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Posts Tagged ‘inequality

“Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think”*…

 

Capitalism

 

In the spirit of Nehru’s sage injunction…

The COVID19 pandemic has exposed a strange anomaly in the global economy. If it doesn’t keep growing endlessly, it just breaks. Grow, or die.

But there’s a deeper problem. New scientific research confirms that capitalism’s structural obsession with endless growth is destroying the very conditions for human survival on planet Earth.

A landmark study in the journal Nature Communications, “Scientists’ warning on affluence” — by scientists in Australia, Switzerland and the UK — concludes that the most fundamental driver of environmental destruction is the overconsumption of the super-rich.

This factor lies over and above other factors like fossil fuel consumption, industrial agriculture and deforestation: because it is overconsumption by the super-rich which is the chief driver of these other factors breaching key planetary boundaries.

The paper notes that the richest 10 percent of people are responsible for up to 43 percent of destructive global environmental impacts.

In contrast, the poorest 10 percent in the world are responsible just around 5 percent of these environmental impacts…

It confirms that global structural inequalities in the distribution of wealth are intimately related to an escalating environmental crisis threatening the very existence of human societies.

Synthesising knowledge from across the scientific community, the paper identifies capitalism as the main cause behind “alarming trends of environmental degradation” which now pose “existential threats to natural systems, economies and societies.”…

The research provides an important scientific context for how we can understand many earlier scientific studies revealing that industrial expansion has hugely increased the risks of new disease outbreaks.

Just last April, a paper in Landscape Ecology found that deforestation driven by increased demand for consumption of agricultural commodities or beef have increased the probability of ‘zoonotic’ diseases (exotic diseases circulating amongst animals) jumping to humans. This is because industrial expansion, driven by capitalist pressures, has intensified the encroachment of human activities on wildlife and natural ecosystems.

Two years ago, another study in Frontiers of Microbiology concluded presciently that accelerating deforestation due to “demographic growth” and the associated expansion of “farming, logging, and hunting”, is dangerously transforming rural environments. More bat species carrying exotic viruses have ended up next to human dwellings, the study said. This is increasing “the risk of transmission of viruses through direct contact, domestic animal infection, or contamination by urine or faeces.”

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the COVID19 pandemic thus emerged directly from these rapidly growing impacts of human activities. As the new paper in Nature Communications confirms, these impacts have accelerated in the context of the fundamental operations of industrial capitalism.

The result is that capitalism is causing human societies to increasingly breach key planetary boundaries, such as land-use change, biosphere integrity and climate change.

Remaining within these boundaries is essential to maintain what scientists describe as a “safe operating space” for human civilization. If those key ecosystems are disrupted, that “safe operating space” will begin to erode. The global impacts of the COVID19 pandemic are yet another clear indication that this process of erosion has already begun…

Humanity’s “own goal”? “Capitalism is destroying ‘safe operating space’ for humanity, warn scientists.”

Pair with “A New Land Contract“…

Weirdly enough, the land system that we have today has its origins in a problem specific to medieval kings, which is ‘how do I fund military campaigns and defence, without paying to keep a standing army?’

And it was William the Conqueror who perfected the answer. It was a piece of paper. And on that piece of paper was basically an agreement between the Crown and a noble, saying ‘if you provide men for military campaigns when I ask, in exchange I will grant you a monopoly over your own private fiefdom, where you can levy as high taxes as people can bear to pay’.

So effectively — rent is the original tax, paid via lords to the King.

In fact the word ‘feudal’ derives from the latin word feudalis — for ‘fee’. In other words, rent. So the whole system of government by which the Normans ruled over the Anglo Saxons was based on rent…

So what you’re left with is a set of power relations in society: an enforced system of servitude and control. As the economist Henry George pointed out, it is essentially a diluted version of slavery.

“Ownership of land always gives ownership of people… Place one hundred people on an island from which there is no escape. Make one of them the absolute owner of the others — or the absolute owner of the soil. It will make no difference — either to owner or to the others — which one you choose. Either way, one individual will be the absolute master of the other ninety-nine.”

And “Basic income isn’t just a nice idea. It’s a birthright“…

A basic income might defeat the scarcity mindset that has seeped so deep into our culture, freeing us from the imperatives of competition and allowing us to be more open and generous people. If extended universally, across borders, it might help instil a sense of solidarity – that we’re all in this together, and all have an equal right to the planet. It might ease the anxieties that gave us Brexit and Trump, and take the wind out of the fascist tendencies rising elsewhere in nativism that is spreading across much of the world.

We’ll never know until we try. And try we must, or brace ourselves for a 21st century of almost certain misery…

As Paul Romer (and so many others) have observed, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”…

[TotH to Patrick Tanguay (@inevernu)]

* Jawaharlal Nehru

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As we ruminate on remedies, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act (Senate Bill 203), giving California the Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation.”

Mirror Lake, Yosemite
Carleton E. Watkins, photographer, circa 1860.
source: Library of Congress

 

“To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace”*…

 

wealth

 

Scroll a bit, and you come to…

million

Then scroll… and scroll… and scroll… and scroll… and scroll… and scroll… for a visualization of relative levels of wealth in the U.S., with provocative facts and comparisons along the way: “Wealth shown to scale.”

[TotH to EWW]

* Confucius, The Analects

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As we wonder if enough is ever enough, we might spare a thought for one of the architects of the economic reality in which we live, Gary Becker; he died on this date in 2014.  A Nobel laureate economist with an interest in the social sciences, Becker updated the concept of “human capital” (which dated, of course, back to the days of Adam Smith and slavery), arguing that labor economics is part of capital theory.  He mused that “economists and plan-makers have fully agreed with the concept of investing on human beings.”  In this and other assertions, he was a defining proponent of the Chicago school of economics.

220px-GaryBecker-May24-2008 source

 

“So distribution should undo excess, and each man have enough”*…

 

current-global-inequality-in-standard-of-living

 

What makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise? The UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures this by one’s life expectancy, average income, and years of education.

However, the value of each metric varies greatly depending on where you live. Today’s data visualization from Max Roser at Our World in Data summarizes five basic dimensions of development across countries—and how our average standards of living have evolved since 1800…

While there’s absolutely no room for complacency, the details are encouraging: “How the Global Inequality Gap Has Changed In 200 Years.”

* Shakespeare, King Lear (Act 4, Scene 1)

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As we mind the gap, we might recall that it was on this date in 1968 that Science published Garrett Hardin‘s influential essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons.”  Hardin was building on an argument from an 1833 pamphlet by economist William Forster Lloyd which included a hypothetical example of over-use of a common resource– cattle herders sharing a common parcel of land on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze, as was the custom in English villages.  Lloyd postulated that if a herder put more than his allotted number of cattle on the common, overgrazing could result.  For each additional animal, a herder could receive additional benefits, while the whole group shared the resulting damage to the commons.  If all herders made this individually rational economic decision, the common could be depleted or even destroyed, to the detriment of all.  Hardin generalized this example to all natural resources in arguing that population should be controlled: that left to their own devices, humans would deplete all natural resources, leading to a Malthusian collapse.

Elinor Ostrum received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 for her work demonstrating that humans can, in fact, share– and in so doing, be effective stewards of commonly-“held” natural resources.

3859.cover source

 

“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”*…

 

NYC_IRS_office_by_Matthew_Bisanz

 

Nine years ago, Republican lawmakers gutted the IRS’s budget, but didn’t relax its requirement to conduct random audits: in response, the IRS has shifted its focus from auditing rich people (who can afford fancy accountants to use dirty tricks to avoid paying taxes) to auditing poor people (who can’t afford professional help and might make minor mistakes filling in the highly technical and complex tax forms), until today, an IRS audit is just as likely to target low-income earner whose meager pay entitles them to a tax credit is as it is to target a filer from the top one percent of US earners.

Propublica pointed this out in an excellent tax-season report last April, and Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] took up the issue with the IRS. Now, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig has provided a report to Senator Wyden admitting that his agency targets poor people because they can’t afford to appeal the audits, making them cost-effective notches on the IRS’s bedpost.

Rettig’s report admits that auditing rich people would turn up more fraud and bring in more money for the US government, but says that he can’t afford to do so unless Congress restores the IRS’s funding. There’s bipartisan support for such a measure, but with Sen. Mitch McConnell blocking any Senate action, there may not be any more appropriations bills in 2019…

The sad story in full at “IRS admits it audits poor people because auditing rich people is too expensive.”

Pair with “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.”

* Leona Helmsley

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As we shake our heads, we might recall that it was on this date in 2011, a Saturday, that Weezer’s ex-bassist Mikey Welsh passed away.  Two weeks earlier, on September 26th, he had tweeted “Dreamt I died in Chicago next weekend (heart attack in my sleep). Need to write my will today,” followed by “Correction – the weekend after next”.  He died from a heart attack in his sleep.  In a hotel room.  In Chicago.

1234619-mikey-welsh-617-409 source

 

Written by LW

October 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so”*…

 

income

Top: A map consulted by President Lincoln in 1861, demarcating the counties with the most slaves.   Bottom: A detail from Raj Chetty’s Opportunity Atlas, in which areas with poor upward mobility are shown in red.

 

[Raj] Chetty turns 40 this month, and is widely considered to be one of the most influential social scientists of his generation. “The question with Raj,” says Harvard’s Edward Glaeser, one of the country’s leading urban economists, “is not if he will win a Nobel Prize, but when.”

The work that has brought Chetty such fame is an echo of his family’s history. He has pioneered an approach that uses newly available sources of government data to show how American families fare across generations, revealing striking patterns of upward mobility and stagnation. In one early study, he showed that children born in 1940 had a 90 percent chance of earning more than their parents, but for children born four decades later, that chance had fallen to 50 percent, a toss of a coin…

Now he wants to do more than change our understanding of America—he wants to change America itself. His new Harvard-based institute, called Opportunity Insights, is explicitly aimed at applying his findings in cities around the country and demonstrating that social scientists, despite a discouraging track record, are able to fix the problems they articulate in journals. His staff includes an eight-person policy team, which is building partnerships with Charlotte, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis, and other cities.

For a man who has done so much to document the country’s failings, Chetty is curiously optimistic. He has the confidence of a scientist: If a phenomenon like upward mobility can be measured with enough precision, then it can be understood; if it can be understood, then it can be manipulated. “The big-picture goal,” Chetty told me, “is to revive the American dream.”…

No one has done more to dispel the myth of American social mobility than Raj Chetty. But he has a plan to make equality of opportunity a reality: “The Economist Who Would Fix the American Dream.”

* Doris Lessing

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As we ponder possibility, we might send imperial birthday greetings to Alexander III of Macedon (or as he’s better known, Alexander the Great); he was born on this date in 356 BC.  After a childhood of tutelage by Aristotle, twenty-year-old Alexander succeeded his father, Philip II, as Basileus (King) of Macedon.  He devoted most of his reign to an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India.  He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders; indeed, military academies still teach his tactics.

At his death he was Basileus of Macedon, Hegemon of the Hellenic League, Shahanshah of Persia, Pharaoh of Egypt, and Lord of Asia.  His legacy includes 20 cities that bear his name (maybe most notably, Alexandria, in Egypt), but more fundamentally, it includes the cultural diffusion and syncretism that his conquests engendered.  For example, Alexander’s settlement of Greek colonists and the resulting spread of Greek culture in the east resulted in a new Hellenistic civilization, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century AD and in the presence of Greek speakers in central and far eastern Anatolia until the 1920s.

220px-Istanbul_-_Museo_archeol._-_Alessandro_Magno_(firmata_Menas)_-_sec._III_a.C._-_da_Magnesia_-_Foto_G._Dall'Orto_28-5-2006_b-n source

 

Written by LW

July 20, 2019 at 1:01 am

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