What Happens After Capitalism?

Capitalism will eventually be superseded. It is fraught with many problems, which are coming to a general crisis level. At this point we can’t see what will take over from there, but we have some clues, and lots of reasons it must happen.

The modern world is run by bankers and capitalists as if money and profit were the reason for life. These very rich people seem to have no understanding of how the natural world functions, or that they are part of it, and that they too have responsibilities to society and the planet. The world cannot continue indefinitely in this direction without creating a disaster. We are in stark need of a theory of wealth to replace capitalism, because capitalism resists all efforts at control, and denies any responsibility for the wellbeing of others and the planet.

The reason for life, for most of us, is not money. Since the rest of us outnumber the bankers and capitalists by a huge margin, it would seem that we would have the power to simply forbid their distortions of our lives. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, because they not only have more than half the wealth of the world, they also control the laws and procedures that give them all that money, create poverty, and destroy the natural world that allows us to live.

Capitalism came about simultaneously with the mass production of “stuff”, tangible products that were sold on the open market, with all the wage minimization and stifling of competition that capitalism demands. Production of tangible products was the entire reason for capitalism.

In more recent times, the focus of capitalism has shifted away from tangible products like cars and electronics to financial products, which often have no connection to manufacturing or products used by people, and are important only to the rich. There is almost no labor force at all for these products. Virtually all the profit from them goes to capitalists alone.

As of 2015, the 1% most wealthy own as much as the entire rest of the world, a distortion that will continue to worsen with no apparent end. Once private wealth reaches a certain point it becomes a sort of self-propagating automaton. Obviously, this cannot continue forever, that is, until one person owns everything, but at this point there is nothing on the financial horizon that tells us what will change it.

Modernization of manufacturing has from the beginning been a long progression of automation that reduced large numbers of largely unskilled workers to a point where even skilled labor plays a minor role in most manufacturing. Whole factories are run with a few skilled workers, whose job it is to manage the machines that do the actual work.

But the profit from these plants still goes to the capitalists, and with the diminution of numbers of laborers, profit is considerably greater than before, a further concentration of money where it is not needed. The real social cost is borne by people who are locked out of the cycle entirely, and where the money is needed.

Since money is finite, the greater the wealth of that small percentage, the less money there is for everyone else, and consequently, the more suffering. Moreover, the extraction of natural resources that drives capitalism’s endless need for “growth” has already run smack up against the natural limitations of the planet, to the detriment of all, including capitalists and bankers. Unfortunately, as Upton Sinclair noted, it is very hard to convince a man of something when his income depends on his not understanding it, so capitalists pretend they have no responsibility for the decline of the natural world necessary for our survival, or the malignant injustice of inequality.

The people of the world do have an interest in how money is managed, but that is not their reason for living. No one expects perfect equality, that long-dead pipe dream of communism. But people do not want what is happening now, gross inequality that worsens inexorably, gradually excluding everyone but capitalists from the money cycle.

Capitalism’s successor must have the primary goal of attending to the wellbeing of all people as well as the planet itself, which is the virtual opposite of the current condition. It will allow for the accumulation of significant wealth, but there must be a mechanism of limitation, both because infinite growth is not possible, and because wealth beyond a certain point accomplishes nothing, and becomes a cancer that will destroy its host.

Capitalism’s successor must create a broad leveling, which will mean that there will not be a tiny fabulously wealthy elite, nor will there be an enormous population living in extreme poverty.

Capitalist demand for profit is infinite. No amount of wealth is ever enough. When capitalists gain too much, wages fall, people tumble into poverty, and the demand for capitalist products drops, thus creating a vicious cycle, which can be temporarily postponed by shipping manufacturing off to poorer countries where cheaper products can be extracted.

This is the situation we find ourselves in now. Capitalism doesn’t accept that there is any value to the lives and wellbeing of most of the population, because most of the population is irrelevant to the accumulation of wealth, which is the entire purpose of capitalism. This is morally unacceptable.

Our Infinity Problem

The problem of infinity cannot be solved in our finite world. The problem is far more serious than we think. It’s unavoidable, and it involves capitalism and almost everything else of importance. One could say there is no more important problem. What is this infinity problem? The infinity we seek cannot exist in a finite world. Our small blue dot of a world is finite.

It’s useful to restate the impossibility as a problem of compounding. In essence, anything that regularly increases by a percentage can only end at infinity. This includes population, pollution, use of natural resources, and of course, capitalist wealth. Everything that increases by compounding sooner or later ends up with a “hockey stick” distribution, with a sharp rise coming to the present. Everything.

The problem of infinity
cannot be solved
in our finite world.

We cannot change any of it with window dressing. A kind and gentle capitalism is not possible because the problem is in its DNA, not in its practitioners. It will require a profound and complete change of direction. No matter how benign we think we are personally, how noble our intentions, the innate attributes of capitalism compel it toward infinity, a characteristic that was well known even to Adam Smith. Capitalism must have endless growth, and the same holds for every single measure with the characteristic of compounding. It’s impersonal, in the nature of the math.

This is not a problem that will come someday. It’s here, now, and we have no choice but to meet it head-on. But of course we are not. We’re not even aware of it yet.

The commonly accepted economic goal is for 3% annual growth. That mere 3% will double the size of the economy in 24 years. The same 3% will give us an economy four times larger in 48 years, and so on. Calculating the results if population doubled at 3%—which fortunately it does not—makes the point dramatically. Try it. (There are 7.3 billion of us now.)

The problem is here, now,
but we’re not even aware of it.

This insight has enormous implications for our near future. Many of the problems that have been building for centuries have suddenly arrived at a crisis point, and none of them will be solved except by completely changing how we do things.

Scientists have been well aware of the inherent danger of compounding as it applies to global warming. Unfortunately, with attempts to avoid overstating conditions, every calculation of global warming has proven to be too conservative. But it’s all the same problem: the impossibility of infinity in a finite world.

Karl Marx’s insights into the nature of capital are a century and a half old, but they have held up, and in fact are reinforced with real data by Thomas Piketty (Capital in the 21st Century). What Marx (and even Adam Smith) intuited was the capitalist imperative of infinite growth.

Growth of wealth
for the very rich is infinite,
but wealth itself is finite.

The new insight that Piketty demonstrated is that great wealth is self-reinforcing. The richest use investment advantages that are available to no one else. As a result, wealth grows faster for them, creating worsening inequality for everyone else. This occurs because growth of wealth for them compounds, and is infinite, but wealth itself is finite.

The 1.0% most wealthy now own fully half the world’s wealth. Soon the they will own 60%,  then 70%, and so on until something stops them. The very wealthiest (0.001%) already own preposterous fortunes, which are growing at a rate significantly greater than that of the mere 1%, who are slouchers by comparison. [Addendum: The total wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by 10% in 2014, $0.65 trillion. ]

All this might extend into the distant future except we have bumped smack up against our planet’s finite limits. This little blue dot is all we have. Wealth is finite, as is everything else in our world.

There is a finite amount of oil in the ground, and good reason to think we have already pumped and burnt up the easiest half. If this were not so, why are we destroying forever many thousands of acres in Canada for a paltry blob of the dirty stuff found in sand? Why is Big Oil determined to drill in treacherous Arctic seas where they have already given us two disasters?

We have bumped smack up
against our planet’s finite limits.

The atmosphere is not infinite either. You can easily see this with every horizon photo taken from space. The blue atmosphere is paper thin, and we have been pumping it full of greenhouse gasses generated by burning fossil fuels because of our failure to understand finiteness. That has created a full-fledged worldwide disaster that is very apparent in the US with this winter’s extreme weather.

Nor is it possible for the human population to grow infinitely. Long, long ago we passed the point of sustainable population. World population today is increasing by one Germany per year. Now almost 7.3 billion, world population will cross 10 billion sometime in the ’60s. Now, even with the best science we can come up with, disaster is inevitable, and we haven’t even acknowledged our infinity problem, let alone started to do something about it.

Reliance on the infinite clearly cannot continue. Capitalism must be replaced by something, which we have scarcely begun to define, something that ends the irrational and impossible striving for infinity. The population must be reduced. Gross atmospheric pollution must end right now. The capitalist imperative must be replaced. All these impossible infinities will either be recognized and reversed, or there will be worldwide catastrophe unprecedented in our 200,000 years as a species.

It’s not optional. Either we learn how to work together to solve our infinity problems, now, or nature will take over.

Quit Calling Conservatives Bad Names

I have lots of arguments against conservatism. But however misguided I think much of conservatism is, that has nothing to do with respecting conservatives as people.

We have a long political history of calling each other names in legislative bodies, part of a venerable worldwide tradition of raucous debate. The accounts of our earlier years are full of it. The Arabs, I understand, are world-class masters. Heated argument seems to be part of the lifeblood of legislative bodies, which all over the world routinely erupt into fistfights and sometimes outright riots. But this is face to face (fist to fist?).

We have a venerable worldwide
tradition of raucous debate.

I question how much good comes from all this acerbic bickering, but this is not quite what I’m talking about. I’m talking about nasty words from people who won’t show their faces, and never propose anything positive.

The internet has given us a cloak of invisibility, behind which we can use every ugly word we can imagine and make vile and slanderous claims, allowing us to rage and curse in complete anonymity without ever suggesting anything worthwhile. This is ugly. Online commenters fill their diatribes with simplistic name calling using base language—libtards, assholes—and virtually never offer reasons for their opinion, let alone data or suggestions for a better way.

It’s not necessary to be insulting and ugly. Name calling from deep inside your magic robe does not prove your point, or even why the other person is wrong. No one will ever come around to your way of seeing things if all you do is call them names and insult them.

The internet has given us a cloak of invisibility.

My purpose here is not to berate conservatives who rag on liberals, or vice versa, but to ask liberals in particular to act in every instance as if you were seated with the person you are describing, face to face. You can make your point without lapsing into a barrage of swear words and unfounded claims about your opponent’s presumed sexual preferences or intellect, from safety inside your hidey-hole.

There are a great many things that conservatives and liberals can agree on. There are many institutions that are worth preserving, which is one of the core principles of conservatism, and we should not be hasty lest we jettison something important. These include our Constitution, how we are educated, and our duty to care for those who cannot care for themselves. But there are other parts of the conservative ethic I believe are flawed and lead to moral problems that remain unresolved. Moreover, conservatives themselves have abandoned some of their own principles.

It’s not necessary to be insulting and ugly.

The conservative platform of a half century ago could easily be the liberal platform of today. But conservatives since then have turned from believing their way was the best way to serve the people. Now they are interested only in those things that help the rich.

The presumed excessive crime among minority groups is a valid topic of discussion, but conservatives have abandoned any pretense of impartiality by blaming virtually all crime on the supposed inferiority of non-whites. Such a claim makes moot any attempt at improvement of the social setting because it assumes that the problems cannot ever be improved.

Name calling prevents useful dialogue.

But the flaws I see in conservative thinking don’t mean that all conservatives are stupid fools deserving of name calling. Even when beliefs are deeply held, they can be altered. Take climate change. In the recent past it was a (misguided) Republican requirement to claim that climate change did not exist. But once enough people found themselves ankle deep in seawater, or saw that the reservoirs were empty for the third straight year, and the world’s glaciers were going fast, they began to question what had seemed to be iron-bound, religious dogma.

It is far more important to show someone whose opinions differ from ours why they are wrong than it is to lambast them for their presumed faulty intellect. Name calling is worse than mere bad manners, because it prevents useful dialogue and improvement of the social situation.

What to Do Instead of Money

This year we will sail past the point where 1% of the population controls as much wealth as all the rest of us. We may already have passed it. What we have learned of late is that this is a bit like an atomic reaction, or a muddy avalanche: once you reach a critical point there’s no stopping it; the wealth continues to accumulate with the very rich.

Karl Marx was prescient in seeing the flaws of capitalism a century and a half ago. Regardless of the historical developments that followed, his fundamental understanding remains unchallenged.

Just a year ago, the English translation of Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century created another spark of enlightenment by fleshing out Marx’s theory with real data. But the most significant thing Piketty showed us is that the continuing concentration of wealth and the resulting gross inequality is the inevitable consequence of capitalism itself. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be any simple way to bring it under control. The 1% own half of all wealth, but that will continue to increase inexorably.

Piketty shows us that continued growth
of great wealth is inevitable.

The reasons that the very richest continue to accumulate wealth are essentially two. First, the very rich never spend any of their capital. That is, they have so much wealth that they can easily live in great luxury on just a small part of the annual earnings on their invested wealth, leaving most of those earnings to be reinvested. Second, the rich are able to invest in ways that simply aren’t available to anyone who isn’t very, very rich. These include, but are not limited to, investment requirements in tens of millions of dollars. These rarified investment mechanisms earn consistently greater returns than other types of investment, thus continually widening the distance between the very wealthy and the rest of us.

The question, which arose long before Piketty came to town, is what to do about this malignancy. This wealth grows without limit, like a cancer, but the total quantity of money is finite. Therefore, the more of it that accrues to the most wealthy, the less there is for everyone else.

Many people are trying to find a successor to capitalism, but a clearcut heir is nowhere to be seen. Until answers are found, it seems to me that the best strategy for individuals is to sidestep the capitalist trap. There are a number of ways you can do that.

The best plan for individuals
is to sidestep the capitalist trap.

Whenever possible, earn your living via a worker-owned business or cooperative, or at least a company you can buy into. In worker-owned enterprises the benefit of the work performed, the profit, is not removed to further enrich a wealthy owner, because there is no owner other than the workers themselves, who are also the investors. Every benefit accrues to the worker-owners.

Take your money away from the big capitalists. Put it in a credit union or small local bank, most of which are able to provide nearly all financial services you might need. Consider also mutual benefit organizations, “brotherhoods”, such as were common during the early part of the 20th century, and are still strong in several parts of the country. These include large family associations as well as associations of ethnic, national, professional, and interest groups.

In saving for retirement, look for investments in funds that share your values, usually called “socially responsible” funds. Be willing to miss out on gee-whiz investments in favor of less exciting investments that actually do some good and do not particularly benefit the very wealthy.

True wealth needn’t mean only cash in a bank.

Don’t stop there. Avoid dealing with dollars entirely when you can. Trade and exchange your goods and services such as garden produce and painting skills. Use a local currency if one is available, which helps small businesses and keeps the wealth in the local area and out of the clutches of Wall Street.

Redefine wealth. True wealth needn’t mean only cash in a bank. Most people who have gained a good education consider themselves to be richer for it, regardless of their income. Owning unimportant expensive possessions provides limited satisfaction at best. Having leisure and enjoyable activities is just as important for a rich life. Gardening is always a satisfying activity in itself, with the added benefit that you can eat what you grow, or at least enjoy looking at it. Make and enjoy music, dance, acting, sports.

The poor should especially be encouraged to be proactive, because to do so will provide additional real wealth for them. Yet it is the poor who are least likely to seek out such opportunities.

While various problems have arisen on the way to the “sharing society”, it’s still a concept worth working on. Some of the difficulties have arisen with informal ride sharing services, which don’t so much share rides as take business from taxi workers by neglecting crucial things like liability insurance and vetting of drivers. It seems to me that a good part of the problem is that such services are far too large to qualify for the local sharing that is most important. They have become just another extension of capitalism, minus consumer protections.

The best we can do for now may be to sidestep capitalist clutches, and be rich in other ways. The very rich will get very richer until we figure out a better way.

The Dilemma Forced-Birthers Haven’t Thought Through

It’s noble, I suppose, to imagine that no embryo should be denied life. But whose embryo are we talking about? Does this woman’s fetus have the same standing as that woman’s? If not, why not?

Over 10,000 children die daily from easily cured conditions. Mostly, though, they have the “wrong” mothers, suggesting that forced-birthers don’t really care about actual living beings, only about embryos. “That” woman’s fetus is not as important as “this” woman’s, so it’s not important when her children die.

Why do we want so many more humans to be born?
It would seem that the fewer births,
the more morally responsible we would be.

With world population having passed seven billion some time ago, we have already exceeded the long-range carrying capacity of the planet by over five billion people. What exactly is the reason we should want so many more humans to be born? It would seem that the fewer births we had, the more morally responsible we would be. Additional population means additional suffering, whereas surely our goal should be to reduce suffering.

Since Roe vs. Wade, almost 57 million legal abortions have been performed in the US. Forced-birthers would have it that every one of these would have been carried to term, thus increasing our population by 57 million. Except that by now many would have had several children and grandchildren of their own. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that the population would be greater by 200 million or so, for a total present US population greater than 500,000,000, nearly 60% greater than it is. Where do the forced-birthers propose these people go, given that we already have difficulties balancing needs for land to live on and land to grow things on, land that is warmer, drier, and increasingly covered with seawater?

Forced-birthers should also be aware that the reason prospective mothers have abortions is that they aren’t capable of the added responsibility. It is likely that many or most of them would have no choice but to surrender any child they were forced to carry to term. How do the forced-birthers propose to care for these millions of additional children for the next twenty years?

Forced-birthers have no plan
other than to force unwanted births.

The fact is, they haven’t thought this through. They have no plan other than to force unwanted births.

I propose establishment of an agency that would take possession of newborns given up by women who have been forced to give birth. These unwanted infants would then would be distributed to the people who force women to have unwanted births.

If such a plan were put into action, the first thing the forced-birthers would discover is that the supply of forced-birth babies vastly outnumbers couples seeking to adopt. Therefore, either the babies would end up in orphanages or the forced-birthers themselves would have to take the children. There would be inadequate numbers of parents in either case.

I propose an agency to accept forced births,
which would then be given
to those who would force births.

The fact is that forced-birthers are frequently believers that women with unwanted pregnancies deserve their problems, including being forced to carry a child they will never be able to care for adequately. They believe that most such potential mothers deserve whatever they get, including poverty and forced births. They never consider that more people is exactly what we don’t need.

Measles and Freedom

It is a false equivalency to claim that requiring measles vaccine is the same as being arbitrarily forced by government to do something unnecessary or dangerous. The dispute has to do with individual freedoms versus the common good.

We do many things for the common good. The central points I would make are that failure to vaccinate puts others at risk, and the vaccines themselves are quite safe. I don’t believe anyone has a right to create risk for others when vaccines are so effective and safe.

Polio vaccine is opposed in a few parts of the world because it is claimed that it is a Western plot to make Muslim girls sterile. Ridiculous, of course, but a president of a Muslim African country bought into this conspiracy theory some years ago and forbid vaccination. Some of that country’s pilgrims to Mecca then brought polio with them, and others took it home with them to their own countries, thus setting back by decades the attempt to eradicate polio when it was almost gone.

Measles too has had a comeback because of inadequate vaccination. About 85% of a population must be vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity”.

In many parts of the world parents will bring their children miles for the chance to be vaccinated. They view it as a great gift of the Western world that will keep their children safe from very real danger. They are right.

Refusal to vaccinate for measles
violates the rights of others.

But what about the CDC reports of over a hundred deaths caused by the MMP (measles, mumps, pertussis) vaccine? These deaths are not related to vaccines. Reports in alternative health magazines and sites list cases in which the MMP vaccine is part of the death report, as found on CDC data bases. But these only say that the child had received the vaccine. That doesn’t say the vaccine caused the death, which was commonly because of birth defect of the heart, a genetic disorder, SIDS, or other complication. There was not a single case where death from the vaccine could be clearly shown.

Government requires many things of us, including seat belts and smoke alarms. All such requirements have been claimed to limit our presumed “freedom” on the same grounds people claim for vaccination. Requiring vaccination does not violate individual rights. On the contrary, refusal to vaccinate for measles violates the right of others to be free of an easily controlled disease.

Smoke alarms save not only your life, but the lives of others whose homes might burn when yours does. No one should be free to purposely endanger neighbors when inexpensive and effective alarms are available. Nor are you free to endanger yourself, because your death or permanent injury will always be a cost the public must bear, starting with firefighting costs. Dangers from smoke alarms arise only from their absence. Any freedoms lost are those of others.

Requiring smoke alarms
does not violate individual freedoms.

Measles vaccine prevents about a million deaths every year. Serious complications from the vaccine itself are almost nonexistent. This is beyond question. The chance of injury or death from backing your car out of the driveway is far higher.

Some people believe that there is a conspiracy at the CDC, that they are hiding the risk of measles vaccine. There isn’t, and the case of aspirin use in children illustrates the way the CDC operates to protect public health. Aspirin is 116 years old and has been safely used by billions of people. Nonetheless, around 1980, aspirin was suspected to be a complicating factor in a few rare cases of Reye Syndrome in children when it was given for viral infection. After research proved this link aspirin was no longer advised for children.

The point here is that even a very small risk factor can trigger removal of a medication from use when so advised by government agencies. No such step has ever been necessary for any vaccine, although the MMP vaccine is not given to babies under one year for other medical reasons.

Refusing vaccination for your children is similar to refusing to install smoke alarms in your home. Without smoke alarms, you endanger not just yourself but also your neighbors. Without vaccination, you endanger people for whom measles may be more dangerous, particularly babies and persons already ill. No one has the right to do this.

Refusing vaccination
is similar to refusing
to install smoke alarms.

The measles your child gets may be a minor inconvenience to you, easily recovered from. However, measles is extremely contagious.

Babies under one are not vaccinated against measles, and can get measles by being in the same room with someone infected, say, at the doctor’s office, whether or not they have symptoms. The danger to babies, especially babies who are already suffering from an illness, is greater than to older children. I am in complete agreement with pediatricians who reject patients who refuse to take these simple and effective steps to stop disease, thereby endangering other people.

The Difference Between “End Times” and Human Extinction

Amazingly enough, some politicians have been playing games with the fate of humanity because they believe that “End Times” are near, and they would like to encourage this. They would like to do this so they can go to heaven and everyone else can go to hell. Having political leaders whose goal is to make everything worse makes for less than ideal government.

It is not “End Times” that are nigh, I’m afraid. It’s the distinct possibility of human extinction. There is a vast difference between the two.

The actual end of he world will come, but not on the terms true believers imagine. Such believers get their info from antique books, written when it made a sort of sense to believe in the fantastic because nobody had better information. Before things could be “proven” by repeatable experiments and other actual evidence. Most religious beliefs are impossible no matter how you look at them. It’s the science that counts.

It is not “End Times” that are nigh.
It’s the possibility of human extinction.

What we know because of science has increased geometrically, like compound interest, because science progresses by building on what has already been proven. That’s why everything seems to change so fast. It’s because it does.

We don’t need new laws of motion because Newton already did that. Many scientists since then have caused our knowledge to progress so rapidly that much of our best understanding of the cosmos in the 19th century seems rather quaint today. Yet the 19th century wasn’t so long ago.

Calculating how long the sun will last
is fairly straightforward.

We know the universe is 13.8 billion years old. We also know that Earth is about 3.8 billion years old. And we know that Earth will someday die. It will die because Sol, the sun, will die, becoming something we wouldn’t recognize. And how do we know that? Because the sun, like all stars, is composed of hydrogen that is being consumed as atomic fuel, and eventually that fuel will run out the same way it does in other stars.

Calculating how long it will last is fairly straightforward. Hydrogen gives the sun its mass, and therefore its gravitational strength. In a billion years or so the fuel will be exhausted enough that its gravity will diminish with increasing rapidity, so it will expand. It will swell so much that it will become a red giant the size of Earth’s orbit. All life will be extinguished long before that, and then the planet itself will vanish into the sun.

That’s about as close to End Times as there will be. The entire human species will have ridden off into the sunset—so to speak—hundreds of millions of years before then, so the religious aspect is kind of irrelevant.

We are on track to bring about our own end.

Unfortunately, something far more disturbing, and quite real, is happening right now, and it has nothing to do with our imagined end as told by books written during a time of gross ignorance. We are on track to bring about our own end by heating the place up so much we won’t survive.

It could happen within another several centuries, unless we wake up to the realities science has been showing us for decades. What science tells us is that we have altered the global climate, and it continues to heat up at an increasing rate. The rate of heat increase seems like a very slow rate. But unless it reverses, that rate will be enough to make human life impossible. It’s the compound interest effect, and it guarantees disaster even if it doesn’t end all life.

The hottest temperature recorded on Earth was 147 degrees F. Humans cannot survive at that temperature because we have no natural mechanism to cool our bodies sufficiently. We can sweat ourselves down to normal body temperature when it is 120 degrees, but just an additional five degrees will end all human life. Phoenix is the hottest city in the US, and it has 107 days per year of 100 degrees or higher. It has reached 118 to 122 half a dozen times, all since the 1990s. Some other desert cities are not far behind.

There is also no question
that we will reach 125 degrees
on our present track.

There’s really no question that the planet will be unlivable once we reach 125 degrees. Unfortunately, there is also no question that we will reach 125 degrees on our present track. No one alive today will be around when it happens, because it won’t happen for another few centuries, but perhaps we should care a bit what our progeny will have to say about us.

What do we have to do to prevent this thermal apocalypse? The answers are actually simple: get the global population closer to the 1.5 billion that is sustainable, and sharply reduce carbon fuel use to lower greenhouse gasses. Sharply. Like 90%. Now!

The difficulty lies entirely in the political-economic realm, in actually making serious changes, because the wealthiest part of the population, the part that controls government, wants to continue on the present suicidal path. Why? Because it has made them unimaginably rich, the future be damned.

Doesn’t it seem rather preposterous that enough of the very rich who control government are so utterly blind to the implications of the danger that they are willing, even eager, to bring about the extinction of the entire human race? For money?

How an Accounting Error Endangers All Our Lives

Somehow, against all wisdom and all odds, we ’Merkins failed to include the debit side of the ledger when we began congratulating ourselves on being so smart. The result was that an entire half of the accounting that Nature keeps was ignored. Silly us.

It matters not the slightest whether we “believe” that cheap oil is over, or the oceans are more acidic, or that many species are becoming extinct, because facts of Nature aren’t determined by our beliefs. Such things depend on actuality, and appear on the debit side we have ignored.

Rebecca Solnit tells us how it is in her book, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. Take the gold rush. Yeah, a bunch of rowdy guys with round steel pans picked nuggets and gold specks out of the creek at Sutter’s Mill, and put jealous money into their bank accounts.

It was quickly realized that a deadly poison could be used to get the gold that was too small to pick out, and soon mercury left over from that process was being flushed into the waterways. Before long the salmon did not return to these places. They still haven’t.

7,600 tons of mercury settled into
the bottom of San Francisco Bay.

Not to be outdone by a crowd of funky guys in Levi Strauss’ fashionable new jeans, Big Business realized they could wrench the “free” gold from the ground with “modern” methods. And so began the industrial assault that all but destroyed large parts of California and her people. We live not just with the fiscal legacy of that assault, but with the considerable quantities of deadly poisons it left behind, from which we cannot escape even today.

A huge deposit of mercury was found in South Bay, hence the San José Mercury News. Mining it killed every living thing around. Trees, bushes, grasses died, and all wildlife on land and in the water. Poisoned workers had to be moved off the job after less than a week.

Gold-bearing soil was blasted out of the earth with great quantities of high-pressure water, whole lakes’ worth, displacing many tons of dirt and rock, which were treated with mercury for a few ounces of gold.

The scale of destruction
is utterly dwarfed
by gold mining today.

7,600 tons of mercury settled into the bottom of San Francisco Bay and every tributary, where it remains today. It even poisons immigrant families today who defy warnings and rely too heavily on Bay fish.

Horrible, isn’t it? But the scale of destruction is utterly dwarfed by gold mining today, in which the land is raped by the tens of square miles for deep gold, and the effluent is not just mercury, but deadly cyanide which in tiny amounts kills in an instant, and is found for hundreds of miles around mining sites.

Gold is not the problem. Accounting is the problem. We would never have accepted this devil’s deal if we had paid attention to the debit side of the ledger. The same accounting failure is part and parcel of every capitalist extraction endeavor in the country.

Gold is not the problem.
Accounting is the problem.

But the debit side will not be ignored. Nature Bats Last.

Practically any extraction industry serves as an illustration of this accounting failure, but Big Oil is one of the most visible and most blatantly evil. The BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico just five years ago is the granddaddy of them all. Evil looking brown crude roared uninterrupted from BP’s destroyed Maconado well for 87 straight days, putting 4.9 million barrels of petroleum goo on the bottom of the Gulf, on the water’s surface, and on every shoreline, a third of a gallon (42 ounces, 2.6 pounds) for every watery acre of the vast 617,800 square miles of the Gulf. The wildlife devastation was unequaled, and continues today.

The greater the inequality,
the worse the effect
of this accounting error.

For comparison, here’s what happened in the great 1919 Boston Molasses Flood, which spilled two million gallons of molasses from a ruptured storage tank in Boston’s North End. Four ounces of molasses per acre caused considerable damage, several deaths, and left every inch of Boston sticky for years. A mere 4 ounces per acre. What would 42 ounces of Gulf crude per Boston acre have done?

Twenty-six years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, oil clings to every rock in Prince William Sound. In Nigeria, Shell Oil spilled millions of barrels of oil from nearly 5,000 incidents into biologically sensitive areas, where it has literally ruined the environment, impoverished the people, and driven them off their own lands.

This is typical behavior for oil or any other extractive businesses. Today the scope of utter destruction of land for shale oil and tar sands oil is beyond the grasp of the average person. The vast tailings ponds of Canadian mining are so toxic that any wildlife that strays into one of them will immediately die. This happened to hundreds of thousands of migrating ducks who landed in one two years ago. So now an air cannon is fired every few minutes to scare them off. Does Big Oil plan to blast a cannon every few minutes for the next three or four centuries?

Every big corporation fails
to pay attention to the debit accounting
that Nature never forgets,
because capitalism cares only for profit.

I deliberately pick on the extractive mineral industries here, but the fact is, virtually every capitalist corporation ignores Nature’s debit accounting. Capitalism cares only for profit. Any other feature of money is important only to the extent it serves to increase profit. But Nature never forgets. Only Nature, and the people who are killed, injured, and impoverished by the other side of capitalist grasping for money that does not appear on one-dimensional accounting books.

Suggestions To Keep From Further Pissing Off the World

Quit making war and invading small countries.

The entire history of the US has been one of creating war, invading small countries, and meddling where we have no business, often with much loss of life. It started with Thomas Jefferson, whose policies ruined Haiti for a century and a half. We continue today. Obama more-or-less ended both of the trillion-dollar wars George Bush launched so heedlessly, but nonetheless, he is waging a not-so-secret war that has killed an unknown number of innocents, bombed from somewhere in the US as if they were figures in computer games.

I propose that a member of Congress be required to be continually present for the duration of hostilities in every place we are killing people, and to report to the American people every month on the numbers and details of deaths we cause.

Even after closing a number of military bases, we still have far too many, to say nothing of a military budget that is multiples of the next biggest for no particular reason. The Pentagon and the crony corporations that get rich from it are justly famous for bloated budgets that make multi-millionaires out of rather ordinary corporate bosses, yet fail to either keep us out of war or promote peace or welfare in any form.

When the Cold War came to an end, the Pentagon and corporate clients immediately fell to the task of inventing new ways to prolong the feast, a project that never even slowed. The ensuing wasted trillions come from the pockets of the people, you and me. We remain badly served because of it, and the poor find it impossible to climb out of poverty.

Quit allowing corporations to rape other countries—and our own.

 American corporate giants have during our entire history made it their business to steal from small countries rich in natural resources. In every case, their goal is to remove these resources for the enrichment of corporate executives and shareholders. Providing goods for customers is secondary, and there is never any intention to generate wealth for the people from whose lands these riches are stolen. The predictable outcome of this rapine is violent destruction of these lands, expulsion of the people who live there, and hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes for illegitimate politicians. It’s not much different inside the US.

Corporations also spend large sums of money on advertising to show how benevolent they are, which is always a blatant lie.

The US government’s endlessly corrupt corporate favoritism has never stopped, even during times of war. To end the hatred this graft and plundering generates, the US must completely reverse its policies and practices, insisting on real benefits for all the people, and making corporations fully accountable in every respect.

Start living within the planet’s means.

It is no longer possible to pretend we can go on like this forever. We have a global population of 7.2 billion people, which will rise to 10 billion within forty years. Global climate change with guaranteed calamitous outcome is already well underway.

The planet can sustain about 1.5 billion people for the long term, a population we have already exceeded by nearly five times. A Sixth Extinction of species is in progress because of our population and disastrous environmental policies. It is happening so quickly that we are unable to keep track of the number of species that become extinct. There is more than a slight chance that humans will also be extinct within a few centuries.

Few of us appreciate our absolute interdependence on other species. The more common attitude is that the loss of a few small species will make no difference. But the fact is, the loss of a small sea creature we never heard of can extinguish a major human food source that survives on it. 

The ocean will be some ten feet deeper within the century, drowning huge parts of the most habitable land. The temperature will be several degrees hotter, making enormous swaths of arable land useless, and other land uninhabitable.

We cannot stop any of this, neither overpopulation nor climate change. We can only quit making it worse by adopting sane policies based on our survival, rather than corporate profit, and try to adapt.

Revoke NAFTA and begin treating the people we have impoverished like real humans.

Try to make it possible for the millions of Mexicans, Haitians, and others ruined by NAFTA to make a living, so they can stay at home where they prefer to be. Begin by trashing NAFTA. Any trade agreement that throws millions of people into deep poverty can hardly be called an improvement. How this was accomplished was to make poor Mexicans farming with hand tools compete with corporate giants that are supported by US government subsidies.

There is no such thing as “free trade” or a free trade agreement, because trade arrangements are negotiated entirely for the benefit of corporate interests that are always unequal.

Reject from the outset the “free trade” agreement now being negotiated in secret, hidden from the very people it will affect the most. The secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP) will be completed, then presented for fast track approval without debate. Secret agreements that are presented as fait accompli are anti-democratic in the extreme.

Many people trying to immigrate to the US, particularly from our south, do so because we have made it nearly impossible for them to survive at home, by flooding their markets with government-subsidized products that make corporate executives richer and impoverish all others. If we were to instead enact policies that genuinely help them economically, they would have less need to immigrate.

Adopt a new policy of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Lincoln’s noble words cannot disguise the fact that the US from the beginning has failed to come even close to its promise. We instead have always had government of the people by the rich for themselves. We have the same level of inequality now as the Gilded Age, and almost no workable plans for achieving a more equitable distribution of wealth. 

Wealth is finite. We suffer not because billionaires don’t have enough money in amoral hedge funds, but because the poor can’t pay for food, housing, and medical care. Yet we failed to learn the lesson: vast wealth and great inequality can only end in disaster.

Great inequality can only be tempered by new laws that prevent excessive accumulation of wealth. Such laws are just laws because hoarding wealth greater than a certain amount is no different from hoarding toilet paper. How much toilet paper can you use? What can you do with all your stashed gold, the additional ten million dollars in the Camans? This hoarded wealth—whether it be toilet paper or gold—is useless to its owners. But hoarding gold is not benign because a huge stash of money for people who have no need of it impoverishes the rest of us. It cannot be spent by those who need it most.

This year the planet’s richest 1% will hold the same wealth as the remaining 99% of us, which came about because the very rich spend huge sums to control government for their own benefit. One way or another, this injustice will end badly if it is not soon overcome by more benevolent means.

An Urgent Message To the Young That Will Never Be Read

Acid gets thrown in their faces, yet they still come. The teacher doesn’t show up, again, but the kids do, every day, even when they have no books. The very poor somehow come up with the money for tuition and uniform, and the kids come every day. Scenes like these occur all over the world.

But not in certain parts of the US. Not in the places where homies ridicule them for “acting white” if they so much as open a book. Or accuse them of being “fake” if they study rather than hang out.

The young know the value of learning,
but not where their buds ridicule them
for “acting white”.

In the first of these cases, they are African-American teens and young adults, and in the second they are First Nations youth. In both cases, following this pseudo-ethic dooms every one of them to a lifetime of poverty and failure that will probably include long stretches in prison.

I have been hesitant to write about this for two reasons. The first is contained in this article’s title: it’s a lifesaving message that will never be read by those young people who need it most. The second is that I’m an old white guy, and any suggestion from a white guy that some element of black culture is a social disaster is met with cries of racism, because it sounds like the Republicans who blame black poverty on the supposed natural inferiority and laziness of African-Americans.

But several recent articles about virtually identical problems among First Nation peoples removes the taint of racism (see this article about Priestess Bearstops, for example). It happens with First Nations people, it happens with African-Americans, and I have no doubt it happens with Latino, Asian-American, and other cultural groups. Ever see pictures of Afghan teens who are utterly stoned on the readily available heroin, their lives already ruined forever?

This message stands zero chance of being read
by young people about to throw their lives away.

The tragic thing is that my message stands zero chance of being read by any of these young people about to throw their lives away, because they never read anything at all. Nothing. And that is because to read is to “act white”, or “fake”, not to mention that many of them can’t read because they have studiously—so to speak—avoided learning how to during twelve years of free education so hard won by our ancestors.

You and I readily see the tragedy in this social suicide. Students in, say, South Korea don’t think studying is “acting white”. They wouldn’t have a clue what you were talking about. They go to school during the regular school day, then they go to more school, and go to school on weekends and during vacation time, because they (and their demanding parents) want them to come out on top. This kind of excessive enthusiasm is characteristic of several Asian cultures. These students are the job competition for our students.

These attitudes are an artifact of poverty
and the hopelessness it engenders.

These bizarre American anti-education attitudes are an artifact of poverty and the hopelessness it engenders. We know this because these attitudes do not exist among affluent adults of any social group.

The thing they absolutely are not is racial weakness, although that is exactly the claim made by Republicans.

Ah, but what can we do about it? Here it becomes more difficult. There are a few obvious things, such as supporting scholarship funds and campaigns to encourage education that you and I can do. But such things don’t reach down and grab a kid who is so very close to the point of no return. I can’t do that.

What these young people need
is a mean-ass person to grab them
against their will and not let go.

It takes an unusually wise and strong kid to recognize the trap, and swear to avoid it. Someone like Priestess Bearstops. Most require a powerful grab from within the culture, a take-no-nonsense mean-ass person to grab them against their will and not let go.

The best those of us from outside the culture can do is to make sure a rescued kid is given the financial resources, resources that by definition are absent from cultures of poverty, that will allow her to make the most of life. That’s the easy part. All power to those who do the grabbing and holding on.

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