SEF News-Views Digest No. 194 (1-3-18)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
At the start of 2018 I imagine most world citizens are yearning for a sense of stability—economically, socially, and politically. Political economic systems of government range widely, from forms of capitalism to forms of socialism and fascism, with some combining features of these three. In all political economies, the main issue is who controls the means of production—corporations (a faction of billionaires), governments, or citizens.
In America, we are most familiar with capitalism, which historically has ranged from moderate to radical forms in scope and degree. As illustrated, over time “unbridled capitalism” leads to a series of boom-and-bust cycles. According to some astute experts, there are ample signs we’re approaching such a bubble point now, as indicated by an overheated stock market, rising debt levels, and growing wealth disparity between the super rich and the rest of us.
In a recent article—An Introduction To Political Economy—John Michael Greer, an historian and writer I follow regularly, illuminates the types, characteristics, trends, and outcomes of the major political systems of socialism, capitalism, and fascism. I highly recommend it to readers for a simplified overview of these political economic systems.
Greer’s latest follow-up post—Systems That Suck Less —is included as the first article listed in the Solutions section. His alternative to socialism, capitalism, and fascism is a form that has already proven effective. He calls it democratic syndicalism, the system of political economy that combines a syndicalist economy with a politics based on constitutional representative democracy. He points out that “there are several different ways to set up a worker-owned enterprise—the two most common are the worker-owned cooperative, on the one hand, and the closely held corporation whose stock can only be owned by employees, on the other—and they’ve been around long enough to have had the bugs worked out”.
The idea of workers gaining increasing ownership in companies via accumulating shares and becoming more involved in governance issues certainly makes sense to me. Greer also offers a simple explanation of how this system benefits all workers associated with any company.
Another issue to address alongside democratic syndicalism is how to establish a stable economy, one that doesn’t require constant growth of population and increasing consumption of natural resources to function sustainably. One approach—The Steady State Economy—is promoted by the organization CASSE (Center For The Advancement Of The Steady State Economy). The organization’s mission is “to advance the steady state economy, with stabilized population and consumption, as a policy goal with widespread public support”.
If civilization is to survive long term, it will require a political economic system that fulfills the above-mentioned objectives. It’s up to each of us to become more knowledgeable and active in order to promote the requisite changes that result in an equitable and sustainable political economic system.
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> Resilience: Surviving The Future In America (Erik Lindberg). In our taut economy, it is difficult to accept a sense of moral good rooted in anything other than me and my autonomous goals, and this has been reinforced and repeatedly determined by American history. But this is thus to say that American history is limited by its youth and by the time and place in which it was born. Ours has likewise always been a history of movement and impermanence. As Americans thinking about surviving the future, we must perhaps forego the habit of looking to our past for answers.
> CNN: This Year Has Been An Unequivocal Disaster For The Future Of The Planet (Mark Kelly). Roughly a decade later, astronaut Kelly commanded the same space shuttle on its final flight, his fourth and probably last. He explains that the NOAA made a sobering announcement at a recent conference about a study of climate change effects on 2016’s weather, and listed three of the most severe weather events that took place because of it: 1) Heat waves that scorched parts of Asia, including India and Thailand, killing more than 500 people; 2) A patch of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean that’s had harmful effects on marine life along the coast of North America; and 3) Rising air temperatures that made 2016 the hottest in recorded history. Kelly’s personal observations are astutely informative.
> Yes! Magazine: What Bitcoin And Amazon Are Doing To The Middle Class (David Korten). Roughly 20 percent of U.S. workers are in high-paying finance, technology, and electronics sectors that are concentrating power, by controlling: 1) Our access to a means of living; 2) The avenues by which we obtain the goods and services we need and desire; and 3) The instruments of our communications, and the news sources that frame how we interpret events. We are dealing with the consequences of a collapsing system that jeopardizes the future. The good news is that solidarity economies worldwide are helping to create a democratic society, one that functions in a balanced co-productive relationship with living earth.
> Peak Prosperity: The Inescapable Reason Why The Financial System Will Fail (Charles Hugh Smith). Credit cannot expand faster than fundamentals forever due to the financial system’s dependence on credit, and the central bank’s conundrum: they can’t raise rates without stifling the credit-binge-dependent “recovery” and asset bubbles. But they also can’t keep pushing asset bubbles higher without increasing systemic risks, as valuations are already stretched to historic extremes. These are incompatible goals. The central banks cannot raise yields and push asset valuations higher, nor can they eliminate the systemic risk generated by extreme valuations and leverage.
> Resource Insights: Is Washington Tacitly Operating Under A New Monetary Policy? (Kurt Cobb). The federal government has for a long time been operating under an unspoken Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), that government spending does not need to be backed by revenues and that the debt issued to fill the gap between spending and revenues will have little effect now or in the future. Any government that issues its own currency will never run out of money to pay back bondholders, which explains why there is no panic among Japanese and American owners of government debt.
> The Hill: The Great Recession 10 Years Later: Lessons We Still Have To Learn (Robert F. Bruner). Stock prices are high, the cyclically-adjusted price-earnings ratio is at the third-highest since 1880, consumer confidence is buoyant, and the personal saving rate, 3.1 percent, is near the all-time low. According to the Fed, financial conditions are looser than average. House prices have broken above their peak at the last housing bubble. Surprise, underestimation, poor imagination, and disbelief in an adverse outcome are hallmarks of the onset of a financial crisis. One thing the president and other leaders could do to help mitigate the risk of a financial crisis is to reinforce a national culture of prudence, which is unlikely.
> USA Today: Come Out Of The Political Closet In 2018 And Help Heal Our Divides (John Blades). Many people do not fit neatly into a political box. They have a mix of conservative and progressive positions that are heartfelt for a set of personal reasons that even their friends may never know about, mostly because we’ve become so unkind to people who don’t share our political beliefs. Call it a domestic peace initiative: Stop judging people unkindly, start making real connections based on shared values. And we do have some.
> CNN: The Wildfires In California In 2017 Just Keep Shattering Records (Holly Van). This year’s rash of catastrophic wildfires destroyed neighborhood and livelihoods, and annihilated records. The Thomas Fire, which has torched the equivalent of Dallas and Miami combined, is still raging in Southern California. Here’s a look at the records obliterated by the 2017 wildfires: 1) The costliest in U.S. history; 2) The most acres burned in California in the last 5 years: 3) The worst for air pollution in the Bay area; and 4) The Thomas Fire is biggest in modern California history, and the 7th most destructive. [See also: California’s Thomas Fire Winding Down As Crews Gain Upper Hand]
> Scientific American: Why Global Warming Can Mean Harsher Winter Weather (Earthtalk). We need to differentiate between weather and climate. The NOAA defines climate as the average of weather over at least a 30-year period. So periodic aberrations—like the harsh winter storms ravaging the Southeast and other parts of the country this winter—do not call the science of human-induced global warming into question. But while more extreme weather events of all kinds—from snowstorms to hurricanes to droughts—are likely side effects of a climate in transition, most scientists maintain that any year-to-year variation in weather cannot be linked directly to either a warming or cooling climate.
> NPR: Deal To Dry Out Stretches Of California’s Legendary Salton Sea (John Nielsen). California’s legendary Salton Sea (formerly called “The Desert Rivera”) may need an epitaph soon, thanks to a “farm to city” water deal that takes full effect in 2018. The controversial deal redirects most of the water that now sustains the Salton Sea to thirsty towns and cities. In the years ahead more than a third of the 350-square-mile lake in the deserts of southeastern California is expected to dry up and blow away. Windblown air pollution is already causing health problems for residents. [Another example of excessive human impact on the environment]
> Bloomberg: It’s Been One Of The Worst Years Ever For Billion-Dollar U.S. Weather Disasters (Brian K. Sullivan, Jim Efstathiou, Jr). Among the most devastating events were hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and wildfires in northern California. The killer storms caused economic losses of more than $210 billion in the U.S. and across the Caribbean, and about $100 billion in insured damages, according to Mark Bove, a senior research scientist with Munich Reinsurance America in Princeton, New Jersey.
> Science Daily: Humidity May Prove Breaking Point For Some Areas As Temperatures Rise, Says Study (Ethan Coffel). Climate scientists say that killer heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in many regions as climate warms. However, most projections leave out a major factor that could worsen things: humidity, which can greatly magnify the effects of heat alone. Now, a new global study projects that in coming decades the effects of high humidity in many areas will dramatically increase. Health and economies would suffer, especially in regions where people work outside and have little access to air conditioning. [Source: The Earth Institute At Columbia University]
> Common Dreams: As Wealthiest Amass Another $1 Trillion In 2017, Calls For A ‘Strike Back’ Against Oligarchy (Julia Conley). As the gap between the world’s richest and poorest people has widened to an extreme not seen since the Gilded Age, the 500 wealthiest people have gotten $1 trillion richer in 2017, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. While a booming stock market has helped the world’s richest people to amass huge wealth this year, billions of poor and working people around the world have not benefited. To what extent is that sustainable, and when will society strike back?
> The Hill: The Great Recession 10 Years Later: Lessons We Still Have To Learn (Robert F. Bruner). Stock prices are high, the cyclically-adjusted price-earnings ratio is at the third-highest since 1880, consumer confidence is buoyant, and the personal saving rate, 3.1 percent, is near the all-time low. According to the Fed, financial conditions are looser than average. House prices have broken above their peak at the last housing bubble. Surprise, underestimation, poor imagination, and disbelief in an adverse outcome are hallmarks of the onset of a financial crisis. One thing the president and other leaders could do to help mitigate the risk of a financial crisis is to reinforce a national culture of prudence.
> BBC News: Millennials To Secure ‘Inheritance Boom’ (Staff). Those who have parents and grandparents in the “baby boomer” generation will be left record sums of wealth, the Resolution Foundation said. But they will have to wait—until on average, the age of 61, it suggests. The foundation said that inheritances were set to more than double over the next 20 years, and this will peak in 2035, as the generally high-wealth baby boomers progress through old age. The report also noted millennials (ages 17-35) were only half as likely to own their home at 30 as baby boomers were.
> Ecosophia: Systems That Suck Less (John Michael Greer). In the real world, every possible system of political economy will inevitably turn out to have glaring flaws, for the simple reason that human beings have glaring flaws. The best we can hope to achieve is a system that sucks less than the ones that have been tried so far. In addition to socialism and capitalism, there is democratic syndicalism: the system of political economy that combines a syndicalist economy with a politics based on constitutional representative democracy.
> Yes! Magazine: We Can Reimagine And Reinvent Our Society In 2018 (Sarah van Gelder). It’s too late to think we can make incremental tweaks to our current systems and be OK. If we continue current practices of extraction and pollution, all life will be threatened. Instead, it’s time to build something new. Authentic hope comes when we reject this system built on white supremacy, extractive corporate capitalism, and big money control of government. I believe that means we begin where we live—building more equitable economies that are rooted locally, and new relationships of reciprocity with the Earth.
> Reuters: ANALYSIS-Can Agriculture And The Climate Fix Their “Unhappy Marriage” In 2018? (Thin Lei Win). Agriculture, forestry and other land uses together account for nearly a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet. Cutting these is essential if the world is to keep global temperature rise to a manageable level. Farms and forests can also store large amounts of carbon, and simple actions by all countries could result in immediate environmental benefits. Hunger is on the rise, biodiversity is being lost and poor diets now pose a bigger threat to human health than alcohol and tobacco. At Bonn climate talks in November, nations agreed to move forward on these issues.
> Yes! Magazine: Nature Is So Good For You That Even Watching It On TV Improves Well-Being (Kristophe Green, Dacher Keltner). More than 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems. These in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience.
> The New York Times: Want To Be Happy? Think Like An Old Person (John Leland). Older people report higher levels of contentment or wellbeing than teenagers and young adults. Six interviewed elders put faces on this statistic. If they were not always gleeful, they were resilient and not paralyzed by the challenges that came their way. All had known loss and survived. None went to a job he did not like, coveted stuff she could not afford, brooded over a slight on the subway or lost sleep over events in the distant future. They set realistic goals. Only one said he was afraid to die.
> Shareable: Why Are Young People Joining Cooperatives? 3 Youth Leaders Share Their Views (Nithin Coca). Members of the Youth Network, a multilingual, diverse, global initiative to connect and empower youth to join and create cooperatives around the world, say the role of young people is crucial to the future of cooperatives, which are being increasingly seen as critical to not only addressing income inequality, but also to meeting sustainable development goals. Campaigns like #Coop4Dev are pushing cooperatives around the world to participate to help attain the UN Sustainable Development goals.
> Citizens for Sustainability: Forum-Meeting. Sat., Jan. 6, 9-10:30 a.m., SAV Community Center, CS9.
> Alliance For Sustainability: Linking Citizens, Congregations And Cities For Sustainable Communities. Extensive listings of Minnesota news, events, and projects: http://www.afors.org/.
> MN Department of Health: Climate and Health 101 Webinar, one per month through December and will continually update our webpage with information (registration links, copies of the PPT deck and webinar recording).
> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP) Upcoming Environmental Events. See website: http://www.mepartnership.org/events/ (search by month)
> Citizen’s Climate Lobby: Regular Meetings And Events (www.citizensclimatelobby-mn.org); Meetings in 18 MN locations on the 2nd Saturday of each month to focus on bi-partisan Carbon Fee and Dividend Legislation; 62 members of the US House on the Climate Solutions Caucus are involved.
> MN350: Climate Campaigns And Projects. For a listing of campaigns, projects, and events, see: http://www.mn350.org/campaigns-projects/
> Resilience: Think Resilience – Preparing For The Rest Of The 21st Century. This course, consisting of 22 video lectures by Post Carbon Institute Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg, totaling about 4 hours), may be taken at your own leisure ($20). View the video.
> Conversation Earth: Conversation Earth–Exploring Our Place on the Planet (Dave Gardner, Interviewer). This weekly Radio Series & Podcast provides surprising perspectives from leading thinkers on the most important issues of our time.
> WTS: Weathering The Storm, Michael Conley, Founder-Speaker-Author, Seminars & Presentations; Several offerings: News Flash; Newsletter; Information Services; OLLI Course Hand-outs; Best Practices; Buy The Book (Lethal Trajectories)
> Population Growth: Population Clock – Poodwaddle World Clock. Watch the population increase minute by minute.
> Bloomberg News: Bloomberg Carbon Clock. A real-time estimate of the global monthly atmospheric CO2 level.
> US Debt Clock: U.S. National Debt Clock: Real Time. Every aspect of the economy is documented.
> Happy Planet Index. The HPI Index measures what matters: sustainable wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes, and ecological footprint. America limps in at a thoroughly miserable 108th. About the HPI