Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

What the Future Holds

It was a warm October evening, back in 1957, when we heard the news and began looking anew toward the night skies. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had just launched a satellite that they called Sputnik into orbit; an event that changed the world forever. A whole new concept; actually, a couple, maybe more, new ones. Thenceforth everyone knew what a satellite was; well, most everyone. Took us awhile longer though to wrap our heads around the orbit bit.

That launch into orbit started a space race that pretty much defined the next 12 years. Actually, it was more of a technology race, a how to do and how to do it first race. How to get a rocket with a man onboard into orbit and on into outer space; how to do all sorts of things in a weightless, atmosphereless, environment? One small step for man, lots of giant leaps for technology. Care for some silicone grease on that silicon chip? How about a wafer with your eggs? All in all, not all that much was learned about space itself that we didn’t already know.

Infrastructure

An Investment in the Future

It is said that Eisenhower brought home the Autobahn; that he foresaw the need for airports. Let us say that President Eisenhower, seeing these needs for infrastructure, brought America into the 20th Century, and say, “Thanks, Ike.” Through the years, the interstate gave everyone access to work, to recreation, to their Doctor, to the shopping mall, … ; Today, for these same reasons and more, every household should have good access to the internet, and, have a few other good things.

Before Eisenhower, President Roosevelt’s New Deal and its kin employed the unemployed of the Great Depression to build a lot of infrastructure, much of which is still in use today, nearly one-hundred years later. New Deal infrastructure included: safe clean water supplies, electricity, telephones, roads, schools, libraries, universities, parks, hydroelectric and irrigation dams, … . All of these things improved our quality of life. Imagine the 20th Century without them. Imagine today without them. Imagine life without recreation, recreation without those hiking trails. Our National Parks without conservation. Quality of life is important. Infrastructure improves our quality of life.

What to do?

https://angrybearblog.com/2020/04/tip-of-the-iceberg#more-56219

  • The US spent $Billions to help Columbia stem the flow of cocaine. Why not spent a few $Billions to alleviate the poverty and social unrest produced by Climate change in El Salvador? Why not spend a few $Trillion to slow, then reverse Climate Change?

The Biden Administration is faced with a problem of asylum seekers at the southern border. The problem was there before, and before that, … The guy just before was of the throw rocks at them, build walls, treat the symptoms, type. Not much use, maybe worse. Was cheered on by the ever squawking, panic striker, “What ever shall we do?,” Fox News.

Let’s start by giving it all a good sorting. What are the area’s problems? Poverty for starters? The causes of this poverty? Well, … there’s failed economies, failed governments, … Backing up a step; figuring out the cause of these causes. Where to start? Population, maybe? What in heaven’s name were they thinking? Was it all simply a misunderstanding? Latin America, … , god, …, the world has never, ever, needed more poor people.

It’s by Design: Texas’ Electrical Mess

Something is funky with our comment function. They are showing up at the WP site, just not showing here today. Though, sometimes you might see them, then not. So, leave a comment. We’ll get it happening.

By now, you are aware that the problem Texas is having is because they failed to build their system to withstand cold/winter weather. That is the mechanical reason for their problem. Of course, this leads many to assume that as soon as it warms up, the power will be back on and life is good again.

Unfortunately, that does not account for all the water damage that has happened and will happen as broken plumbing thaws. It won’t just be people’s homes. I’m confident there will be news about failures within the municipal systems and of course, failures with the plumbing in the power plants including those that pump the natural gas and cool the nuclear generators. Rebuilding will take months or more.

However, the issue of failure to build the system for the environment is not the real tragedy here. The true horror is the economic model sold to the citizens. Free Market. Yup, that all powerful, God like, invisible hand. Oh…and FREEDOM! Because when you read ex-governor Perry’s statement about Texans being willing to suck it up for 3 more days, you can only assume this system was built for the great Texas secession. Sacrifice for your FREEDOM! Endure that cold! Any day now, it’s going to happen.

It seems that in truth, the electric system is functioning exactly as it was designed to function. High demand. Low supply. High prices to discourage demand. What’s your problem?

I give you: William W. Hogan. Harvard professor of global energy policy at the Kennedy School. “…the architect of the strategy that was adopted by the state seven years ago.”

“…acknowledged that while many Texans have struggled this week without heat and electricity, the state’s energy market has functioned as it was designed.

That design relies on basic economics: When electricity demand increases, so too does the price for power. The higher prices force consumers to reduce energy use to prevent cascading failures of power plants that could leave the entire state in the dark, while encouraging power plants to generate more electricity.

It’s not convenient,” Professor Hogan said. “It’s not nice. It’s necessary.”

Cause

Before Science, treating the symptoms of an illness was all we had. Along our way, using trial and error, we found a few things that worked. The big breakthroughs came when we started to look for the causes of an illness. The association of an illness with toxins was deducible. Then, as we knew more and could see farther, we found that most of our physical illnesses were caused by such other things as bacteria, and viruses.

Still and yet, we see attempts to treat illnesses symptomatically. It wasn’t that long ago President Ford wanted to the nation to deal with the swine flu by treating the symptoms. Only yesterday, President Trump wanted us to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 with whatever occurred to him. At first look, it might seem that this approach could be cost effective. That look was 300,000 dead wrong. The most proximate cause of all these deaths was a Corona Virus, COVID-19. The cause next proximate was the refusal to acknowledge the first. The President didn’t want to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. The people didn’t want to make the necessary changes to their lifestyles. Those 300,000 and more unnecessary deaths could have been prevented by acknowledging and addressing the pandemic, the cause.

Economics was the reason most often given for not addressing the cause of these unnecessary deaths. But good economics would have mandated the expenditures necessary to quickly produce one-billion N95 face masks, and install needed workplace safeguards. Just as good economics would mandate looking to the cause of our inequities and disparities in income and wealth.

Politics is another area where looking to the cause is of utmost importance. With such matters as the electoral college, the inherently unrepresentative Senate, and qualifications for the office of President; treating the symptoms of these flaws in the constitution isn’t even a short term solution. The Senate impeachment vote is a case in point: 34 GOP senators representing 34% of the Senate votes but just 14.5% of population could have blocked the conviction of a president who tried to violently overthrow American democracy. The flaws in the electoral college, not the people, selected Donald Trump in 2016.

The treating of social ills seems to bring out the worst in us. We are want to treat the consequences, the symptoms, of poverty, disparity, and injustice with increased policing, incarceration, …, when we should be looking to the causes.

If we are to successfully deal with climate change, we must address the causes of climate change.

Rescuing Disposable Time from Oblivion

Two hundred years ago this February, Charles Wentworth Dilke anonymously published a pamphlet titled The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, deduced from principles of political economy. Four decades later, Karl Marx would describe the pamphlet in his notes as an “important advance on Ricardo.” In his preface to volume two of Capital, Friedrich Engels described the pamphlet as the “farthest outpost of an entire literature which in the twenties turned the Ricardian theory of value and surplus value against capitalist production in the interest of the proletariat” and credited Marx with having saved the pamphlet from “falling into oblivion.” 

In the 1960s and 70s, Marx’s notebooks from 1857 to 58 were published in translation as the Grundrisse, a section of which – known as the “fragment on machines” – became the subject of much enthusiastic commentary and theoretical controversy. Some of the most evocative and heralded passages of the fragment dealt with the concept of “disposable time,” which Marx had adopted, with citation, from the anonymous pamphlet. But Marx’s rescue of the pamphlet from oblivion was far from convincing. With few exceptions, the discourse on Marx’s fragment on machines ignored The Source (pun intended) of Marx’s category of disposable time.

For Marx, disposable time referred not only to time off work for rest and recreation but more crucially to an explosive contradiction at the heart of the capital accumulation process. Continued accumulation required both the continuous creation and appropriation by capital of ever more disposable time. Marx’s fragment on machines was received as prophetic when the translations appeared. It was as if Marx had been anticipating precisely this time — when automation, computerization, and robotization seemed to either herald “the end of work” or threaten universal precarity. Nevertheless, The Source and Remedy continued to languish in obscurity – if not total oblivion. Few copies and no translation of the pamphlet were to be found in the archives of libraries. Eventually, a microfilm copy of the pamphlet became available in the 1970s as part of the Goldsmiths’-Kress Library of Economic Literature. The full collection of old documents cost around $200,000 in 1980 dollars – the equivalent of $3,000,000 in current dollars. 

The Wealth of a Nation

One of Sandwichman’s good questions prompted my revisiting an earlier writing of mine on wealth (circa 2000?). Extensively revised to the extent that it is hardly recognizable; here is, a, second, best effort.

Herein, the terms wealth and capital are thought of as being interchangeable.

For thousands of years, humans lived off the bounty of nature. Some societies still do, but, today, and for centuries now, most societies have lived off that bounty much abetted by their own endeavors, and the endeavors of others.

A society’s wealth includes all of its resources. Those resources include the individual and collective knowledge, skills, creativity, talents, and energy, of the society’s members; i.e., all aspects of its innovative and productive capacity. Those resources also include the society’s repositories of knowledge, such as: universities, libraries, museums, laboratories, government agencies, cultural centers, commercial entities, and the management of all. These resources also include a society’s infrastructure such as: housing, education facilities, transportation facilities, utilities, production facilities, medical facilities, entertainment facilities, government facilities, commercial facilities, and the management of all. The natural resources: the land, atmosphere, and environment within a society’s domain are, and most importantly so, among a society’s resources. The well-being of a society’s people is, in and of itself, a societal resource.

Are we headed to fresh water shortages?

(Dan here…I lifted reader Michael Smith piece on water use in open thread Dec. 22. The topic is well worth writing about…AB used to discuss this issue regularly starting in 2008 during the severe drought in the US when the southeast was contemplating court action amongst themselves to ensure their own supplies.. Search “water” in AB for a sample)

Michael Smith writes:

I should probably write a longer piece on this but I’ll try to summarize the best I can.

Had lunch with a prominent client scientist in my region that frankly scared the crap out of me. The hydrologic cycle is being seriously disrupted.

Here is what we know:

The Powell 100th meridian has moved east, by a lot.

Approximately 85% of our produce comes from drought areas (Mexico, California, etc)

Approx. 50% of water usage is due to agriculture and most of that happens in western states. My farm is in cow town, Texas and we have very poor surface water and rain patterns, so we pump from the aquifer.

Major municipalities are being forced to stop pumping from aquifers. City of Houston vs. Dow Chemical Co. is and interesting case where the fight over land to impound water is being fought over.

Monarch Butterflies are Disappearing from the Environment

Conservationists were disappointed on Tuesday when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would not recommend putting the monarch on the threatened species list. It’s not that the species isn’t edging to extinction—the monarch meets criteria to be considered threatened, the service admits. But there are “higher priority listing actions.”

Rachael BaleANIMALS Executive Editor, National Geographic. The Big Question is: Why IS The U.S. Letting These Monarch Butterflies Disappear?

Every fall, the iconic orange-and-black monarch butterflies begin their migration to warmer weather. In central Mexico, monarchs by the hundreds and thousands have been arriving from the eastern U.S. and Canada, coating oyamel trees so densely that the bark can’t be seen. In the space of 10 minutes this past October, one volunteer counted 505.

On the California coast, it’s a different story. At a time when western monarchs (which live west of the Rocky Mountains) should be showing up in droves to spend the winter in groves of eucalyptus and Monterey cypress, there is mostly silence. Fewer than 2,000 have been counted this year, down from last year’s count of 30,000. And way down from the four million that wintered there in the 1980s. It’s a drop of 99 percent.

And despite the spectacle in central Mexico, even eastern monarchs, which last year numbered about 60 million, have dropped by 80 percent in recent decades.

Deniality

Le dénialité est trop cher.

Denial isn’t specific to Americans, though we do seem to be better at it than most. We are now at least 30 years into severe climate change, yet 30-40% of Americans are in denial; assumedly, still looking for, waiting for, a return to normal. Not only are we not going back to the way it was 30 years ago; under the best of scenarios, no one of the next 5 generations will see the weather and climate of 1990 again. Under less than best of scenarios, neither the current generation nor the following 3 generations, will see weather and climate return to those of today. Still we see these professional deniers push and shove their way into any public discussion to argue that we can’t afford to take the necessary steps to halt Climate Change because the changes would be too costly. This lot deliberately tries to lead us to believe that their employers’ sunken costs are somehow our own.

The real cost of our not doing enough 30 years ago is the cost of the damage done during those 30 years plus the cost of doing today what still needs to be done. Putting it off just makes it ever more expensive. Still and yet,we hear politicians, economists and the self-anointed say that we can’t afford to do what we need to be doing about Climate Change. If we don’t, in another 30 years, we will have borne all the added damage that will have been done and be facing a situation where no amount of money will be enough. The cost of Climate Change will always be increasing until Climate Change is reversed. We’re well into shorter periods of doubling for temperature change, the number of wildfires and the acres burned, extended periods of drought, displaced people, … i.e., the price of not doing whatever it takes is doubling; so the price of doing whatever it takes. It is the not doing something about Climate Change that we can’t afford. We simply must stop burning fossil fuels.

—Extending—

Trump, although perhaps better known for his lying, is also a known Climate Change denier. Most of his supporters are in deep denial about Climate Change; many of them support him because of his denial. The Trump presidency itself is a consequence of our collective denial of Climate Change (that and a few or more other things). Since taking office, Trump has taken several actions that increase greenhouse gas emissions; thereby increasing the rate of Climate Change, increasing the damage.

The COVID-19 pandemic itself is an indirect consequence of this denial. Climate Change has severely diminished viable habitats for many species, putting pressure of these species, putting different species in closer proximity. President Trump denied the pandemic; told America that it would go away. It didn’t; it won’t. His is one of the biggest denials by an American president of all times. As a consequence of the pandemic, of Trump’s lying about and public denial of it, and also because of a large segment of the American public’s denial of it; more than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 to date. Most of these deaths could have been avoided. Yet, Trump lies to us about aerosol transmission, susceptibility of children to COVID-19, availability of a vaccine, … These lies themselves are a form of denial; a denial of reality. So, too, the believing of those lies by some thirty-plus percent of Americans. If we had provided masks and imposed obligatory wearing, tested, and did contact tracing, the death toll would have been <30k. The damage to our economy would have been ~ -3% GDP. We know this because of South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, … America’s denial of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a very high price. It will keep doing so until: we make the wearing of mask obligatory for close proximity, have rapid result accurate testing, and do effective contact tracing; or, until almost everyone is vaccinated with a highly effective vaccine.

Is our denial inherited? Probably. In our past: The Capitalists lied about capitalism and the people believed them, died early for capitalism by the tens of thousands. Slave owners lied to themselves. Slave owners lied to poor white southerners and those poor white southerners believed them, fought and died for them. More lately, many Americans let Fox News lie to them and tell them what to believe. What are they thinking letting someone tell them what to believe? How could someone let tell them what to think?

America has been in decline for 50 years now, yet a majority of us wait for things to get back to normal. Oh, and by the bye, that was Normal we just passed, the town just before that was called Normal, and, that town straight ahead is called — Normal. Sorry, guess you can’t get to normal from here.