Monthly Archive for January, 2011

Kindle 3 is a good little research tool

I am finding that the Kindle 3 is a great little learning or research tool. I’ve had mine for a couple of months now.

It keeps your place, so you can have numerous books on the go at the same time. And as you are reading you can highlight areas of text and add notes. These are then assigned to a file called “My Clippings.txt”. Every clipping or note has a header giving the title of the book, the location in the book and the time and date. Continue reading ‘Kindle 3 is a good little research tool’

The English Civil War Is A Crucial Part of Australian History

There’s an appalling article in Crikey today by Associate Professor Tony Taylor of Monash University, co-editor of an upcoming book History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives.

The article responds to an article in The Age, “Coalition would scrap Curriculum” saying Federal Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne is prepared to scrap the new national history curriculum. The article says Pyne thinks there is to much emphasis on Asia, indigenous culture and sustainability in the history curriculum, and not enough on Christianity, Greece and Rome, and the English Bill of Rights and English Civil War.

There’s plenty to criticise there. Australian students need a good grasp of indigenous culture and the deadly and destructive effects that white settlement had on it, and of the history of Asia. Sustainability – we can do without that, thanks very much! We could replace sustainability with a discussion of how humans have moved away from being at the whim of nature every moment of the day.

However, the response in Crikey is arrogant, dismissive and, frankly a joke. Taylor’s lowest moment is when he says the English Civil War is “arguably just a series of confused and confusing localised squabbles that may have a special significance for UK history, but not for anybody else (unless they like dressing up in period costume).” Anyone with even a basic knowledge of how bourgeois Parliamentary democracy works knows that this is ridiculous. Most of the assumptions behind it come directly or indirectly from that Civil War. The most important tenet of parliamentarism – the idea that only the parliament, not the executive on its own, may tax – is a direct result of the war and the main issue it was fought over. You can’t understand the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, which lead to the sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, without understanding that crucial point.

But the bad thing about Taylor’s article is not just that he is wrong, but that he is in a position to affect the curriculum of Australian schools but clearly has contempt for democracy. He implies that Pyne’s threat to scrap the curriculum and start again is an example of the “arbitrary rule of one”. Of course, Pyne will never be in a position to change the curriculum unless he is part of a government elected in the closest thing we have to a democratic election. Does Taylor really contend that elected Governments have no right to change public policy?

Taylor’s contempt for outsiders interfering in work only he and his priesthood should be allowed to carry out is revealed in another passage, where he discusses criticism of the new curriculum: “I read it and dismissed it as someone who doesn’t know much about how education or history works.” Not because it was wrong, or misguided, or suggested a poor use of scarce classroom time, but it came from  an outsider.

What’s worst of all about this article is it carries on the smarmy pseudo-left habit of congratulating themselves that they must be right, because the slightly more right-wing ruling class party is against them. This is part of the nature of the bureaucratic pseudo-left; they push the line that their work must be done behind closed doors because evil right-wingers and the stupid populace they fool are too dumb to know what’s best for them. There is no sense at all of actually trusting ordinary people, of welcoming outside debate or being ready to submit their decisions to the judgment of the great unwashed.

We need to keep attacking the pseudo-left with this – with the idea that, while they parade their moral virtue, they are utterly unwilling to actually try to win public debates.

A cached version of the Crikey article is here, and my first comment replying to that article on the original site is here.

The marxist theory of crisis

karl marx

Marxist Theory of Overaccumulation and Crisis (1990) by Simon Clarke (21 pages)

The purpose here in writing a brief review is to generate enough interest in Simon Clarke’s essay, so that people will read it. This in turn may lead to reading Clarke’s more comprehensive book, Marx’s Theory of Crisis (1994)

At the start, Clarke somewhat mysteriously refers to orthodox Marxist theories as underconsumptionist. Don’t be put off by this. In section 3 (pp. 6-7) he stresses that overproduction is the Marxist tradition and presents an incisive explanation of the deficiencies of underconsumptionist theories.

Clarke’s goal is to explain that capitalist crisis is necessary, that it can’t be avoided. In this respect efforts to reform capitalism are a waste of time.

Various dodgy theories which have been advanced in the name of Marx are briefly described and critiqued.

The theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is not a sufficient explanation for the cause of crisis. The falling rate of profit may intensify but cannot explain the necessity of crisis. Bad theories lead to bad policies, the idea that crises can be resolved by wage restraint and the transformation of work practices to restore the rate of profit.

So, what is Clarke’s understanding of the Marxist theory of crisis? This:

“The source of crisis lies neither in the ‘anarchy of the market’, nor in the immediate process of production, but in the relation between the two , in the ‘circulation process which is in itself also a process of reproduction’ “ (1)

The tendency of capitalism is to develop the productive forces without limit. However, the ability of the working (and unemployed) population to consume without limit is restricted. This creates the possibility of crisis at a point in between production and consumption.

But underconsumption and overproduction are not opposite sides of the same coin, as claimed by Sweezy.

Production and consumption cannot be neatly separated. They constitute a dialectic, both united and separate at the same time (2). For example, when the capitalist buys means of production and puts them to work that is both consumption and production combined – productive consumption.

Another misconception is to look at consumption as the ultimate goal of capitalist production. The real goal of capitalist production is to produce surplus value. For that to happen products made have to be sold. But that is not a smooth process. The strength of Marx’s analysis is his ability to articulate all the difficulties and contradictions along the way in between the categories of money, means of production, labour power, the production process and the exchange of the new commodities produced.

From experience of recessions and depressions it is obvious that not everything produced is automatically sold. Say’s law which states that production creates its own consumption is wrong. The market does not magically solve this issue.

Moreover, capitalists produce both means of production (Department 1) and consumer goods (Department 2). Underconsumptionist theories focus just on Department 2 consumer goods, the essential requirements to keep the working class (and capitalist class) ticking over. So, the unconsumptionist analysis is one sided in this respect as well.

However, unevenness and disproportionality in production and circulation can’t be avoided due to the tendency of capitalist production to expand without limit. A theory of inevitable disproportionality has far more credibility than a theory of inevitable generalised underconsumption.

It is necessary to study Marx’s circulation and reproduction schemes (Volume 2) to achieve more clarity about this.

Do crises arise from the ignorance of capitalists? Could a more centralised co-ordination of capitalist production avoid crises?

Before answering these questions we need to ask another: Why is there overproduction?

Capitalists may lust for more profit but why doesn’t the more rational, smarter capitalist anticipate the results of overproduction and gracefully withdraw to a more in demand productive sector, thus preventing disproportionality between sectors arising?

Various theories have been developed to explain the alleged general irrationality of capitalists. Unwarranted optimism. Erroneous expectations. The lure of creative innovation. Unwarranted credit expansion by irresponsible governments. Monopoly distortion of the market. Immobility of fixed capital. These theories are critiqued by Clarke.

Clarke demystifies the market by outlining the many contradictions that lie beneath its surface.

Competition for raw materials, means of production, labour power, credit etc. confront the capitalist as a barrier to further expansion and realisation of surplus value– a barrier which each capitalist must strive to overcome. The successful capitalist will develop the productive forces without regard to the limits of the market. Ultimately the only way to realise more surplus value is to produce more commodities as economically as possible and throw them onto the market. Capitalism is a dynamic, expansive system by its nature.

Competition inevitably leads to an uneven development of the forces of production as capitalists struggle for a competitive advantage. It is inevitable that this will lead to imbalances between production and consumption. Clarke traces out this immanent tendency of capitalism in more detail.

Eventually capitalism hits a wall. A crisis of accumulation means that capital exists which cannot be realised, cannot be used. This capital can be in the form of money which has no where to go, means of production which are not utilised (over capacity) or unsold commodities. The crisis can only be resolved by the destruction of this unrealised capital and then starting over again.

What is the role of credit in the capitalist system? As stated above competition for raw materials, means of production, labour power, credit etc. confront the capitalist as a barrier to further expansion and realisation of surplus value. To break through this barrier the capitalist needs money and may not have enough. Credit fills this gap for the capitalist.

At the other end of the chain the customer needs money to buy commodities. Once again credit can make up for a short fall here.

Can credit be used to overcome the tendency of capitalism to crisis?

Credit can delay and smooth the process but does not resolve the underlying contradictions. During a boom optimism prevails and credit is cheap and easily available. This stimulates further overaccumulation, uneven development and disproportionalities. If credit continues to expand in this context then this will lead to inflation.

Sooner or later, the boom turns to bust, a destructive downward spiral, where “the over accumulation of capital suddenly appears in the form of a mass of worthless debt and an enormous overproduction of commodities”, etc

This cycle of overaccumulation and crisis has been going on for over two hundred years.

Mainstream economics explains it as a monetary phenomena whose ultimate causes are psychological or political. But despite various theories the crises still continue. To explain them we need to return to Marx who looked below the surface to how capitalism really functions.

Recurring economic crisis is not just economic crisis. If it cannot be avoided then it is social crisis. It has to be dealt with.

The purpose of this summary is to encourage further critical study of authors such as Simon Clarke who do appear to have understood the Marxist theory of crisis amongst the swirl and confusion of many other interpretations.
——
(1) Clarke provides reference to three sources in Marx’s original writings to support the claim that his interpretation is the real deal. Here are the links:
Capital volume 3, pp. 351-2, Penguin, 1981
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch15.htm beginning with “Given the necessary means of production” in the online translation

Grundrisse, pp. 410-11, Penguin, 1973.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch08.htm#p402 beginning with “But from the fact”

Theories of Surplus Value, Volume 2, p. 513-517, Progress Publishers, 1968, 1971,
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1863/theories-surplus-value/ch17.htm beginning with “On the Forms of Crisis”

(2) http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch01.htm
In section 2: THE GENERAL RELATION OF PRODUCTION TO DISTRIBUTION, EXCHANGE, CONSUMPTION, Marx presents a mind blowing account of the interrelations between these categories, which anticipates his more detailed treatment in Volume 2.

The Order is Rapidly Fadin’ – The Times they are a-changin’!!

"The order is rapidly fadin'!"

This seems VERY appropriate in light of events in Middle East and North Africa.

Couldn’t find a Bob Dylan version on youtube but Nina Simone does a very thoughtful interpretation:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Melbourne and Sydney Rallies in support of the Egyptian Rebels

WLE_01_exiledsurfer 

Melbourne: Sun Jan 30 2011, 3pm

Egyptian Consulate

50 Market St, Melbourne

Click here for a map

 

WLE_02_exiledsurfer

Sydney: Mon Jan 31 2011, 4.30pm

Egyptian Consulate

241 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills

Click here for a map

Facebook event:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=136722939725676

Anyone else? Leave details in the comments.

 

WLE_03_exiledsurfer

 

More information about the protests here – including the comments

Videos from Monthly Argument debate on Iraq and Afghanistan

(I’ve been told that a transcript of this debate will soon be available at the Monthly Argument website. That could kickstart a useful discussion here, so I’ll post it , once it appears)

Debate Topic: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Can our participation be justified?

A Monthly Argument debate held in Melbourne, Australia. December, 9 2010.

Speakers:

Major General Jim Molan
Retired senior officer in the Australian Army, author of Running the War in Iraq, Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multinational Force in Iraq (MNF-I) 2004-2005

Adam Bandt MP
Greens member for Melbourne in the House of Representatives

Professor Richard Tanter
Director of the Nautilus Institute at RMIT

Jeff Sparrow
Editor of Overland magazine

Arthur Dent (previously known as Albert Langer)

Chaired by Darce Cassidy

For more info about The Monthly Argument go to: themonthlyargument.wordpress.com/​

Iraq/Afghanistan debate (part 1of 2) from Monthly Argument on Vimeo.

Iraq/ Afghanistan debate (part 2 of 2) from Monthly Argument on Vimeo.

Iraq/Afghanistan debate (10 minutes of highlights) from Monthly Argument on Vimeo.

thought for food

The next Monthly Argument is about a subject of universal interest: food

Date: February 10: “GM crops are good for us”
Time: 6:30pm for 7:00 pm start.
Venue: The Function Room, Dan O’Connell Hotel, 225 Canning Street (corner of Princes Street) Carlton

The “yes” case will be made by David Tribe (of GMO pundit)  and David McMullen, author of Bright Future

The “no” case will be made by Madeleine Love and Jessica Harrison (both from MADGE)

Go to the Monthly Argument site for more detail.

Summary of the Egyptian protests

The Mother Jones website has a summary of the current Egyptian protests, with links to more info.

Also, ABC Journalist Rosanna Ryan has created a Twitter list of protest-related accounts; but their accuracy is anyone’s guess.

The Twitter hashtags #Jan25 and #25Jan also have information, but as always with Twitter, treat most of it as unverified.

Naomi Klein, Pseudo-Leftist Rejecting Progress and Growth

 

Over at The American Situation, Sean Collins has passed on a video of supposed radical Naomi Klein being as reactionary as she can. Collins says she’s "proving that what passes as "left" today is often the most reactionary in explicitly rejecting progress and growth." If you can’t see the video above, click here.

Hans Rosling’s fast forward history

You Tube version

Stunning video by Hans Rosling, the Director of the Gapminder Foundation which shows how much the wealth of the world has increased in the past 200 years.

brown – Europe
red – Asia
green – Middle East
blue – Africa
yellow – Americas

Most of the commentaries on the web praise this video to the skies. It deserves praise for its overall assessment of the progress of capitalism but there is also a tendency to fast forward through the bad times.

In 1810 the wealthiest countries were the UK and the Netherlands. The average life expectancy of every country was below 40.

Enter the industrial revolution and the wealth and life expectancy begins to dramatically improve for the countries which do industrialise. This is true although there is no mention of the appalling working conditions, the very long working hours, the child labour in the emerging factories of Britain and elsewhere. The birth pangs of capitalism  led to major upheavals in 1848, the shortening of the working day, the Factory Acts, etc.

As the wealth of countries increases then so does the gap between rich and poor countries. Rosling does mention this (at 2:35). It also needs to be emphasised that the scale he is using on the horizontal wealth axis is logarithmic, showing the per annum categories of $400 (roughly one dollar per day), $4000 ($10 per day) and $40,000 ($100 per day). If he had used a linear scale then the gap between rich and poor countries would be far more pronounced. The gap between the richest and poorest countries taken from  the closing and opening screens of this video is at least 100 times today compared with less than 10 times in 1810 (1)

He does mention the catastrophe of WW1 but then fast forwards through The Great Depression and WW2. It is far easier to fast forward through the bad times than live through them or explain them.

His focus is on post 1948, the boom years of capitalism.

By 1985 even in the poorest country, Mozambique on just $366 per year, the average lifespan was three years higher than Britain in 1810.

Wealth has increased but so has inequality. Rosling visually extracts Shanghai out of China towards the end, showing that it is similar in wealth to Italy. Then he extracts the poor inland province, Guizhou, and compares it to Pakistan. Finally, he shows how the even poorer rural part of Guizhou has a wealth index similar to Ghana, Africa. Certainly in this section there is no brushing over the real world problem of inequality in China.

He finishes on an optimistic note. The gap between the rest and the west is now closing. In the future it is possible that everyone can make it to the healthy and wealthy corner with more aid, trade, green technology and peace. Rosling slips into an optimistic version of political correctness in this parting message. This is far more welcome than the prevailing doom and gloom about the future but is still political correctness.

If we assess Rosling’s state of the world against the three criteria outlined in my earlier article, The Achilles Heel of Capitalism, then how does he go?

standard of living has increased dramatically – correct

inequality has increased too – covered well in places, but the logarithmic wealth scale distorts the huge and growing gap here

capitalism is an unstable system which can’t avoid economic crisis – Rosling fast forwards through the bad times

(1) The dynamics of the gap between rich and poor countries is further discussed in Bill Warren’s book, Imperialism Pioneer of Capitalism (1980)

That dreadful woman!

The hate speech from Sarah Palin is truly shocking.  Her liberal opponents would never dream of saying anything hateful about her.  She is so outrageous! She just encourages violence!

Likewise for all those Tea Party types.  Why can’t they be nice and invite their liberal neighbors around for a friendly debate?  I am sure they would be delighted to accept.

Addition by keza:

What you need to understand David, is that liberals are smart and sophisticated, they understand metaphor.  Obama can say things like “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” (his words at a Philadelphia fundraiser, 2008) and of course his clever followers understand that he’s not really talking about shooting people.

But Palin’s followers are crude and uneducated – you  know – literal types,  good with their hands, not so much with their brains – so when Sarah says:

“Never retreat, instead RELOAD!” , they just  go get a gun.   She shouldn’t be allowed to say such things.
Liberals know that a bumper sticker like the one below is just a joke.  It couldn’t be serious  – it’s just a very clever play on words.  But probably a bit of a challenge for the type of people who go to Palin rallies.
Abort Sarah Palin
Likewise, an image  such as this one which is part of a series called MILP  (Mothers I’d like to punch) involves a humorous juxtoposition of the words “mother’ and ‘punch” and is just an entertaining way of expressing a deep understanding of the stupidity of  those who can’t see the sinister nature of Palin’s views. Mothers I'd like to punch
And how clever is this?!
Kill Bush

And here’s a YouTube mashup of a bit of liberal word play – far too advanced for Palin types to get their heads around, of course.  It just wouldn’t be possible to engage in anything as sophisticated as real debate with them because their grasp of the language, and their conceptual of the world in general is just far too limited.

Thou Shalt Not Build Dams – Ever!

The Queensland floods have caused tragic loss of life, vast damage to infrastructure and will cost several billions of dollars. They are among the worst floods in Australia’s twentieth century history. Similar devastation occured in 1918, 1954 and 1974. I know a couple of farmers ‘up north’ and one tells me that after a bad drought comes a bad flood. He adds that this is followed by a couple of good years with ‘bumper crops’. He might be right – I don’t know. At least he is offering a testable hypothesis.

What I do know, though, is that the floods will generate a much-needed public discusion, and hopefully a debate, about the role of dams in flood mitigation. No new dams of significant size have been built in Australia for about three decades. During the recent long drought, the ‘dam’ question arose again but the response from experts and governments was along the lines of ‘Why build a dam if the climate has permanently changed in a way that means there will be less rain in future?’.

Opposition to dams has been a key success in the development of the Green movement and its party since the early 1980s. But to use the term “opposition” understates the situation: it is really ‘demonization’ of dams. In the Green quasi-religion, dams are evil, akin to a Satanic force. Thus, there must NEVER be any new major dams built. Not ever. The Green policy is expressed at their website as a principle: “There should be no new large-scale dams on Australian rivers”. http://greens.org.au/policies/environment/water-inland-aquatic-environments 

Had the Greens been as influential in the second half of the 1970s as they have been since the mid 1980s, it is unlikely that the Wivenhoe Dam, on the Brisbane River, 80 kms from Brisbane, would have been constructed (after years of planning and building, it was opened in 1984). The Wivenhoe was designed, following massive floods in 1974 (on current indications, worse than the present Brisbane flooding), with a flood mitigation function alongside the usual water supply role. Like all dams, it is an example of human beings changing the natural world, by unnatural means, into something very useful and necessary to us in terms of our needs, standard of living and future progress.

During the terrible Australian drought, the Queensland Government moved to build a new dam on the Mary River, the Traveston Crossing Dam. It was seen as necessary to providing reliable water supply to Brisbane. Opposition to it, spear-headed by green activists, was successful and the Traveston dam was never built. Given that the drought had been so severe and gone on for so long, back then the argument that there might not be enough rainfall to justify such a large dam carried some weight to many people. But there were also those who argued convincingly for it and it was only halted because of a decision by the Federal Minister for the Environment in 2009 who was worried about the loss of endangered species (a lungfish, a local turtle and a local cod). In the recent floods, the Mary River peaked (at the town of Gympie) at over 19 meteres. What would have been the flood mitigation impact had the Traveston Corssing Dam been in place?   

To the Green mentality and ethos, changing Nature is destroying Nature, dams are an assault on the ‘delicate balance’ in Nature, an example of human arrogance going ‘too far’. In this regard, the Green mentality and ethos are quasi-religious. The late Michael Crichton put it neatly in a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in 2003 when he talked of the “remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths’. He said: 

There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe. Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs.

(Full text: http://sharpgary.org/ChrichtonCommonweal.html )

It’s good that he identified them as ‘profoundly conservative beliefs’. They are very reactionary beliefs.

As has been pointed out many times at this site, it is indicative of our strange times that opposition to dams, as a matter of principle, can be seen as left-wing. What is the traditional practice of left-wing parties in power on this question? What is the left-wing theoretical foundation for a policy on dams?

In practice, revolutionary left-wing parties in power – such as the communists in Russia/Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s and China in the 1950s and 1960s – were gung-ho in the building of dams. They did so because making a revolution is about changing things for the better, raising the standards of living and opportunities for liberation from wage slavery. To borrow from Karl Marx, it’s about ‘unleashing the productive forces’ – not forcing them into a sustainable relationship with Nature. It’s about an attitude based on “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” – not ‘tread gently – Nature’s resources are finite’. But this is ‘red’ politics, not green. The Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong was so into dams that in 1956 he wrote a poem about his dream for the Yangtze:

“Great plans are afoot:
  A bridge will fly to span the north and south,
  Turning a deep chasm into a thoroughfare,
  Walls of stone will stand upstream to the west
  To hold back Wushan’s clouds and rain
  Till a smooth lake rises in the narrow gorges
  The mountain goddess if she is still there
  Will marvel at a world so changed”.

http://www.discoveryangtze.com/Yangtzediscovery/old_man_river.htm 

In chapter 1 of The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx expressed his enthusiasm for the revolutionary consequences of the rise of the new bourgeoisie in transforming Nature and extending human horizons. He said:

It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm 

It is unlikely that he would not have been as awe-inspired by the wonders of large-scale dam construction and the range of benefits on such a vast scale arising from dams: the capture and storage of safe and reliable water supply, generation of hydro-electricity, irrigation, flood mitigation and recreational uses (all on a scale unimaginable in Marx’s time).

The Wivenhoe Dam on the Brisbane River worked effectively in mitigating bad floods around Brisbane in 1999 but, alas, despite its 1.4 million megalitre flood mitigation capacity (on top of its water supply capacity of 1.1 million megalitres) it could not stop the extensive damage that occured during the current floods. And to return to the opening point of this article, there needs to be debate about all this. To what extent did the Wivenhoe mitigate the flooding of Brisbane? How much worse would it have been without that mitigation capacity?

There is good stuff on this at Catallaxy  http://catallaxyfiles.com/2011/01/11/would-dams-reduce-flooding/ 

I know that it will be argued that dams are ‘so 1950s’ but that is not an effective argument unless the proponent can offer something new and better. And, no, the state imposing compulsory water storage tanks in homes is not something better. I live in a trendy inner city suburb and a few of my neighbours have multiple storage tanks in their gardens, a reflection of their susceptibility to climate change alarmism. (They no longer have that glow of self-righteousness about them but will no doubt keep the tanks in place).

An area that interests me greatly is geoengineering and its possible roles in controlling rainfall. I have no expertise in it or in hydrology. But I do know about politics and the politics that declares, as a matter of principle, that there must be no new large dams is a dogmatic, conservative and reactionary politics. It is highly unlikely that adherents of such green politics would support greater funding for research into geoengineering solutions – indeed, geoengineering is abhorrent to them – let alone new dams with enhanced flood mitigation capacities, as appropriate in flood prone regions.

It always strikes me, when these issues arise, how backward the social system of capitalism really is. Human lives and billions of dollars are lost yet only a pittance is invested into research and development into geoengineering, let alone dams, and even that is contested by the reactionaries.   

the achilles heel of capitalism

Tyler Cowen The Inequality That Matters

Capitalism has delivered an increased standard of living to those it exploits, which explains its longevity. Although Bill Gates is far, far wealthier than the average joe this in itself will not create a huge problem for the system, provided average joe feels that his or her lot is improving as well. Tyler Cowen’s article compares living standards today with 1911 and concludes correctly that most people feel that capitalism has delivered more prosperity over time.

At the same time, social inequality has increased. But people may put up with increasing inequality as long as their standard of living is not threatened. Once again the statistical facts are clear on increasing inequality and the social fact is clear that overall people put up with it, they don’t take it as sufficient reason to rebel. In practice the moral outrage argument put forward by free market anarchist Kevin Carson (1) (Damning Corporate Capitalism With Faint Praise) is not sufficient for most people to change their outlook. As long as the system delivers for most it is safe.

However, finally, it is the inability of capitalism to avoid economic crisis that is its real achilles heel. Tyler Cowen concludes on a pessimistic note:

“We probably don’t have any solution to the hazards created by our financial sector, not because plutocrats are preventing our political system from adopting appropriate remedies, but because we don’t know what those remedies are … Is the overall picture a shame? Yes. … Will it again bring our economy to its knees? Probably”

So, after arguing that increasing inequality doesn’t really create a threat to the system, Tyler Cowen concludes that the system is still under threat simply because we don’t understand how it works. Indeed, we don’t yet understand how it works …

(1) See Carson’s Mutualist blog for his own perspectives. In his homebrew manifesto Carson argues that big is bad and advocates resilient neighbourhood, backyard, desktop technologies as a progressive substitute. He has also published a significant study of political economy (Studies in Mutualist Political Economy) Many of Carson’s articles are published at Center for a Stateless Society. I noticed an article there attacking political environmentalism (Green Rising: The Dangers of Political Environmentalism) because extreme Greens value the earth more than humans. Carson and the free market anarchists deserve an extended footnote because these sorts of positions are well worth further discussion.

prognosis for 2011

global economic crisis

Sheldon Filger who maintains a regular commentary on the current economic crisis (Global Economic Crisis) provides this prognosis for 2011:

Among the many clouds on the horizon regarding the global economic outlook for 2011, here are three:

1. Greek sovereign debt crisis not cured by the massive Eurozone and IMF bailout. Knowledgeable observers have pointed out that mathematically, it is not possible for the Greek state to deflate its economy in line with deficit reduction commitments required under terms of the bailout package, while simultaneously engineering a miraculous return to robust economic growth at a level sufficient to service the exploding public debt. There is already word being leaked to the Greek press by government officials that after the current bailout package expires in 2013, Athens will seek to restructure its sovereign debt.

2. Irish banking crisis far from over. After receiving a staggering level of bailout assistance from the EU and IMF to cover the country’s insolvency due to guaranteeing the obligations of Anglo Irish Bank ( along with all other banking institutions in Ireland), the Dublin authorities were forced to inject nearly $5 billion into Allied Irish Banks, another bankrupt institution. As with Greece, it seems almost a certainty that Ireland will eventually seek to restructure its public debt.

3. China, the one ray of hope in the global economy due to massive government injections of liquidity that have led to high levels of supposed growth during the global economic crisis, is now beginning to raise interest rates in a frantic effort aimed at reining in burgeoning levels of price inflation. This could lead to a tightening in the Chinese economy, combined with a catastrophic deflation in the Chinese real estate market. Any downturn in China will reverberate with dire impact on the overall global economy.

Email from China

I just received this from a friend who is in Shanghai at the moment:

Hi Kez,  Reading of Mike’s experience** in Shanghai during the CR and being here now brought a wry smile to my face. Mao can now only be seen at the trash/back street markets. All reference to the revolution (ie 1949 – 1970’s) has been wiped. This is particularly noticeable in any formal presentation – museums/histories of Shanghai’s development etc – of Shanghai’s progress from village/city/ from the distant past through the 19th and 20th centuries. The revisionists are not just wiping the CR and Mao, but the revolution itself. The myth being created is one of gradual continuity from the past (poverty, albeit very harmonious poverty, where people  live without stuff, to now where stuff is becoming available in ever increasing amounts and where harmony makes even more sense) through to the future. There is something of Tory conservatism to it; Mao is being replaced by Burke. Will be back in a week – Sunday I think so I’ll fill youse in then.

I did a quick google  for stuff about New Year in Shanghai,  and found that there’s a place called The Mao Club. The blurb for the New Year party there reads as follows:

The biggest countdown party lands at Club Mao Friday Dec 31st 2010 on the

one day where Mao will be packed in the early hours!!Sexy mash up hip

hop/Electro by DJ Razor, and House by DJ Liam who is specially flying in

all the way from Australia.

Full 10 quality drinks deal from 10pm til 2:30am! 2 floors full and banging! Countdown with us hard style and

usher in 2011 December 31st 10pm only …@ MAO

(I don’t think Mao would have had any problems with a bit of  “sexy mash up hip hop” !  )

It’s not surprising  that the authorities are working so hard to push the “harmony theme” and delete the whole idea of revolution from the historical record, but it contradicts reality.   In 1949, Mao said “the Chinese people have stood up”, and they had!   I can’t see the Chinese people forgetting that.   They’re now undergoing a tumultuous and painful  transition toward modernity, under an authoritarian, oppressive “communist party”,  nothing harmonious about it.

It’s often thought that The Left is all about harmony –  more so,  nowadays.   But even in the past, I think that many on the Left had the idea that “once we had socialism” there would no longer be any fierce struggle – or that the struggle would be limited to a struggle with nature, rather than struggle between people/different social forces.  Bogdanov proposed something like that in his science fiction novel “Red Star – the first Bolshevik Utopia” ( first published in 1908) .

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