to the contradictions inherent in private capital.

    The economic relations, within which the contradictions of capitalism arise namely, wage-labour and the production of commodities, are exactly the same today as in the nineteenth century.

    There were also your so-called “small private savings which could be invested by the majority of the population in financial securities representing ownership of enterprises” – shares, bonds, debentures, loans and etc. In fact Karl Marx himself invested in shares.

    The distinction between physical capital and financial capital was just as clear then as now. The only relevant difference is that there was more specie currency and less paper. But the rationale for all transactions was the same.

    But capitalist economies had to desert any specie basis due to the very “empty” nature of “empty” capitalism.

  29. This blog does not accept the not-equals text symbolisation.
    Consequently the sentance above

    The rate of wage increase rate of growth.

    Should be:

    “The rate of wage increase is not greater than the rate of growth.”

  30. Just thought people might want to be aware of this.

    “Look out: Microsoft shifts Windows 10 to ‘Recommended’ update, automatic download”

    http://www.extremetech.com/computing/222326-look-out-microsoft-shifts-windows-10-to-recommended-update-automatic-download

    Microsoft has check box options which are perhaps designed to mislead you or channel you into accepting the update against your wishes. Be careful if you do not want the update. Look at changing your update settings if you think you want to avoid an automatic download of Windows 10. Opinions and reports vary as to whether some existing installed software will work as well or not on Windows 10.

  31. @Ivor

    Actually the definition provided is quite clear and can be easily and simply misunderstood by those with an honest effort

    LoL.

  32. These claims that “There is no such thing as capitalism,” remind me of Maggie Thatcher’s declaration, “There is no such thing as society.”

  33. I am puzzled why some people wish to deny that our economy has a certain organising principle which might be characterised by the term “capitalism”. It is possible, indeed it is largely unavoidable, that a very complex system, like a society, will have many complementary and competing organising principles. Some will be minor organising principles. Other principles in societies will be organising principles of middling importance and some will be organising principles of great importance. It might even be possible to identify what can be regarded as the major or even dominant organising principle across an economy or a society as a whole.

    It is clear, even from the scholarship of orthodox economics, that there is something identified as existent which is called “capital”. From this it follows that if the operations of capital are seen or interpreted as playing a dominant role in the organisation of the economy then the system can be termed one of “capitalism”. If the operations of capital are seen or interpreted as playing a dominant role in the organisation of only a significant part of the economy and not the whole then the system can be termed a mixed economy, or mixed society, with “capitalism” or “free enterprise” as an important element.

    Declaring “capitalism” an un-word or a non-concept is not a valid procedure of argumentation. Capital exists (as money capital and asset capital) and in its various forms and processes, and through its various agents, it plays an undeniably important organising role in our economy and society. It follows from this that the postulate, that the operations of capital are central to an understanding our economy, is valid as a postulate though clearly not proven as a postulate merely by its assertion . It follows from this that “capitalism” is a concept with content.

    It is valid to assert, as postulates, that “ours is a capitalist society” or “ours is not a capitalist society”. It is not valid to assert “capitalism is a concept with no content”. Thomas Piketty (self-declared as NOT a Marxist) uses the word “capital” many times in his magnum opus. The title is “Capital in the 21st Century. He clearly thinks capital and its operations are centrally important to our economic system. He demonstrates the key ways in which the operations of capital, under the laws and institutions of our society, and in the hands of agents with control over capital, demonstrate profound systemic (system-determining) behavior in our economy and society.

    If we had a neighborhood, where the operations of gangsters appeared to be having a profound and pervasive effect on most citizens, we would certainly understand what was meant if someone referred to the neighborhood as being controlled by “gangsterism”. We might openly agree or disagree with the explicit assertion depending on our own perceptions, fears and allegiances. (That final point about allegiances is important. Allegiances determine beliefs or at least expressions of beliefs.) If a person asserts a system is one of capitalism he or she is asserting that the operations of capital, and capitalists as agents wielding capital, have profound and pervasive effects on most citizens. The effects might be beneficial, harmful or mixed in outcomes. And whether or not we agreed with the assertion, we would know, if we were educated even a little in economics or political economy, what the assertion meant. We would know what its concept content was. For educated people to contend otherwise, when there are many extant texts and works explaining the concept content of the term of “capitalism”, including at least implicitly even Piketty’s recent work, is, as I say, a puzzle to me.

    Assertions that “capitalism” is a non-concept and we ought not or should not use it in intellectual or public discourse is an attempt to dictate the terms and parameters of such discourse. This is done without even offering cogent arguments as to why it’s a non-concept. I for one don’t accept this kind of attempt at censoring discourse and making certain critical concepts in political economy unthinkable.

  34. @Tim Macknay

    No, I don’t admit that. Ronald Brak and Ernestine Gross are claiming that the term “capitalism” has no meaning and no content.

    Ronald Brak wrote: “Ikonoclast, if you can’t give a definition for the word capitalist, then please stop using the term as it is useless and no longer functions as a word. Instead, please use terms that specifically describe the situation you are discussing. If you think about it, you will see that if you don’t do this and instead use the letter arrangement “capitalism” it will not be possible for myself or others to understand what you are saying without stopping to ask you just what you choose it to mean – neither more nor less, in each particular instance you employ it. And that would be, and is, tedious.”

    I had in fact given several definitions from different sources. The definitions certainly had common elements. I tried to point out to Ronald Brak that demanding simple definitions or explanations for a complex system and its pheneomena is quite a contradiction. However, in my opinion the simple definitions provided enough basics for a person who genuinely wanted to understand what I meant and had at least some background in the issues. Ronald Brak has given enough evidence in other posts, like those on solar and wind power, that he is easily intelligent enough to understand political economy concepts. However, I think he does not seem to have enough background in the subject. That is all.

    Ernestine Gross wrote to (Ronald Brak); “I second your request for Ikonoclast regarding ‘capitalism’ and ‘capitalist’. Ikon’s post are often insightful and well written, except for his insistence of using the said so far empty terms.”

    So, notwithstanding what I had written and quoted and linked to, Ernestine Gross determined that I had still left “capitalism” and “capitalist” as empty terms (or that all extant writers on the subject had done so). E.G. is a professor of economics I believe. Clearly, her objections come from a different direction than Ronald’s and I would be foolish to say something like “You don’t know what you are talking about.” I said I was puzzled. I did finally say that the concept-emptiness of the disputed terms was asserted but that no cogent argument was advanced in this thread as to why they should be regarded as empty terms.

    I can only suspect that a E.G.’s objections come from a well thought out perspective entailing any or all of these premises;

    (1) Mathematisation (interpreting or expressing mathematically) of economics is the only valid approach to economics whereas language explanations and language philosophy of economics, or political economy, are in general empty and offer no insights.

    (2) Institutional economics, in at least some forms, might offer the one counter-case to the general contention of point 1.

    (3) There is no overlap between Marxism (or Marxian thinking) and Institutional economics.

    Now, as I say, the above are NOT my postulates. They are my best guess of E.G.’s postulates and what lies behind her rejection of “my” “empty terms”. I contend of course that they are neither my terms nor empty terms. There is a large, extant literature where the concept value of these terms can be investigated if people wish to undertake that investigation.

  35. @Ikonoclast

    No, I don’t admit that. Ronald Brak and Ernestine Gross are claiming that the term “capitalism” has no meaning and no content.

    I think you are making a straw man argument. My interpretation of Ronald and Ernestine’s comments are that they not denials that “our economy has a certain organising principle which might be characterised by the term ‘capitalism'”, but rather, are expressions of frustration at your inability to give a coherent account of what you mean by it.

    Nor do I think that that Ronald and Ernestine have claimed that capitalism “is a non-concept and we ought not or should not use it in intellectual or public discourse”. What they have claimed is that your usage of it is confusing, if not incoherent.

    Their claim isn’t based on an obtuse or narrow-minded reading of your comments.
    Ronald stated in an earlier comment that he “thinks” he knows what capitalism is. I also “think” I know what capitalism is, that is to say I think I have the gist of it, but I recognise that it is (a) a pretty fuzzy concept) and (b) capable of having different meanings depending on the context. Despite your and Ivor’s frequent use of it, I’ve seen no evidence that your grasp of it is any better than Ronald’s or mine, frankly.

    The various definitions you have given would, in some instances, give an entirely different account of what a non-capitalist society would or would not look like (as Ronald pointed out). This isn’t helped by the fact that you and Ivor, despite both claiming to have a good grasp of the concept, cannot agree on whether or not certain kinds of economic activity are, or are not, capitalist.

    It’s one thing to generally discuss features of our society as a capitalist one – the vagueness and complexity of the concept pose no difficulty in that context. But when you repeatedly assert that specific problems (like global warming for example) can only be addressed by getting rid of capitalism, in order for your statement to be meaningful and informative you need to be able to specify exactly what needs to change (e.g. what qualifies as ‘getting rid of capitalism’) in order to solve the problem, and why those changes will lead to a solution. Otherwise, your comments of that nature are no more than a Marxist equivalent of shouting “Praise God Hallelujah!”

  36. @Tim Macknay

    If today’s society was a socialist society and pursued growth with fossil fuels because this maximised productivity – then it would be clear that the only way of address in climate change would be to get rid of the prevailing form of socialism.

    If society was feudal – or mercantile, or slavery, and various greedy bourgeois types demanded fossil fuel to produce wealth – then the same applies. In order to address climate change in these societies you need to abolish, or thoroughly regulate, the underlying political economy.

    If you want to challenge this then in order for your statement to be meaningful and informative you need to be able to specify exactly what needs to change within capitalism in order to solve the problem.

    The problem, cited earlier, is for the globe to reduce CO2 by 57% (Keeling video I linked to) which means the developed world must reduce by significantly more.

    As with nicotine, and as indicated by the stances of coal and oil capitalists, this they will not do – because they must base their activity on maximising profits.

    Any enterprise (socialist, cooperative, capitalist) that seeks to maximise growth irrespective of climate and social catastrophe, must be overthrown.

    Say hi to your God for me along with your Hallelujah.

  37. In relation to the discussion on climate change, readers may be interested in our new article in Plos One:

  38. @Ivor
    For the record, my comment was addressed to Ikonoklast. However, I’ll respond anyway out of an abundance of generosity. 😉

    If today’s society was a socialist society and pursued growth with fossil fuels because this maximised productivity – then it would be clear that the only way of address in climate change would be to get rid of the prevailing form of socialism.

    Just the “prevailing form”? So do you agree with Ikon that addressing global warming requires getting rid of capitalism, or just something called “the prevailing form of capitalism”? Does this mean global warming can be addressed while retaining capitalism, but just not the “prevailing form” of it?

    If you want to challenge this then in order for your statement to be meaningful and informative you need to be able to specify exactly what needs to change within capitalism in order to solve the problem.

    I presume that this is some sort of attempt to “cleverly” reflect my own statement back at me. Of course I don’t need to spell out what needs to change “within capitalism” (as you put it) to address global warming – that job has been done by a plethora of government departments, think tanks, research agencies and consultancies around the world many times over. Most of these entities are in agreement that there is a need to phase out the fossil fuel industry, or to put it another way, to rid rid of “the prevailing form of capitalism”.

    Any enterprise (socialist, cooperative, capitalist) that seeks to maximise growth irrespective of climate and social catastrophe, must be overthrown.

    I actually agree with you, which I admit surprises me. It is entirely consistent with my own view that the issue of addressing global warming is independent of (and more important than) what sort of political economy we live under.

    I must say I find the definitive, emphatic way in which you deliver what must be said are rather feeble arguments highly entertaining. I don’t have a god, sadly, but if I did I would definitely say hi for you. 🙂

  39. I dont know if it will help but a little book about Socialisms various forms asserted that the element in common to all was that disadvantage should not be allowed to become entrenched anywhere so as to repeat itself generation after generation.

    At present I think that the lay persons (Evangelical ,Neo-lib and Libertarian influenced ?) meaning of Capitalism stands in opposition to that and would also include the possibility of enriching oneself without moral or physical limit. In the popular mind at present there may not be much more to it than that and anyone questioning such would quickly be dismissed as a naive or malignant Socialist.

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