Tags: collapse* + globalization*

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  1. "we have run out of world to commodify. And now commodification can only cannibalize its own means of existence, both natural and social." - @mckenziewark
    https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/mc...this-is-not-capitalism-its-worse/3657
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-28)
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  2. 3D printing is a rising threat for world trade. According to a new ING report, world trade will be 23% lower in 2060 if the growth of investments in 3D printers continues at the current pace. If investments accelerate domestically printed goods could already wipe out 40% of world imports in 2040.
    https://www.ingwb.com/insights/resear.../3d-printing-a-threat-to-global-trade
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  3. Earlier studies on this issue, Brandt points out, have highlighted the risk of a “net energy cliff”, which refers to how “declining EROI results in rapid increases in the fraction of energy dedicated to simply supporting the energy system.”

    Axiom: So the more EROI declines, a greater proportion of the energy being produced must be used simply to extract more energy. This means that EROI decline leads to less real-world economic growth.

    It also creates a complicated situation for oil prices. While at first, declining EROI can be expected to lead to higher prices reflecting higher production costs, the relationship between EROI and prices begins to breakdown as EROI becomes smaller.

    This could be because, under a significantly reduced EROI, consumers in a less prosperous economy can no longer afford, energetically or economically, the cost of producing more energy — thus triggering a dramatic drop in market prices, despite higher costs of production. At this point, in the new era of shrinking EROI, swinging oil prices become less and less indicative of ‘scarcity’ in supply and demand.

    Brandt’s new economic model looks at how EROI impacts four key sectors — food, energy, materials and labor. Exploring what a decline in net energy would therefore mean for these sectors, he concludes:

    “The reduction in the fraction of a resource free and the energy system productivity extends from the energy system to all aspects of the economy, which gives an indication of the mechanisms by which energy productivity declines would affect general prosperity.

    A clear implication of this work is that decreases in energy resource productivity, modeled here as the requirement for more materials, labor, and energy, can have a significant effect on the flows required to support all sectors of the economy. Such declines can reduce the effective discretionary output from the economy by consuming a larger and larger fraction of gross output for the meeting of inter-industry requirements.”
    https://medium.com/insurge-intelligen...low-burn-energy-collapse-d07344fab6be
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  4. the Alt-Left is not centrist, and even, to some extent, it is anti-liberal. It should not be confounded with the Democrats in the US or Social Democrats in Europe. As you’ll see, the positions I outline in the following few posts can hardly be found in the mainstream center-left.

    You will find, over the years, that these positions will become increasingly common. This is because they reflect the attractors of how society is evolving: we are entering a new age, with an entirely new form of global economy and society. This means that many of the Old Left positions become unsustainable, irrelevant or downright counterproductive.

    If the Old Left paradigm could transform the world, it already would have. If the labor movement could take over production and turn it into cooperatives, it already would have. Has this movement produced ecological awareness, animal rights, global solidarity, even solidarity within the borders of the affluent countries? Did it even create a genuinely progressive politics of gender, sexuality and identity? The answer is no. Progressives need a new movement, and a new paradigm; an Alt-Left.

    Let’s begin with the basics:

    Alt-Left basics

    “The progressives, then, must adopt more complex stances and rely upon avant-garde groups and networks in order to affect the overall political climate and debate.”

    The Old Left still thinks and functions according to the logic and classes of industrial society. In this analysis, capitalism stratifies society into different classes and it is this stratification that must be curbed and eventually brought to an end. The Alt-Left reacts to the class divisions of a postindustrial, digitalized society.

    In this kind of society the political game changes dramatically. People have much more complex class divisions, ideologies, interests and identities. Hence it becomes increasingly difficult to “represent” a segment of society.

    Instead, you need to target these many complex relationships and try to develop them in a manner that reproduces less inequality and less alienation. One way of doing this is by deliberately supporting the elements of the economy that are less governed by the logic of capital. In the old days, you needed a lot of capital to start a business. Today you need skills, contacts, mutual trust, cultural capital – and a laptop with an internet connection. These are the primary goods and resources that must become more evenly distributed if people are to be empowered.

    Because people to a lesser degree are divided into discernible classes and identities, traditional party politics also becomes more difficult to pursue in a meaningful manner – at least if you’re the progressive. This doesn’t affect the populist anti-immigration movements; they can build upon etnhic identities and single issues. The progressives, then, must adopt more complex stances and rely upon avant-garde groups and networks in order to affect the overall political climate and debate. They must work more across and beyond the traditional political parties. An important part of this is to try to improve the quality and inclusiveness of deliberation and political culture. In the end, this should lead to a greater enfranchisement of citizens through innovations within the fruitful field of internet democracy
    http://metamoderna.org/what-is-the-alt-left-about?lang=en
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  5. Debt is a key factor in creating an economy that operates using energy.

    A generally overlooked problem of our current system is the fact that we do not receive the benefit of energy products until well after they are used. This is especially the case for energy used to make capital investments, such as buildings, roads, machines, and vehicles. Even education and health care represent energy investments that have benefits long after the investment is made.

    The reason debt (and close substitutes) are needed is because it is necessary to bring forward hoped-for future benefits of energy products to the current period if workers are to be paid. In addition, the use of debt makes it possible to pay for consumer products such as automobiles and houses over a period of years. It also allows factories and other capital goods to be financed over the period they provide their benefits. (See my post Debt: The Key Factor Connecting Energy and the Economy.)

    When debt is used to move forward hoped-for future benefits to the present, oil prices can be higher, as can be the prices of other commodities. In fact, the price of assets in general can be higher. With the higher price of oil, it is possible for businesses to use the hoped-for future benefits of oil to pay current workers. This system works, as long as the price set by this system doesn’t exceed the actual benefit to the economy of the added energy.

    The amount of benefits that oil products provide to the economy is determined by their physical characteristics–for example, how far oil can make a truck move. These benefits can increase a bit over time, with rising efficiency, but in general, physics sets an upper bound to this increase. Thus, the value of oil and other energy products cannot rise without limit.

    Research involving Energy Returned on Energy Investment (EROEI) ratios for fossil fuels is a frequently used approach for evaluating prospective energy substitutes, such as wind turbines and solar panels. Unfortunately, this ratio only tells part of the story. The real problem is declining return on human labor for the system as a whole–that is, falling inflation adjusted wages of non-elite workers. This could also be described as falling EROEI–falling return on human labor. Declining human labor EROEI represents the same problem that fish swimming upstream have, when pursuit of food starts requiring so much energy that further upstream trips are no longer worthwhile.

    If our problem is a shortage of fossil fuels, fossil fuel EROEI analysis is ideal for determining how to best leverage our small remaining fossil fuel supply. For each type of fossil fuel evaluated, the fossil fuel EROEI calculation determines the amount of energy output from a given quantity of fossil fuel inputs. If a decision is made to focus primarily on the energy products with the highest EROEI ratios, then our existing fossil fuel supply can be used as sparingly as possible.

    If our problem isn’t really a shortage of fossil fuels, EROEI is much less helpful. In fact, the EROEI calculation strips out the timing over which the energy return is made, even though this may vary greatly. The delay (and thus needed amount of debt) is likely to be greatest for those energy products where large front-end capital expenditures are r
    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2016/05/12...s-story-what-other-researchers-missed
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  6. Of every dollar of wealth created, 93 cents goes to the top one percent since 1998. You can see why we're told that the only model for any social change is more economic growth, more foreign direct investment, more GDP increase. Very few people benefit from that, but those are the same people who dictate what economic policy and theory is.

    Understanding that every dollar of wealth creates inequality, and every dollar of wealth heats up our planet—because we have a fossil fuels extractive-based system—you realize that there's no way that reforming this current system is going to change the quality of life for the majority of humanity. Quite the opposite. The more we improve the system, the more we're keeping in a vampiric system whose logical outcome will be the destruction of the planet.

    when we start recovering the root causes—we keep on going back, and we say, "The root causes of inequality and poverty and climate change is this brand of capitalism called neoliberalism." Well, what's the root of neoliberalism? The root of neoliberalism is this idea of debt-based currency, and the market determining all aspects of our life. Where does that come from? That comes from our separation from nature, when we became sedentary during the neolithic revolution and stopped trusting the earth to provide for us.

    It also comes from Enlightenment rationalism, the idea that the human mind is the pinnacle of all of evolution, and that we can, using a certain type of Western axiomatic logic, understand everything. The entire world is reduced to the atom, the atom is reduced to the proton, neutron, and electron, and we've figured it all out. What's interesting, when you start looking, is: the root causes are always psychological and spiritual and psychosocial. They're not just economic—of course they're not.

    Economic problems, political problems have roots in a deep-seated humanity. In order to change the world we have to understand where that separation comes from. We also have to find that within ourselves, which is why the anarchist path is essentially the same as the mystical path, whether we want to believe that or not.

    To me, that's the second major lesson in the work. It's related to the third, which is: There's a one percenter in all of us.As the left, as an anarchist, as a revolutionary, as soon as we think that we are somehow holier than our "enemies," I think what happens is we become hubristic, we become moralistic.

    That is a huge blinder for the social justice movement. The benefit of seeing that there's a one percenter in all of us is we understand the primacy of context, we know that in any context we can reproduce this behavior. All the social science points to this, that we're highly contextual beings, whether that's the Good Samaritan studies, or the famous Stanley Milgram experiment where people in a white lab coat tell us to shock someone to death and we will, simply because they appear as an authority figure.

    When we understand the primacy of context, we can organize better. We know what kind of context to argue for, to create, to build, and we can empathize.
    http://www.shareable.net/blog/intervi...nd-perils-of-global-economic-activism
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2016-03-20)
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  7. It could end well or it could end badly, depending on how we act now.

    To understand the argument, the first thing we need is a bit of context. So before the robots take over, let’s look at how we got to where we are.

    The material conditions of what we in a country like Australia, (or the US, or Iceland) think of as a normal, decent life, are largely an artefact of a particular set of social and economic circumstances that arose in the West from about the end of World War II. The hours we work, the money we earn, the things we can do with that money, the age at which we retire — the very notion of ‘retirement’ — the services that we expect from our government, were, by and large, formed within this period.

    Broadly, those circumstances are: a manufacturing-based economy that directly and indirectly employed large numbers of skilled and unskilled people in such a way that they were able to enjoy a reasonable level of financial security and had the means to afford a given standard of material comfort.

    All of this was underpinned by a welfare state in which government managed the major risks and needs associated with an economy based on capitalist growth. Health and education, financial support when you were unable to get work, and an income when you retired were its major pillars, and these were not “entitlements” as it is now fashionable to label them, but the material expression of what most citizens saw as the whole point of government.

    This had nothing to do with any particular affection for government per se, let alone with a national commitment to collectivism. It was rather the practical realisation of a belief in positive personal freedom. It held that there is such a thing as society and we are all better off, and freer, when the state aims at some basic level of equality of opportunity and outcome.
    ...

    Growing prosperity brought with it challenges to key social institutions and practices. As the writer Ellen Willis has said, the sixties were mythical but they were also consequential. They launched genuine changes to notions of family, religion, women’s role, race, and recreation, (especially as the latter related to drug taking). Willis notes:

    The expansion of the American economy after World War II produced two decades of unprecedented prosperity, which allowed masses of people unprecedented latitude in making choices about how to live….

    As a result a growing minority — particularly among the children of the upper middle class — felt free to question the dominant social arrangements, to experiment and take risks, to extend student life with its essentially bohemian values into adulthood rather than graduate to professional jobs, nuclear families, and the suburbs….

    What most counterculture opposition to capitalism amounted to was this minority’s anger at the majority for refusing to make the same choice.

    This “liberation” was always contested, especially by those who had the most to lose from the new, freer social arrangements. But it took a halt in the growth of economic prosperity to allow the forces of conservatism to push back with any force. That is to say, the backlash against “the sixties” and the liberation it represented were in part driven by the sort of white, male privilege that drives much of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s current social agenda, but it was also tied to the retreat of prosperity.

    As ever, as economic circumstances changed, so too did social relations. As industry globalised, a professional layer of managers and technocrats arose, a group Milovan Dijas and others have called “the new class”, and they insinuated themselves into the heart of these industries. This prosperous strata of managers, because of their professional, international focus, started to weaken, or even break the bonds of commitment between themselves and their countries of origin. Why, they asked, should I pay taxes for services I don’t use (health education, transport et al) in a country where my roots are shallow?


    By the time of Reagan and Thatcher, and in Australia, of Hawke and Keating, government itself was being redefined as the problem. We were being told there was no such thing as society and that freedom equated to choice in a marketplace. Industry regulations, unionisation, government ownership and the services government provided were recast as dead weights upon the alleged entrepreneurial hand of business and the alleged aspirational values of the middle class. A narrative was born — or more accurately, reanimated — and it was powerful, sweeping up not just the conservative parties of the world, but those of the centre-left too. Indeed, for those on the left who had eschewed the notion of living in or raising traditional families, and who had abandoned religion as any sort of unifying social force, work itself became the lingua franca of middle-class acceptability. The obvious ties between the centre-left of politics and the labour movement reinforced the tendency to latch onto work and employment as a unifying mantra. In recent times, this was particularly noticeable in the person of former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who, along with education, elevated work to the top of her list of personal values:

    …I believe in the importance of hard work; the obligation that we all owe to ourselves and others, to earn our keep and do our best.

    Life is given direction and purpose by work. Without work there is corrosive aimlessness. With the loss of work comes a loss of dignity.

    Market, market uber alles became the chant. With it came a rebirth of the sixties counter-culture, but this time it was firmly lodged within a market and consumption framework.

    What we have been living through since about the seventies, then, is a massive realignment of the philosophical and material conditions of Western civilisation. To call this a transition period is to presume that there is some sort of end in sight, that there is some sort of rest point looming, a settlement where the questions posed by the present are answered. I doubt very much that it makes sense to think in those terms. It is transition all the way down.

    And the nature of the transition is structural; that is, the changes that are happening are built into the very fabric of how wealth is created and how work is done, and it is this fact that we have to get through our heads.

    This is why what is to come is different to what has happened before. The worldwide economic stagnation flowing from the 2007 global financial crisis is not simply another trough in the usual economic cycle, but a break from what has gone before, from what we think of as “normal”. The essence of the way we construct work — the sort of paying work that underpins all our discussions and presumptions about “standards of living” — is fundamentally changing. In part this is to do with the shift in wealth creation from manufacturing-type industries to finance and technology — neither of which need much in the way of paid labour.

    given what we are about to go through in terms of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, the elevation of work to the centre of the centre-left’s philosophy is likely to cause something of an existential crisis.
    https://medium.com/@timdunlop/busted-...e-near-future-c646def9432d#.kuo3frd31
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  8. The year 2016 may be the warning sign of more to come. It is the higher likelihood combined with the uncertainty and the interconnected nature of global risks that calls for a "resilience imperative" through collaboration among governments, businesses and civil society. Resilience to global risks is not a luxury and needs to be part of any business or national development strategy. No one is safe. No opportunity should be lost.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margare...2016-the-canary-in-the_b_8990732.html
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  9. let’s recap what’s happening in China. The Chinese government has been lying about its growth numbers for years. Every year, the Government sets a target for the GDP. And miraculously, at the end of every year, the Government reports that it managed to beat its GDP target with an impressive growth rate of 7 to 10 percent. Economic growth is too important for the Chinese Government to rely on statisticians.

    Traders in New York know that, the IMF knows that, the Fed knows that, everybody knows that. And that’s exactly why stock markets already freaked out after the three-day devaluation of the yuan a couple of weeks ago. We don’t know exactly how well China is doing. Every little sign that says that the Chinese economy isn’t doing as well as expected leads to big market movements.

    So is there any way to know China’s actual economic growth? You can look at steel production numbers for example. As China needs to import most of its iron to produce steel, it can’t lie on these numbers. Steel production has been down 1.3 percent since January. Electricity production is another good indicator. It was up 7.7 percent in 2013, meaning that the country was producing more goods. It’s been up only 1 percent since January 2015.

    And yet, growth is key to China’s current situation. When China became a socialist market economy, the population and the Government sealed a tacit agreement. As long as the standard of living would improve, people wouldn’t interfere with the Government. And it has worked incredibly well so far thanks to low salaries, a huge domestic market and some very smart moves to attract foreign companies.

    But China’s real growth rate is way below 7 percent. Unemployment combined with an aging population is going to become a serious issue as there is no safety net. We are not there yet, but if the standard of living decreases in China, it could mark the beginning of an important transition period.
    http://techcrunch.com/2015/08/24/what...es-the-chinese-fallout-mean-for-apple
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  10. The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

    Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

    If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

    As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.

    Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

    Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.
    British capitalism is broken. Here’s how to fix it
    Read more

    Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.

    New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. Buzzwords such as the “commons” and “peer-production” are thrown around, but few have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself.
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    I believe it offers an escape route – but only if these micro-level projects are nurtured, promoted and protected by a fundamental change in what governments do. And this must be driven by a change in our thinking – about technology, ownership and work. So that, when we create the elements of the new system, we can say to ourselves, and to others: “This is no longer simply my survival mechanism, my bolt hole from the neoliberal world; this is a new way of living in the process of formation.”

    Even now many people fail to grasp the true meaning of the word “austerity”. Austerity is not eight years of spending cuts, as in the UK, or even the social catastrophe inflicted on Greece. It means driving the wages, social wages and living standards in the west down for decades until they meet those of the middle class in China and India on the way up.
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    Meanwhile in the absence of any alternative model, the conditions for another crisis are being assembled. Real wages have fallen or remained stagnant in Japan, the southern Eurozone, the US and UK. The shadow banking system has been reassembled, and is now bigger than it was in 2008. New rules demanding banks hold more reserves have been watered down or delayed. Meanwhile, flushed with free money, the 1% has got richer.

    Neoliberalism, then, has morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures. Worse than that, it has broken the 200-year pattern of industrial capitalism wherein an economic crisis spurs new forms of technological innovation that benefit everybody.

    That is because neoliberalism was the first economic model in 200 years the upswing of which was premised on the suppression of wages and smashing the social power and resilience of the working class. If we review the take-off periods studied by long-cycle theorists – the 1850s in Europe, the 1900s and 1950s across the globe – it was the strength of organised labour that forced entrepreneurs and corporations to stop trying to revive outdated business models through wage cuts, and to innovate their way to a new form of capitalism.

    The result is that, in each upswing, we find a synthesis of automation, higher wages and higher-value consumption. Today there is no pressure from the workforce, and the technology at the centre of this innovation wave does not demand the creation of higher-consumer spending, or the re‑employment of the old workforce in new jobs. Information is a machine for grinding the price of things lower and slashing the work time needed to support life on the planet.

    the banking system, the planning system and late neoliberal culture reward above all the creator of low-value, long-hours jobs.

    Innovation is happening but it has not, so far, triggered the fifth long upswing for capitalism that long-cycle theory would expect. The reasons lie in the specific nature of information technology.

    In the 1990s economists and technologists began to have the same thought at once: that this new role for information was creating a new, “third” kind of capitalism – as different from industrial capitalism as industrial capitalism was to the merchant and slave capitalism of the 17th and 18th centuries. But they have struggled to describe the dynamics of the new “cognitive” capitalism. And for a reason. Its dynamics are profoundly non-capitalist.

    If we restate Arrow’s principle in reverse, its revolutionary implications are obvious: if a free market economy plus intellectual property leads to the “underutilisation of information”, then an economy based on the full utilisation of information cannot tolerate the free market or absolute intellectual property rights. The business models of all our modern digital giants are designed to prevent the abundance of information.

    I’ve surveyed the attempts by economists and business gurus to build a framework to understand the dynamics of an economy based on abundant, socially-held information. But it was actually imagined by one 19th-century economist in the era of the telegraph and the steam engine. His name? Karl Marx.

    ...

    The scene is Kentish Town, London, February 1858, sometime around 4am. Marx is a wanted man in Germany and is hard at work scribbling thought-experiments and notes-to-self. When they finally get to see what Marx is writing on this night, the left intellectuals of the 1960s will admit that it “challenges every serious interpretation of Marx yet conceived”. It is called “The Fragment on Machines”.
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    In the “Fragment” Marx imagines an economy in which the main role of machines is to produce, and the main role of people is to supervise them. He was clear that, in such an economy, the main productive force would be information. The productive power of such machines as the automated cotton-spinning machine, the telegraph and the steam locomotive did not depend on the amount of labour it took to produce them but on the state of social knowledge. Organisation and knowledge, in other words, made a bigger contribution to productive power than the work of making and running the machines.

    Given what Marxism was to become – a theory of exploitation based on the theft of labour time – this is a revolutionary statement.
    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015...-of-capitalism-begun?CMP=share_btn_tw
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