Posted by: lecubiste | December 30, 2020

The Coming Value Shift

The answer to the preservation of human civilization in a form anywhere near resembling its current state is conservation.  It is not new technology in energy, it is not even plastic recycling, although both those things may help, but it is unquestionably to use less.  The philosophy of voluntary simplicity could, widely adopted, reduce pollution overnight.

The solution to the problems plaguing our environment – global warming, ocean pollution, air pollution, PM 10, toxic chemicals produced as a byproduct of the human economy, of the current modern urban-industrial model, – is to use less voluntarily. Drive less, use less electricity, use more natural methods of heating and cooling, recycle all containers. Thus, the real obstacle to saving civilization and the biosphere, is an economics problem.

With the green revolution, the automation of the service sector through office computers, and the automation of factories have in economics terms increased productivity to the point that perhaps half the world’s labor (and possibly much less) is able to provide the material needs of 100% of the planet’s human population. Hunger is caused by the management of resources, or should we say mismanagement, but the problem is really the economic justification of the distribution of resources.

As automation along with other means to increase the productive output of workers rolls along, the distribution of that profit that comes from increased productivity is increasingly unequal precisely because fewer and fewer people are controlling the production of goods and services in the world economy.  Consider Jeff Bezos and Amazon. He is now wealthier than many nations.

The internet has allowed retail to be monopolized by Amazon while profits increase. This makes Amazon a much more productive method of retailing. Uber is doing the same thing to public transport.

No one would argue that these new means of providing goods and services are not better for the consumer.  People buy from Amazon because it is easier and cheaper. Uber provides better service than public transport because it is quicker and easier to take a direct trip in a single car, than getting to the station, riding one form of transport, say regional rail, then transferring to another form at an airport, and finally arriving at one’s destination.

These disruptive technologies are disrupting markets in the course of laissez-faire capitalism. The businesses are doing what business graduate schools teach. The problem is and has been for a long-time technological unemployment.

The effect on politics is to focus attention on job creation, not on what is best for society. Without a job we are consigned to the welfare state, a meager existence at best, designed to just barely keep one above starvation. As a result, the population is pushed to value job creation above the external costs of economic processes, such as damage to the environment.

This positions labor unions in opposition to environmental protection because of job creation.  To remedy this we have to find a better way to distribute the external costs across the economy, and perhaps a better way to distribute the benefits of increased productivity across the economy as well.

The increasing divergence in economic strata in world society is not, in the long term, sustainable. The increased paranoia exhibited in social media shows the massive distrust of the organs of power as society continues to be driven into two classes: the masters of disruption and their enablers, and everyone else. Conventional economics are rolling along, while the super-rich get richer. 

The agents of the new economy: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and like companies around the world, continue to control larger and larger portions of the economy. Where is the ultimate destination of this trend? Fewer and fewer people will garner more and more wealth?

Anti-trust actions are being taken around the world: the US, the EU, China, and elsewhere. But this does not solve the fundamental problem.  It just spreads it a little further around the changed business processes.

To really get at the problem, which if you recall this essay started with environmental crises, we are going to have to distribute the true cost of environmental destruction to the world. It may also be true that what we are really talking about is a value shift from materialism and primitive accumulation to global ecological interdependence including all human societies. Fairness aka justice is going to have to be seen in an enlightened form in order to inform global economics if we are to create a sustainable world and society.

NBS

12-29-2020

Mountain Lake House


Responses

  1. I don’t believe voluntary restraints to drive and use less will be the solutions. Pressure from laws and economics will have ti be used. This will require enough public education to support legislation. Zoning laws are examples of how to redesign and reshape cities in order to cut down on vehicle use. Mils per gallon limits. Taxes on vehicle size are other examples. The majority if the public will have to support the changes.


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