18 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. It is intriguing and somewhat disturbing that a great big black swan has landed on our far from placid economic lake. Its official name is COVID-19, Coronavirus 2019. Its taxonomic name is SARS-CoV-2, Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus 2. One could shorten it to SARS 2, which evokes what this virus really is.

    This is one of those exogenous shocks which economics and natural human optimism and blindness ignore as a possibility until it is upon us. The term “exogenous” is relative to where one draws system boundaries. Conventional economics draws a system boundary between the economy and the natural world and draws it in a manner which is the antithesis of genuine system and scientific thinking. To conventional economic thinking, the natural world is a boundless given which provides an infinity of resources, bioservices and waste sinks. As I like to say, two of humanities biggest failings (in the current economic “knowledge” paradigm) are that:

    (a) people do not understand the import of exponential growth; and
    (b) people confuse “big” with “infinite”.

    Something which is big can appear infinite when we stand a long way from its limits. Exponential growth can and does bring a rapid approach to big limits and can rapidly make them look confining indeed.

    Squeezes like limits to growth, shocks like climate change (when tipping points are reached) and viral outbreaks are not really exogenous when we view the biosphere as a connected whole system and the economy as a sub-system of the biosphere interacting with other its sub-systems. Such shocks then appear as predictable feed-backs. That is to say they are predictable to science although not predictable it seems in conventional economics.

    It has long been predicted by science that we would face another pandemic of the proportions of the Spanish Flu. It is still too early to say whether SARS 2 will be this pandemic. It is on the cusp of being declared a pandemic by the WHO functionaries who like everyone else in positions of power and influence in the modern political economy are patently conservative, reactive and well behind any clear and timely understanding of real events.

    A certain amount of statist and scientific preparation for such events had been put in place over time. The US C.D.C. is an example. Then this preparation was eroded by the cost cutting of neoliberalism which we may correctly characterize as the shifting of accumulated wealth and income from the poor and general public need to a tiny minority of the super-rich. We, as consumers and workers, have been encouraged to consume excessively and directed to produce mainly for immediate consumption. This is rather than consume more modestly, preserve environments and produce sustainably for long-term needs rather than short-term greeds. We may sum this up as a system which produces more cruise ships than it should and less hospitals than it should. This is apposite as cruise ships are floating disease incubators seemingly designed, along with mass air travel, for the express purpose of shuttling dangerous diseases around the world as quickly as possible. The “Diamond Princess” is/was a case in point.

    The shut down of Chinese production along with the dependency of global supply chains on China and the use of JIT (Just In Time) inventory systems, now looks likely to lead to a severe global recession, if not a depression. Just as exponential resource use and abuse of waste sinks leads to a collision with natural limits, so do an excess of economic inter-connectedness and human mobility around the globe lead to feed-back limits which appear as destabilizing ruptures and tipping points which appear seemingly unpredictably as black swan events. Such black swans really are predictable in that they will appear sooner or later. It is just the timing which is uncertain. If we do certain kinds of things, certain kinds of black swans will certainly turn up, sooner or later.

    The problem is the macro-management of the economy (or economies) by capitalist economics itself. The correct tools for management are science, ethics and democracy. In a capitalist political economy the rich (the stockholders) rule. What is required that all people must rule collectively albeit by making decisions in a science-informed, ethically informed and democratic manner. This is not pie in the sky. Science, ethics (humanist and theological) and democracy all exist currently. Admittedly they are all imperfect and vary country to country but we should never let a quest for impossible perfection prevent us from utilizing what is already existent, practically useful and broadly good.

    In order to give science, ethics and democracy more room for operation all we have to do is reduce the power of wealth, the power of the rich stockholders, to make decisions for all of us. We could begin by heavily taxing the rich once again (it’s been done before), by breaking up monopolies and private corporate fiefdoms and progressively introducing workers, citizens and the dispossessed on to boards. Models, past and present, exist for doing this and doing it in a relatively gradualist but long-term committed manner. It is known in medicine that removing a large load of parasites sometimes has to be done in a gradualist manner or it kills the patient.

    Of course, we may not have time for gradualism. The world’s situation is dire. We are close to limits, to collapse and to dangerous tipping points related to climate change and other phenomena. As crises appear we may have to speed up the process dramatically. These crises must be used by the people. Capitalism is adept at using crises and disasters of its own making (sabotage and disaster capitalism as outlined by writers from to Veblen to Klein) to redistribute wealth from the bottom to the top. Capitalism is not geared to deal with shocks endogenous to its own formal wealth-power system. Real world shocks which undermine the productive basis of capitalism and its entire range of assumptions will challenge capitalism itself and make it ripe for collapse and change.

  2. The good news about COVID–19 is the decrease in deaths from the reduction in air pollution in china should greatly outnumber deaths form the virus.

    This is not to say the coronavirus is not a serious threat. It’s to say the benefit from not poisoning the air we breath is massive.

  3. I think that the real damage done by all the lies, spin and attacks on scientific evidence indulged in by our “leaders” will become apparent when something like COVID-19 becomes pandemic. There will be no trust left to support the kinds of things that will need to be done. No-one will believe them when they say “Trust Me ! and Don’t Panic !” And the rat-bags on the right will be the first ones to board the lifeboats.

  4. Ikonoclast says; “… certain kinds of black swans will certainly turn up, sooner or later.”…

    We will need a skin cancer type public awareness campaign, due to the range of biological effects, and cumulative effect of fine air particles… slip slop slap – for air.

    “… Now a study of 95 million Medicare hospitalization claims from 2000 to 2012 links as many as 12 additional diseases, including kidney failure, urinary tract and blood infections, and fluid and electrolyte disorders, to such fine-particle air pollution for the first time. The research demonstrates that even small, short-term increases in exposure can be harmful to health, and quantifies the economic impact of the resulting hospitalizations and lives lost.

    “The research demonstrates that every microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in PM2.5 within a 24-hour period has an incremental effect on human health. Even when starting from zero (perfectly clean air), each such increase of one microgram in concentration was associated with an annual increase of 634 deaths and 5,692 hospitalizations, as well as 32,314 patient-days in hospital. In the United States, such increases in pollution occur on more than 122 days a year in every geographic region. In lay terms, says Dominici, this represents “one additional hospitalization per day for every zip code for half of the year.” These data correspond to $100 million in annual inpatient and post-acute care costs, and an estimated $6.5 billion in lost value of human life”

    “As many sources of air pollution are also important sources of greenhouse gas emissions, mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have important health co-benefits (Bell et al 2008, Chang et al 2017, West et al 2013). In Australia, however, there is very limited knowledge about how climate change may impact air quality and associated health impacts.”

    We dont even have to data to compel divestment regarding air polution. Nor political will – or is that lack of social capital?… and Ronald’s link has the quote…

    “Coronavirus: More Lives Saved Than Lost Due To Lower Air Pollution

    “… But I am unable to recall any member of our current government, at any time, discussing the need to cut this country’s air pollution and reduce the estimated 3,000 Australian lives it takes each year.  Instead we have a Prime Minister and government which has opposed fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and wants to build more coal power stations.  It’s enough to make you weep.  Especially if bushfire smoke gets in your eye.”

  5. @ KT2

    I’m a fan of this blog and concise expression, but I usually skip your posts (which certainly look intelligently informed) because they are difficult to scan/process for me, due to:

    a) grammatical disorder, eg crude/confusing use of quotation marks;

    b) info overload replacing cutting to the chase.

    Grain of salt, cheers friend.

  6. @ Andrew Strang


    I will use your comment as a reference in my application for a position at the oz, as another fossilised opinion/ated propagandist. Reference: “b) info overload [able to edit for any length] replacing cutting to the chase.”

    I appreciate you stating your opinion which I, and many others would agree at times.

    Feel free to paraphrase and repost to fix “grammatical disorder, eg crude/confusing use of quotation marks;”.

    I have learnt to parse academic / economics / scientific writing with great difficlty, due to myself, domain specific terminology, & “grammatical disorder, eg crude/confusing use of quotation marks;” & jargon. 😀

    Text – not my first language.

    Grain of salt, cheers friend.

    But no comment on;
    slip slop slap – for air.
    I want to self assess too… but NOT government cybersecurity!

  7. Trump Is Failing His Dictatorship Test

    After impeachment, the president has been passing most of the checkpoints on the way to authoritarianism.

    Now that Trump has been acquitted by a Republican-controlled Senate that couldn’t even be bothered to interview any witnesses with personal knowledge of his possible high crimes and misdemeanors, it seems appropriate to revisit my list once again. Spoiler alert: There are some flashing red lights on the dashboard.

    “this is how democracy dies,” one might be tempted to see pessimists as Chicken Littles who keep repeating that the sky is falling. If one takes that view, then the warning signs listed above might seem alarmist. But the key point to remember is that healthy democracies(^1) don’t sicken and die overnight; they collapse gradually, from a thousand tiny cuts, each of which seems inconsequential at the time. That is what Donald Trump is doing, aided and abetted by the once proud Republican Party. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

    “If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is How Democracies Die.”— Paul Krugman

    How Democracies Die
    Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

  8. @ KT2

    Suspect we could have a simpler conversation elsewhere to reduce think clutter here, and sorry for the sidetrack.

    Re your response though, I might have quotation marked “Grain of salt, cheers friend” … for example, to fix English readability.

    “But no comment on; slip slop slap – for air.”

    The obscurity aside (gracias though), “air” is the real takeaway for me. As I think sometimes, with attention the nose knows where humans can feel the cutting edge of universal evolution itself :).

  9. Andrew S, I entirely appropriated your line “Grain of salt, cheers friend”, and so did not use quotation marks, as in, cheers friend.

    I still have the old school view of olfactory which is mot really correct;
    “A 2017 study also revealed humans were more sensitive than mice to the smell of blood.”

    And it seem men are not as evolved as women – mild sarcasm!
    “however. Human women, whose sense of smell is more sensitive than men’s, ”


  10. I assume the economics of nuclear power hinge largely around its capital costs. In an era of low interest rates, these costs will have declined. Enough to make worth reconsidering?

  11. On reflection, capital intensive renewables such as wind and solar will also benefit from low interest rates. Maybe that partly answers my original question since it is relative costs that matter.

  12. KT2, please feel free to use strong sarcasm. It’s likely chefs who use their noses all the time in their work have more olfactory neurons than the average woman or man.

  13. I’d perform observations to find out, but you don’t bring a scalpel to a chef knife fight.

  14. Ronald, if we could only transfer olfactory nerve regeneragtion to spinal cord, we would be able to regrow cord.

    “the olfactory nerve is somewhat unusual among cranial nerves because it is capable of some regeneration if damaged.” But reqires “scientists say they were surprised to learn that the regeneration of olfactory tissue requires some of the same inflammatory processes and chemicals that create injury and loss of smell in the first place.
    Inflammation required for ‘smell’ tissue regeneration ”

    And sarcasm. If I used my strong version I’d be banned for sure!

  15. @ KT2

    “however. Human women, whose sense of smell is more sensitive than men’s, ”

    My genuine thanks for a new science reference.

    Where human senses are patiently inversable (in my experience) via some meditation techniques, “olfactory” is my best takeaway from your response; and I’m directly reminded that empty humans can experience an unwordly perfume within themselves.

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