Are You Serious? Redux

Speaking of “Small is Beautiful” (as I did in my last post), readers would do well to revisit E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 work on “Economics as if People Mattered” (1).” But first, this about Jared Diamond. In an Op-Ed piece “Will Big Business Save the Earth” (2) Diamond belies his own thesis of a few years ago. In “Guns, Germs and Steel” (3) Prof. Diamond makes the claim that ” … large societies cannot function with band organization and instead are complex kleptocracies.” Further, in his later work “Collapse” (4) we find that, in Diamond’s view, civilizations collapse because they exhaust resources necessary for survival.

Prof. Diamond admits that not so long ago he shared the view held by many ” … that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil, and driven by short-term profits.” Yet here we find Diamond offering the opinion that corporations, and U.S. corporations in particular, are benign, indeed benevolent, a major force for “environmental progress.” Diamond writes that ” … today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.” What follows is an apology for big corporations. Continue reading Are You Serious? Redux

Hansen v. Krugman: Are You Serious?

[Portions of this post are taken from my work in progress, with the working title “Driven.” Copyright and all rights reserved.]

The contrast could not have been more stark in the side-by-side Op-Ed pieces in today’s (December 7, 2009) New York Times. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (but writing only for himself) writes eloquently of the folly of the proposed “Cap and Trade” (Hansen terms it “Cap and Fade”) rules for supposed reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Sitting cheek-to-jowl, as it were, to Hansen’s piece is Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman’s diametrically opposed opinion on the same subject. Krugman asserts that Cap and Trade is a market-based solution to the ills of excessive atmospheric carbon emissions. Continue reading Hansen v. Krugman: Are You Serious?

Love and Death – Forrest Church

I have offered no posts on this blog for some time, but I want to offer some reflections now.

Saturday, October 3, my wife Jan Carlsson-Bull and I drove to New York City and back to Boston in one day. It rained hard both ways. It was well worth it. We attended a memorial service for Forrest Church, perhaps the most influential Unitarian-Universalist theologian, scholar, and minister of the twentieth century. He also was the man who made it possible for Jan to enter the ministry relatively late in life. He placed his trust in her, and guided her through the process from first steps (not counting Seminary) to full ordination.

Forrest wrote twenty five books and all were published, from his first Father and Son about growing up with his father Senator Frank Church of Idaho, to his penultimate Love and Death, nominally about his three year struggle with esophageal cancer but really a collection of ruminations, anecdotes, sermons and such setting forth Forrest’s take on the title subject.  Love and Death has much to recommend it, and anyone who reads it will likely find something that sets him or her to thinking hard.

Thousands attended the memorial service, many standing in line several hours in heavy rain to be assured a seat.  The service was moving and memorable, with eulogies from four of his friends and three of his children.  And of course the marvellous music of Musica Viva.   The theme offered over and over was that love trumps all.  I have, these days, tended to a sense of futility, a what’s the point? kind of depression.  I freely admit I have had this tendency for a number of years, especially since a partner who “loved me like a brother,”  along with his wife, embezzled a growing manufacturing business out from under me some years ago.  I used to say that this man was the only human on the face of the earth for whom I wished the worst.  I didn’t try to prosecute him, but I couldn’t let go of what had happened, either.  To my mind, love had slowly become just a term of rationalization, life was pointless, and that no one here gets out alive anyway.

During the memorial service, I mused on the ephemeral nature of, well, of everything.  The Buddhists are right, everything we perceive is an illusion.  Or perhaps the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, who taught that all is vanity.  I thought about how famous Forrest was, at least in some circles, how loved and respected.  Yet, even for such as he, death brings oblivion.  Yes he will be remembered for a while, perhaps from our limited perspective, a good while.  Inevitably, after a generation or two, he will probably be largely forgotten.

From the perspective of how I am or what I am now, I look at things more tranquilly than in days past. I find that things that might once have inflamed me, angered me, mad me rant at the tragedy of existence, I now accept with equanimity. My losses to a nefarious partner are trivial in the great scheme of things, and anyway, just about the last thing I would want to do now, given the perspective of the years, is to run a capitalist business venture. Those who read this blog may have detected a certain note of skepticism regarding capitalism. Forrest Church taught that we should all “want what you have, do what you can, and be who you are.” Well, perhaps love does trump all.

Love and  Death

Heads in the Sand

It amazes me that the rich are still stealing from the poor (that is, the taxpayers) and although some do notice, they are nevertheless getting away with it.  In today’s (9 Apr 09) New York Times (All the news we see fit to print) a front page article is headlined “Small Investors May Be Enlisted in Bank Bailout.”  This scam is a transparent ploy to placate taxpayers while pretending to give them influence over the Wall Street giveaway.  The Obama administration is supposedly asking large investment companies to create something akin to mutual funds of toxic assets.

It’s just another way to put even more of our money under the control of the bandits of finance capitalism. Continue reading Heads in the Sand

Broken Bones and AIG

The uproar about bonuses awarded to AIG employees would be hilarious were it not so troubling and pathetic.  It is almost emblematic of the refusal of virtually all, government, politicians, pundits, citizens, all, to see what is staring them in the face.

The solution to all this, at least for the short run (the next few years or so) is simple.   A long-term solution is far more difficult. If AIG, GM, CitiGroup, Goldman Sachs, etc. are too big to fail, then make them smaller and limit their power and authorityContinue reading Broken Bones and AIG

Dress Rehearsal

The current economic scene can be considered a dress rehearsal for what is coming in the not too distant future. And unlike what’s happening today, the situation in the future will be irreversible. The situation leading to this “bailout” is fixable, at least according to the rules of today.

The Buying Fetish

The pressure to buy “stuff” is absolutely relentless. Turn on your TV and one third to one half of the air time is taken up by commercials. Even during the supposed show time there are messages appearing across the bottom of the screen telling you what show you are currently watching, advertising upcoming shows, or actually making a sales pitch. Many of the messages are animated, and are thus distracting from whatever you are trying to watch.It seems that certain messages are repeated with nauseating frequency, to the point that any reasonably intelligent viewer would swear off the particular product promoted. The U.S. has had a negative savings rate for some time now, which should be an economic no-no.

Make War, Not Love

More than 35,000 children died of starvation or avoidable diseases such as dysentery on September 11, 2001. A more or less equal number has starved each day since. No corporation is ever going to take any interest whatsoever in this, except in the event the public relations benefits are deemed to warrant the expenditure of funds.  Even then the chief action of the corporation will be to create publicity for what they claim to be doing.  It is difficult enough to get governments to care. Why? Because governments are in thrall to transnational corporations, and there is no profit in caring.  But both are very interested in making war. Corporations cannot engage in so-called “free trade” without complicity from governments. All governments, without exception, are agents of those who hold political and economic power. In the modern world this nearly always means corporations in some manifestation.  War brings power, influence, and obscene profits.  The costs of war are not borne by those who profit. Continue reading Make War, Not Love

It Has a Name

Around the world today, a single economic model or system has effectively eclipsed every other. This model is based upon use of capital, in any of several forms, to create more capital, in the form of profit. The model has a mantra, productivity and efficiency, whereby more and more profit is to be made, preferably with fewer and fewer hours of labor input. According to the model, anything that interferes with productivity or efficiency is an “externality” and may be ignored, no matter how harmful such an externality may be. Continue reading It Has a Name

Senate Rescue Package (1)

This morning (Wed Oct 1 2008) the cable news shows (and C-Span) are discussing the “features” of the Senate version of the financial “bailout” package. Seems to me that this bailout (some prefer to call it a “rescue”) puts enormous power in the hands of the Treasury Secretary, presently Henry Paulson. They actually are seriously considering enacting legislation wherein decisions of the Treasury Secretary cannot be challenged in court or anywhere else.
Continue reading Senate Rescue Package (1)