Global Capital, Illusions of Wealth, and the Walking Dead

Any genuine scientific analysis of the trajectory of global capital is hard to find. Economic history is rife with ideological stories of “wealth creation,” “capital formation,” and the mythical “invisible hand.” What is capital? What is wealth? What is money? Well, they are all pretty much taken for granted in most economic thinking – conveniently so for the financial elite. On top of that, economics itself has been dominated by the ideology of the power elites that dominate society. Little room is left for science. International finance and the ‘wealth of nations’ are managed in very strange ways – I describe them below in a highly condensed sketch.

Global Capital and Central Banks
Put as succinctly as I can, during the industrial age finance (the management of capital) has gradually become globalized. But it was not international trade that spurred the emergence of a global financial network of banks. It was more a matter of the most powerful banks forging a network of control over the monetary systems of nations. In fact, industrial development and the human misery that has accompanied unprecedented wealth have always involved a struggle between public and private control of money and banking.

Each historical example of public banking and sovereign control of national currencies has been accompanies by prosperity and stable prices, then followed by an assault on public authority by private banking. Usually, this has led to the “privatization” of what is in its essence a public utility: money and banking. Benjamin Franklin explained to the British parliament how the Pennsylvania and other colonies were funding their economies by issuing credit in the form of paper script not “backed” by gold or silver to stimulate commerce, leading to unexpected colonial prosperity. Soon King George banned colonial script, and Parliament passed a Currency Act, requiring all taxes to be paid in gold or silver, forcing them to borrow from the Bank of England at usurious rates. That put an end to colonial prosperity based on public credit and gave a strong impetus to revolution.

Numerous other examples, from Canada to New Zealand, Lincoln’s “Greenbacks,” etc., eventually let to a cartel composed of the central banks of each nation, each privately owned and coordinated by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Geneva, itself owned by the central banks. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) impose financial requirements and lend to ‘developing countries’ in support of the interests of global capital in dominating national economies.

So, the currencies and banking requirements of nations are controlled by the private international banking cartel. The control of national economies in the interests of central banks, causes booms and busts in their pursuit of bank profits and control of national economies. Today, each central bank is largely controlled by its relationships to the cartel. Governments take a back seat to the whole of global finance, and their economic and monitary policies are subordinate to the global capital markets controlled by the BIS, the IMF, and the WB, all operated in the interests of the banks, not nations.

Illusions of Wealth
Most of the ‘highest values’ of modern economic ideology are buzzwords for the mechanisms by which the Big Banks control national economies and extract vast amounts of “wealth” from them.

“Free Trade,” for example, is actually the freedom of giant corporations and the giant banks that finance them to exploit labor internationally and avoid any responsibility for environmental damage they do in the nations in which they operate. “Financial innovation” is actually the various schemes of the Big Banks to extract phantom wealth out of the banking system by ‘packaging’ debt into complex derivative instruments from which additional fees and profits are squeezed, and risk externalized.

It is all built on a system of debt-based money, that is, money created out of debt through double-entry electronic bookkeeping when a bank makes a loan. Banks are allowed to lend much more money than they have ‘on reserve.’ The money they lend is thereby created “out of thin air.” They can borrow even more from the central bank – the Federal Reserve in the U.S. – at very low rates and lend it to their customers at much higher rates. Remember, the Fed is owned by its member banks.

It’s a great big illusion. Why? Because the creation of money is not related to actual economic activity in the real world. Of course, lending does occur for actual production of goods and services for the economy, but the money and banking system I am describing here operates independently and in addition to the real world of investment in the economy itself. In the past couple of decades the phantom-wealth ‘economy’ has expanded to the point where it accounts for a much larger share of the GDP than before. Yet, it contributes nothing to the real economy. Despite massive “quantitative easing,” little of the vast funds released to the Big Banks have reached down into the real economy. Contrary to the dominant ideology, you could do away with these “too big to fail” banks and nothing much in the real world would be missed.

The Walking Dead
The unbridled global capitalist system has no natural constraints, except the finite supply of energy and other resources. It is in the early but rapidly accelerating stage of near-death. Unless it is radically transformed, quickly, the extinction of the human species from which it emanates, will be its final constraint. That will depends upon whether or not the illusions of global finance capital continue beyond the tipping point of ecological and societal collapse. In either case, it is already the walking dead.

Delusions of Democrats: Ending Obamania

It’s hard to give up on an ideal.  But the “Change We Can Believe In” has faded, even as the illusion we had hoped it was not.  The American electorate has always had a problem with distinguishing rhetoric from action.  Of course, Obama’s efforts, such as they have been, have also been thwarted at every turn by the blatantly racist Republican congress.  Great speeches, but regular capitulation prior to negotiation became his modus operandi where tough negotiations were called for.

Foolish Faith

The old Liberal Class of politicians who fought for human values and the rights of hard working Americans of all colors in a dynamic congress, is dead.  The dominant politicos of the Democratic Party are agents of their corporate benefactors, even if slightly less so than their Republican colleagues.  They vote to stay elected and the corporations pay to see that happen.

But many progressively minded people with good will and the desire to see a better America just can’t let go of the idea that if we can just get more Democrats elected, then liberty and kindness will prevail across the land.  They want to believe in Obama’s ‘liberal agenda’ and they want to have good reason to fight for Hillary so they will not have wasted their hard political work and resources.   But it is just not working.

Most claims about what President Obama has achieved miss the point when it comes to what really matters to the nation and planet at this point in history.

Illusions of Accomplishment

It’s all about political misconceptions of success and failure.  A blogger recently posted 14 “objective facts” that he offered as proof that the country is doing well under Obama’s leadership.  (See “14 Facts About the Obama Presidency that Most People Don’t Know,” )  Each one cites a source and appears quite descriptive.  But wait; there’s more.  Let me briefly explain each one.

1. “63 straight months of economic expansion.”  The Fed buying up hundreds of billions of dollars in bad debt from the Big Banks has driven up stock prices and mergers, since little of those vast sums has trickled down into the real economy.  Most “economic expansion” is in the pockets of the 1% of the 1%.  It is not being invested  in economic  production.

2.  “the longest period of private sector job creation in American History.”  Sure it’s taken a long time to create any jobs; the corporations have sat on their huge stash of cash because weak demand due to unemployment and underemployment made them afraid to invest that cash in production.  So, most of the job creation that has happened is minimum wage service jobs below the poverty line.

3.   “Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% in October of 2009 to 5.9%”  Despite the fact that the government statistics have way underestimated unemployment for decades, look at the quality of the jobs — most new jobs do not carry a living wage.  The real level of unemployment has been at least double that reported by the government.  See

4.  “The stock market continues to set new records…”  Well, the ‘funny money’ has to be put somewhere.  Instead of investing the vast sums of bailout money and no-interest loans from the Fed, the Big Banks have busily bought up each other and continued their derivative Ponzi schemes.  The inflated valuation of stocks has resulted from new money, not new productivity.  It’s not a good indicator of a healthy economy under these conditions.

5.  “The federal budget deficit is shrinking…”  Of course.  The government is shrinking, except for spending non-existent money on military adventures.  Since the Fed has brought down interest rates so low, the interest on the debt is much smaller.  And since the Congress-of-No continues to cut expenditures on desperately needed infrastructure repairs and conversion to renewable energy systems, spending has come down to match the reductions in tax on the most wealthy persons and corporations.  The nation and earth systems are collapsing together.

6.  “Under President Obama, spending has increased only 1.4% annually…”  Certainly, the Congress-of-No has prevented some of the necessary investments in renewable energy and other infrastructure that would have created many jobs.  But I fail to see that as an accomplishment for Obama.   It’s an achievement for the neo-liberal economists who want to do away with the public sector entirely.  He keeps diddling with whether to approve the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline to accelerate carbon emissions even further while failing to push hard to replace fossil-fueled energy production with renewable systems.

7.  For most Americans “income taxes are lower…”   Basically, since incomes are down, so are taxes.  But whatever the rates [kinda complicated; some up, some down, but from what base?] the rich and the corporations are still stealing the nation blind with the tax dodges congress has allowed them.  We need to return to the progressive tax system that accompanied the prosperity of the 1950s.

8.  “Our dependence on foreign oil has shrunk due to record domestic oil production…”  Another faux accomplishment.  Fracking is destroying water supplies all around the country while it generates a  short-term surge of production.   So, like excess coal, it is exported, adding to the carbon available for emission, further exacerbating global warming.   We need to reduce our dependence on ALL oil..   Obama has been on the wrong side of that one.

9.; 10; 11.  The Affordable Care Act:  “…more Americans have health insurance…”  “added years to the life of Medicare.”  “slowest rate of increase in healthcare costs since 1960…”  Obama’s signature accomplishment may have been the elimination of pre-existing conditions dodge by the insurance companies.  But, despite the fact that the majority of Americans wanted it, he cut off any discussion of single-payor universal health care from the start.   Real reform would have made Medicare permanently solvent.  The U.S. is the only modern industrial nation without universal national health care.  We spend  much more  and get worse outcomes..

12.  “‘..we have fewer people in war zones…than any time since 2002”   Well, looks like not for long…  The use of drones and assassination programs belies such arbitrary claims.

13.  “Zero successful attacks by al Qaeda on U.S. soil since Obama became president.”  Neither Cheney nor Obama can claim victory in the “war on terror.”  The U.S. fossil-fueled empire has created far more “terrorists” (most of whom see themselves as freedom fighters defending against invaders) than our military has killed — not counting innocent civilians.  In any case, the scattering of al Qaeda occurred across administrations.  Obama can, however, claim bin Laden’s assassination.  The lack of attacks on U.S. Soil is mostly due to lack of capability or interest — still a danger, however.

14.  “We…deport more illegal immigrants than ever before.” Yes, and with reckless disregard for human rights, even of those children seeking asylum from murderous thugs in Honduras and elsewhere.  Has Obama done anything to mitigate the forcing of Mexican farmers off their land by flooding Mexico with cheap subsidized GMO corn?  No, but he’s busy working on trade agreements worse than NAFTA in Asia, which will further damage the environment as well as worker safety and rights.

Eyes Wide Open

So, would the Republicans do worse?  Of course.  But that does not make bad good.  And Hillary?  Another servant of the financial elite, just like Barack and the rest of the gang in Washington.  Lipstick on a pig does not make bacon.  And its very hard to find organic bacon.

The National Debt and Deficit Scam

Ever wonder why the richest nation in the world, the U.S., has become a “debtor nation”?  Oh, but they’ve already told you.  It’s those politicians, especially the ‘liberal’ ones who just spend too much.  You know, those “tax and spend” liberals.  Well, I’m no apologist for the liberals.  I agree with Chris Hedges that the liberal class of politicos is essentially dead.  They still talk some about their concerns for the “middle class” and “working people,” but their actions reflect the same servility to the rich and powerful as do the ‘conservative’ — the misuse of that term is a whole other story — Republicans who have been cutting taxes on the rich and shifting the costs of plutocracy to the poor for decades.  So, we sure have a clue as to why we are in so much debt.

The Banksters’ Coup

The history of money and banking is far more interesting than any economics course on the topic.  It is long and complicated, but the essence of how current economies have become debt-based can be condensed to some key elements in the struggle between the public purposes of money and credit, and money-lenders’ efforts to control the issuing of money and renting that money for profit.  A nice summary of the key historical events can be read in Ellen Brown’s latest book, The Public Bank Solution: From Austerity to Prosperity.  In that book she also explains effectively why we — both people and government — are all in such debt, but need not be.

The international private banking cartel was started with the Bank of England around the time of the American Revolution.  Ultimately, the Federal Reserve was formed in the U.S. as a private banking cartel, owned by its member private banks.  The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was passed under great pressure from the major private banks in the U.S.  It ceded sovereign authority for creating money to the Big Banks we know so well today.  That raises important questions that are rarely discussed in public.  What is money if not a public utility for making the exchange of goods and services effective?  Why should a public utility be controlled by a private cartel?

Money, Sovereignty, and the Public Interest

Numerous examples of public banking throughout history demonstrate that for achieving public purposes, public banks are more effective than private banks.  But rather than argue the details of why — Ellen Brown’s book does that quite well — let’s look at purpose and principle.  Banks are a necessary part of any economy.  An economy is a crucial component of any operating society.  The public has an inherent interest in banks being operated to serve public purposes, primarily the management of the creation and circulation of money as the means for making economic exchange work and facilitating public projects.

Money is a public good; indeed, it is a public service.  Contrary to the mythology foisted on the people, the value of money exists in its movement.  Furthermore, it is a process, not a thing — its value is in what it represents, not what it is [paper, wooden tallies, gold, etc.].  And what it represents is credit.  Stored in a vault it means nothing… except in the illusions of whoever controls the vault.  Banking has become the epitome of the illusory game of acquisition of wealth.  From the perspective of the citizen, however, the circulation of money is the means by which the people are able to sustain themselves over time.  If “we the people” are sovereign, then why is not the monetary system owned by the public?  But on to the main point.

The Debt and Deficit Scam

Simply put, because it gave up its sovereignty over the creation of money to the private banking cartel, the government borrows money from the Federal Reserve (central bank), which it created and gave the power to create money.  Where does the Fed get the money it loans to the government?  Why, out of thin air of course!  An entry is made on an electronic ledger and money is created and loaned to the very entity — the government — that allowed that ledger [of the private banking cartel] to exist.  A federal debt is created.  How counter-productive — stupid — is that?  The only interest this proess serves is that of the concentration of wealth in the hands of the banksters.

Well, it’s very productive for the banksters.  After all, its free money to be lent out and for interest to be collected upon.  Wow!  We could all use some of that kind of deal.  Free money to loan out and make more money on.  Now, project that process into the whole economy and think of the result.

The underlying absurdity is that by structuring debt in that way, it can never be repaid.  Only by continuing to expand the economy to allow more loans can the principle and interest on existing loans continue to be paid.  With the recent financial collapse due to uncontrolled speculative manipulation of mortgage lending, the system was exposed for the Ponzi scheme that it is.

Is There a Way Out?

The Banksters are just too powerful to stop directly.  The financial elite virtually runs the federal government.  But, as they said in the 1960s, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”  Several lines of action are possible.  The Bank of North Dakota — the only public bank in the nation — is a model of what states might accomplish.  But municipal and county owned banks can also be formed.  Local movements for local public banking are developing.  Meanwhile, take your money out of those Big Banks and put it into your local credit union.  Divestiture worked to stop apartheid in South Africa.  It is starting to work to turn around the carbon economy.  It can be a big part of the great transformation of banking from a private extractive industry to a set of public institutions serving the public interest.

The Militarised “Big-Data” Threat to Non-Violent Civil Action

The stories just keep coming. The NSA and the big corporations have been sweeping up massive amounts of data on all Americans. And of course, most others in the world who are “connected” in some way are being spied upon too. We cannot fail to notice that widespread surveillance has become routine practice in diverse institutions. Less widely discussed are the various means by which public and corporate institutions are collecting large quantities of increasingly detailed information on everyone. “Big Data” is all the buzz where institutional efforts are made to manage everyone’s behavior to control politics and increase profits.

Pervasive police violence upon the most vulnerable populations has become a widely discussed public problem since unarmed black teen Michael Brown’s murder-by-cop. Many instances of excessive or entirely gratuitous “use of force” are now posted on social media every day. The growing split between dominant institutions – whether corporate, government, or militarized police – and the general population, is palpable.

Local law enforcement agencies continue to move toward full militarized weaponry and the “warrior cop” mentality as they more closely align with the DEA, ICE, NSA, the military, et al. Police departments are increasingly populated by violence prone individuals largely incapable of and uninterested in “keeping the peace.” Any civil objection to an institutional injustice is treated like and defined as ‘potentially’ terrorism related. To defend civil liberties is becoming an activity dangerously close to being considered ‘subversive.’ We are fast moving toward becoming a much more closed society, characterized by widespread violent repression of dissent.

Climate chaos is already upon us, yet it is treated in politics as if it were just another issue to be considered later because we don’t really know everything about it yet – no rush. The ever-expanding “terrorism” meme excuses every imaginable abuse of civil liberty and personal information. Little in the way of constitutional rights remains protected from the secret machinations of the “deep state” of “Democracy, Inc.”

The neoliberal economic and “third way” political ideologies both assert endless economic growth as the solution to the catastrophic conditions unbridled growth has created. Despite the failure of that growth to contribute to the pursuit of human happiness, it is touted as both good and inevitable. More and more institutional resources are poured into “big data” collection for use in managing the pseudo-democracy of corporate controlled politics and anti-democratic voter suppression.

In short, it’s all going in the wrong direction. Environmental progress is advertised as carbon emissions continue to grow. A massive turnaround is necessary in the very short term. Yet, corporate and governmental power – whether gestures of environmental concern are made or not – continue on the path of financialized economic growth and extractive capitalism. The necessity to take immediate collective action to slow the accelerating mass extinction is politically ignored. The power elites are not about take the responsibility to initiate the social mobilization necessary to begin the Great Transformation from the doomed carbon economy to an economy that will not destroy the whole earth system.

Only widespread civil collective action will get the attention of the power elites, which continue their exploitative rampage across the planet. They seem hell-bent on continuing on the path toward species extinction beyond the point where mitigation of climate disruption and its catastrophic consequences is no longer possible. The possibility to mount a massive popular uprising demanding the complex techno-economic and social transformation necessary seems unlikely. So, where do we go from here?

Increasingly overt and not entirely polite collective actions to draw attention to the immediacy of the crisis are necessary. But that presents a dilemma. The institutional forces of the status quo are increasingly turning to militarized violence in response to any interference with their exercise of power. There is no question as to where the physical power resides. The people have only one form of power: their numbers. Despite the fact that most people know that something is very wrong, it is extremely difficult for most folks to get the information needed to realize how critical the situation is. Knowledge is power.

Yet, numerous situations of past social transformations and/or revolutions – not merely one group overthrowing another and taking power, but actual rapid structural change – have demonstrated the unstoppable power of large numbers of people united and acting peacefully. The only viable counter to institutional violence is massive non-violent civil disobedience. Of course, the situation today is different than in colonial India or Poland under Soviet domination, or South African apartheid, or various other historical cases. But in nearly every case where the population mobilized for peaceful change, it succeeded. Still, every situation is different and calls for particular tactics and strategies. So, we must find our own way.

Public Renaissance: What Ebola, Ferguson, and Finance Can Tell Us

Public concern over the possible spread of the Ebola virus epidemic from West Africa to the U.S. is growing. While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is taking various precautions, the situation is nevertheless of sufficient complexity to warrant concern. The outrage over the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown continues as a grand jury takes its time mulling over evidence. The Wall Street pundits on CNBC and the corporate economists claim the economy is turning around, yet most people are having trouble feeling it. What do these seemingly disparate events have in common?

It’s really quite simple. Each of these situations represents a larger problem that pervades our society. Ever since the Reagan presidency, well, ever since the economic reforms following the Great Depression, the power elites have tried to wrest economic and political control from the citizenry. The push to privatize public functions has succeeded in reducing the public interest in social and economic conditions to an afterthought. Importantly, these are only three examples among many. The corporate controlled political culture has carefully failed to recognize the public interest as a legitimate concern for citizens. Meanwhile, the cult of “free market” extractive economics has raised the specter of private greed to a nearly religious status.

Privatizing Public Health
The interest in public health as a concern for the entire society is almost universally recognized bymost nations, even those unable to provide adequate health resources. Universal healthcare is found in nearly every ‘advanced’ industrial nation, except in the U.S.A. With far lower costs, Europeans produce far better health outcomes for their citizens than we do and nobody is excluded. On many indicators of health and well being, we are down toward the bottom of the rankings. Further, in the interest of privatizing every public function imaginable, our politicians have been cutting budgets for the CDC and other public health institutions. But wait, there’s more.

Since the entire U.S. medical sector is organized around private profit for doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry, only drugs deemed able to garner very high prices are developed. Flu vaccines are widely available in the U.S., since they are promoted by every medical institution and drugstore in the nation, subsidized by the federal government and profitable for Big Pharma. Ebola has been around for years. Some effort was made to develop a vaccine, but it was abandoned; little profit was projected. Public policy has not been driven by the public interest.

Jim Crow Law Enforcement
Ferguson is a symptom of a national failure to shape law enforcement policy in the public interest. Similar situations abound nationwide. Several trends converge to implement a destructive pattern resulting in what is best described as Incarceration Nation. The New Jim Crow, as aptly described by Michele Alexander, has created a caste of economically exiled men of color. The so-called war on drugs has been a war on young people of color prosecuted by increasingly militarized police targeting vulnerable neighborhoods.

Police no longer serve the public interest; they serve their interests in gaining funding and military equipment useful only for controlling an enemy population. The citizen is the new enemy and the police are the occupying force, as SWAT teams even serve minor warrants by heavily armed home invasion – innocents die. The bifurcation of police and public is palpable. Only a massive reorganization of police from top administration to recruitment, education, training and strict accountability of officers can come to serve the public good.

The Banksters and the Booty
The history of money is a mystery to most Americans. So is its current incarnation. But the essence of money is its function as a public medium of exchange. In societies where money is/was issued by the government to facilitate exchange of goods and services, economies have operated with stable prices and little taxation. Where money creation has been handed over to privately held central banks, governments have gone deeper into debt and taxes have grown to pay this arbitrary public debt.

The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 put the U.S. on the path of a debt-based money system. Instead of issuing money for public purposes, the government still borrows money from the central bank it authorized to issue money. There are many other absurdities in the U.S. debt-driven economy, but the basic problem is the same. A fundamental public function – issuing and managing the money supply for the nation – was given to a privately held central bank, which extracts booty in the form of interest and fees for the money it is allowed to create from nothing in its electronic accounts. Only public banks will manage money to serve the public interest.

Public Institutions for the Public Interest
Health, law enforcement, and the economic policies, among others, are three core elements of society that are inherently public functions. Their ‘privatization’ incurs extra costs and destabilizes the economy. In each of these areas, and others, we need public control over decisions in order to serve the public good. Until these important functions are returned to the people and their government, the plundering of the commons will continue.

The Found Art of Self-Dealing and the Corruption of Everything

One of the effects of the penetration of money into every realm of life is the corruption of human values. The growing tolerance for, even blindness to, corruption in politics seems obvious. But it seems to pervade both everyday life and business as well.

Corruption is not new. Neither are bribes, theft, or betrayal. Americans used to cheerily compare our public institutions and business practices with those of ‘less developed’ nations considered endemically corrupt in their imputed ‘backwardness.’ When parking on the street anywhere in Mexico, U.S. tourists begrudgingly paid a small fee to a semi-uniformed “policeman” to guard their car. This “protection money” assured them that their car would be there, intact, on their return from shopping. In many “underdeveloped” countries, such services are typically offered by the otherwise unemployed. Americans look down on such activities as reflecting a corruption of the public function, nevertheless are grateful for the service. In the U.S., we prided ourselves for being ‘above’ such petty corruption. In our naiveté, we expected our public servants to perform their functions for a salary and never take bribes. Yet we quietly acknowledge much bigger backroom deals.

The disintegration of naturally formed communities in industrial society has been largely completed. Now we have “gated communities” where nobody knows their neighbor, and “sacrifice zones” where public agencies have abandoned the population. Individuals face a complex world of economic dependence on large institutions. They look forward to a fate based solely on their ability to navigate an economy uncommitted to anyone. With little or no social support, we each confront faceless institutions at work and in public. Sociologists have talked for decades about the ‘atomization’ of social relations.

Market Madness
Society is fragmented into a collection of individuals, each of whom has little if any relationships of commitment over time. We are urged to be committed solely to ourselves as “economic actors” seeking the best advantage in any situation. After all, that is the model of human behavior that has been promoted throughout the industrial era. These conditions of personal life, of course, make people most vulnerable to the power of the elites that control employment along with the rest of the economy. It’s a perfect environment for self-dealing.

Before money became the measure of everything, social norms and values were important – yet non-economic – factors that affected the decisions individuals made. People were morally bound to manage their behavior in certain ways that often served a public interest in sustained community cohesion. Sure, crimes were committed, people cheated, etc. But non-monetary norms of human conduct prevailed in most communities.

The elevation of markets as the paragon of progress imposed heavy costs on human morality and compassion. The virtues of normative communities are not cultivated by markets; the only “market virtue” is the goal of selfish gain. That breaks down bonds of affiliation and caring.

Monetizing Humanity
The assumed good resulting from the “invisible hand” that Adam imagined, does not exist in the fossil-fuel driven industrial era. Giant banks and corporations control both markets and government. Human values are sent to the back of the bus and are simultaneously declared attained. Adam Smith proffered the “invisible hand” as a metaphor to reflect the interaction of merchants and tradesmen in a local community. They bargained and produced goods and services on equal footings. They were also cognizant of community needs, standards, and judgment of their practices. Business conducted in real time in real communities occurred under conditions quite different than in today’s corporate state.

The crowning achievement of the industrial era is the monetization of everything and everyone. You are only as human as the purchasing power your employment or business dealings can demonstrate. That is the social measure of the person. But as Michael Sandel has so clearly shown in his book, What Money Can’t buy,* a full range of the most important of human dimensions from civic virtue to interpersonal honor to community solidarity, cannot be monetized except by the corruption their very essence.

This corruption of human values, of course, is a windfall for the financial, military, and industrial power elites running the corporate state. Community fragmentation and personal selfishness allow them to more easily manipulate populations by mass media indoctrination and massive distortions of the meaning and practice of justice.

Yet, the power of people recognizing the destruction of human values, cannot be overcome by advertising or the phony patriotism of war hysteria. Attention can be diverted temporarily, but people are waking up – as Occupy and the Climate March have powerfully demonstrated – especially as the elites charge headlong like lemmings as if their actions had no bearing on the destruction we all experience more and more.
* Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Is Development Anything Other Than Growth?

We often speak of development and growth as the same thing. But what do they really mean? Development seems to imply some form of improvement over prior conditions. Growth plainly refers to something getting bigger. Then there is “progress,” or, improvement over prior conditions. In the U.S. corporate-dominated culture, “development” is almost universally measured by economic growth, which is assumed to be the essence of progress. More and bigger are better; therefore, growth is development and development is progress.

It is interesting to look at the process and result of the revision of city and county “development plans” or “growth plans” and building codes. They attempt to respond to the current language of ecological survival of human settlements. This is not easy to accomplish while retaining their focus on traditional notions of “land use” and building standards, framing urban or suburban “development.” Public officials are under tremendous pressure to accede to the demands of “developers.” The main goal of developers is to subdivide land, build structures, hook up to public utilities and infrastructure, and sell it all for a handsome profit. They toss around the word “sustainable,” but it is no more than decoration in the world of economic expansion.

Growth or Progress
Yet here we are in a state of the world where the best scientific work leads to questions that contradict all those assumptions. Can any of this continue for more than a decade without total collapse of economies, societies, ecological systems, and massive disruption of human life? As the evidence piles up – as climate disruption accelerates – the answer looks more and more like an emphatic “no.” The historical record is far from reassuring. Jared Diamond’s careful analysis of past societies that have collapsed is instructive. Most collapsed societies had kept on doing what they were doing despite the self-destructive impending consequences. Without doubt, some were simply not fully aware of the ecological damage they were doing to the sources of their survival. In any case, they were unable to change their behavior to mitigate or adapt.

However, today there are two differences. First, we have plenty of knowledge of how we are destroying the biosphere in which we live. (Climate denial is a fringe political act, not scientific knowledge.) Many questions in climate science are yet to be answered, but the basics of how earth systems are made unstable are clear. Nevertheless, our behavior writ large suggests ignorance of the foundations of our survival as a species.

Second, we now face the imminent consequences of our collective failure to transform the nature of the relationship of humanity to the planet. It is not merely a matter of a small society failing to survive in a confined ecosystem it has destroyed. Now it is a matter of the entire planetary system having been so severely disrupted that it can no longer support vast numbers of species. Hundreds of species go extinct daily. Shortly, our own may be included among those destroyed.

Progress or Extinction
I know, it is hard to get a serious grip around such a monumentally catastrophic near future. Many just refuse to look at the evidence. Many others, who do recognize the growing damage wrought by the carbon economy, hold onto the belief that we can simply fix it with “technological innovation.” Technical knowledge can play an important part, but the only viable solution is to radically change the material basis of the economy itself. That will not happen without completely changing our idea of what constitutes progress.

If we start viewing development as movement toward a fully non-fossil-fueled economy, then decisions can focus on unprecedented but urgent necessary changes. That will entail a multitude of actions meant to 1) severely reduce energy consumption, mainly through conservation; 2) convert energy use to renewable sources; 3) shift economic activity toward local non-fossil-fuel dependant production of both food and manufactured products for local consumption; 4) limit new land development while retrofitting old structures for energy efficiency of both commerce and residence; 5) limit international and inter-regional trade to products not locally producible; 6) replace financially extractive private investment mega-banking with localized public banking that provides credit to projects that build ecological economies supporting local communities. All these and many more redirections and transformations of economic activity are necessary to even have a slim chance of overcoming the surging sixth great extinction.

Scary? Of course, very scary. But if you think these radical transformations of society are daunting, then sit back and contemplate the alternative plunge into extinction.