Tags: collapse* + globalization*

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  1. There’s an understandable impulse in the face of growing national divisions and what for many was the shocking and unpleasant outcome of the 2016 national elections to retreat to a comforting cocoon of the like-minded. Blue cities will do all the things that a solidly Republican national government won’t do: respect LGBTQ rights, provide sanctuary for immigrants, denounce climate change, and tax themselves to pay for needed investments and public services. But withdrawing to the safety of agreeable blue localities cedes the important national battle at just the time when it needs to be contested.

    It is well and good to celebrate the successes that mayors and local leaders are having. But transforming these heartening but small successes into a sweeping call for a new localism is misplaced when the fundamental functions of the national government are being steadily undermined. None of this works in a world in which the federal government is not simply rending holes in the safety net but knocking down its foundations.

    While the rest of the world’s nation-states adopted the trappings of modern social democracies, the U.S. was late to implement things like unemployment insurance, social security and universal health care. The New Deal, the Great Society, and Obamacare were only enacted after various local and state programs to address these problems were simply overwhelmed.

    Cities are not merely ill-equipped to tackle our major challenges on their own. Localism has an undeniable history of making many problems worse. Take two big issues of our time: climate change and surging inequality. Mayors and cities can strike a pose and demonstrate effective tactics, but they lack the policy throw-weight to solve these problems.

    It’s also worth noting that a key aspect of localism that has been effectively exempt from federal control—local control of zoning and land use—has worsened the economic segregation of our nation’s metropolitan areas
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  2. “I’ve also met a mayor who is determined to revitalize his small town and bring in new businesses.”

    This can’t work. There are thousands of small towns that are losing population. If they are all competing to attract new businesses, be prepared for massive abuses by Business. None of them will pay taxes.

    The guy moving back after MIT and Microsoft sounds nice but certainly isn’t scalable. The more education people get, the less likely they are to move to a rural area. This is one of the reasons why there is a doctor shortage in rural America even though doctors make more is absolute dollars, not to mention after cost of living in rural areas. They have to work non-stop in rural places, send their kids to mediocre schools, have nothing to do socially and be isolated from others with their education level. You can’t get many immigrant doctors out there either because they risk getting treated like crap.


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  3. "we have run out of world to commodify. And now commodification can only cannibalize its own means of existence, both natural and social." - @mckenziewark
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-28)
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  4. 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.
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  5. 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.”
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  6. 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
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  7. 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
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  8. 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.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2016-03-20)
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  9. 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.
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  10. 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.
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