Arquivo da tag: Capitalismo

The Pricing of Everything (The Guardian)

The Natural Capital Agenda looks like an answer to the environmental crisis. But it’s a delusion.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 24th July 2014

This is the transcript of George Monbiot’s SPERI Annual Lecture, hosted by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield. The lecture was delivered without notes, and transcribed afterwards, so a few small changes have been made for readability, but it’s more or less as given. You can watch the video here.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing the death of both the theory and the practice of neoliberal capitalism. This is the doctrine which holds that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. It holds that people are best served, and their prosperity is best advanced, by the minimum of intervention and spending by the state. It contends that we can maximise the general social interest through the pursuit of self-interest.

To illustrate the spectacular crashing and burning of that doctrine, let me tell you the sad tale of a man called Matt Ridley. He was a columnist on the Daily Telegraph until he became – and I think this tells us something about the meritocratic pretensions of neoliberalism – the hereditary Chair of Northern Rock: a building society that became a bank. His father had been Chair of Northern Rock before him, which appears to have been his sole qualification.

While he was a columnist on the Telegraph he wrote the following:

The government “is a self-seeking flea on the backs of the more productive people of this world. … governments do not run countries, they parasitize them.”(1) He argued that taxes, bail-outs, regulations, subsidies, interventions of any kind are an unwarranted restraint on market freedom. When he became Chairman of Northern Rock, Mr Ridley was able to put some of these ideas into practice. You can see the results today on your bank statements.

In 2007 Matt Ridley had to go cap in hand to the self-seeking flea and beg it for what became £27 billion. This was rapidly followed by the first run on a British bank since 1878. The government had to guarantee all the deposits of the investors in the bank. Eventually it had to nationalise the bank, being the kind of parasitic self-seeking flea that it is, in order to prevent more or less the complete collapse of the banking system(2).

By comparison to Mr Ridley, the likes of Paul Flowers, our poor old crystal Methodist, were pretty half-hearted. In fact about the only things which distinguish Mr Flowers from the rest of the banking fraternity were that a) he allegedly bought his own cocaine and b) he singularly failed to bring the entire banking system to its knees.

Where’s Mr Ridley now? Oh, we don’t call him Mr Ridley any more. He sits in the House of Lords as a Conservative peer. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how our system works.

It is not just that neoliberalism has failed spectacularly in that this creed – which was supposed to prevent state spending and persuade us that we didn’t need state spending – has required the greatest and most wasteful state spending in history to bail out the deregulated banks. But also that it has singularly failed to create the great society of innovators and entrepreneurs that we were promised by the originators of this doctrine, by people like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who insisted that it would create a society of entrepreneurs.

As Thomas Piketty, a name which is on everybody’s lips at the moment, so adeptly demonstrates in his new book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, what has happened over the past thirty years or so has been a great resurgence of patrimonial capitalism, of a rentier economy, in which you make far more money either by owning capital or by positioning yourself as a true self-serving flea upon the backs of productive people, a member of an executive class whose rewards are out of all kilter with its performance or the value it delivers(3). You make far more money in either of those positions than you possibly can through entrepreneurial activity. If wealth under this system were the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.

So just at this moment, this perfect moment of the total moral and ideological collapse of the neoliberal capitalist system, some environmentalists stumble across it and say, “This is the answer to saving the natural world.” And they devise a series of ideas and theories and mechanisms which are supposed to do what we’ve been unable to do by other means: to protect the world from the despoilation and degradation which have done it so much harm.

I’m talking about the development of what could be called the Natural Capital Agenda: the pricing, valuation, monetisation, financialisation of nature in the name of saving it.

Sorry, did I say nature? We don’t call it that any more. It is now called natural capital. Ecological processes are called ecosystem services because, of course, they exist only to serve us. Hills, forests, rivers: these are terribly out-dated terms. They are now called green infrastructure. Biodiversity and habitats? Not at all à la mode my dear. We now call them asset classes in an ecosystems market. I am not making any of this up. These are the names we now give to the natural world.

Those who support this agenda say, “Look, we are failing spectacularly to protect the natural world – and we are failing because people aren’t valuing it enough. Companies will create a road scheme or a supermarket – or a motorway service station in an ancient woodland on the edge of Sheffield – and they see the value of what is going to be destroyed as effectively zero. They weigh that against the money to be made from the development with which they want to replace it. So if we were to price the natural world, and to point out that it is really worth something because it delivers ecosystems services to us in the form of green infrastructure and asset classes within an ecosystems market (i.e. water, air, soil, pollination and the rest of it), then perhaps we will be able to persuade people who are otherwise unpersuadable that this is really worth preserving.”

They also point out that through this agenda you can raise a lot of money, which isn’t otherwise available for conservation projects. These are plausible and respectable arguments. But I think they are the road to ruin – to an even greater ruin than we have at the moment.

Let me try to explain why with an escalating series of arguments. I say escalating because they rise in significance, starting with the relatively trivial and becoming more serious as we go.

Perhaps the most trivial argument against the Natural Capital Agenda is that, in the majority of cases, efforts to price the natural world are complete and utter gobbledygook. And the reason why they are complete and utter gobbledygook is that they are dealing with values which are non-commensurable.

They are trying to compare things which cannot be directly compared. The result is the kind of nonsense to be found in the Natural Capital Committee’s latest report, published a couple of weeks ago(4). The Natural Capital Committee was set up by this Government, supposedly in pursuit of better means of protecting the natural world.

It claimed, for example, that if fresh water ecosystems in this country were better protected, the additional aesthetic value arising from that protection would be £700 million. That’s the aesthetic value: in other words, what it looks like. We will value the increment in what it looks like at £700 million. It said that if grassland and sites of special scientific interest were better protected, their wildlife value would increase by £40 million. The value of their wildlife – like the chalk hill blues and the dog violets that live on protected grasslands – would be enhanced by £40 million.

These figures, ladies and gentlemen, are marmalade. They are finely shredded, boiled to a pulp, heavily sweetened … and still indigestible. In other words they are total gibberish.

But they are not the worst I’ve come across. Under the last Government, the Department for Transport claimed to have discovered “the real value of time.” Let me read you the surreal sentence in which this bombshell was dropped. “Forecast growth in the real value of time is shown in Table 3.”(5) There it was, the real value of time – rising on a graph.

The Department for Environment, when it launched the National Ecosystem Assessment in 2011, came out with something equally interesting. It said it had established “the true value of nature for the very first time”(6). Unfortunately it wasn’t yet able to give us a figure for “the true value of nature”, but it did manage to provide figures for particular components of that value of nature. Let me give you just one of these. It said that if we looked after our parks and greens well they would enhance our well-being to the tune of £290 per household per year in 2060.

What does it mean? It maintained that the increment in well-being is composed of “recreation, health and solace”; natural spaces in which “our culture finds its roots and sense of place”; “shared social value” arising from developing “a sense of purpose” and being “able to achieve important personal goals and participate in society” enhanced by “supportive personal relationships” and “strong and inclusive communities”(7). So you put solace and sense of place and social value and personal goals and supportive personal relationships and strong and inclusive communities all together into one figure and you come out with £290 per household per year.

All we require now is for the Cabinet Office to give us a price for love and a true value for society and we will have a single figure for the meaning of life.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s 42(8). But Deep Thought failed to anticipate the advent of Strictly Come Dancing, which has depreciated the will to live to the extent that it’s now been downgraded to 41.

It is complete rubbish, and surely anyone can see it’s complete rubbish. Not only is it complete rubbish, it is unimprovable rubbish. It’s just not possible to have meaningful figures for benefits which cannot in any sensible way be measured in financial terms.

Now there are some things that you can do. They are pretty limited, but there are some genuinely commensurable pay-offs that can be assessed. So, for instance, a friend of mine asked me the other day, “What’s the most lucrative investment a land owner can make?”. I didn’t know. “An osprey! Look at Bassenthwaite in the Lake District where there’s a pair of ospreys breeding and the owners of the land have 300,000 people visiting them every year. They charge them for car parking and they probably make a million pounds a year.”

You can look at that and compare it to what you were doing before, such as rearing sheep, which is only viable because of farm subsidies: you actually lose money by keeping sheep on the land. So you can make a direct comparison because you’ve got two land uses which are both generating revenue (or losing revenue) that is already directly costed in pounds. I’ve got no problem with that. You can come out and say there is a powerful economic argument for having ospreys rather than sheep.

There are a few others I can think of. You can, for instance, look at watersheds. There is an insurance company which costed Pumlumon, the highest mountain in the Cambrian mountains, and worked out that it would be cheaper to buy Pumlumon and reforest it in order to slow down the flow of water into the lowlands than to keep paying out every year for carpets in Gloucester.

There were quite a few assumptions in there, as we don’t yet have all the hydrological data we need, but in principle you can unearth some directly commensurable values – the cost of insurance pay-outs, in pounds, versus the cost of buying the land, in pounds – and produce a rough ballpark comparison. But in the majority of cases you are not looking at anything remotely resembling financial commensurability.

So that is Problem One, and that is the most trivial of the problems.

Problem Two is that you are effectively pushing the natural world even further into the system that is eating it alive. Dieter Helm, the Chairman of the Natural Capital Committee, said the following in the same report I quoted from just a moment ago. “The environment is part of the economy and needs to be properly integrated into it so that growth opportunities will not be missed.”(9)

There, ladies and gentlemen, you have what seems to me the Government’s real agenda. This is not to protect the natural world from the depredations of the economy. It is to harness the natural world to the economic growth that has been destroying it. All the things which have been so damaging to the living planet are now being sold to us as its salvation; commodification, economic growth, financialisation, abstraction. Now, we are told, these devastating processes will protect it.

(Sorry, did I say the living planet? I keep getting confused about this. I meant asset classes within an ecosystem market.)

It gets worse still when you look at the way in which this is being done. Look at the government’s Ecosystems Markets Task Force, which was another of these exotic vehicles for chopping up nature and turning it into money. From the beginning it was pushing nature towards financialisation. It talked of “harnessing City financial expertise to assess the ways that these blended revenue streams and securitisations enhance the return on investment of an environmental bond.”(10) That gives you an idea of what the agenda is – as well as the amount of gobbledygook it is already generating.

What we are talking about is giving the natural world to the City of London, the financial centre, to look after. What could possibly go wrong? Here we have a sector whose wealth is built on the creation of debt. That’s how it works, on stacking up future liabilities. Shafting the future in order to serve the present: that is the model. And then that debt is sliced up into collateralised debt obligations and all the other marvellous devices that worked so well last time round.

Now nature is to be captured and placed in the care of the financial sector, as that quote suggests. In order for the City to extract any value from it, the same Task Force says we need to “unbundle” ecosystem services so they can be individually traded(11).

That’s the only way in which it can work – this financialisation and securitisation and bond issuing and everything else they are talking about. Nature has to be unbundled. If there is one thing we know about ecosystems, and we know it more the more we discover about them, it’s that you cannot safely disaggregate their functions without destroying the whole thing. Ecosystems function as coherent holistic systems, in which the different elements depend upon each other. The moment you start to unbundle them and to trade them separately you create a formula for disaster.

Problem Three involves what appears to be a very rude word, because hardly anyone uses it, certainly not in polite society. It begins with a ‘p’ and it’s five letters long and most people seem unable to utter it. It is, of course, power.

Power is the issue which seems to get left out of the Natural Capital Agenda. And because it gets left out, because it it is, I think, deliberately overlooked, what we are effectively seeing is the invocation of money as a kind of fairy dust, that you sprinkle over all the unresolved problems of power in the hope that they will magically resolve themselves. But because they are unresolved, because they are unaddressed, because they aren’t even acknowledged; the natural capital agenda cannot possibly work.

Let me give you an example of a system which doesn’t work because of this problem, despite high commensurability, simple and straightforward outputs and a simple and straightforward monitoring system. That is the European Emissions Trading System, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions by creating a carbon price.

I am not inherently opposed to it. I can see it is potentially as good a mechanism as any other for trying gradually to decarbonise society. But it has failed. An effective price for carbon begins at about £30 a ton. That is the point at which you begin to see serious industrial change and the disinvestment in fossil fuels we so desperately need to see.

Almost throughout the history of the European Emissions Trading System, the price of carbon has hovered around five Euros. That is where it is today. The reason is an old-fashioned one. The heavily polluting industries, the carbon-intensive industries, which were being asked to change their practices, lobbied the European Union to ensure that they received an over-allocation of carbon permits. Far too many permits were issued. When the European Parliament started talking about withdrawing some of those permits, it too was lobbied and it caved in and failed to withdraw them. So the price has stayed very low.

What we see here is the age-old problem of power. Governments and the Commission are failing to assert political will. They are failing to stand up for themselves and say, “This is how the market is going to function. It is not going to function without a dirigiste and interventionist approach.” Without that dirigiste and interventionist approach we end up with something which is almost entirely useless. In fact worse than useless because I don’t think there has been a single coal-burning power station, motorway or airport in the European Union approved since the ETS came along, which has not been justified with reference to the market created by the trading system.

You haven’t changed anything by sprinkling money over the problem, you have merely called it something new. You have called it a market as opposed to a political system. But you still need the regulatory involvement of the state to make that market work. Because we persuade ourselves that we don’t need it any more because we have a shiny new market mechanism, we end up fudging the issue of power and not addressing those underlying problems.

Let me give you another example: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity project, overseen by Pavan Sukhdev from Deutsche Bank. This huge exercise came up with plenty of figures, most of which I see as nonsense. But one or two appeared to be more more plausible. Among the most famous of these was its valuation of mangrove forests. It maintained that if a businessman or businesswoman cuts down a mangrove forest and replaces it with a shrimp farm, that will be worth around $1,200 per hectare per year to that person. If we leave the mangrove forest standing, because it protects the communities who live on the coastline and because it is a wonderful breeding ground for fish and crustaceans, it will be worth $12,000 per hectare per year(12). So when people see the figures they will conclude that it makes sense to save the mangrove forests, and hey presto, we have solved the problem. My left foot!

People have known for centuries the tremendous benefits that mangrove forests deliver. But has that protected them from being turned into shrimp farms or beach resorts? No, it hasn’t. And the reason it hasn’t is that it might be worth $12,000 to the local impoverished community of fisher folk, but if it’s worth $1,200 to a powerful local politician who wants to turn it into shrimp farms, that counts for far more. Putting a price on the forest doesn’t in any way change that relationship.

You do not solve the problem this way. You do not solve the problem without confronting power. But what we are doing here is reinforcing power, is strengthening the power of the people with the money, the power of the economic system as a whole against the power of nature.

Let me give you one or two examples of that. Let’s start on the outskirts of Sheffield with Smithy Wood. This is an ancient woodland, which eight hundred years ago was recorded as providing charcoal for the monks who were making iron there. It is an important part of Sheffield’s history and culture. It is full of stories and a sense of place and a sense of being able to lose yourself in something different. Someone wants to turn centre of Smithy Wood into a motorway service station(13).

This might have been unthinkable until recently. But it is thinkable now because the government is introducing something called biodiversity offsets. If you trash a piece of land here you can replace its value by creating some habitat elsewhere. This is another outcome of the idea that nature is fungible and tradeable, that it can be turned into something else: swapped either for money or for another place, which is said to have similar value.

What they’ve said is, “We’re going to plant 60,000 saplings, with rabbit guards around them, in some other place, and this will make up for trashing Smithy Wood.” It seems to me unlikely that anyone would have proposed trashing this ancient woodland to build a service station in the middle of it, were it not for the possibility of biodiversity offsets. Something the Government has tried to sell to us as protecting nature greatly threatens nature.

Let me give you another example. Say we decide that we’re going to value nature in terms of pounds or dollars or euros and that this is going to be our primary metric for deciding what should be saved and what should not be saved. This, we are told, is an empowering tool to protect the natural world from destruction and degradation. Well you go to the public enquiry and you find that, miraculously, while the wood you are trying to save has been valued at £x, the road, which they want to build through the wood, has been valued at £x+1. And let me tell you, it will always be valued at £x+1 because cost benefit analyses for such issues are always rigged.

The barrister will then be able to say, “Well there you are, it is x+1 for the road and x for the wood. End of argument.” All those knotty issues to do with values and love and desire and wonder and delight and enchantment, all the issues which are actually at the centre of democratic politics, are suddenly ruled out. They are outside the box, they are outside the envelope of discussion, they no longer count. We’ve been totally disempowered by that process.

So that was Problem Three. But the real problem, and this comes to the nub of the argument for me, is over the issues which I will describe as values and framing. Am I allowed to mention Sheffield Hallam? Too late. In response to an article I wrote that was vaguely about this issue last week, Professor Lynn Crowe from Sheffield Hallam University wrote what I thought was a very thoughtful piece(14). She asked this question: “How else can we address the challenge of convincing those who do not share the same values as ourselves of our case?”.

In other words, we are trying to make a case to people who just don’t care about the natural world. How do we convince them, when they don’t share those values, to change their minds? To me the answer is simple. We don’t.

We never have and we never will. That is not how politics works. Picture a situation where Ed Miliband stands up in the House of Commons and makes such a persuasive speech that David Cameron says, “You know, you’ve completely won me over. I’m crossing the floor and joining the Labour benches.”

That’s not how it works. That is not how politics has ever proceeded, except in one or two extremely rare cases. You do not win your opponents over. What you do to be effective in politics is first, to empower and mobilise people on your own side and secondly, to win over the undecided people in the middle. You are not going to win over the hard core of your opponents who are fiercely opposed to your values.

This is the horrendous mistake that New Labour here and the Democratic Party in the United States have made. “We’ve got to win the next election so we’ve got to appease people who don’t share our values, so we’re going to become like them. Instead of trying to assert our own values, we are going to go over to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not really red; we’re not scary at all. We are actually conservatives.’” That was Tony Blair’s message. That was Bill Clinton’s message. That, I’m afraid, is Barack Obama’s message.

Triangulation possibly won elections – though in 1997 a bucket on a stick would have won – but it greatly eroded the Labour vote across the intervening years. We’ve ended up with a situation where there are effectively no political alternatives to the neoliberalism being advanced by the coalition government. In which the opposition is, in almost every case, failing to oppose. It is in this position because it has progressively neutralised itself by trying to appease people who do not share its values.

As George Lakoff, the cognitive linguist who has done so much to explain why progressive parties keep losing the elections that they should win and keep losing support even in the midst of a multiple crisis caused by their political opponents, points out, you can never win by adopting the values of your opponents(15).

You have to leave them where they are and project your own values to people who might be persuaded to come over to your side. That is what conservatives have done on both sides of the Atlantic. They have been extremely good at it, especially in the United States, where they have basically crossed their arms and said, “We’re over here and we don’t give a damn about where you are. We don’t care about what you stand for, you hippies on the Left. This is what we stand for and we are going to project it, project it, project it, until the electoral arithmetic our stance creates means that you have to come to us.”

So what we’ve got there is a Democratic Party that is indistinguishable from where the Republicans were ten years ago. It has gone so far to the right that it has lost its core values. I think you could say the same about the Labour Party in this country.

This, in effect, is what we are being asked to do through the natural capital agenda. We are saying “because our opponents don’t share our values and they are the people wrecking the environment, we have to go over to them and insist that we’re really in their camp. All we care about is money. We don’t really care about nature for its own sake. We don’t really believe in any of this intrinsic stuff. We don’t believe in wonder and delight and enchantment. We just want to show that it’s going to make money.”

In doing so, we destroy our own moral authority and legitimacy. In a recent interview George Lakoff singled out what he considered to be the perfect example of the utter incompetence of progressives hoping to defend the issues they care about. What was it? The Natural Capital Agenda(16).

As Lakoff has pointed out, these people are trying to do the right thing but they are completely failing to apply a frames analysis. A frame is a mental structure through which you understand an issue. Instead of framing the issue with our own values and describing and projecting our values – which is the only thing in the medium- to long-term that ever works – we are abandoning them and adopting instead the values of the people who are wrecking the environment. How could there be any long-term outcome other than more destruction?

There’s another way of looking at this, which says the same thing in a different ways. All of us are somewhere along a spectrum between intrinsic values and extrinsic values. Extrinsic values are about reputation and image and money. They’re about driving down the street in your Ferrari and showing it to everyone. They are about requiring other people’s approbation for your own sense of well-being.

Intrinsic values are about being more comfortable with yourself and who you are. About being embedded in your family, your community, among your friends, and not needing to display to other people in order to demonstrate to yourself that you are worth something(17).

Research in seventy countries produces remarkably consistent results: these values are highly clustered(18). So, for instance, people who greatly value financial success tend to have much lower empathy than those with a strong sense of intrinsic values. They have much less concern about the natural world, they have a stronger attraction towards hierarchy and authority. These associations are very strongly clustered.

But we are not born with these values. They are mostly the product of our social and political environment. What the research also shows is that if you change that environment, people’s values shift en masse with that change. For instance, if you have a good, functioning public health system where no one is left untreated, that embeds and imbues among the population a strong set of intrinsic values. The subliminal message is “I live in a society where everyone is looked after. That must be a good thing because that is the society I live in.” You absorb and internalise those values.

If on the other hand you live in a devil-take-the-hindmost society where people, as they do in the United States, die of treatable conditions because they cannot afford medical care, that will reinforce extrinsic values and push you further towards that end of the spectrum. The more that spectrum shifts, the more people’s values shift with it.

People on the right understand this very well. Mrs Thatcher famously said, “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”(19) She understood the political need to change people’s values – something the left has seldom grasped.

If we surrender to the financial agenda and say, “This market-led neoliberalism thing is the way forward,” then we shift social values. Environmentalists are among the last lines of defence against the gradual societal shift towards extrinsic values. If we don’t stand up and say, “We do not share those values, our values are intrinsic values. We care about people. We care about the natural world. We are embedded in our communities and the people around us and we want to protect them, not just ourselves. We are not going to be selfish. This isn’t about money”, who else is going to do it?

So you say to me, “Well what do we do instead? You produce these arguments against trying to save nature by pricing it, by financialisation, by monetisation. What do you do instead?”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is no mystery. It is the same answer that it has always been. The same answer that it always will be. The one thing we just cannot be bothered to get off our bottoms to do, which is the only thing that works. Mobilisation.

It is the only thing that has worked, the only thing that can work. Everything else is a fudge and a substitute and an excuse for not doing that thing that works. And that applies to attempts to monetise and financialise nature as much as it does to all the other issues we are failing to tackle. Thank you.”

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Matt Ridley, 22nd July 1996. Power to the people: we can’t do any worse than government. The Daily Telegraph.

2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/may/31/state-market-nothern-rock-ridley

3. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674430006

4. http://nebula.wsimg.com/d512efca930f81a0ebddb54353d9c446?AccessKeyId=68F83A8E994328D64D3D&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

5. http://www.persona.uk.com/bexhill/HA_DOCS/HA-05.pdf

6. http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/06/02/hidden-value-of-nature-revealed/

7. http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ryEodO1KG3k%3d&tabid=82

8. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/guide/answer.shtml

9. http://nebula.wsimg.com/d512efca930f81a0ebddb54353d9c446?AccessKeyId=68F83A8E994328D64D3D&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

10. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130822084033/http://www.defra.gov.uk/ecosystem-markets/files/EMTF-VNN-STUDY-FINAL-REPORT-REV1-14.06.12.pdf

11. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130822084033/http://www.defra.gov.uk/ecosystem-markets/files/EMTF-VNN-STUDY-FINAL-REPORT-REV1-14.06.12.pdf

12. http://www.unep.org/documents.multilingual/default.asp?DocumentID=602&ArticleID=6371&l=en&t=long

13. http://www.sheffieldmotorwayservices.co.uk/

14. http://lynncroweblog.wordpress.com/category/valuing-nature/

15. George Lakoff, 2004. Don’t think of an elephant!: know your values and frame the debate. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT, USA.

16. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/01/george-lakoff-interview

17. http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/common_cause_report.pdf

18. http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/common_cause_report.pdf

19. http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/104475

The Compelling Conclusion About Capitalism That Piketty Resists (Truthout)

Thursday, 26 June 2014 00:00

By Fred GuerinTruthout | Op-Ed

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Temporary, like sadness. Temporary, like capitalism. Temporary, like life. (Photo: Dominic Alves / Flickr)

The excesses of capitalism are not simply a question of bad management and a political unwillingness to properly regulate it by imposing the right sort of checks and balances, but symptoms of a fundamentally and irretrievably flawed system that tends toward destruction of human and other life.

The idea of capitalism as an expression of economic freedom that also secures moral and political freedom of thought, or the notion that “free-market” economies are guided by an impartial mechanism of supply and demand – an “invisible hand” to use Adam Smith’s metaphor – are both powerful indoctrinating notions. As such, they bear little resemblance to actual reality. Smith himself never used the word “capitalism,” preferring to call his economics a “system of natural liberty.” In fact, the inner logic of capitalism can be difficult to get hold of simply because there have been different configurations of capitalism throughout history. In its classic form, before the advent of corporations (when there was still an implicit sense of social responsibility, and insatiable greed was considered a vice), capitalism might have appeared less virulent. Additionally, there is reason to believe that capitalism unfolded differently in different countries with distinct political and legal frameworks.

“There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.” What then is ‘really existing capitalism?'”

All of these contingent factors are worthy of consideration in any assessment of capitalism. However, it is also reasonably clear that once we actually look at history, it is difficult not to conclude that pretty muchevery embodiment of capitalism – classical capitalism, oligarchic or corporate capitalism, casino capitalism, entrepreneurial capitalism – presuppose similar elements: private property, ownership of the means of production, notions of unlimited growth, the maximization of profit, using wealth to create wealth. They also all embody a form of instrumental rationality, the kind of rationality concerned with maximizing profits and minimizing costs. In its globalized corporate form, capitalism has been able to relentlessly realize this form of instrumental reasoning on a large scale – and thereby show itself as one of the most destructive and undemocratic economic system humans have ever come up with.

Unfortunately, neither propaganda nor abstract economic theory can help us to grasp this fact. The reason is primarily that the latter do not really speak to the false theories of human nature capitalism presupposes. Nor do many of them elaborate capitalism’s legitimating normative-moral or political origins. Most crucially, they are often silent regarding the devastating impact that it has had on the environment since it first emerged during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As Chomsky insightfully puts it, “There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.” What then is “really existing capitalism’?

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century gives us a few clues, though not by any means, the whole picture. Replete with startling empirical evidence in the form of charts, graphs, informative statistics, mathematical-logical expressions and astute critical-historical analyses, Piketty’s work draws a number of sobering conclusions about the present dynamics of wealth and income distribution that exposes not merely the dark underside of capitalism but a central contradiction within it. Thus, Piketty concludes “. . . wealth accumulated in the past grows more rapidly than output and wages. This inequality expresses a fundamental logical contradiction. The entrepreneur inevitably tends to become a rentier, more and more dominant over those who own nothing but their labor. Once constituted, capital reproduces itself faster than output increases. The past devours the future.”

The past devours the future. But, what if the bizarre inverted logic of capitalism has always been its real point? What if, under the rubric of capitalism, the powerful elite are given permission to act as if it simply doesn’t matter whether their ever-expanding wealth might actually devour the future, or “wear the world out faster” to borrow a phrase from Orwell? Do they not often appear to live in an all-consuming present – get what you can for yourself right now, and don’t worry about others, or even about tomorrow? Moreover, is not such an attitude, sanctioned by capitalism, the reason why this particular economic system requires endless cycles of economic crisis?

Perhaps Piketty’s point is that if it doesn’t matter to the elite, it should at least matter to us. But if it does matter, then it is up to the rest of us – including experts like Piketty who grasp the reality of capitalism better than anyone else – to imagine real alternatives to such an economic system, to think outside of the present paradigm of endless development, profit maximization and disastrous austerity measures imposed on whole populations. Despite the apparently glaring “logical” contradiction within capitalism, Piketty still holds to the idea that it can be properly disciplined through a progressive annual tax on wealth. It is not the conclusion he should have reached given his thorough and prescient analysis.

Looking at the history of capitalism, it is difficult not to conclude that growing inequality expresses a fundamental property of and not a contradiction within capitalism.

Of course, Piketty is by no means alone in wanting to save capitalism from itself. Capitalism – no matter what its excesses, or how destructive it is for life or democracy – is invariably held as our default economic system, grudgingly acceded to even by popular left-oriented economists such as Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini or Joseph Stiglitz. As Chrystia Freeland unabashedly concludes in Plutocrats, The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, despite all its faults, we continue to need capitalism because, “very much like democracy,” it is “the best system we’ve figured out so far.” [1] Thus, if capitalism appears to go wrong, this is not because it is grounded on a misreading of history, internal contradictions, false theories about nature or human nature, or misguided moral and political presuppositions. Rather, the excesses of capitalism are simply a question of “bad management’ and a political unwillingness to properly regulate it by imposing the right sort of checks and balances.

In fact, Piketty’s proposed wealth tax solution may do more to obscure than resolve the really existing contradictions of capitalism. Looking at the history of capitalism, it is difficult not to conclude that growing inequality expresses a fundamental property of  and not a contradiction within capitalism. Inequality is built into capitalism. If there is a contradiction here it is a material not a logical one. In other words, it is the contradiction between an economic system that is radically indifferent to the health and well-being of the planet as a whole versus the economic, moral and environmental obligation to preserve and sustain such health and well-being.

If I am right that the inner logic of capitalism inevitably leads to a hegemonic, macro-structural world-system of unequal human social, political and economic relations guided by elite greed that does not reflect the best interests of the majority of people, the common good or indeed the good of the planet itself, then Piketty’s assumption that we could ever regain control over an “endless inegalitarian spiral’ by imposing a progressive tax on capital seems, is at best, rather fanciful. A more fitting conclusion in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the efforts of the elite to profit from the latter would be to ask the question whether we should continue advocating for a capitalist system that glorifies profit over people or start thinking about how to reorganize our economy around common goods such as the health and well-being of our present world.

Instead, many contemporary economists repeatedly tell us that our only tenable alternative is to tame capitalist excess through regulative initiatives. This has been done before and it can be done again, the argument goes. Thus, it is claimed that we can and did rein-in or mitigate the severity of capitalist exploitation, and the massive wealth and income disparities that followed from it. However, it should now be abundantly clear that the internal and structural logic of exploitation, wealth-income disparities and the profit-oriented colonization of social and political relations can only be regulated for short periods. It can never be fundamentally altered. Indeed, as Piketty has persuasively argued, relentless exploitation, colonization and massive inequality were only temporarily pre-empted by a war economy and FDR’s regulatory initiatives. By the late 1970’s, the internal logic of capitalism had re-established its hegemonic status and all of the built-in excesses of the capitalist economic system once again became normalized and necessary.

What if . . . we are all conditioned to see the world in terms of individual economic self-interest rather than in terms of common human good or planetary limits, health and equilibrium?

What this tells us is that regulatory reform of capitalism will only be allowed for a brief period. In other words, to the extent that it can obscure or prevent us from perceiving the inner logic of a system of structured inequality, or distract us from the most deleterious effects of capitalism on the environment and on human health and well-being, minimal regulation may be deemed necessary by the elite for a short period of time. However, as Naomi Kleinhas convincingly argued, the “collective vertigo’ caused by wars, economic upheaval, environmental or political crisis, environmental disasters can also be exploited as the perfect means through which a capitalist system of greed takes over markets, amasses fabulous fortunes and bankrupts the wealth of the commons.

Perhaps the refusal to ask critical questions about the viability of capitalism might be explained by the fact that even today many economists still hold onto the mythic assumption that the “impartial” self-regulating market is no more than a theoretical expression of the “order of human nature” itself and not, after all, a product of powerful political and moneyed interests. This belief has distant origins in Thomas Hobbes fear-inspired mechanistic account of human beings who in their natural state are war-like and driven by self-interest. Not only does the latter perspective resonate in many manifestations of capitalist theory, it also underscores a desire to replicate in economic theory what nature apparently prescribes – a war-like disposition disciplined through competitive markets based on innate selfishness. But what if the incapacity to imagine alternatives is not because we are naturally selfish, but simply a function of the reality that in capitalist societies we are all conditioned to see the world in terms of individual economic self-interest rather than in terms of common human good or planetary limits, health and equilibrium?

This perfectly predictable inversion, where government becomes a handmaid to moneyed interest, is precisely the “logic of a capitalist system.”

Over time, the promotion of selfishness as a virtue not only changes the way we look at ourselves, it influences the way we relate to each other and to the planet itself. Instead of citizens who define themselves in relation to common goods, we are reduced, under the selfish orientation of capitalism, to aggregates of self-interested atomistic individuals encouraged to believe that we can continue a lifetime of limitless consumption. Those who are entirely left out of the consumer game – the increasing numbers of homeless, stateless refugees, destitute and imprisoned whose day-to-day life is taken up by the fight for mere survival – are the necessary residue of a global capitalist system.

From its inception, capitalist economic theory has pushed the idea that the market would only be able to regulate itself if it were not subject to external and coercive government interference or regulation. However, the reality is that capitalist accumulation was never actually severed from politics or government, but invariably parasitic upon it. It has always been intimately tied to publicly funded government tax-breaks and subsidies, to war, colonial-imperial expansion, and industrial ambitions. What happened is simply that massive capitalist accumulation was allowed to entirely invert the power relation between moneyed interests and government. Thus, an elite class of bankers, financiers and industrialists (eventually expressing itself through corporate ownership) have become so powerful, they are able to coerce governments and states to go along with whatever is in their minority interest. This perfectly predictable inversion, where government becomes a handmaid to moneyed interest, is precisely the “logic of a capitalist system,” which renders any suggestion of government imposed progressive taxation rather fantastical.

Related to this, faith in the promise of capitalism might also have to do with a kind of wilful blindness about the actual origins of capital. As Karl Polyanyi reminds us, many scholars and economists tenaciously hold to Adam Smith’s idea that the division of labor has always been based upon markets of some kind because our “propensity to barter, truck and exchange one thing for another” is simply ingrainedin the natural order of things. But, clearly we do not need capitalism – the privatizing of wealth and the socializing of costs – to show us how to barter, truck or trade goods. Indeed, capitalism is actually inimical to bartering or trading, precisely because it is driven by individual profit and monopolization, not by the fair exchange of goods. The FTA (Free Trade Agreements), NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) are the awful modern exemplars here.

There is nothing impartial about early capitalism’s inextricable relation to colonialism, slavery or plunder for private gain.

Polyani quickly dispels Smith’s historical misreading of the division of labor as structured by capitalism by reminding us that up to Smith’s time such a propensity toward the individual pursuit of unfettered profit based on wage labor “had hardly shown up on a considerable scale in the life of any observed community and had remained, at best, a subordinate feature of economic life . . . “[2]. The historical and anthropological evidence clearly suggests that it was not until the industrial age that the capitalist-inspired “wealth of nations” was realized by a hegemonic economic system guided by self-interested priorities and the exploitation of material goods and human beings in a relentless pursuit of profit for the few. Before this period, our economics were oriented by social, community, tribal and familial concerns that were considered far more important than the private possession and accumulation of goods based wholly on economic self-interest.

A more precise and broad-based historical study would conclude that, in point of fact, there isn’t anything in nature, the human condition, morality or history that necessitates the adoption of capitalism. It would also disclose that there is nothingimpartial about early capitalism’s inextricable relation to colonialism, slavery or plunder for private gain. In point of fact, the historical reality is that market capitalism is intimately tied to a colonial-imperialist political agenda. This imperialist history clearly demonstrates that there is also very little that is “free” about a “free-market” that derives its freedom to accumulate wealth by way of slave labor, slave wages, debt bondage, unjust land confiscation and the expropriation of common lands and resources into private hands. In America, the so-called “free market” wedded private self-interested exploitation of labor with imperialist state interest on a scale that dramatically dwarfed the brutality of old-world Europe. It should not be in the least surprising then that the slave plantation might capture the essence of our modern global capitalist system, insofar as it is built on the premise of extracting maximum labor at minimal cost.

Of course when one looks at history, it is not immediately apparent that the “founding fathers’ of capitalism – John Locke, Adam Smith, David Ricardo – wanted to intentionally construct a system that would entrench massive inequality. The latter figures were highly articulate, systematic, future-oriented thinkers who believed that private property, free trade, competition and laissez-faire capitalism were inherently good, and had an unlimited potential to raise the general welfare of society. However, even here, those who enjoyed the fruits of a capitalist political economy were relatively few – certainly not the working class or slaves. Each of these illustrious thinkers exemplifies in his writings the material contradictions that capitalism represents.

To be fair, from the perspective of the 18th and 19th centuries, the planet did appear to have unlimited potential for growth, not to mention individual and social enrichment.

Moreover, the science of pollution and toxicity of industrial chemicals 200 years ago was nowhere near the advanced state it is now. However, the material contradictions of capitalism are starkly illustrated even in its earliest philosophical foundations. Thus, on the one hand, John Locke’s (1632-1704) political philosophy begins (as against Hobbes’) with the idea that in our “original state of nature,” we are not in a state of war, but in a state of ” ‘perfect freedom’ to order our action, and dispose of our possessions and persons, as we think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” This state of nature, Locke believed, is also a state “. . . of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another.” [3]

However, on the other hand, not all people were heir to such “perfect freedom” in their “natural state” or otherwise; nor did they have possessions or reciprocal power. In fact, a good many of them were not even treated as “persons” or individuals, but as mere “savages.” There is nothing fair or equal about the fact that Locke’s tremendous wealth was directly the result of investments in the silk and slave trade. Indeed, he believed that important, moneyed land barons should form “a government of slave-owners” and suggested that children over 3 years of age who were from families on relief should attend “working schools” so they would be “from infancy . . . inured to work” [4]. Appearances notwithstanding, the “sacred and inviolable right to property” that Locke espouses is not something either slaves or the laboring classes were granted. The “perfect freedom” was indeed “perfect servitude” of those who were not white Europeans.

Behind the wonderful talk of liberal values, “increasing the common stock of man through money” and individual rights, Locke put forward an absolutist theory of property that would provide legitimacy to the imperialist ambitions of England and wealthy English landowners in America. The problem is that Locke’s morally grounded theory of the right to private property presupposes the expropriation of ancestral native lands, the existence of slavery and the impoverishment of laboring classes. As Ronald Wright has astutely noted, quoting from Senator Dawes in his Allotment Act, the problem with “Indians” is that they lacked “selfishness, which is the bottom of civilization”![5] What we are compelled to conclude here is that these historical facts are not unpredictable events or anomalies of capitalism, but perspectives and practices intrinsic to the expansion of a capitalist economy.

The unavoidable question is why Smith advocated a “capitalist economic system” that glorified unbridled competition – a practice he intuited would inevitably corrupt our “natural sentiments” and deepen a proclivity toward selfish behaviour?

The Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Smith (1723-1790) believed that not only did competition mitigate the ruthlessness of self-interest, but the providential “invisible hand of the market” would ensure that in promoting our self-interest we would be simultaneously promoting the interests of society, whether we intended to do so or not. But, the rational or enlightened self-interest of Smith’s economic man breaks down fairly quickly within the logic of monopolistic capitalism. Smith, like Piketty, is prescient enough to caution about the monopolistic trajectory of capitalism and the potential that industry and business had for influencing politics in their favour over the good of consumers and society as a whole. Moreover, against the logic of unfettered capitalist accumulation, he also thought laborers should be well paid and the rich and indolent taxed for the benefit of the poor.

At the same time, Smith’s “merchant” is not much different than the modern corporate CEO. A merchant he explains “. . . is not necessarily a citizen of any particular country. It is in a great measure indifferent to him from what place he carries on his trade; and a very trifling disgust will make him remove his capital, and together with it all the industry which it supports, from one country to another.” [6]It is not hard to imagine that the “trifling disgust” classical merchants or modern CEOs experience is a consequence of having unions or governments interfere with their profits by demanding workers receive a living wage.

In the end, the unavoidable question is why Smith advocated a “capitalist economic system” that glorified unbridled competition – a practice he intuited would inevitably corrupt our “natural sentiments” and deepen a proclivity toward selfish behaviour? If the answer is that it is the self-correcting, providential “invisible hand” that reconciles selfishness and the general welfare of society, then Smith’s entire economic system rests on a fiction: There just is no such thing as an “invisible hand,” nor has there ever been any such providential or moral self-correcting mechanism within capitalist economics. Given this, it is difficult not to conclude that Smith (again, like Piketty) did, in fact, fully grasp the adverse effects and inherent material contradictions of capitalism. Nevertheless, he held steadfastly to the idea that a phantasmal occult force (the invisible hand) would enable our natural sympathy with the plight of others and our natural self-interested expression of individual freedom to live peacefully together.

What is startling is not how different, but how similar the speculative capitalist mindset has always been. The early 19th century economist, broker and speculator David Ricardo “. . . made the bulk of his fortune as a result of speculation on the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, using methods that today would result in prosecution for insider trading and market manipulation.”[7] It is not a great leap from insider trading (which Milton Friedman, much later, enthusiastically endorsed) to securities fraud, negligent subprime mortgage lending, unregulated credit default swaps and so on. But it is also evidently true that wealth is  power – power cashed out at the political level. Ricardo, who was able to use his largesse to buy a seat in the UK Parliament, would probably not have had any problem with the Supreme CourtCitizens United decision to remove limits on corporate political donations. Perhaps we have here one of the earliest exemplars of how moneyed interest, power and political ambition are easily woven together in a capitalist political economy. At any rate, it is clear that the very visible hand of the elite class inevitably renders government “by and for the people’ pretty much irrelevant – or better, invisible.

As for economic theory, Ricardo’s assumption that with social progress, the price of labor is “dear when it is scarce and cheap when it is plentiful” might explain why today the superrich have “stopped worrying and learned to love unemployment and under-employment.” As the rich have become even richer since the 2007 financial crisis, the global unemployment rate has steadily increased such that by 2015, 205 million people will be out of work – and this doesn’t even touch those who have given up looking for a job. Of course, Ricardo, like Marx after him, was clever enough to recognize that the interests of wealthy landowners were often in direct opposition to the good of society and would inevitably create tension and upheaval. This did not, however, prevent him from advocating for the abolition of the Poor Law which, he believed, encouraged people to be lazy and irresponsible – “are there no prisons? . . . are there no workhouses?”

Despite some indications to the contrary, Hobbes’ theory of human nature is unambiguously presupposed in Locke, Smith and Ricardo’s elaboration of capitalist political economy. All are essentially in agreement with the idea that we are “by nature” selfish creatures. Perhaps it is only in this sense we can be said to be “equals” – we are all equally selfish. However, such a presupposition, by any objective measure, is simply false. We know today, from abundant empirical, sociological, psychological, genetic, archaeological and anthropological evidence, that Hobbes’ theory of human nature as intrinsically “selfish” is deeply flawed. We are not “naturally” selfish – though we can, indeed, learn to be so. In other words, within a capitalist system it can become trueover over the course of time that an elite few will be chiefly oriented by greed, narcissism or selfishness – and some of the latter not so very far from the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinners!” Dickens describes Mr. “Scrooge” as in A Christmas Carol. Of course, today the latter are no longer viewed as “sinners.” The real problem is that in our present world they are the “glorified masters” of our economies and governments. They are continuously praised, deferred to, considered “above the laws of the land” and allowed to live in a world of unabashed opulence entirely walled off from the rabble of mankind. Succinctly put, in capitalism, the greedy of the world have discovered their ideal legitimating cover: the promotion of a self-serving economics that turns the vice of selfishness into the highest virtue human beings can realize! [8]

History aside, from our own contemporary perspective, we can get a sense of “really existing capitalism’ by virtue of the following thought-experiment, which reveals the latter in its unadorned state. Imagine that we were able, right now, to ask the 7 or so billion people living on the planet whether they would choose an economic system that would inevitably lead to massive wealth and income inequalities, that would severely limit equal opportunity, that would force whole populations to live under perpetual economic austerity, that would erode any possibility of meaningful and democratic political participation, that would devastate the health of the planet and the human body while externalizing the costs of such destruction onto everyone, with the exception of a very privileged few.

Now . . . how many people do you think would actually opt for such an arrangement? Honest answer: Almost no one! The only people who would agree to such a set of conditions would be an infinitesimally small group whose present privileged economic status would be protected and furthered by maintaining the status quo. The fact is that though there are many manifestations of the capitalist system, the intentional logic of capitalism always was, and still is, the same: to protect and perpetuate the power, status and privilege of the few, while impoverishing everyone else.

Given this, you might think that we would seriously question anyone who asserts that capitalism best captures or reflects the essential capabilities, wants, desires or needs of human beings – or that it, in any way, helps to preserve or sustain the resources of the planet for future generations. If anything, capitalism has become the medium where what is worst in us is magnified and given legitimacy – materialism, greed, indifference to the suffering of others, deceitfulness and hubris – while diminishing the importance of justice, benevolence and environmental stewardship. Hopefully, Piketty’s book will be a wake-up call – not a call to fix capitalism, but to overcome it. The fact is that even if a tax on wealth could somehow reconcile the logical contradiction within capitalism, it will do nothing to prevent corporations from their “race to exploit what is left” [9]; it will not stop them from moving us closer to ecological disaster by extracting oil from bituminous sands or minerals from impoverished third world countries; it will not deter the Wall Street mega banks like Goldman Sachs, the “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” (to borrow Matt Taibbi’s startling and vivid description) from sucking the life out of national economies; it will not impede the chemical industry from polluting the environment and using whole populations as unwitting research objects for profit; it will not avert the continuing dissolution of democracy by the superrich Koch brothers . . . and on and on.

Notwithstanding all that has been said, it is still conceivable that we could reverse our present “conditioning” by thinking and acting in different ways – by recognizing that, progressively, with the help of others, we could cultivate radically different perspectives and practices (economic and otherwise). But any such effort must assume that we are also acutely aware of the ubiquity and the powerful force of capitalist propaganda. As Henry Giroux reminds us “dominant power works relentlessly through its major cultural apparatuses to hide, mischaracterize or lampoon resistance, dissent and critically engaged social movements. This is done, in part, by sanitizing public memory and erasing critical knowledge and oppositional struggles from newspapers, radio, television, film and all those cultural institutions that engage in systemic forms of education and memory work.”[10]

Above all, the possibility of alternative economic visions, perspectives and practices have to be grounded in the reality that we share a limited world, and that we are and have always been capable of creating an economic system and public policies that preserve the health and well-being of the planet and all of the creatures that inhabit it.

NOTES:

1. Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats, The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. Anchor Canada 2012. p. xvi. Freeland is likely drawing from Churchill’s oft-quoted conclusion that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

2. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press 1957 pp. 45-58

3. John Locke, “The Second Treatise of Government”, in Princeton Readings in Political Thought, edited by Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon. Princeton University Press, 1996. pp. 243-4

4. See Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, Harper Perennial Modern Classics 2005. pp. 73-75

5. Ronald Wright, What is America: A Short History of the New World Order, Vintage Canada, 2009. p. 116

6. To really understand the tension within Smith’s thought it is helpful to read both An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

7. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations Book III, Chapter IV.

8. You can find Ayn Rand’s and Nathaniel Branden’s The virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism.

9. See Michael Klare’s The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, Picador, 2012

10. Henry Giroux, “Hope in the Age of Looming Authoritarianism,” Truthout.

David Harvey: “As contradições do capitalismo” (Rede Castor Photo)

11/4/2014, [*] David Harvey entrevistado por Jonathan Derbyshire, Prospect Magazine, UK

The contradictions of capitalism: an interview with David Harvey

Traduzido pelo pessoal da Vila Vudu

David Harvey é professor de antropologia e geografia do Centro de Graduação da City University of New York (CUNY). Dá aulas sobre “O Capital” de Karl Marx há mais de 40 anos e é autor de um “guia de leitura”, em dois volumes, para ler a grande obra de Marx. Essa leitura microscópica de “O Capital” é fruto de uma série de 13 conferências, cujos vídeos Harvey distribuiu online.

Seu livro mais recente é 17 Contradições e o Fim do Capitalismo. O livro começa com uminsight de Marx – que crises periódicas são endêmicas nas economias capitalistas – e oferece uma análise da atual conjuntura histórica. Conversei com o professor Harvey em Londres, semana passada.

Prospect Magazine: No início do livro, o senhor observa, como outros também observaram, que há algo de diferente na mais recente crise do capitalismo, a crise financeira global de 2008:

Seria de esperar que todos – o senhor escreveu lá – tivessem diagnósticos concorrentes a oferecer sobre o que está errado, e que houvesse uma proliferação de propostas de o que fazer para corrigir tudo. O que mais surpreende hoje é a miséria de pensamento novo e de novas políticas.

Por que não há nem diagnósticos nem propostas nem ideias novas?

David Harvey: Uma hipótese é que a concentração de poder de classe que se vê hoje é de tal modo gigantesca, que não há por que a classe capitalista precise ou queira ver qualquer tipo de pensamento novo. A situação, por mais que seja disruptiva para a economia, não é necessariamente disruptiva para a capacidade de os ricos acumularem mais riqueza e mais poder. Assim sendo, há bem claro interesse em manter as coisas como estão. O que é curioso é que havia também, é claro, muito interesse em manter as coisas como estavam nos anos 1930s, mas aquele interesse foi atropelado por Roosevelt, pelo pensamento Keynesiano etc..

O problema da demanda agregada, que era o centro do pensamento nos anos 1930s, é problema de realização, em termos marxistas. As pessoas respondiam a pergunta e, na sequência, entraram num problema de produção, que foi respondido pelo monetarismo e pela economia de oferta. E exatamente hoje, o mundo está dividido entre os que se põem do lado da oferta e querem mais austeridade, e outros – China, Turquia e quase todas as economias em desenvolvimento – que assumem a linha keynesiana.

Mas parece que só há duas respostas – não há “terceira via”. No âmbito do capitalismo, as possibilidades são limitadas. O único modo pelo qual você pode encontrar outra resposta é pôr-se fora do capitalismo, mas ninguém quer nem ouvir falar disso!

Prospect MagazineIsso posto, o senhor aceita, no livro, que há elementos na classe capitalista, na classe intelectual, que reconhecem a ameaça que o senhor identifica e chama de “contradições” do capitalismo. Exemplo notável aí é a discussão do problema da desigualdade.

David Harvey: Credito ao movimento Occupy ter lançado e posto em circulação essa nova conversa. O fato de que temos em New York um prefeito completamente diferente do que havia antes e que disse que vai fazer tudo que puder para reduzir a desigualdade, toda a possibilidade dessa discussão é coisa que brotou diretamente do movimento Occupy. É interessante que todos sabem do que você está falando, sempre que se fala do “1%”. A questão do 1% foi afinal posta na agenda e se tornou objeto de estudos em profundidade, como, por exemplo, o livro de Thomas Piketty, O Capital no século 21 (fr. [1]). Joseph Stiglitz também tem um livro sobre desigualdade e vários outros economistas estão falando do assunto. Até o FMI já está dizendo que há um perigo específico que surge quando a desigualdade alcança determinado nível.

Prospect Magazine: Até Obama já anda dizendo isso!

David Harvey: Mas Obama nada diria sobre isso se o movimento Occupy não tivesse aberto a trilha. Mas quem está fazendo alguma coisa sobre o problema e de que modo alguma coisa estaria sendo realmente mudada? Se se consideram as políticas reais, vê-se que as desigualdades continuam a aprofundar-se. Há reconhecimento apenas retórico do problema, mas não há reconhecimento político, em termos de políticas ativas e redistribuição ativa.

Prospect MagazineO senhor falou de Occupy. No livro, o senhor critica muito duramente o que o senhor chama de “restos da esquerda radical” – a qual hoje, para o senhor, é predominantemente liberal, libertarista e anti-estado.

David Harvey: Tenho uma regra que por definição nunca falha: o modo de produção dominante, seja qual for, e sua articulação política, criam a forma de oposição contra eles. Assim, as grandes fábricas e grandes corporações – General Motors, Ford etc. – criaram uma oposição baseada no movimento trabalhista e nos partidos da social-democracia; o rompimento dessa ordem – e vivemos hoje precisamente o momento desse rompimento – criou esse tipo de oposição dispersa e dispersiva que só sabe usar algumas específicas linguagens para suas reivindicações.

A esquerda não dá sinais de estar percebendo que muito do que diz é consistente com a ética neoliberal, em vez de lhe fazer oposição… Parte do anti-estatismo que se encontra hoje na esquerda casa-se perfeitamente com o anti-estatismo do capital empresarial corporativista.

Preocupa-me muito que não se ouça pensamento da esquerda que diga “Vamos nos afastar dessas conversas e observar o quadro completo”. Espero que meu livro contribua para que tenhamos essa nova conversa.

Prospect MagazineO livro conclui num lugar interessante – com algo como um programa, 17 “ideias para a prática política”. Mas não aparece a pergunta, embora, sim, possa estar implícita no que o senhor acabou de dizer, sobre qual é o veículo apropriado para realizar aquele programa. Não se sabe onde encontrá-lo. Não é óbvio que o encontraremos.

David Harvey: Uma das coisas que temos de aceitar é que está emergindo um  novo modo de fazer política. No presente, ainda é muito espontaneísta, efêmero, voluntarista, com alguma relutância a deixar-se institucionalizar. Como poderá ser institucionalizado é, creio eu, questão aberta. E não tenho resposta para isso. Mas é claro que, de algum modo, terá de institucionalizar-se ou ser institucionalizado. Há novos partidos começando a emergir – o Syrizana Grécia, por exemplo. O que me preocupa é o que comento no livro como um estado de alienação em massa, que está sendo capitalizado amplamente pela direita. Há portanto, sim, alguma urgência em a esquerda tratar da questão de como nós nos institucionalizaremos como força política, para resistir contra uma virada de direita e capturar parte significativa do descontentamento que está nas ruas e empurrá-lo numa direção progressista, não em direção neofascista.

Prospect MagazineO senhor descreve seu livro como tentativa para expor as contradições, não do “capitalismo”, mas do “capital”. O senhor pode explicar essa diferença?

David Harvey: Essa diferença vem de minha leitura de Marx. Pensa-se quase sempre que Marx teria criado alguma espécie de compreensão totalista do capitalismo, mas Marx não fez nada disso. Marx não arredou pé da economia política e manteve seus argumentos sempre na linha de como opera o motor econômico de uma economia capitalista. Se você isola o motor econômico, você consegue ver quais serão os problemas daquela economia.

Não implica dizer que não haverá outros tipos de problemas numa sociedade capitalista – é claro que há racismo, discriminação por gênero, problemas geopolíticos. Mas a questão que me preocupava ao escrever esse livro era outra, mais limitada: como funciona o motor da acumulação de capital?

Já estava bem claro desde o estouro de 2007/8 que havia alguma coisa errada com o próprio motor. E dissecar o que esteja errado com o motor já será um passo na direção de política mais ampla. Esse motor econômico é muito complicado. E Marx criou um meio para compreender o motor econômico, servindo-se de ideias como “contradição” e “formação-de-crises”.

Prospect MagazineMais uma questão de definição: o que é capital?

David Harvey: Capital é o processo pelo qual o dinheiro é posto em ação para que se obtenha mais dinheiro. Mas é preciso muito cuidado, se só se fala de dinheiro, porque em Marx há uma relação muito complexa, como aponto no livro, entre “valor” e “dinheiro”. O processo é de busca de valor para criar e apropriar-se de mais valor. Mas esse processo assume diferentes formas – a forma dinheiro, de bens e mercadorias, processos de produção, terra… Ele tem manifestações físicas, forma-de-coisa, mas, no fundamento, não é coisa: é um processo.

Prospect MagazineVoltemos à noção de “contradição”, que é a categoria analítica central no livro. O senhor fez uma distinção entre os choques externos pelos quais pode passar uma economia capitalista (guerras, por exemplo) e contradições, no seu sentido da palavra. Assim, por definição, contradições são internas ao sistema capitalista?

David Harvey: Sim. Se você quiser redesenhar o modo de produção, é preciso, então, responder as questões postas pelas contradições internas.

Prospect MagazineO senhor identifica três classes de contradições, que o senhor chama de “fundacionais”, as “mutantes” e as “perigosas”. Comecemos pela primeira categoria: o que faz as contradições fundacionais serem fundacionais?

David Harvey: Não importa onde esteja o capitalismo e o modo de produção capitalista, você sempre encontrará essas contradições em operação. Em qualquer economia – seja a China contemporânea, o Chile ou os EUA – a questão do valor de uso e do valor de troca, por exemplo, lá estará, sempre. Há algumas contradições que são traços permanentes de como o motor econômico está montado. E há outras que mudam constantemente ao longo do tempo. Então, eu quis distinguir as que são relativamente permanentes e as outras, que são muito mais dinâmicas.

Prospect MagazineAlgumas contradições fundacionais são mais fundacionais que outras? Um dos traços que mais chamam a atenção no livro é que tudo, no seu modelo analítico, parece derivar, no fundo, da diferença entre valor de troca e valor de uso.

David Harvey: Ora… esse é o ponto inicial da análise. Sempre me chamou a atenção que Marx dedicou muito tempo para demarcar o ponto no qual sua análise começaria; e decidiu começar por aí, porque é o ponto de partida mais universal. Mas o que mais me impressiona – e trabalho com Marx há muito, muito tempo – é o quanto as suas contradições são intimamente interligadas. Você percebe que essa distinção entre valor de uso e valor de troca pressupõe alguma coisa sobre propriedade privada e o Estado, por exemplo.

Prospect MagazineOutra das suas contradições fundacionais é entre “propriedade privada e o Estado capitalista”. Quer dizer: a tensão ou a contradição entre os direitos individuais de propriedade e o poder coercivo do Estado. Agora, imaginemos alguém como Robert Nozick, criado na tradição liberal, Lockeana, que chega e diz que não há aí qualquer contradição. Ao contrário: o papel do estado “mínimo” é proteger a propriedade privada.

David Harvey: Uma das coisas que digo sobre contradições é que elas estão sempre latentes. Por isso, a existência de uma contradição não gera, necessariamente, uma crise. Gerará, sob algumas dadas circunstâncias. Portanto, é possível construir teoricamente a ideia de que tudo que um estado “guarda-noturno” faz é proteger a propriedade privada. Mas nos sabemos que esse estado “guarda-noturno” tem muito mais a fazer, além disso. Há externalidades no mercado que têm de ser controladas; já bens públicos que têm de ser fornecidos – e assim, muito rapidamente, o estado acaba por se envolver em todos os tipos de atividades, muito além de apenas cuidar do quadro legal dos contratos e dos direitos à propriedade privada.

Prospect MagazineO senhor nega que haja qualquer conexão necessária entre capitalismo e democracia. Pode explicar por quê?

David Harvey: A questão da democracia depende muito de definições. Supostamente haveria democracia nos EUA, mas é claro que não há, é uma espécie de farsa, de engodo – é a democracia do poder do dinheiro, não do poder do povo. E minha avaliação, desde os anos 1970s, a Suprema Corte legalizou o processo pelo qual o poder do dinheiro corrompe o processo político.

Prospect MagazineHá um aspecto do poder do estado que avançou para o centro do palco na crise recente e imediatamente depois, sobretudo durante a crise da dívida na Eurozona: falo do poder dos bancos centrais. O senhor acha que a função dos bancos centrais mudou de modo significativo durante a era dos “resgates”?

David Harvey: Evidentemente mudou. A história dos bancos centrais é, ela própria, terrivelmente interessante. Não tenho certeza de que o que o Federal Reserve fez durante a crise tenha tido qualquer base legal. O Banco Central Europeu, por sua vez, é caso clássico do que Marx disse, quando comentou a Lei dos Bancos de 1844, a qual, para ele, teve o efeito de estender e aprofundar a crise de 1847-8 na Grã-Bretanha. Mas nos dois casos, do Fed e do Banco Central Europeu, o que vimos é uma espécie de ajuste no traseiro – como alfaiates fazem com calças apertadas – de grandes instituições e a emergência de políticas que só seriam justificáveis depois do fato. Quero dizer: não há dúvida alguma de que, sim, houve mudanças no front do banco central.

Prospect MagazineHá um conceito ao qual o senhor volta várias vezes no livro: o conceito de “conversão em mercadoria” [também “mercadorização”, ing. commodification (NTs)].

David Harvey: O capital trata, sempre, da produção de mercadorias. Se há terreno não-mercadorizado, ali o capital não entra nem circula. Um dos meios mais fáceis para o capital conseguir penetrar aquele espaço é o estado impor ali um sistema de privatização – ainda que privatize algo que é só ficcional. Os créditos de carbono, por exemplo – trocar direitos de poluir é excelente exemplo de mercadoria criada por processo ficcional, que tem efeitos muito reais sobre o volume de dióxido de carbono na atmosfera, e assim por diante. Criar mercados onde antes não havia mercados é um dos meios pelos quais, historicamente, o capital expandiu-se.

Prospect MagazineO senhor foi pesadamente influenciado pelo trabalho de Karl Polanyi nessa área, não? Especificamente a obra prima dele, A Grande Transformação.

David Harvey: Polanyi não era marxista, mas compreendia, como Marx também compreendeu, que as ideias de terra, trabalho e capital não são mercadorias no sentido ordinário, mas que assumem uma forma de mercadoria.

Prospect Magazine: Um dos aspectos mais impressionantes do livro, pode-se dizer, mesmo, mobilizadores, emocionantes, é o relato que o senhor faz dos custos humanos da conversão em mercadoria – especificamente a conversão em mercadoria daquelas áreas da experiência humana que antes não eram parte do “nexo dinheiro”[orig. cash nexus, exp. de Marx]. Há aí uma conexão com o que o senhor chama de “alienação universal”. O que é isso?

David Harvey: Vivemos há tempos num mundo no qual o capital lutou sem parar para diminuir o trabalho, o poder do trabalho, aumentando a produtividade, removendo o aspecto mental dos serviços e empregos. Quando você vive em sociedade desse tipo, surge a questão de como alguém pode encontrar algum significado na própria vida, dado o que se faz como trabalho, no local de trabalho. Por exemplo, 70% da população dos EUA ou odeia trabalhar ou é totalmente indiferente ao trabalho que faz. Em mundo desse tipo, as pessoas têm de encontrar alguma identidade para elas mesmas que não seja baseada na experiência do trabalho.

Sendo assim, surge a questão do tipo de identidade que as pessoas podem assumir. Uma das respostas é o consumo. E temos um tipo de consumismo irrefletido que tenta compensar a falta de significação de um mundo no qual há bem poucos trabalhos com algum significado. Irrita-me muito ouvir políticos dizer que “vamos criar mais empregos”… Mas que tipo de empregos?

A alienação brota, entendo eu, de um sentimento de que temos capacidade e poder para ser alguém muito diferente do que é definido por nossas possibilidades. Daí surge a questão de até que ponto o poder político é sensível à criação de outras possibilidades? As pessoas olham os partidos políticos e dizem “Aqui, não há nada que preste”. Há, pois, a alienação para longe do processo político, que se manifesta em comparecimento declinante nas eleições; há a alienação para longe da cultura da mercadoria, também, que cria uma carência e o correspondente desejo por um outro tipo de liberdade. As irrupções periódicas que foram vistas pelo mundo – Parque Gezi em Istambul, “manifestações” no Brasil, quebra-quebra em Londres em 2011 – obrigam a perguntar se a alienação pode vir a ser uma força política positiva. E a resposta é sim, pode, mas não se vê nada parecido nos partidos ou movimentos políticos. Viram-se alguns elementos disso no modo como o movimento Occupy ou os Indignados na Espanha tentaram mobilizar pessoas, mas foi coisa efêmera e não amadureceu em ação mais substancial. Mesmo assim, há muito fermento nos campos da dissidência cultural; há algo em movimento, e é fonte de alguma esperança.

Prospect MagazineQuando o senhor discute as contradições “perigosas”, o senhor oferece o que me parece ser uma versão do materialismo histórico de Marx. Quero dizer: o senhor pensa, como Marx, que o presente está grávido de futuro, embora o senhor não pense de modo inevitabilista… Acho também que o senhor não vê nada de inevitabilismo, tampouco, no próprio Marx. Estou certo?

David Harvey: Não vejo, não, nada de inevitabilismo em Marx. Há quem diga que Marx teria dito que o capital desabará sob o peso de suas próprias contradições, e que Marx teria uma teoria mecanicista das crises das crises capitalistas. Mas jamais encontrei uma linha em que Marx tenha escrito coisa semelhante! O que Marx, sim, disse é que as contradições estão no coração das crises e que crises são momentos de oportunidade.

Marx também disse que os seres humanos podem criar a própria história, mas que não escolhem as condições sob as quais criarão a própria história. Para mim, portanto, há um Marx que, se não é libertarista, diz que os seres humanos são capazes de decidir coletivamente, de empurrar as coisas mais para uma direção, que para outra. Marx criticou o socialismo utópico, porque entendia que o socialismo utópico não lidava com o onde estamos. Marx disse que é preciso analisar onde se está, ver o que é viável para nós e, na sequência, tentar construir algo radicalmente diferente.

______________________

Nota dos tradutores

[1] “A Editora Intrínseca comprou os direitos de tradução para o português do Brasil de O Capital no Século XXI, do francês Thomas Piketty. Está em tradução, esperado nas livrarias no segundo semestre de 2014” (deve ser tudo mentira, mas é o que escreveu o Lauro Jardim).

_________________________

[*] David Harvey (Gillingham, Kent, 7 de dezembro de 1935) é um geógrafo britânico, formado na Universidade de Cambridge. É professor daCity University of New York e trabalha com diversas questões ligadas à geografia urbana. Seu primeiro livro, Explanation in Geography, publicado em 1969, versa sobre a epistemologia da geografia, ainda no paradigma da chamada geografia quantitativa. Posteriormente, Harvey muda o foco de sua atenção para a problemática urbana, a partir de uma perspectiva materialista-dialética. Publica então Social Justice and the City no início da década de 1970, onde confronta o paradigma liberal e o paradigma marxista na análise dos problemas urbanos.

Prominent Anthropologist Welcomes Football Team Name Trademark Cancellation (American Anthropological Association)

by Damon

June 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm

In a move that was hailed by the anthropological community, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced on Wednesday morning that it had canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name “Washington Redskins” citing testimony and evidence that the Washington, DC- based football team’s name is “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus in violation of federal trademark laws banning offensive terms and language.

While the decision today means that the team can continue to use the term, the phrase is no longer owned by the organization, meaning it will be difficult to stop others from using the term, and thus limiting its financial benefit to the club.

Dr. Bernard C. Perley, a Native American and anthropologist, released the following statement in the wake of the government’s decision:

Today, I am celebrating the US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the six trademark registrations of the NFL Washington professional football team. The Patent and Trademark Office made their decision based on evidence and concluded that the trademark (the “r word”) is “disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered”.

This decision represents the best values of the American people as established in the founding documents of the United States. It also echoes the work of generations of anthropologists who have worked and continue to work with Native American communities to promote social justice for the first peoples of the Americas.

Unfortunately, there are many Americans who will make any excuse to support the NFL and the Washington team in their defense of the disrespectful name. The ruling does not prevent the team from continuing to use the derogatory term and it is likely the team will appeal the decision.

The US Patent and Trademark decision is good news but there is still much work to be done. The public debate over the “r word” has contributed to the growing awareness of the American public regarding the derogatory aspect of the term to many Native Americans. Anthropology can support and enhance that awareness by making public the ongoing work of anthropologists and Native American community leaders in promoting respect and understanding. We can accomplish this by disseminating the inspiring stories of Native American resilience and their contributions to the American experience.”

Dr. Perley is also a member of the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association

Um estádio sem cantos (Globo Esporte)

Quarta-feira, 18/06/2014 às 11:57 por David Butter

Quem diria: o pior da Copa é a torcida da seleção brasileira. Não falo da torcida dos bares, das casas e das ruas, de fora dos estádios por falta de condição, gosto ou oportunidade, mas da torcida das arquibancadas. – digo “torcida” por falta de outro termo.

Não, não andamos vendo a vergonha e o banzo circulando de cabeça baixa por aeroportos ou estradas, como imaginavam antes da competição os profetas da catástrofe, e sim pelas cadeiras das arenas “padrão Fifa”. Há algo de triste em quem passa por essas cadeiras: uma modorra atravessada de impaciência e melancolia.

Pois a torcida brasileira desta Copa é, até agora, uma torcida reativa. Até no seu canto mais efusivo (“Sou brasileiro/Com muito orgulho/Com muito amor”), a torcida de estádio parece estar respondendo a alguma ofensa não-enunciada.  É como se o brasileiro entrasse xingado e cuspido nas arenas, e não extraísse disso mais do que a força para dizer: “Eu gosto do que eu sou”.

A torcida brasileira desta Copa não tem canções: tem musiquinhas que caberiam melhor numa festa de firma: expressões vagas de solidariedade e espírito coletivo – praticamente um convite às vaias e aos muxoxos. “Está ruim o salgado”, “que banda horrível é esta”, “aqueles pães-duros economizaram no uísque”: enxergo no torcedor desta Copa o “Mauro da Contabilidade”, um Jekyll chatíssimo que, nas confraternizações de fim de ano, converte-se num Hyde mais chato ainda.

E os Mauros todos converteram nisto a atual “experiência”  de ser ver um jogo da seleção: um investimento individual de tempo (e dinheiro) em troca de algum retorno. A seleção “presta serviços” aos torcedores-consumidores; é uma seleção-bufê, um atração para eventeiros. Cantar qualquer coisa além do cânone santificado pela imprensa e pela publicidade não está no “briefing”.

(Ao fato: a torcida do México berrou por cima da torcida brasileira em Fortaleza. A ponto de me parecer que, para um jogo em Guadalajara, a seleção mexicana deveria encarar o empate como um tropeço.)

O hino se esgota antes da bola rolar. Não há tempo para concursos, nem festivais. Não existe, tampouco, era de ouro de cantoria para se espelhar. O que pode entoar de novo e de firme a torcida brasileira? Funk, sertanejo, paródia obscena, qualquer coisa mais viva, e menos encaixável num anúncio de banco ou sobe-som de telejornal – jogo as opções ao alto, por desespero de causa.

Surpreenda o Brasil, Mauro. Rasgue o abadá. Seja menos convencional uma vez na vida. Tenha algo a contar para seus filhos, algo diferente de “Os mexicanos/chilenos/argentinos me calaram”.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: El consumo no evita la queja (Clarín)

16/06/14

Tensión. Para el pueblo brasileño, “el gobierno se vendió a la FIFA”, sostiene el antropólogo Viveiros de Castro.

El antropólogo carioca Eduardo Viveiros de Castro estuvo recientemente –y por primera vez– en Buenos Aires. Participó del seminario “La bolsa o la vida. Modelos de desarrollo, nuevas conflictividades sociales y derechos humanos”, organizado por la Biblioteca Nacional y presentó el libro La mirada del jaguar. Una introducción al perspectivismo amerindio (Tinta Limón), que compila una serie de entrevistas donde cuenta su trayectoria como investigador. O mejor dicho, su experiencia fugitiva: cómo se conectó con los indios para huir de Brasil. “Fui a estudiar a los indios porque los indios justamente no eran brasileños. Me interesaba su total incompetencia ciudadana. La pregunta era ¿cómo salir de Brasil?, en el sentido de evitar esa problemática teórica de la nacionalidad, el destino de Brasil como nación, el carácter nacional”. La incorrección política que planteaba esa posición en los años 70 no deja de ser actual y sigue generando polémica. En esta conversación Viveiros de Castro cuenta cómo se vivieron las recientes movilizaciones callejeras y lo que se espera para este 2014 que luego del Mundial, afronta las elecciones presidenciales.

–La consigna que circuló en estos meses era sintética pero directa “No habrá copa” ¿Qué concentra esa frase?
–Para el pueblo la imagen es que el gobierno se vendió a la FIFA. La sensación es que la FIFA ha logrado que se instale un micro-estado de excepción que entrará en vigor incluso antes del campeonato. Hay una indignación patriótica por el modo en que Brasil se ha sometido a esa mega máquina de explotación capitalista que es la FIFA en tanto reduce el fútbol a un puro negocio. En Río, muchas favelas fueron removidas para hacer obras para el mundial, también por cuestiones de “seguridad”. Todo eso sucede al mismo tiempo de la propaganda de que Brasil es la nueva potencia económica mundial, con obras de infraestructura enormes, que incluye el desmonte de la Amazonía, hechas por las cinco constructoras más grandes del país que son las que contribuyen históricamente a financiar las campañas de todos los partidos, sean de derecha o de izquierda.

–¿Cómo caracterizaría esas manifestaciones?
–Son bastante inéditas. Hubo partidos de izquierda pero sin ningún control sobre la movilización. Los partidos de derecha no van. Y toda vez que un periodista de la red O Globo se acerca es expulsado, por eso estas manifestaciones son fuertemente atacadas por la prensa. Han producido su propia prensa, que se llama Midia Ninja. No hay además un solo tema. Aunque podría decirse que existen dos cuestiones fundamentales. El problema de la movilidad urbana de la población obrera de San Pablo que vive en las periferias de la ciudad y tiene que viajar horas, lo cual supone un reclamo por el tiempo que lleva ir de las casas al trabajo, una reivindicación del tiempo libre. La segunda es contra la reacción represiva de la policía frente a las marchas, ante lo cual muchos jóvenes se indignaron.

–¿Esto está en el origen de la formación de los black bloc (grupos de protesta)?
–La práctica del black bloc, especialmente en Río, tiene que ver con la respuesta al accionar de la policía militar con la que cuenta cada Estado provincial, que es como un ejército privado y una herencia del imperio. Es una policía que usa armas pesadas y entrenada para la guerra. El gobierno es acusado de complicidad con esta violencia de los Estados provinciales. Dilma ha dicho por tv que está en contra de toda manifestación que ponga en peligro el orden público. Estas palabras, viniendo de una mujer que estuvo en la guerrilla, que dijo haber sido revolucionaria, orientan el discurso del PT hacia una retórica de orden propia de una derecha más clásica.

–Las movilizaciones en Brasil, a diferencia de las últimas en Europa o EE.UU., no se dan en un momento de crisis o ajuste. Más bien lo contrario: es claramente un momento de desarrollo en términos de inclusión masiva al consumo. ¿Cómo lo interpreta?
–Hay algo muy complejo vinculado al llamado crecimiento. Una gran parte de este aumento de los ingresos por medio de beneficios sociales como el de “Bolsa Familia” ha sido utilizado como método de endeudamiento para los jóvenes pobres. El prototipo podríamos describirlo como un joven de 22 años, sin educación formal, que trabaja de cadete, cuya familia recibe ahora estos subsidios, además de las posibilidades de acceso al microcrédito que el gobierno implementó. ¿Y qué es lo primero que hace este joven? Compra una moto y se endeuda por muchísimos años de su vida con un préstamo muy oneroso con los bancos. Parte fundamental del crecimiento es por este endeudamiento general de las clases populares, especialmente con electrodomésticos. Y no está mal que alguien que no tenía heladera pase a tenerla, todo lo contrario. El problema es que no pasan a tener la heladera sino a ser tenidos por ella, es decir, por la deuda a la que quedan obligados, casi siempre por medio de tarjetas de crédito. En la medida en que ciertos gobiernos de la región se diferencian de las políticas neoliberales tal como se dieron durante los años 90 y promueven un aumento general del consumo, se genera un consenso sobre la legitimidad de estos modelos y cualquier crítica se la clasifica como proveniente de la derecha. En Brasil los que argumentan así son los que llamamos “gobernistas”, es decir, la gente de la antigua izquierda que apoya al gobierno más allá de la medida que se trate porque siempre dicen “otro gobierno sería mucho peor”. Comparado con la Argentina, en Brasil resulta más complicado porque la dictadura no terminó, los militares no han sido juzgados y siguen diciendo públicamente que salvaron al país del comunismo. Y esto, me parece, funciona en acuerdo con el PT: los militares “toleran” que el actual gobierno “de izquierda” gobierne y el gobierno “tolera” que los militares sigan diciendo lo que dicen y no se los juzgue.

–Volviendo a la cuestión del consumo, ¿no cree que cierta crítica al consumo debería plantearse el desafío de deshacerse de toda carga moral?
–Me parece que la democratización en América Latina no llega por el consumo sino por la ampliación de servicios del Estado: salud, transporte, educación. Lo que pasa en Brasil es que el consumo ha sustituido esa provisión de servicios para las clases populares. Entonces, las clases populares en vez de tener más y mejores servicios tienen su crédito para comprar bienes producidos por el gran capital, sea su motocicleta o su heladera. La cuestión es qué resulta más importante: ¿que el gobierno invierta en cloacas, puestos de salud y escuelas o que invierta en liberar de impuestos la compra de autos baratos para que los pobres puedan tener un auto? Se podría responder “las dos cosas” y es una buena cuestión. El hecho a subrayar es que el gobierno brasileño ha invertido masivamente en el consumo mediante el crédito. Y el pedido de mejoramiento de servicios públicos es justamente uno de los reclamos del Movimiento de Passe Livre que inició la ola de manifestaciones. La verdadera inclusión pasa por la inclusión en el acceso a servicios que el Estado tiene la obligación de proveer a todos. Además creo que hay dos tipos diferentes de consumo que hay que distinguir.

–¿Cuáles?
–Por un lado, el consumo de quienes no tenían nada y ahora pueden comprar su tv o su heladera. Nadie puede oponerse. De todas maneras, eso no los convierte en clase media, como dice el gobierno. Pasan de ser pobres a un poco menos pobres. Y después está el consumo inmenso de una clase media-media que pasa a ser una clase media-alta y protagoniza un ascenso de clase verdaderamente consumista: es la gente que va a Miami o a Buenos Aires para llenar valijas con productos importados de marcas de lujo. Esta gente se multiplicó tanto o más que los pobres que acceden a un crédito.

More Corporations Using Tag And Release Programs To Study American Consumers (Onion)

ISSUE 50•23 • Jun 13, 2014

A Procter & Gamble marketing team attaches a tracking collar to an incapacitated head-of-household specimen.

NEW YORK—In an effort to more closely observe the group’s buying habits and personal behaviors, a growing number of corporations are turning to tag and release programs to study American consumers, sources confirmed Friday.

According to reports, multinationals such as Kraft, General Electric, Goodyear, and Apple have embraced the technique of tracking down potential customers in their natural habitats of department stores and supermarkets, forcibly tranquilizing them as they shop, and then fitting them with electronic tracking devices that allow marketing departments to keep a detailed record of individuals’ every movement and purchasing decision.

“In recent weeks, we have employed our tag and release initiative to sedate and earmark consumers in several Costco parking lots and Best Buy television aisles, which has already yielded valuable data from numerous middle-class family units,” said Sony market researcher Nathan McElroy, whose team gathers data on the consumer population by attaching radio-transponder collars to specimens across all age groups and income levels. “Today we subdued and chipped a beautiful white male earning $60,000 annually whose subsequent actions—where he eats, where he works, whether he purchases extended warranties on electronic devices—will give us important insights into his demographic.”

“We’re really starting to get a clear idea of just what sales promotions and big-ticket expenditures make these fascinating creatures tick,” he continued.

Representatives from several Fortune 500 companies described to reporters a delicate process in which marketing associates journey to such varied field sites as Marshalls, OfficeMax, and Bed Bath & Beyond, where they lie in wait behind a row of shopping carts or a promotional cardboard cutout. Once a desirable target moves into view, a member of the marketing team reportedly attempts to immobilize it by firing a tranquilizer dart into its neck or haunches before it can panic and skitter off into another aisle. The unconscious consumer is then fitted with a small, subdermal acoustic tag that is synced to the subject’s credit cards, allowing marketers to both physically and financially track their quarries.

Claiming that every effort is taken to employ humane handling procedures and inflict minimal trauma, marketing associates stressed that consumers always wake up in the same clothing department or mini mall in which they were found, and most obliviously resume their browsing of store shelves within 30 minutes of being sedated.

Researchers affirmed they have become increasingly interested in valuable targets such as college graduates who allot more than $500 per month to discretionary purchases, saying they have become fascinated by the group’s herd-like movements to Panera Bread and IKEA as well as their ritual use of products such as Swiffers and tablets. By monitoring these consumers as they feed, groom, use their rewards cards, and mate, marketers acknowledged they have amassed a tremendous amount of useful knowledge.

“Just last month we collar-tagged a prime specimen of a variety we’d been attempting to capture for a very long time,” said BMW marketing executive Samantha Barlow, referring to a suburban mother in her late 40s who was found gathering bunches of watercress and beet greens at a Whole Foods, where her precise weekly route through the aisles has now been recorded and analyzed. “And we finally have geolocators implanted in several dozen young professionals aged 25 to 35, whose consumption of products such as Stella Artois, Hugo Boss apparel, and designer colognes suggest they’ll provide us with fruitful data for years to come.”

“It’s important that we tag them early in the development of their buying habits,” Barlow added. “Obviously, once they reach 65, they become useless for our purposes and we remove their tags, or just let them chew them off.”

Despite the success of their tracking programs, researchers admitted their work has been hindered by limits in their methodology, noting that they are unable to observe any quantifiable activity from as many as a quarter of their tagged targets who remain sedentary almost around the clock and rarely leave their dens. Marketers noted these larger, slower specimens must often be hit with two or three darts before they can be safely approached.

“A large portion of our targets are fast food consumers, and you’ll lose 10 or 12 percent of those each year, usually to heart disease,” said Jonathan Lockhart, an independent marketing consultant. “You hate to see that, but the upside is that we get useful data we can then turn around and sell to pharmaceutical companies.”

“What’s bad news for Burger King is great news for Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer,” he added.

Brazil’s World Cup Is An Expensive, Exploitative Nightmare (The Daily Beast)

Andre Penner/AP

 05.30.14

Brazilians angry at their government and FIFA could turn this giant soccer tournament into a tipping point. Are these corrupt, elitist spectacles worth it?

The world’s “beautiful game” is about to stage its biggest tournament in the country that is its spiritual home. The realities on the ground in Brazil, however, are far different from how its ringmasters had envisioned. Stadiums haven’t been completed; roads and airports not built. Ten thousand visiting journalists may find themselves unable to make deadlines due to poor Internet and mobile service.

More ominously, there is a rising tide of discontent that threatens to turn the streets into war zones. History may well record the World Cup in Brazil as the tipping point where the costs meant the party just wasn’t worth it anymore.Nao Vai Ter Copa has become a national rallying cry. There Will Be No World Cup. People want bread, not circuses. It’s OK to love the game, but hate the event. The governing body of the game, FIFA, is not amused.

* *

Events like World Cup and the Olympics have become obscenely expensive, with few trickle-down rewards to the citizens who bear the brunt of the costs for the benefit of the few. The people of South America’s largest country were promised the dawn of a new age of prosperity that these mega-events heralded. In a country where corruption is insidious, all-encompassing, and a virus that suffocates all semblance of progress, it is bricks, steel, and mortar that the people see, not new hospitals, schools, or public transport. Even then, Itaquerao stadium, as an example, won’t be ready in time for the opening kickoff in São Paulo on June 12. “Is this what we get for $11 billion?” the people are asking. It is a fair question.

A new type of democracy has sprung up as a result; a unity of thought and expression that is uniquely Brazilian. Citizen collectives with names like Direitos Urbanos (Urban Rights) and the Landless Workers Movement (MTST) were formed to create avenues of options for people who have had to make way forordem e progressothe national motto of Brazil inscribed on the flag. Order and Progress.

U.S. journalist Dave Zirin, in his recent book Brazils Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and Brazils Fight for Democracy, says the three Ds—displacement, debt, and defense—are at the heart of the other Ds—such as discontent and disgust.

“The calls for protest aim to highlight the pain as well as show the world who is behind the curtain, pulling the strings,” he said. “There is a highly sophisticated plan that just as the government’s World Cup plans for Brazil are designed for international consumption, there is also an unprecedented global spotlight. The great journalist Eduardo Galeano once wrote, ‘There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world. Protesters aim to drag FIFA from the shadows and into the light. If they are successful, it will leave a legacy that will last longer than the spectacle itself.’”

During a congressional hearing by Brazil’s tourism and sports commission this year, former FIFA World Player of the Year and 1994 World Cup winner Romario, now a popular politician and member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, was quoted as saying, “We can’t expect anything from FIFA, where we have a blackmailer called [General Secretary Jerome] Valcke and a corrupt thief and son-of-a-bitch called [President Sepp] Blatter.”

* *

Yan Boechat writes for the top news magazine in Brazil, Revista Istoe. Among his previous assignments were stints in war zones like Afghanistan and the Congo. He will be covering the action on the streets during the World Cup.

“A lot of money was spent on construction of things we don’t really need,” Boechat said. “There’s a big stadium in Manaus, a place without a football culture and not even a team in the first or second division. The government removed hundreds of thousands of poor people from their houses to make space for stadiums, roads to lead to them, and other construction projects. Most of these people were sent to places far away from the city centers.”

Photojournalist Ana Lira is from the northeastern city of Recife and a founding member of Urban Rights. She has meticulously documented the bulldozing and burning of poor neighborhoods and the infamous favelas, the shantytowns that dot the hills of Rio and streets of São Paulo.

“So far 27 people have died in the protests, with more than 300 wounded since last year,” she said. “In this number, there are two professional photographers and a journalist who was blinded after being hit in the eye deliberately by the police. They used rubber bullets. Some other professionals were hit or arrested in areas near the protests just because the police wanted someone to pay for the protests.”

“If Brazil does well on the field, then perhaps people will be happy and not protest as much. But if Brazil fails, they will be much larger. There will be violence.”

“We are now seeing a new wave of protesters coming to the streets,” Boechat added. “Teachers, street cleaners, police officers, unions, a movement for affordable housing—all those people are going to be on the streets during the World Cup. They see this as the right moment to fight for their interests. Those groups do not traditionally mix with the anarchists and anti-capitalists.”

This week that number included about 3,000 indigenous peoples in tribal dress, gathering in front of the new stadium in the nation’s capital, Brasilia.

“For whom does our government work?” one of the indigenous leaders, Lindomar Terena, asked the crowd. “Instead of the government standing for the federal constitution and finally ending the demarcation of indigenous lands, it is investing billions in an event that lasts for a month, prioritizing big businesses over ancestral peoples’ rights.”

* *

A new anti-terror law has been rushed through the Brazilian congress to deal with the protesters. It has been nicknamed Bill A1-5, a takeoff on the 1968 AI-5 Act, which gave extraordinary powers to the military junta and suspended key civil and constitutional guarantees for more than 20 years. The implementation of such a law opened old wounds. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was a member of a Marxist revolutionary group after the 1964 military coup d’état in Brazil. She was captured, imprisoned for two years, and reportedly tortured. It is a very important narrative for Brazilians. Her complicity in allowing the World Cup to proceed at the expense of the Brazilian poor is seen as a sellout of the poor to the rich.

* *

At the vanguard of the protests has been the galvanizing effect of social media. Websites like Portal Popular da Copa e das Olympiadas, and by citizen-journalist movements like Midia Ninja,  a Portuguese acronym for “independent narratives, journalism and action,” created to spark disparate movements across the country.

“We’ll be on the streets, covering all political and cultural movements, the passion for football and this new moment of political unrest,” says Rafael Vilela, a founder of the Midia Ninja collective. Their hub is an aggregate of photographs and eyewitness reports taken by hundreds of collectives. The portal will have a system of simultaneous translation in three languages including English.

Midia Ninja and Fora do Eixo (Outside the Axis), a music and cultural collective, have created a community called Cinelandia in downtown Rio, where people can come in, play music, debate, write their blogs, and edit cellphone videos and post them online. There are edit suites mounted on shopping carts, and portable generators to power them. The protests can be seen live on the Internet via Twittercast.

“We’ve managed to do a lot with very few resources except our creativity and collaboration,” says Felipe Altenfelder, a founder of the FDE collective. “Never before has our generation been more prepared in terms of social technology and social knowledge. What we are doing is totally new in Latin America. The various collectives across Brazil have a structure of sharing food, money, even clothes, so even the poorest people can work within our groups and not just survive—but participate in actions against social injustices 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Director Spike Lee has been in Brazil working on a documentary, Go Brazil Go, in which Felipe, Rafael and other members of Midia Ninja figure prominently.

* *

There are 170,000 or more security troops assigned to the World Cup—not to protect the thousands of tourists who will be coming to Brazil to watch the matches, but to quell dissent. Among them are a group of 40 FBI agents, part of an “anti-terror” unit. In January, French riot police were brought in to train their Brazilian counterparts. There are several Israeli drones, the ones used to chase down suspects in the West Bank, as well as 50 robotic bomb-disposal units most recently used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. There are also facial-recognition goggles that police can use to spot 400 faces a second and match them against a database of 13 million. But there won’t be that many tourists, so exactly whom, people want to know, are the police checking? At a cost of nearly $1 billion, the international composition of the security measures is not only a contentious issue among Brazilians, but a cruel irony given FIFA’s mandate of bringing the world together through football.

* *

“If Brazil does well on the field, then perhaps people will be happy and not protest as much,” said Boechat. “But if Brazil loses, there will be big problems and civil unrest. I think the way we play the World Cup will define a lot of things that will happen outside the stadia. We’re going to have protests; that’s for sure. But if Brazil fails, they will be much larger. There will be violence.”

As the Roman emperors knew during the staging of the gladiator games at the Coliseum, so FIFA knows now: The mob must be appeased. Remember when South Korea beat Italy in the 2002 World Cup and the Ecuadorian referee later admitted taking money from South Korean officials? Or the most dubious of all: Argentina’s win over Peru by six goals in the 1978 World Cup, the exact margin required to proceed in the tournament. The chiefs of the military junta had gathered in Buenos Aires to watch and a Peruvian goalkeeper of Argentinian extraction duly had a nightmare evening. Corrupt to the core.

FIFA wants a show, not protests. They know Brazil has to win to keep people quiet. President Rousseff knows that with an election coming up later in the year, her chances of winning would be a lot better with a sixth Brazilian World Cup win.

In the end, there is always the financial aspect of the biggest show on earth. Goldman Sachs strategist Peter Oppenheimer said the company’s analysts have found that, according to past history, the winning country’s equity markets outperform global stocks by 3.5 percent on average in the first month after winning, “although the outperformance fades significantly after three months.”

Brazil will beat Argentina 3-1 in the final after they see off Germany and Spain in their respective semifinals, Goldman analysts including Jan Hatzius and Sven Jari Stehn said in a report. The host nation has a 48.5 percent probability of winning the FIFA tournament, followed by Argentina at 14.1 percent and Germany at 11.4 percent.

These are bankers, not bookies.

A report like this can lead the mind to extreme cynicism about how and why games are determined.

* *

Unlike in the U.S., where soccer is a game of the middle classes, the roots offootball are firmly entrenched in the working-class neighborhoods and slums of places like Buenos Aires, Lagos, Rio, and, at its birth, in the towns and cities of Industrial Revolution-era Britain. The qualities of energy, zest, improvisation and enterprise needed to survive in such environments created a cauldron of bubbling passion for the game. It’s only soccer, but it is also about liberation. Former Manchester United star Eric Cantona was in Rio filming his seventh documentary, which will be screened at the first-ever Amnesty Football Film Festival in the U.K. In an interview with Amnesty in Paris, the always-outspoken Frenchman lamented the possibility of Brazilian football losing its greatest legacy of all.

“I have been in Maracanã [in Rio, site of the final] before, and I loved Maracanã. But now it is just a stadium like the Emirates Stadium [in London] or Stade de France. And they say, ‘It’s a revolution for us, we have to educate the people to sit.’ But they don’t want to sit, they just want to stand up and sing and dance.” Those who want to sing and dance can’t afford to go anymore, he says. But it is a shame because it’s these kinds of fans who created football and it’s these kind of fans who have a child who will play football,” said Cantona. “Because most of the people, most of the players come from poor areas. To be a footballer, you need to train every day when you are a kid, you need to go in the street and play in the street every day.”

So as the clock winds down to the opening kickoff on June 12 when Brazil will play Croatia, there is a profound melancholy that permeates the emotions of soccer fans. We love the game. We love the World Cup. We love the way it was.

I love its drama,” wrote the great Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby, “its smooth playing skills, its carelessly laid rhythms, and the added flavor of contrasting styles. Its great occasions are, for me at any rate, unequalled in the world of sport. I feel a sense of romance, wonder, and mystery, a sense of beauty and a sense of poetry. On such occasions, the game has the timeless, magical qualities of legend.”

Some of my greatest life memories come from the World Cup, but there also comes a time when the massive show, fueled by corporate might, is overshadowed by the engine of social and political change. Brazil was under a military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. Democracy is relatively new. What is beginning to emerge is Brazil at an adolescent stage as part of a national rite of passage. The World Cup may yet precipitate the maturing of a nation. In spite of FIFA’s best efforts to act as a shadow government.

World Bank Revamping Is Rattling Employees (New York Times)

By ANNIE LOWREY

MAY 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — The World Bank, a famously bureaucratic institution, is undergoing its first restructuring in nearly two decades. The overhaul is intended to keep it relevant at a time when even the poorest countries can easily tap the global capital markets, but with just weeks to go, the process has turned into what several staff members described as a nightmare, stalling their work and sapping morale.

In an interview, Jim Yong Kim, the American doctor and former president of Dartmouth College who took over leadership of the bank two years ago, strongly defended his plan. The overarching goal is to break down the bank’s regional “silos,” he explained, which discourage, for instance, experts who are working on mobile banking in sub-Saharan Africa from sharing best practices with experts handling the same issue in Central America.

To tackle that problem, Dr. Kim has created more than a dozen new global practices — on subjects like trade, health and infrastructure. Technical staff based in Washington will be organized into those practice groups as of July 1. “We had to make this change in order to really force the information to flow,” Dr. Kim said.

“We had to make this change in order to really force the information to flow,” said Jim Yong Kim. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Along with that restructuring of 15,000 bank employees, Dr. Kim has also undertaken a sweeping financial review, to squeeze out inefficiencies and cut $400 million from the bank’s operating budget.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to say: Here’s where the revenue’s coming from” and where the spending is going, Dr. Kim said. “For the first time, we’re going to be able to compare expenditures.”

Current and former staff members said they agreed that change needed to come to the World Bank. “The bank is losing its relevance in middle-income countries,” said Uri Dadush, the director of the international economics program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, referring to countries like India, China and Brazil.

“These countries don’t need a $1 billion or $2 billion loan from the bank,” Mr. Dadush said. “And many of the countries now have a lot of indigenous capacity to analyze and make technical decisions” without assistance from World Bank experts, he added.

Dr. Kim pointed out that the bank had recently doubled its lending capacity for middle-income countries.

The complaints from the bank’s core staff in Washington, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation, started piling up almost as soon as Dr. Kim initiated the reorganization. And over time, more and more of those complaints have been directed at Dr. Kim personally.

“This is not the way you run a change program,” said Paul Cadario, who worked at the bank for more than three decades. “No vision. No communications mechanism. No indication when it’s all going to be over.”

That turmoil has created what some people inside the World Bank described as a toxic environment. In not-for-attribution interviews, midlevel officials voiced concerns about such moves as restrictions on travel expenses even as hordes of highly paid McKinsey and Booz Allen consultants roamed the halls — and Dr. Kim was accused of hypocrisy for his own expenditures.

“The staff are clearly unhappy,” said Nancy Birdsall, the president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based research group. “There’s been a loss of confidence, not necessarily in the idea of the reorganization, but in the process.”

Yet even some World Bank staff members said that employees’ own sense of entitlement, and the fact that the bank had not undergone such a major internal review in nearly two decades, also explained some of the negative reaction.

In part, employees said they were concerned about personnel decisions. Four dozen executives have had to apply for new jobs. Last year, three highly regarded female executives were also unceremoniously pushed from their positions, which angered many other women at the bank.

Others said they were unimpressed with the executives named to lead the global-practices teams. “They’re good people, they might be great people,” said one bank official. “But they’re not top-quality people. These aren’t big names.”

Moreover, the global-practices leaders did not include any people from Africa or East Asia, arguably the bank’s two most important client regions. When African governors of the bank objected, Dr. Kim sent a letter to reply, if not to apologize.

“Thank you for our meeting yesterday,” it said. “I apologize for having had to leave so quickly; I had a meeting scheduled immediately after our session. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate to you my personal commitment to diversity and specifically the inclusion of Africans among all ranks of staff at the World Bank Group.”

Another central concern is that the restructuring has taken up too much time, distracting the bank’s workers, rattling relations with clients and leading to risk aversion. “People are desperately trying to justify themselves and veering away from projects that might raise questions,” a staff member said.

But Dr. Kim pointed out that the bank was on track to do more business this year than it did last year; during earlier restructurings, parts of the bank’s business shrank. High-level bank employees also stressed that Dr. Kim had instituted regular review processes that would reduce the need for such stark reorganizations in the future.

Pettier concerns have abounded, too. As part of the $400 million cost-cutting exercise, the bank issued new guidelines on travel, limiting business-class flights and even adjusting breakfast allowances. “Leadership needs to reflect: Are ‘breakfast savings’ worth the ‘expense’ of staff morale?” said one letter in a popular alumni newsletter.

Perhaps no change caused more outrage than the elimination of parking subsidies for the crowded and expensive downtown garages where many officials park. Yet “to subsidize parking is a little weird for an organization like us,” countered Bertrand Badré, the bank’s chief financial officer, pointing out that the bank is committed to combating climate change.

Many complaints, serious and frivolous, have also questioned Dr. Kim’s management — especially concerns about his lack of communication with rank-and-file employees and perceptions of his overspending when asking the rest of the bank to cut back.

A much-discussed Financial Times editorial rebuked him for his use of private planes. One other popular rumor had Dr. Kim purchasing a tuxedo and charging the World Bank for it.

A press officer responded that Dr. Kim had taken chartered planes only to otherwise inaccessible destinations, and that he had used them less frequently than past presidents. (More than 90 percent of his travel is commercial, the spokesman said.) And the tuxedo story is just a story, he said: Dr. Kim had purchased white-tie wear for a Nobel Prize event, but he paid for the clothes himself.

Dr. Kim said that he did think he could have communicated about the restructuring process more clearly, and sooner. “I’ve been told this a million times by people who have gone through this,” he said. “It’s this notion that you can never communicate enough.” He added: “If I were to give anyone else advice, it would be to overcommunicate from the beginning.”

For all the complaints, many others involved with the bank and its lending policies said they supported the reorganization. “Let’s keep the mission of the bank in mind,” said Ian Solomon, a former World Bank executive director. “This is not about whether people in Washington are comfortable, or whether the process is simple. Development is hard. There’s a lot more we don’t know about getting it right than we do know.”

He added: “I applaud Jim for taking this one on.”

The Obama administration, which effectively named Dr. Kim to his post, also threw its weight behind the reorganization. “The United States is confident that the World Bank’s restructuring addresses the changing development challenges of the 21st century and will better equip the bank to meet its global mission,” said Marisa Lago, the assistant Treasury secretary for international markets and development. “Implementation and execution are key to this process.”

And Dr. Kim himself said that he believed the bank’s staff would see dividends after July 1. “I think it’s going better than I could have imagined two years ago,” he said.

Setor privado é essencial para adaptação às mudanças climáticas (Fapesp)

Para Laura Canevari, da Acclimatise, engajar empresas em discussões sobre o tema significa criar uma economia resiliente, assegurar empregos e desenvolvimento. Para isso, no entanto, cientistas devem traduzir conceitos em experiências reais (foto:Rogério Lima)

28/05/2014

Por Karina Toledo, de Fortaleza

Agência FAPESP – As mudanças climáticas são uma realidade cada vez mais difícil de ser ignorada e à humanidade resta adaptar-se para reduzir seu grau de vulnerabilidade. Diante dessa necessidade premente, cientistas têm se esforçado para engajar os formuladores de políticas públicas nas discussões sobre o tema. No entanto, pouca atenção é dada a um importante ator da sociedade: o setor privado.

A análise foi feita pela colombiana Laura Canevari, consultora em adaptação às mudanças climáticas, durante a conferência internacional Adaptation Futures 2014, ocorrida entre 12 e 16 de maio em Fortaleza. Formada em Ciências Marinhas, com mestrado em Manejo de Mudanças Climáticas pela University of Oxford, no Reino Unido, Canevari já atuou como militante, defendendo a necessidade de adaptação das zonas costeiras contra a elevação do nível do mar.

Atualmente, trabalha para a Acclimatise, empresa britânica que presta assistência técnica a instituições governamentais e empresas privadas no entendimento de riscos relacionados às mudanças climáticas e ajuda a identificar soluções de adaptação viáveis.

Na avaliação de Canevari, o setor público tem o importante papel de regulamentar e criar um ambiente adequado para que ações de adaptação aconteçam, mas é o setor privado que vai colocá-las em prática. A fim de engajar as empresas na empreitada, porém, os cientistas terão de adaptar sua linguagem e traduzir os conceitos científicos em experiências reais do cotidiano.

Leia abaixo trechos da entrevista concedida por ela à Agência FAPESP.

Agência FAPESP – Qual é a sua formação e área de atuação na Acclimatise? 
Laura Canevari – Sou formada em Ciências Marinhas e fiz mestrado em Manejo de Mudanças Climáticas na University of Oxford, no Reino Unido. Antes de começar a trabalhar na Acclimatise eu era uma grande defensora da necessidade de adaptação da zona costeira contra a elevação do nível do mar.

Agência FAPESP – Vocês trabalham mais com o setor público ou o privado?
Canevari – Inicialmente nosso foco era o setor privado, mas temos nos voltado mais ao setor público, pois as negociações internacionais estão mais focadas em adaptação e os governos estão mais preocupados com as mudanças climáticas. Recentemente, ajudamos a elaborar o Plano Nacional de Adaptação do Quênia, por exemplo. Ajudamos a desenvolver a estratégia de adaptação das cidades de Londres e Leeds [ambas no Reino Unido], Moscou e outras cinco na Rússia. Muitas vezes, o que fazemos para os governos é fomentar a capacidade institucional, ajudar a identificar lacunas e necessidades em nível institucional. Se um país quer começar a pensar em mudanças climáticas, quais são as coisas que as instituições têm de ser capazes de lidar, como coordenar informação entre diferentes ministérios, como coletar e armazenar informações, como usar serviços meteorológicos para obter dados precisos sobre mudanças climáticas. Atuamos em diferentes setores, como energia, transporte, varejo e cadeias de abastecimento.

Agência FAPESP – Em sua palestra você afirmou que a academia, no que se refere às discussões sobre adaptação às mudanças climáticas, está muito focada no setor público e deveria prestar mais atenção ao setor privado. Por que pensa assim? 
Canevari – Não penso que devemos parar de investir tempo e energia no setor público. Ele é importante, pois permite regular as ações de adaptação às mudanças climáticas necessárias e criar o suporte e o ambiente favorável para que elas aconteçam. Mas não deveríamos olhar para o setor público como o implementador dessas medidas. Quem realmente vai colocar em prática as soluções de adaptação é o setor privado. O setor público deve permitir às empresas investir mais seguramente nesse tipo de tópico. Não é a primeira vez que falo da necessidade de os acadêmicos mudarem sua mentalidade sobre quais são os mais importantes setores da sociedade com quem temos de dialogar. Mas nós, cientistas, tendemos a ficar em nossas zonas de conforto, onde falamos todos a mesma linguagem e lidamos com os problemas da mesma forma. E dialogar com o setor privado requer uma mudança no discurso sobre as questões climáticas. Falamos do ponto de vista de políticas públicas e com uma mentalidade acadêmica e isso não vai funcionar. Precisamos mudar a forma como concebemos os problemas e as soluções.

Agência FAPESP – Como os cientistas conseguirão o engajamento do setor privado? 
Canevari – Primeiro, precisamos reconhecer que esse é um importante ator, pois isso nos fará ter curiosidade sobre como ele pensa. Os acadêmicos costumam ficar muito fechados na academia, mas viram rapidamente a necessidade de disseminar a informação para os governos. Fizeram, então, o esforço de compreender o que ressoa com a governança para discutir questões que vêm da ciência e transformá-las em políticas públicas. Mas os acadêmicos precisam entender que o setor privado tem diferentes formas de conceber riscos e lidar com eles. Para um homem de negócios, lidar com riscos significa a continuidade de sua produção. Então falar sobre a continuidade do negócio é uma forma de abordar questões de adaptação sem usar esse termo. É preciso traduzir a linguagem. Falamos muito aqui sobre o cenário de “4 graus Celsius” [de elevação da temperatura terrestre até 2100] e parece que todos entendemos o que isso significa sob um ponto de vista ambiental. Mas o que os 4 graus Celsius significam para uma empresa? Nós fizemos uma análise de risco para um porto na Colômbia na qual olhamos o impacto do aumento das temperaturas na performance do maquinário que retira a carga dos barcos e leva para o estoque. Essas máquinas são sensíveis ao estresse térmico e não trabalham tão bem com muito calor. Em vez de ir para o setor privado e dizer: “Há uma ameaça de subir 4 graus Celsius”, devemos dizer que os maquinários vão começar a trabalhar de forma mais lenta e não serão tão eficientes em realizar o trabalho e isso vai afetar os lucros. No fim das contas, é preciso abordar a questão do lucro e de como a mudança climática vai afetar a performance empresarial. Outro ponto de muito apelo para as empresas é: como conseguirão manter sua licença social e ambiental para operar. Se a força de trabalho atua ao ar livre e há uma alta incidência de estresse térmico, há um risco de segurança ocupacional. A empresa pode perder a habilidade de operar em uma determinada área se não se preocupar em avaliar como o estresse térmico provocado pela elevação de temperatura afetará seus empregados. É um trabalho de transformar conceitos em experiências reais do cotidiano.

Agência FAPESP – Se é tudo uma questão de lucros, por que é importante estimular o setor privado a se adaptar? 
Canevari – Porque se trata de construir uma economia resiliente. Precisamos parar de ignorar o setor privado, pois ele é parte importante das comunidades e oferece empregos, bens e serviços. Quando pensamos nos fatores que determinam o bem-estar das sociedades, temos as políticas públicas que criam regulamentações, códigos de conduta para as pessoas interagirem umas com as outras de formas não agressivas, garantem liberdade de expressão, democracia, etc. Esses são componentes importantes, mas os produtos e serviços que as pessoas desejam adquirir também são. As pessoas também desejam estar empregadas, pois é uma forma de conseguir reconhecimento na sociedade. Não é apenas pelo dinheiro em si, mas porque você assume um papel social quando tem um emprego. Por outro lado, o setor privado tem o dinheiro e o potencial de investir em atividades que podem ter implicações que vão além da própria organização.

Agência FAPESP – Já é possível perceber ações de adaptação no setor privado?
Canevari – Há dois tipos de empresas que estão liderando ações de adaptação. No primeiro, estão as empresas que fizeram grandes investimentos em estruturas de longa duração, como petrolíferas, empresas de energia e portos. São companhias que esperam que aquelas instalações durem 30 ou 40 anos. Nesse tipo de empresa também costuma haver muita pressão dos stakeholders e da sociedade, que espera padrões elevados em termos ambientais e sociais. Do segundo tipo fazem parte as empresas que estão se adaptando e que são as sensíveis a fatores climáticos, como as que produzem ou comercializam bens agrícolas e empresas que dependem fortemente de água. São empresas que já sentem fortemente os impactos das mudanças no clima e respondem a eles como forma de sobreviver, pois, se não melhorarem seus padrões de eficiência no uso de energia e água, poderão ter conflitos com a comunidade em que estão inseridas e com a mídia. Mas não há muita coisa sendo feita na América Latina, o que é uma pena, pois há grandes oportunidades em países como o Brasil, onde é possível começar da maneira correta. Muitos novos investimentos em infraestrutura podem ser feitos à prova do clima. É muito mais barato do que fazer a adaptação depois que já estiver pronto. Temos uma oportunidade que os países desenvolvidos já perderam, que é começar na direção certa. Temos experiências e aprendizados de outros países, sabemos o que vale a pena fazer, então é só colocar em prática.

Agência FAPESP – Há quem diga que foi o próprio setor privado o responsável pelas mudanças climáticas.
Canevari – Podemos dizer que o setor privado é responsável pela maior parte das emissões de gases-estufa e a mudança climática é basicamente causada por eles. Mas estamos falando de apenas cerca de 20 grandes empresas, responsáveis por mais de 80% das emissões. A maioria é da área de óleo e gás, mineração e agricultura. Então, estamos falamos de um pequeno número de empresas em oposição a uma enorme gama de outras companhias que compõem o setor privado. Há uma enorme diversidade. Por que também não estamos culpando os governos por não criarem as regulamentações apropriadas para essas empresas? Muitos governos reduzem a rigidez de sua regulamentação para atrair essas empresas poluidoras. Penso que os governos também são responsáveis por permitir que essas empresas atuem como bem entendem. A empresa age de acordo com os seus interesses. Cabe ao governo regular essas atividades e garantir que estejam dentro de limites aceitáveis.

Eduardo Galeano Disavows His Book ‘The Open Veins’ (New York Times)

For more than 40 years, Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America” has been the canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text in that region. Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s populist president, even put a copy of the book, which he had called “a monument in our Latin American history,” in President Obama’s hands the first time they met. But now Mr. Galeano, a 73-year-old Uruguayan writer, has disavowed the book, saying that he was not qualified to tackle the subject and that it was badly written. Predictably, his remarks have set off a vigorous regional debate, with the right doing some “we told you so” gloating, and the left clinging to a dogged defensiveness.

“ ‘Open Veins’ tried to be a book of political economy, but I didn’t yet have the necessary training or preparation,” Mr. Galeano said last month while answering questions at a book fair in Brazil, where he was being honored on the 43rd anniversary of the book’s publication. He added: “I wouldn’t be capable of reading this book again; I’d keel over. For me, this prose of the traditional left is extremely leaden, and my physique can’t tolerate it.”

Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, handing President Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America” in 2009. CreditMatthew Cavanaugh/European Pressphoto Agency

 

“The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” was written at the dawn of the 1970s, a decade when much of Latin America was governed by repressive right-wing military dictatorships supported by the United States. In this 300-page cri de coeur, Mr. Galeano argued that the riches that first attracted European colonizers, like gold and sugar, gave rise to a system of exploitation that led inexorably to “the contemporary structure of plunder” that he held responsible for Latin America’s chronic poverty and underdevelopment.

Mr. Galeano, whose work includes soccer commentary, poetry, cartoons and histories like “Memory of Fire,” wrote in “Open Veins”: “I know I can be accused of sacrilege in writing about political economy in the style of a novel about love or pirates. But I confess I get a pain from reading valuable works by certain sociologists, political experts, economists and historians who write in code.”

“Open Veins” has been translated into more than a dozen languages and has sold more than a million copies. In its heyday, its influence extended throughout what was then called the third world, including Africa and Asia, until the economic rise of China and India and Brazil seemed to undercut parts of its thesis.

In the United States, “Open Veins” has been widely taught on university campuses since the 1970s, in courses ranging from history and anthropology to economics and geography. But Mr. Galeano’s unexpected takedown of his own work has left scholars wondering how to deal with the book in class.

“If I were teaching this in a course,” said Merilee Grindle, president of the Latin American Studies Association and director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard, “I would take his comments, add them in and use them to generate a far more interesting discussion about how we see and interpret events at different points in time.” And that seems to be exactly what many professors plan to do.

Caroline S. Conzelman, a cultural anthropologist who teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said her first thought was that she wouldn’t change how she used the book, “because it still captures the essence of the emotional memory of being colonized.” But now, she said: “I will have them read what he says about it. It’s good for students to see that writers can think critically about their own work and go back and revise what they meant.”

Michael Yates, the editorial director of Monthly Review Press, Mr. Galeano’s American publisher, dismissed the entire discussion as “nothing but a tempest in a teapot.” “Open Veins” is Monthly Review’s best-selling book — it surged, if briefly, into Amazon’s Top 10 list within hours of Mr. Obama’s receiving a copy — and Mr. Yates said he saw no reason to make any changes: “Please! The book is an entity independent of the writer and anything he might think now.”

Precisely why Mr. Galeano chose to renounce his book now is unclear. Through his American agent, Susan Bergholz, he declined to elaborate. She said he had gradually grown “horrified by the prose and the phraseology” of “Open Veins.”

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, in 2012. CreditSergio Goya/dpa-Corbis

 

Mr. Yates said Mr. Galeano might simply be following in the tracks of the novelist John Dos Passos, a radical as a young man “who became a conservative when he got older.” On Spanish- and Portuguese-language websites, others have suggested that Mr. Galeano, who in recent years has had both a heart attack and cancer, might simply be off his game intellectually.

In his remarks in Brazil, Mr. Galeano acknowledged that the left sometimes “commits grave errors” when it is in power, which has been taken in Latin America as a criticism of Cuba under the Castro brothers and of the erratic stewardship of Venezuela under Mr. Chávez, who died last year. But Mr. Galeano described himself as still very much a man of the left, and on other occasions he has praised the experiments in social democracy underway for the last decade in his own country, as well as in Brazil and Chile.

“Reality has changed a lot, and I have changed a lot,” he said in Brazil, adding: “Reality is much more complex precisely because the human condition is diverse. Some political sectors close to me thought such diversity was a heresy. Even today, there are some survivors of this type who think that all diversity is a threat. Fortunately, it is not.”

Still, Mr. Galeano has caught many admirers by surprise, including the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, who wrote a foreword for the English-language edition of “Open Veins.” In it, she describes how she “devoured” the book as a young woman “with such emotion that I had to read it again a couple more times to absorb all its meaning” and took it into exile after Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power.

“I had dinner with him less than a year ago, and to me, he was the same man, passionate and talkative and interesting and funny,” she said of Mr. Galeano in a telephone interview from California, where she now lives. “He may have changed, and I didn’t notice it, but I don’t think so.”

In the mid-1990s, three advocates of free-market policies — the Colombian writer and diplomat Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, the exiled Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner and the Peruvian journalist and author Álvaro Vargas Llosa — reacted to Mr. Galeano with a polemic of their own, “Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot.” They dismissed “Open Veins” as “the idiot’s bible,” and reduced its thesis to a single sentence: “We’re poor; it’s their fault.”

Mr. Montaner responded to Mr. Galeano’s recent remarks with a blog post titled “Galeano Corrects Himself and the Idiots Lose Their Bible.” In Brazil,Rodrigo Constantino, the author of “The Caviar Left,” took an even harsher tone, blaming Mr. Galeano’s analysis and prescription for many of Latin America’s ills. “He should feel really guilty for the damage he caused,” he wrote on his blog.

But Mr. Galeano continues to have defenders. In a discussion on the website of the Spanish newspaper El País, one participant noted that in a world dominated by Apple, Samsung, Siemens, Panasonic, Sony and Airbus, Mr. Galeano’s lament that “the goddess of technology does not speak Spanish” seems even more prescient than in 1971.

And on his Facebook page, Camilo Egaña, a Cuban émigré who is the host of “Mirador Mundial” on CNN en Español, remembered meeting Mr. Galeano in Havana in the 1980s and hearing him tell a story about a man taking his son to the ocean for the first time. “In the face of that interminable blue, the child said to the man, ‘Daddy, help me to see,’ ” Mr. Egaña recalled.

“That is what Galeano has done with his book, 43 years after it having been published,” Mr. Egaña concluded. “Thank you.”

Crazy Climate Economics (New York Times)

MAY 11, 2014

Paul Krugman

Everywhere you look these days, you see Marxism on the rise. Well, O.K., maybe you don’t — but conservatives do. If you so much as mention income inequality, you’ll be denounced as the second coming of Joseph Stalin; Rick Santorum has declared that any use of the word “class” is “Marxism talk.” In the right’s eyes, sinister motives lurk everywhere — for example, George Will says the only reason progressives favor trains is their goal of “diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”

So it goes without saying that Obamacare, based on ideas originally developed at the Heritage Foundation, is a Marxist scheme — why, requiring that people purchase insurance is practically the same as sending them to gulags.

And just wait until the Environmental Protection Agency announces rules intended to slow the pace of climate change.

Until now, the right’s climate craziness has mainly been focused on attacking the science. And it has been quite a spectacle: At this point almost all card-carrying conservatives endorse the view that climate change is a gigantic hoax, that thousands of research papers showing a warming planet — 97 percent of the literature — are the product of a vast international conspiracy. But as the Obama administration moves toward actually doing something based on that science, crazy climate economics will come into its own.

You can already get a taste of what’s coming in the dissenting opinions from a recent Supreme Court ruling on power-plant pollution. A majority of the justices agreed that the E.P.A. has the right to regulate smog from coal-fired power plants, which drifts across state lines. But Justice Scalia didn’t just dissent; he suggested that the E.P.A.’s proposed rule — which would tie the size of required smog reductions to cost — reflected the Marxist concept of “from each according to his ability.” Taking cost into consideration is Marxist? Who knew?

And you can just imagine what will happen when the E.P.A., buoyed by the smog ruling, moves on to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

What do I mean by crazy climate economics?

First, we’ll see any effort to limit pollution denounced as a tyrannical act. Pollution wasn’t always a deeply partisan issue: Economists in the George W. Bush administration wrote paeans to “market based” pollution controls, and in 2008 John McCain made proposals for cap-and-trade limits on greenhouse gases part of his presidential campaign. But when House Democrats actually passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, it was attacked as, you guessed it, Marxist. And these days Republicans come out in force to oppose even the most obviously needed regulations, like the plan to reduce the pollution that’s killing Chesapeake Bay.

Second, we’ll see claims that any effort to limit emissions will have what Senator Marco Rubio is already calling “a devastating impact on our economy.”

Why is this crazy? Normally, conservatives extol the magic of markets and the adaptability of the private sector, which is supposedly able to transcend with ease any constraints posed by, say, limited supplies of natural resources. But as soon as anyone proposes adding a few limits to reflect environmental issues — such as a cap on carbon emissions — those all-capable corporations supposedly lose any ability to cope with change.

Now, the rules the E.P.A. is likely to impose won’t give the private sector as much flexibility as it would have had in dealing with an economywide carbon cap or emissions tax. But Republicans have only themselves to blame: Their scorched-earth opposition to any kind of climate policy has left executive action by the White House as the only route forward.

Furthermore, it turns out that focusing climate policy on coal-fired power plants isn’t bad as a first step. Such plants aren’t the only source of greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re a large part of the problem — and the best estimates we have of the path forward suggest that reducing power-plant emissions will be a large part of any solution.

What about the argument that unilateral U.S. action won’t work, because China is the real problem? It’s true that we’re no longer No. 1 in greenhouse gases — but we’re still a strong No. 2. Furthermore, U.S. action on climate is a necessary first step toward a broader international agreement, which will surely include sanctions on countries that don’t participate.

So the coming firestorm over new power-plant regulations won’t be a genuine debate — just as there isn’t a genuine debate about climate science. Instead, the airwaves will be filled with conspiracy theories and wild claims about costs, all of which should be ignored. Climate policy may finally be getting somewhere; let’s not let crazy climate economics get in the way.

Why We’re in a New Gilded Age (The New York Review of Books)

Paul Krugman

MAY 8, 2014 ISSUE

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 685 pp., $39.95

 

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Thomas Piketty in his office at the Paris School of Economics, 2013. Emmanuelle Marchadour

Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics, isn’t a household name, although that may change with the English-language publication of his magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Yet his influence runs deep. It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France.

The result has been a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality. Before this revolution, most discussions of economic disparity more or less ignored the very rich. Some economists (not to mention politicians) tried to shout down any mention of inequality at all: “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution,” declared Robert Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago, the most influential macroeconomist of his generation, in 2004. But even those willing to discuss inequality generally focused on the gap between the poor or the working class and the merely well-off, not the truly rich—on college graduates whose wage gains outpaced those of less-educated workers, or on the comparative good fortune of the top fifth of the population compared with the bottom four fifths, not on the rapidly rising incomes of executives and bankers.

It therefore came as a revelation when Piketty and his colleagues showed that incomes of the now famous “one percent,” and of even narrower groups, are actually the big story in rising inequality. And this discovery came with a second revelation: talk of a second Gilded Age, which might have seemed like hyperbole, was nothing of the kind. In America in particular the share of national income going to the top one percent has followed a great U-shaped arc. Before World War I the one percent received around a fifth of total income in both Britain and the United States. By 1950 that share had been cut by more than half. But since 1980 the one percent has seen its income share surge again—and in the United States it’s back to what it was a century ago.

Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the nineteenth century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

It’s a remarkable claim—and precisely because it’s so remarkable, it needs to be examined carefully and critically. Before I get into that, however, let me say right away that Piketty has written a truly superb book. It’s a work that melds grand historical sweep—when was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?—with painstaking data analysis. And even though Piketty mocks the economics profession for its “childish passion for mathematics,” underlying his discussion is a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.

1.

What do we know about economic inequality, and about when do we know it? Until the Piketty revolution swept through the field, most of what we knew about income and wealth inequality came from surveys, in which randomly chosen households are asked to fill in a questionnaire, and their answers are tallied up to produce a statistical portrait of the whole. The international gold standard for such surveys is the annual survey conducted once a year by the Census Bureau. The Federal Reserve also conducts a triennial survey of the distribution of wealth.

These two surveys are an essential guide to the changing shape of American society. Among other things, they have long pointed to a dramatic shift in the process of US economic growth, one that started around 1980. Before then, families at all levels saw their incomes grow more or less in tandem with the growth of the economy as a whole. After 1980, however, the lion’s share of gains went to the top end of the income distribution, with families in the bottom half lagging far behind.

Historically, other countries haven’t been equally good at keeping track of who gets what; but this situation has improved over time, in large part thanks to the efforts of the Luxembourg Income Study (with which I will soon be affiliated). And the growing availability of survey data that can be compared across nations has led to further important insights. In particular, we now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly to government action. European nations in general have highly unequal incomes from market activity, just like the United States, although possibly not to the same extent. But they do far more redistribution through taxes and transfers than America does, leading to much less inequality in disposable incomes.

Yet for all their usefulness, survey data have important limitations. They tend to undercount or miss entirely the income that accrues to the handful of individuals at the very top of the income scale. They also have limited historical depth. Even US survey data only take us to 1947.

Enter Piketty and his colleagues, who have turned to an entirely different source of information: tax records. This isn’t a new idea. Indeed, early analyses of income distribution relied on tax data because they had little else to go on. Piketty et al. have, however, found ways to merge tax data with other sources to produce information that crucially complements survey evidence. In particular, tax data tell us a great deal about the elite. And tax-based estimates can reach much further into the past: the United States has had an income tax since 1913, Britain since 1909. France, thanks to elaborate estate tax collection and record-keeping, has wealth data reaching back to the late eighteenth century.

Exploiting these data isn’t simple. But by using all the tricks of the trade, plus some educated guesswork, Piketty is able to produce a summary of the fall and rise of extreme inequality over the course of the past century. It looks like Table 1 on this page.

As I said, describing our current era as a new Gilded Age or Belle Époque isn’t hyperbole; it’s the simple truth. But how did this happen?

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2.

Piketty throws down the intellectual gauntlet right away, with his book’s very title:Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Are economists still allowed to talk like that?

It’s not just the obvious allusion to Marx that makes this title so startling. By invoking capital right from the beginning, Piketty breaks ranks with most modern discussions of inequality, and hearkens back to an older tradition.

The general presumption of most inequality researchers has been that earned income, usually salaries, is where all the action is, and that income from capital is neither important nor interesting. Piketty shows, however, that even today income from capital, not earnings, predominates at the top of the income distribution. He also shows that in the past—during Europe’s Belle Époque and, to a lesser extent, America’s Gilded Age—unequal ownership of assets, not unequal pay, was the prime driver of income disparities. And he argues that we’re on our way back to that kind of society. Nor is this casual speculation on his part. For all that Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a work of principled empiricism, it is very much driven by a theoretical frame that attempts to unify discussion of economic growth and the distribution of both income and wealth. Basically, Piketty sees economic history as the story of a race between capital accumulation and other factors driving growth, mainly population growth and technological progress.

To be sure, this is a race that can have no permanent victor: over the very long run, the stock of capital and total income must grow at roughly the same rate. But one side or the other can pull ahead for decades at a time. On the eve of World War I, Europe had accumulated capital worth six or seven times national income. Over the next four decades, however, a combination of physical destruction and the diversion of savings into war efforts cut that ratio in half. Capital accumulation resumed after World War II, but this was a period of spectacular economic growth—the Trente Glorieuses, or “Glorious Thirty” years; so the ratio of capital to income remained low. Since the 1970s, however, slowing growth has meant a rising capital ratio, so capital and wealth have been trending steadily back toward Belle Époque levels. And this accumulation of capital, says Piketty, will eventually recreate Belle Époque–style inequality unless opposed by progressive taxation.

Why? It’s all about r versus g—the rate of return on capital versus the rate of economic growth.

Just about all economic models tell us that if g falls—which it has since 1970, a decline that is likely to continue due to slower growth in the working-age population and slower technological progress—r will fall too. But Piketty asserts that r will fall less than g. This doesn’t have to be true. However, if it’s sufficiently easy to replace workers with machines—if, to use the technical jargon, the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor is greater than one—slow growth, and the resulting rise in the ratio of capital to income, will indeed widen the gap between r and g. And Piketty argues that this is what the historical record shows will happen.

If he’s right, one immediate consequence will be a redistribution of income away from labor and toward holders of capital. The conventional wisdom has long been that we needn’t worry about that happening, that the shares of capital and labor respectively in total income are highly stable over time. Over the very long run, however, this hasn’t been true. In Britain, for example, capital’s share of income—whether in the form of corporate profits, dividends, rents, or sales of property, for example—fell from around 40 percent before World War I to barely 20 percent circa 1970, and has since bounced roughly halfway back. The historical arc is less clear-cut in the United States, but here, too, there is a redistribution in favor of capital underway. Notably, corporate profits have soared since the financial crisis began, while wages—including the wages of the highly educated—have stagnated.

A rising share of capital, in turn, directly increases inequality, because ownership of capital is always much more unequally distributed than labor income. But the effects don’t stop there, because when the rate of return on capital greatly exceeds the rate of economic growth, “the past tends to devour the future”: society inexorably tends toward dominance by inherited wealth.

Consider how this worked in Belle Époque Europe. At the time, owners of capital could expect to earn 4–5 percent on their investments, with minimal taxation; meanwhile economic growth was only around one percent. So wealthy individuals could easily reinvest enough of their income to ensure that their wealth and hence their incomes were growing faster than the economy, reinforcing their economic dominance, even while skimming enough off to live lives of great luxury.

And what happened when these wealthy individuals died? They passed their wealth on—again, with minimal taxation—to their heirs. Money passed on to the next generation accounted for 20 to 25 percent of annual income; the great bulk of wealth, around 90 percent, was inherited rather than saved out of earned income. And this inherited wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very small minority: in 1910 the richest one percent controlled 60 percent of the wealth in France; in Britain, 70 percent.

No wonder, then, that nineteenth-century novelists were obsessed with inheritance. Piketty discusses at length the lecture that the scoundrel Vautrin gives to Rastignac in Balzac’s Père Goriot, whose gist is that a most successful career could not possibly deliver more than a fraction of the wealth Rastignac could acquire at a stroke by marrying a rich man’s daughter. And it turns out that Vautrin was right: being in the top one percent of nineteenth-century heirs and simply living off your inherited wealth gave you around two and a half times the standard of living you could achieve by clawing your way into the top one percent of paid workers.

You might be tempted to say that modern society is nothing like that. In fact, however, both capital income and inherited wealth, though less important than they were in the Belle Époque, are still powerful drivers of inequality—and their importance is growing. In France, Piketty shows, the inherited share of total wealth dropped sharply during the era of wars and postwar fast growth; circa 1970 it was less than 50 percent. But it’s now back up to 70 percent, and rising. Correspondingly, there has been a fall and then a rise in the importance of inheritance in conferring elite status: the living standard of the top one percent of heirs fell below that of the top one percent of earners between 1910 and 1950, but began rising again after 1970. It’s not all the way back to Rasti-gnac levels, but once again it’s generally more valuable to have the right parents (or to marry into having the right in-laws) than to have the right job.

And this may only be the beginning. Figure 1 on this page shows Piketty’s estimates of global r and g over the long haul, suggesting that the era of equalization now lies behind us, and that the conditions are now ripe for the reestablishment of patrimonial capitalism.

krugman_3-050814

Given this picture, why does inherited wealth play as small a part in today’s public discourse as it does? Piketty suggests that the very size of inherited fortunes in a way makes them invisible: “Wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence, so that some people imagine that it belongs to surreal or mysterious entities.” This is a very good point. But it’s surely not the whole explanation. For the fact is that the most conspicuous example of soaring inequality in today’s world—the rise of the very rich one percent in the Anglo-Saxon world, especially the United States—doesn’t have all that much to do with capital accumulation, at least so far. It has more to do with remarkably high compensation and incomes.

3.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is, as I hope I’ve made clear, an awesome work. At a time when the concentration of wealth and income in the hands of a few has resurfaced as a central political issue, Piketty doesn’t just offer invaluable documentation of what is happening, with unmatched historical depth. He also offers what amounts to a unified field theory of inequality, one that integrates economic growth, the distribution of income between capital and labor, and the distribution of wealth and income among individuals into a single frame.

And yet there is one thing that slightly detracts from the achievement—a sort of intellectual sleight of hand, albeit one that doesn’t actually involve any deception or malfeasance on Piketty’s part. Still, here it is: the main reason there has been a hankering for a book like this is the rise, not just of the one percent, but specifically of the American one percent. Yet that rise, it turns out, has happened for reasons that lie beyond the scope of Piketty’s grand thesis.

Piketty is, of course, too good and too honest an economist to try to gloss over inconvenient facts. “US inequality in 2010,” he declares, “is quantitatively as extreme as in old Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century, but the structure of that inequality is rather clearly different.” Indeed, what we have seen in America and are starting to see elsewhere is something “radically new”—the rise of “supersalaries.”

Capital still matters; at the very highest reaches of society, income from capital still exceeds income from wages, salaries, and bonuses. Piketty estimates that the increased inequality of capital income accounts for about a third of the overall rise in US inequality. But wage income at the top has also surged. Real wages for most US workers have increased little if at all since the early 1970s, but wages for the top one percent of earners have risen 165 percent, and wages for the top 0.1 percent have risen 362 percent. If Rastignac were alive today, Vautrin might concede that he could in fact do as well by becoming a hedge fund manager as he could by marrying wealth.

What explains this dramatic rise in earnings inequality, with the lion’s share of the gains going to people at the very top? Some US economists suggest that it’s driven by changes in technology. In a famous 1981 paper titled “The Economics of Superstars,” the Chicago economist Sherwin Rosen argued that modern communications technology, by extending the reach of talented individuals, was creating winner-take-all markets in which a handful of exceptional individuals reap huge rewards, even if they’re only modestly better at what they do than far less well paid rivals.

Piketty is unconvinced. As he notes, conservative economists love to talk about the high pay of performers of one kind or another, such as movie and sports stars, as a way of suggesting that high incomes really are deserved. But such people actually make up only a tiny fraction of the earnings elite. What one finds instead is mainly executives of one sort or another—people whose performance is, in fact, quite hard to assess or give a monetary value to.

Who determines what a corporate CEO is worth? Well, there’s normally a compensation committee, appointed by the CEO himself. In effect, Piketty argues, high-level executives set their own pay, constrained by social norms rather than any sort of market discipline. And he attributes skyrocketing pay at the top to an erosion of these norms. In effect, he attributes soaring wage incomes at the top to social and political rather than strictly economic forces.

Now, to be fair, he then advances a possible economic analysis of changing norms, arguing that falling tax rates for the rich have in effect emboldened the earnings elite. When a top manager could expect to keep only a small fraction of the income he might get by flouting social norms and extracting a very large salary, he might have decided that the opprobrium wasn’t worth it. Cut his marginal tax rate drastically, and he may behave differently. And as more and more of the supersalaried flout the norms, the norms themselves will change.

There’s a lot to be said for this diagnosis, but it clearly lacks the rigor and universality of Piketty’s analysis of the distribution of and returns to wealth. Also, I don’t thinkCapital in the Twenty-First Century adequately answers the most telling criticism of the executive power hypothesis: the concentration of very high incomes in finance, where performance actually can, after a fashion, be evaluated. I didn’t mention hedge fund managers idly: such people are paid based on their ability to attract clients and achieve investment returns. You can question the social value of modern finance, but the Gordon Gekkos out there are clearly good at something, and their rise can’t be attributed solely to power relations, although I guess you could argue that willingness to engage in morally dubious wheeling and dealing, like willingness to flout pay norms, is encouraged by low marginal tax rates.

Overall, I’m more or less persuaded by Piketty’s explanation of the surge in wage inequality, though his failure to include deregulation is a significant disappointment. But as I said, his analysis here lacks the rigor of his capital analysis, not to mention its sheer, exhilarating intellectual elegance.

Yet we shouldn’t overreact to this. Even if the surge in US inequality to date has been driven mainly by wage income, capital has nonetheless been significant too. And in any case, the story looking forward is likely to be quite different. The current generation of the very rich in America may consist largely of executives rather than rentiers, people who live off accumulated capital, but these executives have heirs. And America two decades from now could be a rentier-dominated society even more unequal than Belle Époque Europe.

But this doesn’t have to happen.

4.

At times, Piketty almost seems to offer a deterministic view of history, in which everything flows from the rates of population growth and technological progress. In reality, however, Capital in the Twenty-First Century makes it clear that public policy can make an enormous difference, that even if the underlying economic conditions point toward extreme inequality, what Piketty calls “a drift toward oligarchy” can be halted and even reversed if the body politic so chooses.

The key point is that when we make the crucial comparison between the rate of return on wealth and the rate of economic growth, what matters is the after-tax return on wealth. So progressive taxation—in particular taxation of wealth and inheritance—can be a powerful force limiting inequality. Indeed, Piketty concludes his masterwork with a plea for just such a form of taxation. Unfortunately, the history covered in his own book does not encourage optimism.

It’s true that during much of the twentieth century strongly progressive taxation did indeed help reduce the concentration of income and wealth, and you might imagine that high taxation at the top is the natural political outcome when democracy confronts high inequality. Piketty, however, rejects this conclusion; the triumph of progressive taxation during the twentieth century, he contends, was “an ephemeral product of chaos.” Absent the wars and upheavals of Europe’s modern Thirty Years’ War, he suggests, nothing of the kind would have happened.

As evidence, he offers the example of France’s Third Republic. The Republic’s official ideology was highly egalitarian. Yet wealth and income were nearly as concentrated, economic privilege almost as dominated by inheritance, as they were in the aristocratic constitutional monarchy across the English Channel. And public policy did almost nothing to oppose the economic domination by rentiers: estate taxes, in particular, were almost laughably low.

Why didn’t the universally enfranchised citizens of France vote in politicians who would take on the rentier class? Well, then as now great wealth purchased great influence—not just over policies, but over public discourse. Upton Sinclair famously declared that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Piketty, looking at his own nation’s history, arrives at a similar observation: “The experience of France in the Belle Époque proves, if proof were needed, that no hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interest.”

The same phenomenon is visible today. In fact, a curious aspect of the American scene is that the politics of inequality seem if anything to be running ahead of the reality. As we’ve seen, at this point the US economic elite owes its status mainly to wages rather than capital income. Nonetheless, conservative economic rhetoric already emphasizes and celebrates capital rather than labor—“job creators,” not workers.

In 2012 Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, chose to mark Labor Day—Labor Day!—with a tweet honoring business owners:

Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.

Perhaps chastened by the reaction, he reportedly felt the need to remind his colleagues at a subsequent GOP retreat that most people don’t own their own businesses—but this in itself shows how thoroughly the party identifies itself with capital to the virtual exclusion of labor.

Nor is this orientation toward capital just rhetorical. Tax burdens on high-income Americans have fallen across the board since the 1970s, but the biggest reductions have come on capital income—including a sharp fall in corporate taxes, which indirectly benefits stockholders—and inheritance. Sometimes it seems as if a substantial part of our political class is actively working to restore Piketty’s patrimonial capitalism. And if you look at the sources of political donations, many of which come from wealthy families, this possibility is a lot less outlandish than it might seem.

Piketty ends Capital in the Twenty-First Century with a call to arms—a call, in particular, for wealth taxes, global if possible, to restrain the growing power of inherited wealth. It’s easy to be cynical about the prospects for anything of the kind. But surely Piketty’s masterly diagnosis of where we are and where we’re heading makes such a thing considerably more likely. So Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an extremely important book on all fronts. Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to.

O futuro de nosso planeta depende de 58 pessoas (IPS)

28/4/2014 – 11h23

por Roberto Savio, da IPS

RSavio0976 O futuro de nosso planeta depende de 58 pessoas

Roma, Itália, abril/2014 – Embora para muitos tenha passado inadvertidamente, o Grupo Intergovernamental de Especialistas sobre Mudança Climática (IPCC) publicou, no dia 13 de abril, a terceira e última parte de um informe no qual adverte sem rodeios que temos apenas 15 anos para evitar ultrapassar a barreira de um aquecimento global de dois graus. Além disso, as consequências serão dramáticas.

Somente os mais míopes não tomam consciência do que se trata: aumento do nível do mar, furacões e tempestades mais frequentes e um impacto adverso na produção de alimentos.

Em um mundo normal e participativo, no qual 83% das pessoas que vivem hoje ainda existirão dentro de 15 anos, esse informe teria provocado uma reação dramática.

Entretanto, não houve um único comentário dos líderes dos 196 países nos quais habitam os 7,5 bilhões de “consumidores” do planeta.

Os antropólogos que estudam as semelhanças e diferenças entre os seres humanos e outros animais há um bom tempo chegaram à conclusão de que a humanidade não é superior em todos os aspectos.

Por exemplo, o ser humano é menos adaptável à sobrevivência do que muitos animais em casos de terremotos, furacões e outros desastres naturais. A esta altura, eles devem manifestar sintomas de alerta e mal-estar.

O primeiro volume desse informe do IPCC, divulgado em setembro de 2013 em Estocolmo, estabelece que os humanos são a causa principal do aquecimento global, enquanto a segunda parte, apresentada em Yokohama no dia 31 de março, afirma que “nas últimas décadas as mudanças climáticas causaram impactos nos sistemas naturais e humanos em todos os continentes e em todos os oceanos”.

O IPCC é formado por mais de dois mil cientistas de todo o mundo e essa é a primeira vez que chega a firmes conclusões finais desde sua criação pelas Nações Unidas, em 1988. A principal conclusão é que, para deter a corrida rumo a um ponto sem volta, as emissões globais devem cair entre 40% e 70% antes de 2050.

O informe adverte que “só as grandes mudanças institucionais e tecnológicas darão uma oportunidade superior a 50%” para o aquecimento global não ultrapassar o limite de segurança, e acrescenta que as medidas devem começar, no mais tardar, em 15 anos, completando-se em 35.

Vale a pena assinalar que dois terços da humanidade têm menos de 21 anos e em grande parte são eles que terão que suportar os enormes custos da luta contra a mudança climática.

A principal recomendação do IPCC é muito simples: as principais economias devem fixar um imposto sobre a contaminação com dióxido de carbono, elevando o custo dos combustíveis fósseis, para impulsionar o mercado de fontes de energias limpas, como a eólica, solar ou nuclear.

Dez países são causadores de 70% do total da contaminação mundial de gases-estufa, sendo que Estados Unidos e China respondem por 55% desse total.

Ambos estão tomando medidas sérias para combater a contaminação.

O presidente norte-americano, Barack Obama, tentou em vão obter o beneplácito do Senado e teve que exercer sua autoridade sob a Lei de Ar Limpo de 1970 para reduzir a contaminação de carbono dos veículos e instalações industriais, estimulando as tecnologias limpas. Mas não pode fazer mais nada sem apoio do Senado.

O todo poderoso presidente da China, Xi Jinping, considera prioritário o ambiente, em parte porque fontes oficiais estimam em cinco milhões anuais o número de mortes nesse país em razão da contaminação.

Mas a China precisa de carvão para seu crescimento, e a postura de Xi é: “por que deveríamos frear nosso desenvolvimento, quando os países ricos que criaram o problema atual querem que tomemos medidas que atrasam nosso crescimento?”.

Dessa forma, cria-se um círculo vicioso. Os países do Sul querem que as nações ricas financiem seus custos de redução da contaminação e os do Norte querem que esses deixem de contaminar e assumam seus próprios custos.

Como resultado, o resumo do informe, que destina-se aos governantes, foi despojado das premissas que poderiam dar a entender a necessidade de o Sul fazer mais, enquanto os países ricos pressionaram para evitar uma linguagem que pudesse ser interpretada como a necessidade de eles assumirem as obrigações financeiras.

Isso deveria facilitar um compromisso brando na próxima Conferência das Nações Unidas sobre Mudança Climática, em Lima, onde se deveria alcançar um novo acordo global (lembremos o desastre da conferência de Copenhague, em 2009).

A chave de qualquer acordo está nas mãos dos Estados Unidos. O Congresso desse país bloqueia toda iniciativa sobre o controle climático, proporcionando uma saída fácil para China, Índia e o resto dos contaminadores: “por que devemos assumir compromissos e sacrifícios se os Estados Unidos não participam?”.

O problema é que os republicanos converteram a mudança climática em uma de suas bandeiras de identidade. A última vez que se propôs um imposto sobre o carbono, em 2009, depois de um voto positivo na Câmara de Representantes, controlada pelos democratas, o Senado, dominado pelos republicanos, o rejeitou.

Nas eleições de 2010, uma série de políticos que votaram a favor do imposto sobre carbono perderam suas cadeiras, o que contribuiu para que os republicanos assumissem o controle da Câmara.

Agora, a única esperança para os que querem uma mudança é aguardar as eleições de 2016 e esperar que o novo presidente norte-americano seja capaz de mudar a situação. Esse é um bom exemplo do que os gregos antigos diziam: que a esperança é a última deusa…

O quadro é muito simples. O Senado dos Estados Unidos tem cem integrantes, o que significa que bastam 51 votos para liquidar qualquer projeto de lei de imposto sobre os combustíveis fosseis.

Na China, a situação é diferente. Na melhor das hipóteses, as decisões são tomadas pelo Comitê Permanente do Comitê Central, formado por sete membros, que são o verdadeiro poder no Partido Comunista.

Em outras palavras, o futuro de nosso planeta é decidido por 58 pessoas de uma população de quase 7,7 bilhões de habitantes. Envolverde/IPS

Roberto Savio é fundador e presidente emérito da agência de notícias Inter Press Service (IPS) e editor do Other News.

(IPS)

The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External (The Nation)

The climate crisis has such bad timing, confronting it not only requires a new economy but a new way of thinking.

Naomi Klein

April 21, 2014

(Reuters/China Daily)

This is a story about bad timing.

One of the most disturbing ways that climate change is already playing out is through what ecologists call “mismatch” or “mistiming.” This is the process whereby warming causes animals to fall out of step with a critical food source, particularly at breeding times, when a failure to find enough food can lead to rapid population losses.

The migration patterns of many songbird species, for instance, have evolved over millennia so that eggs hatch precisely when food sources such as caterpillars are at their most abundant, providing parents with ample nourishment for their hungry young. But because spring now often arrives early, the caterpillars are hatching earlier too, which means that in some areas they are less plentiful when the chicks hatch, threatening a number of health and fertility impacts. Similarly, in West Greenland, caribou are arriving at their calving grounds only to find themselves out of sync with the forage plants they have relied on for thousands of years, now growing earlier thanks to rising temperatures. That is leaving female caribou with less energy for lactation, reproduction and feeding their young, a mismatch that has been linked to sharp decreases in calf births and survival rates.

Scientists are studying cases of climate-related mistiming among dozens of species, from Arctic terns to pied flycatchers. But there is one important species they are missing—us. Homosapiens. We too are suffering from a terrible case of climate-related mistiming, albeit in a cultural-historical, rather than a biological, sense. Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go ’80s, the blastoff point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate changeis a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

This deeply unfortunate mistiming has created all sorts of barriers to our ability to respond effectively to this crisis. It has meant that corporate power was ascendant at the very moment when we needed to exert unprecedented controls over corporate behavior in order to protect life on earth. It has meant that regulation was a dirty word just when we needed those powers most. It has meant that we are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions, just when they most need to be fortified and reimagined. And it has meant that we are saddled with an apparatus of “free trade” deals that tie the hands of policy-makers just when they need maximum flexibility to achieve a massive energy transition.

Confronting these various structural barriers to the next economy is the critical work of any serious climate movement. But it’s not the only task at hand. We also have to confront how the mismatch between climate change and market domination has created barriers within our very selves, making it harder to look at this most pressing of humanitarian crises with anything more than furtive, terrified glances. Because of the way our daily lives have been altered by both market and technological triumphalism, we lack many of the observational tools necessary to convince ourselves that climate change is real—let alone the confidence to believe that a different way of living is possible.

And little wonder: just when we needed to gather, our public sphere was disintegrating; just when we needed to consume less, consumerism took over virtually every aspect of our lives; just when we needed to slow down and notice, we sped up; and just when we needed longer time horizons, we were able to see only the immediate present.

This is our climate change mismatch, and it affects not just our species, but potentially every other species on the planet as well.

The good news is that, unlike reindeer and songbirds, we humans are blessed with the capacity for advanced reasoning and therefore the ability to adapt more deliberately—to change old patterns of behavior with remarkable speed. If the ideas that rule our culture are stopping us from saving ourselves, then it is within our power to change those ideas. But before that can happen, we first need to understand the nature of our personal climate mismatch.

› Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know.Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy—a hybrid instead of an SUV, some carbon offsets when we get on a plane. At its core, it is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less.

The problem is not “human nature,” as we are so often told. We weren’t born having to shop this much, and we have, in our recent past, been just as happy (in many cases happier) consuming far less. The problem is the inflated role that consumption has come to play in our particular era.

Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival.

› Climate change is slow, and we are fast. When you are racing through a rural landscape on a bullet train, it looks as if everything you are passing is standing still: people, tractors, cars on country roads. They aren’t, of course. They are moving, but at a speed so slow compared with the train that they appear static.

So it is with climate change. Our culture, powered by fossil fuels, is that bullet train, hurtling forward toward the next quarterly report, the next election cycle, the next bit of diversion or piece of personal validation via our smartphones and tablets. Our changing climate is like the landscape out the window: from our racy vantage point, it can appear static, but it is moving, its slow progress measured in receding ice sheets, swelling waters and incremental temperature rises. If left unchecked, climate change will most certainly speed up enough to capture our fractured attention—island nations wiped off the map, and city-drowning superstorms, tend to do that. But by then, it may be too late for our actions to make a difference, because the era of tipping points will likely have begun.

› Climate change is place-based, and we are everywhere at once. The problem is not just that we are moving too quickly. It is also that the terrain on which the changes are taking place is intensely local: an early blooming of a particular flower, an unusually thin layer of ice on a lake, the late arrival of a migratory bird. Noticing those kinds of subtle changes requires an intimate connection to a specific ecosystem. That kind of communion happens only when we know a place deeply, not just as scenery but also as sustenance, and when local knowledge is passed on with a sense of sacred trust from one generation to the next.

But that is increasingly rare in the urbanized, industrialized world. We tend to abandon our homes lightly—for a new job, a new school, a new love. And as we do so, we are severed from whatever knowledge of place we managed to accumulate at the previous stop, as well as from the knowledge amassed by our ancestors (who, at least in my case, migrated repeatedly themselves).

Even for those of us who manage to stay put, our daily existence can be disconnected from the physical places where we live. Shielded from the elements as we are in our climate-controlled homes, workplaces and cars, the changes unfolding in the natural world easily pass us by. We might have no idea that a historic drought is destroying the crops on the farms that surround our urban homes, since the supermarkets still display miniature mountains of imported produce, with more coming in by truck all day. It takes something huge—like a hurricane that passes all previous high-water marks, or a flood destroying thousands of homes—for us to notice that something is truly amiss. And even then we have trouble holding on to that knowledge for long, since we are quickly ushered along to the next crisis before these truths have a chance to sink in.

Climate change, meanwhile, is busily adding to the ranks of the rootless every day, as natural disasters, failed crops, starving livestock and climate-fueled ethnic conflicts force yet more people to leave their ancestral homes. And with every human migration, more crucial connections to specific places are lost, leaving yet fewer people to listen closely to the land.

› Climate pollutants are invisible, and we have stopped believing in what we cannot see.When BP’s Macondo well ruptured in 2010, releasing torrents of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the things we heard from company CEO Tony Hayward was that “the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” The statement was widely ridiculed at the time, and rightly so, but Hayward was merely voicing one of our culture’s most cherished beliefs: that what we can’t see won’t hurt us and, indeed, barely exists.

So much of our economy relies on the assumption that there is always an “away” into which we can throw our waste. There’s the away where our garbage goes when it is taken from the curb, and the away where our waste goes when it is flushed down the drain. There’s the away where the minerals and metals that make up our goods are extracted, and the away where those raw materials are turned into finished products. But the lesson of the BP spill, in the words of ecological theorist Timothy Morton, is that ours is “a world in which there is no ‘away.’”

When I published No Logo a decade and a half ago, readers were shocked to learn of the abusive conditions under which their clothing and gadgets were manufactured. But we have since learned to live with it—not to condone it, exactly, but to be in a state of constant forgetfulness. Ours is an economy of ghosts, of deliberate blindness.

Air is the ultimate unseen, and the greenhouse gases that warm it are our most elusive ghosts. Philosopher David Abram points out that for most of human history, it was precisely this unseen quality that gave the air its power and commanded our respect. “Called Sila, the wind-mind of the world, by the Inuit; Nilch’i, or Holy Wind, by the Navajo; Ruach, or rushing-spirit, by the ancient Hebrews,” the atmosphere was “the most mysterious and sacred dimension of life.” But in our time, “we rarely acknowledge the atmosphere as it swirls between two persons.” Having forgotten the air, Abram writes, we have made it our sewer, “the perfect dump site for the unwanted by-products of our industries…. Even the most opaque, acrid smoke billowing out of the pipes will dissipate and disperse, always and ultimately dissolving into the invisible. It’s gone. Out of sight, out of mind.”

* * *

Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognizing that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for a home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.”

That’s good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand.

Read more of The Nation’s special #MyClimateToo coverage:

Mark Hertsgaard: Why TheNation.com Today Is All About Climate
Christopher Hayes: The New Abolitionism
Dani McClain: The ‘Environmentalists’ Who Scapegoat Immigrants and Women on Climate Change
Mychal Denzel Smith: Racial and Environmental Justice Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Earth Day’s Founding Father
Wen Stephenson: Let This Earth Day Be The Last
Katha Pollitt: Climate Change is the Tragedy of the Global Commons
Michelle Goldberg: Fighting Despair to Fight Climate Change
George Zornick: We’re the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Cheap Date
Dan Zegart: Want to Stop Climate Change? Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court
Jeremy Brecher: ‘Jobs vs. the Environment’: How to Counter the Divisive Big Lie
Jon Wiener: Elizabeth Kolbert on Species Extinction and Climate Change
Dave Zirin: Brazil’s World Cup Will Kick the Environment in the Teeth
Steven Hsieh: People of Color Are Already Getting Hit the Hardest by Climate Change
John Nichols: If Rick Weiland Can Say “No” to Keystone, So Can Barack Obama
Michelle Chen: Where Have All the Green Jobs Gone?
Peter Rothberg: Why I’m Not Totally Bummed Out This Earth Day
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Taking On Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) (New York Times)

By STEVEN ERLANGER

APRIL 19, 2014

PARIS — Thomas Piketty turned 18 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, so he was spared the tortured, decades-long French intellectual debate about the virtues and vices of communism. Even more telling, he remembers, was a trip he took with a close friend to Romania in early 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

“This sort of vaccinated me for life against lazy, anticapitalist rhetoric, because when you see these empty shops, you see these people queuing for nothing in the street,” he said, “it became clear to me that we need private property and market institutions, not just for economic efficiency but for personal freedom.”

But his disenchantment with communism doesn’t mean that Mr. Piketty has turned his back on the intellectual heritage of Karl Marx, who sought to explain the “iron laws” of capitalism. Like Marx, he is fiercely critical of the economic and social inequalities that untrammeled capitalism produces — and, he concludes, will continue to worsen. “I belong to a generation that never had any temptation with the Communist Party; I was too young for that,” Mr. Piketty said, in a long interview in his small, airless office here at the Paris School of Economics. “So it’s easier in a way to reopen these big issues about capitalism and inequality with a fresh eye, because I was too young for that fight. I don’t have to justify myself as being pro-communist or pro-capitalist.”

In his new book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (Harvard University Press), Mr. Piketty, 42, has written a blockbuster, at least in the world of economics. His book punctures earlier assumptions about the benevolence of advanced capitalism and forecasts sharply increasing inequality of wealth in industrialized countries, with deep and deleterious impact on democratic values of justice and fairness.

Branko Milanovic, a former economist at the World Bank, called it “one of the watershed books in economic thinking.” Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel in economic science and a columnist for The New York Times, wrote that it “will be the most important economics book of the year — and maybe of the decade.” Remarkably for a book on such a weighty topic, it has already entered The New York Times’s best-seller list.

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” with its title echoing Marx’s “Das Kapital,” is meant to be a return to the kind of economic history, of political economy, written by predecessors like Marx and Adam Smith. It is nothing less than a broad effort to understand Western societies and the economic rules that underpin them. And in the process, by debunking the idea that “wealth raises all boats,” Mr. Piketty has thrown down a challenge to democratic governments to deal with an increasing gap between the rich and the poor — the very theme of inequality that recently moved both Pope Francis and President Obama to warn of its consequences.

Mr. Piketty — pronounced pee-ket-ee — grew up in a political home, with left-wing parents who were part of the 1968 demonstrations that turned traditional France upside down. Later, they went off to the Aude, deep in southern France, to raise goats. His parents are not a topic he wants to discuss. More relevant and important, he said, are his generation’s “founding experiences”: the collapse of Communism, the economic degradation of Eastern Europe and the first Gulf War, in 1991.

Those events motivated him to try to understand a world where economic ideas had such bad consequences. As for the Gulf War, it showed him that “governments can do a lot in terms of redistribution of wealth when they want.” The rapid intervention to force Saddam Hussein to unhand Kuwait and its oil was a remarkable show of concerted political will, Mr. Piketty said. “If we are able to send one million troops to Kuwait in a few months to return the oil, presumably we can do something about tax havens.”

Would he want to send troops to Guernsey, the lightly populated tax haven in the English Channel? Mr. Piketty, soft-spoken, barely laughed. “We don’t even have to do that — just simple basic trade policy, trade sanctions, would do the trick right away,” he said.

A top student, Mr. Piketty took a conventional path toward the French elite, being admitted to the rarefied École Normale Supérieure at 18. His doctoral dissertation on the theory of redistribution of wealth, completed at 22, won prizes. He then decamped to teach economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning two years later to France, disappointed with the study of economics in America.

“My Ph.D. is mostly about pure economic theory because that was the easiest thing to do, and I was hired at M.I.T. as a young assistant professor doing economic theory,” he said. “I was young and successful at doing this, so it was an easy way. But very quickly I realized that there was little serious effort at collecting historical data on income and wealth, so that’s what I started doing.”

Academic economics is so focused on getting the econometrics and the statistical interpolation technique correct, he said, “you don’t really think, you don’t dare to ask the big questions.” American economists too often narrow the questions they examine to those they can answer, “but sometimes the questions are not that interesting,” he said. “Trying to write a real book that could speak to everyone meant I could not choose my questions. I had to take the important issues in a frontal manner — I could not escape.”

He hated the insularity of the economics department. So he decided to write large, a book he considers as much history as economics, and one that is constructed to lead the general reader by the hand.

He is also not afraid of literature, finding inspiration in the descriptions of society in the realist novels of Jane Austen and Balzac. Wealth was best achieved in these stories through a clever marriage; everyone knew that inherited land and capital was the only way to live well, since labor alone would not produce sufficient income. He wondered how that assumption had changed.

As he extended his work on France to the United States in collaboration with Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, he saw that the patterns of the early 20th century — “the top 10 percent of the distribution was full of rental income, dividend income, interest income” — seemed less prevalent from the 1970s through the early 1990s.

“It took me a long time to realize that in effect we were returning slowly in the direction of the previous equilibrium, and that we were part of a long transitory process,” he said. When he started working on the issue in the late 1990s, “there was no way this could be understood so clearly — having 20 additional years of data makes a big difference to understanding the postwar period.”

His findings, aided by the power of modern computers, are based on centuries of statistics on wealth accumulation and economic growth in advanced industrial countries. They are also rather simply stated: The rate of growth of income from capital is several times larger than the rate of economic growth, meaning a comparatively shrinking share going to income earned from wages, which rarely increase faster than overall economic activity. Inequality surges when population and the economy grow slowly.

Mr. Piketty’s work is a challenge both to Marxism and laissez-faire economics. The book’s core finding, based on centuries of data, is that the rate of growth of income from capital is several times larger than the rate of economic growth, meaning a shrinking share going to income earned from wages. CreditEd Alcock for The New York Times

The reason that postwar economies looked different — that inequality fell — was historical catastrophe. World War I, the Depression and World War II destroyed huge accumulations of private capital, especially in Europe. What the French call “les trentes glorieuses” — the roughly 30 postwar years of rapid economic growth and shrinking inequality — were a rebound. The American curve, of course, is less sharp, given that the fighting was elsewhere.

A higher than normal rate of population and economic growth helped reduce inequality, along with higher taxes on the wealthy. But the professional and political assumption of the 1950s and 1960s, that inequality would stabilize and diminish on its own, proved to be an illusion. We are now back to a traditional pattern of returns on capital of 4 percent to 5 percent a year and rates of economic growth of around 1.5 percent a year.

So inequality has been quickly gathering pace, aided to some degree by the Reagan and Thatcher doctrines of tax cuts for the wealthy. “Trickle-down economics could have been true,” Mr. Piketty said simply. “It just happened to be wrong.”

His work is a challenge both to Marxism and laissez-faire economics, which “both count on pure economic forces for harmony or justice to prevail,” he said. While Marx presumed that the rate of return on capital, because of the system’s contradictions, would fall close to zero, bringing collapse and revolution, Mr. Piketty is saying the opposite. “The rate of return to capital can be bigger than the growth rate forever — this is actually what we’ve had for most of human history, and there are good reasons to believe we will have it in the future.”

In 2012 the top 1 percent of American households collected 22.5 percent of the nation’s income, the highest total since 1928. The richest 10 percent of Americans now take a larger slice of the pie than in 1913, at the close of the Gilded Age, owning more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth. And half of that is owned by the top 1 percent.

Mr. Piketty, father of three daughters — 11, 13 and 16 — is no revolutionary. He is a member of no political party, and says he never served as an economic adviser to any politician. He calls himself a pragmatist, who simply follows the data.

But he accepts that his work is essentially political, and he is highly critical of the huge management salaries now in vogue, saying that “the idea that you need people making 10 million in compensation to work is pure ideology.”

Inequality by itself is acceptable, he says, to the extent it spurs individual initiative and wealth-generation that, with the aid of progressive taxation and other measures, helps makes everyone in society better off. “I have no problem with inequality as long as it is in the common interest,” he said.

But like the Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, he argues that extreme inequality “threatens our democratic institutions.” Democracy is not just one citizen, one vote, but a promise of equal opportunity.

“It’s very difficult to make a democratic system work when you have such extreme inequality” in income, he said, “and such extreme inequality in terms of political influence and the production of knowledge and information. One of the big lessons of the 20th century is that we don’t need 19th-century inequality to grow.” But that’s just where the capitalist world is heading again, he concludes.

Mr. Saez, his collaborator, said that “Thomas combines great perfectionism with great impatience — he both wants to do things well and do things fast.” He added that Mr. Piketty has “incredible intuition for economics.”

The last part of the book presents Mr. Piketty’s policy ideas. He favors a progressive global tax on real wealth (minus debt), with the proceeds not handed to inefficient governments but redistributed to those with less capital. “We just want a way to share the tax burden that is fair and practical,” he said.

Net wealth is a better indicator of ability to pay than income alone, he said. “All I’m proposing is to reduce the property tax on half or three-quarters of the population who have very little wealth,” he said.

Published a year ago in French, the book is not without critics, especially of Mr. Piketty’s policy prescriptions, which have been called politically naïve. Others point out that some of the increase in capital is because of aging populations and postwar pension plans, which are not necessarily inherited.

More criticism is sure to come, and Mr. Piketty says he welcomes it. “I’m certainly looking forward to the debate.”

Economist Receives Rock Star Treatment (New York Times)

But those halls of power are where Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old professor at the Paris School of Economics, has been singing his song of late.

Since touching down in Washington this week to promote his new book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” Mr. Piketty has met with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, given a talk to President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and lectured at the International Monetary Fund, before flying to New York for an appearance at the United Nations, a sold-out public discussion with the Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and meetings with media outlets ranging from The Harvard Business Review to New York Magazine to The Nation.

The response from  fellow economists, so far mainly from the liberal side of the spectrum, has verged on the rapturous. Mr. Krugman,  a columnist for The New York Times, predicted in The New York Review of Books that Mr. Piketty’s book would “change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.”

Thomas Piketty at one of his New York talks this week. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

But through all the accolades, Mr. Piketty seems to be maintaining a most un-rock-star-like modesty, brushing away comparisons to Tocqueville and Marx with an embarrassed grimace and a Gallic puff of the lips.

“It makes very little sense: How can you compare?” he said on Thursday between gulps of yogurt during a break in his packed schedule — before going on to list the 19th-century data sets that Marx neglected to draw on in “Das Kapital,” his 1867 magnum opus.

“If Marx had looked at them, it would have made him think a bit more,” he said. “When I started collecting data, I had no idea where it would go.”

Mr. Piketty’s dedication to data has long made him a star among economists, who credit hiswork on income inequality (with Emmanuel Saez and others) for diving deep into seemingly dull tax archives to bring an unprecedented historical perspective to the subject.

But “Capital in the 21st Century,” which analyzes more than two centuries of data on the even murkier topic of accumulated wealth, has elicited a response of an entirely different order. Months before its originally scheduled April publication, it was generating intense discussion on blogs, prompting Harvard University Press to push the release forward to mid-February.

Since then, it has hit the New York Times best-seller list, and sold some 46,000 copies (hardback and e-book) — a stratospheric number for a nearly 700-page scholarly tome dotted with charts and graphs (as well as references to Balzac, Jane Austen and “Titanic”).

And not all those readers are economists. Six years after the financial crisis, “people are looking for a bible of sorts,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor of the history of capitalism at the New School, who appeared on a panel with Mr. Piketty at New York University on Thursday. “He’s speaking to a real feeling out there that things haven’t been fixed, that we need to take stock, that we need big ideas, big proposals, big global solutions.”

Mr. Piketty’s book on sale after he spoke Wednesday at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Those big ideas, and the hunger for them, were on ample display at N.Y.U., where the standing-room crowd was treated to Mr. Piketty’s apology for having written such a long book, followed by a breakneck PowerPoint presentation of its main arguments, illustrated with striking charts.

At the book’s center is Mr. Piketty’s contention — contrary to the influential theory developed by Simon Kuznets in the 1950s and ’60s — that mature capitalist economies do not inevitably evolve toward greater economic equality. Instead, Mr. Piketty contends, the data reveals a deeper historical tendency for the rate of return on capital to outstrip the overall rate of economic growth, leading to greater and greater concentrations of wealth at the very top.

Despite this inevitable-seeming drift toward “patrimonial capitalism” that his charts seemed to show, Mr. Piketty rejected any economic determinism. “It all depends on what the political system decides,” he said.

Such statements, along with Mr. Piketty’s proposal for a progressive wealth tax and income tax rates up to 80 percent, have aroused strong interest among those eager to recapture the momentum of the Occupy movement. The Nation ran a nearly 10,000-word cover article placing his book within a rising tide of neo-Marxist thought, while National Review Online dismissed itas confirmation of the left’s “dearest ‘Das Kapital’ fantasies.”

But Mr. Piketty, who writes in the book that the collapse of Communism in 1989 left him “vaccinated for life” against the “lazy rhetoric of anticapitalism,” is no Marxian revolutionary. “I believe in private property,” he said in the interview. “But capitalism and markets should be the slave of democracy and not the opposite.”

Even if he doesn’t expect his policy proposals to find favor in Washington anytime soon, Mr. Piketty called his meetings there gratifying. Mr. Lew, he said, seemed to have read parts of the book carefully. A member of the Council on Economic Advisers corrected a small error concerning Balzac’s novel “Le Père Goriot,” which includes a discussion of getting ahead through advantageous marriage rather than hard work. “I was impressed,” Mr. Piketty said.

His book, however, ends not with an appeal to policy makers, but with a call for all citizens to “take a serious interest in money, its measurement, the facts surrounding it and its history.”

“It’s too easy for ordinary people to just say, ‘I don’t know anything about economics,’ ” he said, before rushing to his next appearance. “But economics is not just for economists.”

Brasil tem metade das mortes de ativistas ambientais no mundo (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4936, de 17 de abril de 2014

Segundo levantamento divulgado pela organização Global Witness, de 908 assassinatos, 448 ocorreram no Brasil. Apenas 1% dos casos resultou em condenação; relatório denuncia a ‘cultura endêmica da impunidade’

O extrativista José Cláudio Ribeiro, a religiosa americana Dorothy Stang e o biólogo espanhol Gonzalo Alonso Hernández têm algo em comum. Os três ativistas foram assassinados no Brasil, palco de suas campanhas a favor da conservação do meio ambiente. Eles figuram numa relação divulgada ontem pela ONG Global Witness, que lista 908 ambientalistas executados, entre 2002 e 2013, em 35 países. Quase metade dos casos, 448 mortes, ocorreu em território brasileiro.

No relatório “Deadly Environment” (ou “Ambiente mortal”), a ONG acusa o país de não monitorar redes criminosas atuantes na Amazônia e em outros ecossistemas, subestimar os conflitos de terra e negligenciar assistência a famílias ameaçadas por proprietários de terra e madeireiros. O Brasil é o Estado mais perigoso para a defesa do direito à terra e ao meio ambiente, seguido por Honduras, com 109 assassinatos, e Filipinas (67).

O ano mais crítico foi 2012, quando ocorreram 147 mortes de ativistas em todo o mundo, três vezes mais do que dez anos antes. No dia 22 de junho, o mesmo em que a conferência climática da ONU Rio+20 foi encerrada, dois defensores dos direitos dos pescadores artesanais no Rio foram sequestrados. Almir Nogueira de Amorim e João Luiz Telles denunciavam grandes pescadores que usavam “currais” para lotear a Baía de Guanabara. Seus corpos foram encontrados nos dias seguintes, boiando na baía, em Niterói.

Condenação em apenas 1% dos casos
Em todo o mundo, apenas 10% dos casos chegam aos tribunais, sendo que somente 1% resulta em condenação. Para a Global Witness, o percentual é um símbolo da “cultura endêmica de impunidade” conduzida pelos governos. A falta de condenações contribui para o silêncio dos ativistas e da população prejudicada por atividades econômicas ilegais.

– Esses crimes não recebem a atenção necessária das autoridades. Se houvesse um monitoramento constante nos biomas mais ameaçados, seria possível levar muitos outros criminosos à Justiça – denuncia Oliver Courtney, coautor do relatório.

Courtney considera a situação brasileira “particularmente grave” devido ao crescimento dos episódios de violência na Amazônia. O documento lembra que, em 2013, o desmatamento na maior floresta tropical do planeta aumentou 23%. A maior incidência de desflorestamento (61%) ocorreu no Pará e no Mato Grosso do Sul, dois dos estados onde há mais atentados contra ativistas.

No interior do Mato Grosso do Sul, produtores de carne bovina, soja e cana de açúcar têm entrado em conflito com índios das comunidades guarani e kuranji. Segundo a Global Witness, metade dos assassinatos de ativistas ambientais em 2012 ocorreu na região. E, no país todo, foram mortos 250 defensores de origem indígena entre 2003 e 2010.

– O conflito por terra na Amazônia cresceu dramaticamente no ano passado – destaca. – O Brasil tem uma grande mobilização da sociedade civil, mas a população indígena continua exposta a atividades econômicas insustentáveis.

No Pará, o jornalista Pedro César Batista acumula uma lista de 18 amigos assassinados. Entre eles está seu irmão, o deputado João Batista, morto em 6 de dezembro de 1988 em frente ao prédio em que morava, em Belém. Três anos antes, seu pai, Nestor Batista, havia sobrevivido a um tiro de espingarda na cabeça. Por pressão da família, Pedro deixou o estado.

– O João era visto como um advogado dos sem-terra. Não acreditávamos que ele seria assassinado – recorda Pedro. – Mas descobrimos que havia uma lista com mais de 180 pessoas marcadas para morrer.

“Limpeza entre os bandidos”
Dois pistoleiros foram responsáveis pelo atentado contra João Batista. Libertado após cumprir apenas um sexto de sua pena, de 28 anos, Péricles Moreira foi executado com 14 tiros em uma emboscada. Roberto Cirino, o outro assassino, foi degolado antes de seu julgamento. Segundo Pedro, a “limpeza entre os bandidos” é uma forma comum de assegurar a impunidade dos mandantes dos crimes, como latifundiários, policiais e autoridades públicas.

Batista acredita que o número de assassinatos divulgado pela Global Witness está “totalmente subestimado”. De acordo com ele, as lideranças camponesas são mortas devido à sua resistência ao avanço da agropecuária:

– Para o plantio de uma cultura, desmata-se um quilombo inteiro.

Os madeireiros são os responsáveis pela derrubada da mata na Amazônia. Depois deles vêm a pecuária e a indústria da soja. O avanço dessas atividades econômicas sobre áreas protegidas esbarra no direito de populações indígenas e nos trabalhos defendidos por ativistas ambientais.

– A floresta é repleta de áreas de fronteira agrícola, e o governo não consegue acompanhar o ataque a essas regiões – lamenta André Guimarães, vice-presidente da Conservação Internacional. – Mas, embora a maioria das invasões ocorra na Amazônia, também precisamos prestar atenção no Cerrado. Metade desse bioma ainda está intacto, e ele pode atrair atividades econômicas no futuro.

A Global Witness reconhece que seu levantamento é parcial, dada a dificuldade para analisar os conflitos de terra em diversas regiões do mundo, especialmente em países africanos.

“Esses dados são muito provavelmente apenas a ponta do iceberg (…). O aumento de mortes é a face mais premente e mensurável de um conjunto de ameaças, entre as quais a intimidação, violência, estigmatização e criminalização.”

(Renato Grandelle /O Globo)
http://oglobo.globo.com/sociedade/ciencia/brasil-tem-metade-das-mortes-de-ativistas-ambientais-no-mundo-12219245#ixzz2z9ATB8dX

Krugman: Salvation Gets Cheap (New York Times)

APRIL 17, 2014

Paul Krugman

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.

But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small. In fact, even under the most ambitious goals the assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.

What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.

Before I get to that revolution, however, let’s talk for a minute about the overall relationship between economic growth and the environment.

Other things equal, more G.D.P. tends to mean more pollution. What transformed China into the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases? Explosive economic growth. But other things don’t have to be equal. There’s no necessary one-to-one relationship between growth and pollution.

People on both the left and the right often fail to understand this point. (I hate it when pundits try to make every issue into a case of “both sides are wrong,” but, in this case, it happens to be true.) On the left, you sometimes find environmentalists asserting that to save the planet we must give up on the idea of an ever-growing economy; on the right, you often find assertions that any attempt to limit pollution will have devastating impacts on growth. But there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.

Let me add that free-market advocates seem to experience a peculiar loss of faith whenever the subject of the environment comes up. They normally trumpet their belief that the magic of the market can surmount all obstacles — that the private sector’s flexibility and talent for innovation can easily cope with limiting factors like scarcity of land or minerals. But suggest the possibility of market-friendly environmental measures, like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and they suddenly assert that the private sector would be unable to cope, that the costs would be immense. Funny how that works.

The sensible position on the economics of climate change has always been that it’s like the economics of everything else — that if we give corporations and individuals an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they will respond. What form would that response take? Until a few years ago, the best guess was that it would proceed on many fronts, involving everything from better insulation and more fuel-efficient cars to increased use of nuclear power.

One front many people didn’t take too seriously, however, was renewable energy. Sure, cap-and-trade might make more room for wind and the sun, but how important could such sources really end up being? And I have to admit that I shared that skepticism. If truth be told, I thought of the idea that wind and sun could be major players as hippie-dippy wishful thinking.

The climate change panel, in its usual deadpan prose, notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007. The Department of Energy is willing to display a bit more open enthusiasm; it titled a report on clean energy released last year “Revolution Now.” That sounds like hyperbole, but you realize that it isn’t when you learn that the price of solar panels has fallen more than 75 percent just since 2008.

Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about “decarbonizing” electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.

It’s even possible that decarbonizing will take place without special encouragement, but we can’t and shouldn’t count on that. The point, instead, is that drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.

So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong? Oh, wait.

Brazil Is the World’s Most Dangerous Country to Be an Environmentalist (Bloomberg)

Businessweek

April 17, 2014

The Tijuca forest near Complexo do Alemao, a group of favelas on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 24, 2013

Photograph by Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg. The Tijuca forest near Complexo do Alemao, a group of favelas on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 24, 2013

Taking a stand to protect the environment in a developing country can be a matter of life and death. According to a new report by Global Witness, a London-based watchdog organization, at least 908 environmentalists were killed in action from 2002 to 2013.

The risks seem to be increasing. “Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years before,” the report notes. Those 147 deaths in 2012—the deadliest year for environmental activists to date—were “mostly assassinations of specific individuals or extrajudicial killings in the context of demonstration and protest actions.” The most significant sources of conflict were “opposition to land-grabbing and unfair land ownership, large-scale mining operations, deforestation, illegal logging, and hydroelectric projects.” Violence also arose during protests over water pollution, toxic waste disposal, and drainage of wetlands.

The most deadly country in which to be an environmentalist, in absolute numbers, was Brazil, according to a report. Over the course of a decade, at least 448 activists have been killed in Brazil. Many of them were involved in campaigns to defend local people’s land rights and to oppose illegal logging and mining activities.

Meanwhile, 109 environmental campaigners were killed in Honduras over the past 10 years, making it by far the deadliest country per capita. Sixty-seven were killed in the Philippines; 58 in Peru; and 52 in Columbia. “Competition for access to natural resources is intensifying,” the report notes. “At the same time, more and more ordinary people are finding themselves on the frontline of the battle to defend their environment.”

The number of journalists killed worldwide on assignment is also increasing. In 2013, 70 journalists were killed in the field, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The most deadly country in which to be a journalist was Syria, followed by Iraq and Egypt.

Repercussões do novo relatório do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC)

Brasil já se prepara para adaptações às mudanças climáticas, diz especialista (Agência Brasil)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Com base no relatório do IPCC,dirigente do INPE disse que o Brasil já revela um passo adiante em termos de adaptação às mudanças climáticas

Com o título Mudanças Climáticas 2014: Impactos, Adaptação e Vulnerabilidade, o relatório divulgado ontem (31) pelo Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) sinaliza que os efeitos das mudanças do clima já estão sendo sentidos em todo o mundo. O relatório aponta que para se alcançar um aquecimento de apenas 2 graus centígrados, que seria o mínimo tolerável para que os impactos não sejam muito fortes, é preciso ter emissões zero de gases do efeito estufa, a partir de 2050.

“O compromisso é ter emissões zero a partir de 2040 /2050, e isso significa uma mudança de todo o sistema de desenvolvimento, que envolve mudança dos combustíveis”, disse hoje (1º) o chefe do Centro de Ciência do Sistema Terrestr,e do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), José Marengo, um dos autores do novo relatório do IPCC. Marengo apresentou o relatório na Academia Brasileira de Ciências (ABC), no Rio de Janeiro, e destacou que alguns países interpretam isso como uma tentativa de frear o crescimento econômico. Na verdade, ele assegurou que a intenção é chegar a um valor para que o aquecimento não seja tão intenso e grave.

Com base no relatório do IPCC, Marengo comentou que o Brasil já revela um passo adiante em termos de adaptação às mudanças climáticas. “Eu acho que o Brasil já escutou a mensagem. Já está começando a preparar o plano nacional de adaptação, por meio dos ministérios do Meio Ambiente e da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação”. Essa adaptação, acrescentou, é acompanhada de avaliações de vulnerabilidades, “e o Brasil é vulnerável às mudanças de clima”, lembrou.

A adaptação, segundo ele, atenderá a políticas governamentais, mas a comunidade científica ajudará a elaborar o plano para identificar regiões e setores considerados chave. “Porque a adaptação é uma coisa que muda de região e de setor. Você pode ter uma adaptação no setor saúde, no Nordeste, totalmente diferente do Sul. Então, essa é uma política que o governo já está começando a traçar seriamente”.

O plano prevê análises de risco em setores como agricultura, saúde, recursos hídricos, regiões costeiras, grandes cidades. Ele está começando a ser traçado como uma estratégia de governo. Como as vulnerabilidades são diferentes, o plano não pode criar uma política única para o país. Na parte da segurança alimentar, em especial, José Marengo ressaltou a importância do conhecimento indígena, principalmente para os países mais pobres.

Marengo afiançou, entretanto, que esse plano não deverá ser concluído no curto prazo. “É uma coisa que leva tempo. Esse tipo de estudo não pode ser feito em um ou dois anos. É uma coisa de longo prazo, porque vai mudando continuamente. Ou seja, é um plano dinâmico, que a cada cinco anos tem que ser reavaliado e refeito. Poucos países têm feito isso, e o Brasil está começando a elaborar esse plano agora”, manifestou.

Marengo admitiu que a adaptação às mudanças climáticas tem que ter também um viés econômico, por meio da regulação. “Quando eu falo em adaptação, é uma mistura de conhecimento científico para identificar que área é vulnerável. Mas tudo isso vem acompanhado de coisas que não são climáticas, mas sim, econômicas, como custos e investimento. Porque adaptação custa dinheiro. Quem vai pagar pela adaptação? “, indagou.

O IPCC não tem uma posição a respeito, embora Marengo mencione que os países pobres querem que os ricos paguem pela sua adaptação às mudanças do clima. O tema deverá ser abordado na próxima reunião da 20ª Convenção-Quadro sobre Mudança do Clima COP-20, da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU), que ocorrerá em Lima, no Peru, no final deste ano.

Entretanto, o IPCC aponta situações sobre o que está ocorrendo nas diversas partes do mundo, e o que poderia ser feito. As soluções, salientou, serão indicadas no próximo relatório do IPCC, cuja divulgação é aguardada para este mês. O relatório, segundo ele, apontará que “a solução está na mitigação”. Caso, por exemplo, da redução das emissões de gases de efeito estufa, o uso menor de combustíveis fósseis e maior uso de fontes de energia renováveis, novas opções de combustíveis, novas soluções de tecnologia, estabilização da população. “Tudo isso são coisas que podem ser consideradas”. Admitiu, porém, que são difíceis de serem alcançadas, porque alguns países estão dispostos a isso, outros não. “É uma coisa que depende de acordo mundial”.

De acordo com o relatório do IPCC, as tendências são de aumento da temperatura global, aumento e diminuição de precipitações (chuvas), degradação ambiental, risco para as áreas costeiras e a fauna marinha, mudança na produtividade agrícola, entre outras. A adaptação a essas mudanças depende do lugar e do contexto. A adaptação para um setor pode não ser aplicável a outro. As medidas visando a adaptação às mudanças climáticas devem ser tomadas pelos governos, mas também pela sociedade como um todo e pelos indivíduos, recomendam os cientistas que elaboraram o relatório.

Para o Nordeste brasileiro, por exemplo, a construção de cisternas pode ser um começo no sentido de adaptação à seca. Mas isso tem de ser uma busca permanente, destacou José Marengo. Observou que programas de reflorestamento são formas de mitigação e, em consequência, de adaptação, na medida em que reduzem as emissões e absorvem as emissões excedentes.

No Brasil, três aspectos se distinguem: segurança hídrica, segurança energética e segurança alimentar. As secas no Nordeste e as recentes enchentes no Norte têm ajudado a entender o problema da vulnerabilidade do clima, acrescentou o cientista. Disse que, de certa forma, o Brasil tem reagido para enfrentar os extremos. “Mas tem que pensar que esses extremos podem ser mais frequentes. A experiência está mostrando que alguns desses extremos devem ser pensados no longo prazo, para décadas”, salientou.

O biólogo Marcos Buckeridge, pesquisador do Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e membro do IPCC, lembrou que as queimadas na Amazônia, apesar de mostrarem redução nos últimos anos, ainda ocorrem com intensidade. “O Brasil é o país que mais queima floresta no mundo”, e isso leva à perda de muitas espécies animais e vegetais, trazendo, como resultado, impactos no clima.

Para a pesquisadora sênior do Centro de Estudos Integrados sobre Meio Ambiente e Mudanças Climáticas – Centro Clima da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Carolina Burle Schmidt Dubeux, a economia da adaptação deve pensar o gerenciamento também do lado da demanda. Isso quer dizer que tem que englobar não só investimentos, mas também regulação econômica em que os preços reflitam a redução da oferta de bens. “Regulação econômica é muito importante para que a gente possa se adaptar [às mudanças do clima]. As políticas têm que refletir a escassez da água e da energia elétrica e controlar a demanda”, apontou.

Segundo a pesquisadora, a internalização de custos ambientais nos preços é necessária para que a população tenha maior qualidade de vida. “A questão da adaptação é um constante gerenciamento do risco das mudanças climáticas, que é desconhecido e imprevisível”, acrescentou. Carolina defendeu que para ocorrer a adaptação, deve haver uma comunicação constante entre o governo e a sociedade. “A mídia tem um papel relevante nesse processo”, disse.

(Agência Brasil)

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Mudanças climáticas ameaçam produtos da cesta básica brasileira (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Dieta será prejudicada por queda das safras e da atividade pesqueira

Os impactos das mudanças climáticas no país comprometerão o rendimento das safras de trigo, arroz, milho e soja, produtos fundamentais da cesta básica do brasileiro. Outro problema desembarca no litoral. Segundo prognósticos divulgados esta semana pelo Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC), grandes populações de peixes deixarão a zona tropical nas próximas décadas, buscando regiões de alta latitude. Desta forma, a pesca artesanal também é afetada.

A falta de segurança alimentar também vai acometer outros países. Estima-se que a atividade agrícola da União Europeia caia significativamente até o fim do século. Duas soluções já são estudadas. Uma seria aumentar as importações – o Brasil seria um importante mercado, se conseguir nutrir a sua população e, além disso, desenvolver uma produção excedente. A outra possibilidade é a pesquisa de variedades genéticas que deem resistência aos alimentos diante das novas condições climáticas.

– Os eventos extremos, mesmo quando têm curta duração, reduzem o tamanho da safra – contou Marcos Buckeridge, professor do Departamento de Botânica da USP e coautor do relatório do IPCC, em uma apresentação realizada ontem na Academia Brasileira de Ciências. – Além disso, somos o país que mais queima florestas no mundo, e a seca é maior justamente na Amazônia Oriental, levando a perdas na agricultura da região.

O aquecimento global também enfraquecerá a segurança hídrica do país.

– É preciso encontrar uma forma de garantir a disponibilidade de água no semiárido, assim como estruturas que a direcione para as áreas urbanas – recomenda José Marengo, climatologista do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) e também autor do relatório.

Marengo lembra que o Nordeste enfrenta a estiagem há três anos. Segundo ele, o uso de carros-pipa é uma solução pontual. Portanto, outras medidas devem ser pensadas. A transposição do Rio São Francisco também pode não ser suficiente, já que a região deve passar por um processo de desertificação até o fim do século.

De acordo com um estudo realizado em 2009 por diversas instituições brasileiras, e que é citado no novo relatório do IPCC, as chuvas no Nordeste podem diminuir até 2,5mm por dia até 2100, causando perdas agrícolas em todos os estados da região. O déficit hídrico reduziria em 25% a capacidade de pastoreiro dos bovinos de corte. O retrocesso da pecuária é outro ataque à dieta do brasileiro.

– O Brasil perderá entre R$ 719 bilhões e R$ 3,6 trilhões em 2050, se nada fizer . Enfrentaremos perda agrícola e precisaremos de mais recursos para o setor hidrelétrico – alerta Carolina Dubeux, pesquisadora do Centro Clima da Coppe/UFRJ, que assina o documento. – A adaptação é um constante gerenciamento de risco.

(Renato Grandelle / O Globo)
http://oglobo.globo.com/ciencia/mudancas-climaticas-ameacam-produtos-da-cesta-basica-brasileira-12061170#ixzz2xjSEUoVy

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Impactos mais graves no clima do país virão de secas e de cheias (Folha de S.Paulo)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Brasileiros em painel da ONU dizem que país precisa se preparar para problemas opostos em diferentes regiões

As previsões regionais do novo relatório do IPCC (painel do clima da ONU) aponta como principais efeitos da mudança climática no país problemas na disponibilidade de água, com secas persistentes em alguns pontos e cheias recordes em outros. Lançado anteontem no Japão, o documento do grupo de trabalho 2 do IPCC dá ênfase a impactos e vulnerabilidades provocados pelo clima ao redor do mundo. Além de listar os principais riscos, o documento ressalta a necessidade de adaptação aos riscos projetados. No Brasil, pela extensão territorial, os efeitos serão diferentes em cada região.

Além de afetar a floresta e seus ecossistemas, a mudança climática deve prejudicar também a geração de energia, a agricultura e até a saúde da população. “Tudo remete à água. Onde nós tivermos problemas com a água, vamos ter problemas com outras coisas”, resumiu Marcos Buckeridge, professor da USP e um dos autores do relatório do IPCC, em entrevista coletiva com outros brasileiros que participaram do painel.

Na Amazônia, o padrão de chuvas já vem sendo afetado. Atualmente, a cheia no rio Madeira já passa dos 25 m –nível mais alto da história– e afeta 60 mil pessoas. No Nordeste, que nos últimos anos passou por secas sucessivas, as mudanças climáticas podem intensificar os períodos sem chuva, e há um risco de que o semiárido vire árido permanentemente.

Segundo José Marengo, do Inpe (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) e um dos autores principais do documento, ainda é cedo para saber se a seca persistente em São Paulo irá se repetir no ano que vem ou nos outros, mas alertou que é preciso que o Brasil se prepare melhor.

MITIGAR E ADAPTAR
O IPCC fez previsões para diferentes cenários, mas, basicamente, indica que as consequências são mais graves quanto maiores os níveis de emissões de gases-estufa. “Se não dá para reduzir as ameaças, precisamos pelo menos reduzir os riscos”, disse Marengo, destacando que, no Brasil, nem sempre isso acontece. No caso das secas, a construção de cisternas e a mobilização de carros-pipa seriam alternativas de adaptação. Já nos locais onde deve haver aumento nas chuvas, a remoção de populações de áreas de risco, como as encostas, seria a alternativa.

Carolina Dubeux, da UFRJ, que também participa do IPCC, afirma que, para que haja equilíbrio entre oferta e demanda, é preciso que a economia reflita a escassez dos recursos naturais, sobretudo em áreas como agricultura e geração de energia. “É necessário que os preços reflitam a escassez de um bem. Se a água está escassa, o preço dela precisa refletir isso. Não podemos só expandir a oferta”, afirmou.

Neste relatório, caiu o grau de confiança sobre projeções para algumas regiões, sobretudo em países em desenvolvimento. Segundo Carlos Nobre, secretário do Ministério de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação, isso não significa que o documento tenha menos poder político ou científico.

Everton Lucero, chefe de clima no Itamaraty, diz que o documento será importante para subsidiar discussões do próximo acordo climático mundial. “Mas há um desequilíbrio entre os trabalhos científicos levados em consideração pelo IPCC, com muito mais ênfase no que é produzido nos países ricos. As nações em desenvolvimento também produzem muita ciência de qualidade, que deve ter mais espaço”, disse.

(Giuliana Miranda/Folha de S.Paulo)
http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cienciasaude/159305-impactos-mais-graves-no-clima-do-pais-virao-de-secas-e-de-cheias.shtml

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Relatório do IPCC aponta riscos e oportunidades para respostas (Ascom do MCTI)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Um total de 309 cientistas de 70 países, entre coordenadores, autores, editores e revisores, foram selecionados para produzir o relatório

O novo relatório do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) diz que os efeitos das mudanças climáticas já estão ocorrendo em todos os continentes e oceanos e que o mundo, em muitos casos, está mal preparado para os riscos. O documento também conclui que há oportunidades de repostas, embora os riscos sejam difíceis de gerenciar com os níveis elevados de aquecimento.

O relatório, intitulado Mudanças Climáticas 2014: Impactos, Adaptação e Vulnerabilidade, foi elaborado pelo Grupo de Trabalho 2 (GT 2) do IPCC e detalha os impactos das mudanças climáticas até o momento, os riscos futuros e as oportunidades para uma ação eficaz para reduzir os riscos. Os resultados foram apresentados à imprensa brasileira em entrevista coletiva no Rio de Janeiro nesta terça-feira (1º).

Um total de 309 cientistas de 70 países, entre coordenadores, autores, editores e revisores, foram selecionados para produzir o relatório. Eles contaram com a ajuda de 436 autores contribuintes e 1.729 revisores especialistas.

Os autores concluem que a resposta às mudanças climáticas envolve fazer escolhas sobre os riscos em um mundo em transformação, assinalando que a natureza dos riscos das mudanças climáticas é cada vez mais evidente, embora essas alterações também continuem a produzir surpresas. O relatório identifica as populações, indústrias e ecossistemas vulneráveis ao redor do mundo.

Segundo o documento, o risco da mudança climática provém de vulnerabilidade (falta de preparo), exposição (pessoas ou bens em perigo) e sobreposição com os riscos (tendências ou eventos climáticos desencadeantes). Cada um desses três componentes pode ser alvo de ações inteligentes para diminuir o risco.

“Vivemos numa era de mudanças climáticas provocadas pelo homem”, afirma o copresidente do GT 2 Vicente Barros, da Universidade de Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Em muitos casos, não estamos preparados para os riscos relacionados com o clima que já enfrentamos. Investimentos num melhor preparo podem melhorar os resultados, tanto para o presente e para o futuro.”

Reação
A adaptação para reduzir os riscos das mudanças climáticas começa a ocorrer, mas com um foco mais forte na reação aos acontecimentos passados do que na preparação para um futuro diferente, de acordo com outro copresidente do GT, Chris Field, da Carnegie Institution for Science, dos Estados Unidos.

“A adaptação às mudanças climáticas não é uma agenda exótica nunca tentada. Governos, empresas e comunidades ao redor do mundo estão construindo experiência com a adaptação”, explica Field. “Esta experiência constitui um ponto de partida para adaptações mais ousadas e ambiciosas, que serão importantes à medida que o clima e a sociedade continuam a mudar”.

Riscos futuros decorrentes das mudanças no clima dependem fortemente da quantidade de futuras alterações climáticas. Magnitudes crescentes de aquecimento aumentam a probabilidade de impactos graves e generalizados que podem ser surpreendentes ou irreversíveis.

“Com níveis elevados de aquecimento, que resultam de um crescimento contínuo das emissões de gases de efeito estufa, será um desafio gerenciar os riscos e mesmo investimentos sérios e contínuos em adaptação enfrentarão limites”, afirma Field.

Problemas
Impactos observados da mudança climática já afetaram a agricultura, a saúde humana, os ecossistemas terrestres e marítimos, abastecimento de água e a vida de algumas pessoas. A característica marcante dos impactos observados é que eles estão ocorrendo a partir dos trópicos para os polos, a partir de pequenas ilhas para grandes continentes e dos países mais ricos para os mais pobres.

“O relatório conclui que as pessoas, sociedades e ecossistemas são vulneráveis em todo o mundo, mas com vulnerabilidade diferentes em lugares diferentes. As mudanças climáticas muitas vezes interagem com outras tensões para aumentar o risco”, diz Chris Field.

A adaptação pode desempenhar um papel-chave na redução destes riscos, observa Vicente Barros. “Parte da razão pela qual a adaptação é tão importante é que, devido à mudança climática, o mundo enfrenta uma série de riscos já inseridos no sistema climático, acentuados pelas emissões passadas e infraestrutura existente”.

Field acrescenta: “A compreensão de que a mudança climática é um desafio na gestão de risco abre um leque de oportunidades para integrar a adaptação com o desenvolvimento econômico e social e com as iniciativas para limitar o aquecimento futuro. Nós definitivamente enfrentamos desafios, mas compreender esses desafios e ultrapassá-los de forma criativa pode fazer da adaptação à mudança climática uma forma importante de ajudar a construir um mundo mais vibrante em curto prazo e além”.

Conteúdo
O relatório do GT 2 é composto por dois volumes. O primeiro contém Resumo para Formuladores de Políticas, Resumo Técnico e 20 capítulos que avaliam riscos por setor e oportunidades para resposta. Os setores incluem recursos de água doce, os ecossistemas terrestres e oceânicos, costas, alimentos, áreas urbanas e rurais, energia e indústria, a saúde humana e a segurança, além dos meios de vida e pobreza.

Em seus dez capítulos, o segundo volume avalia os riscos e oportunidades para a resposta por região. Essas regiões incluem África, Europa, Ásia, Australásia (Austrália, a Nova Zelândia, a Nova Guiné e algumas ilhas menores da parte oriental da Indonésia), América do Norte, América Central e América do Sul, regiões polares, pequenas ilhas e oceanos.

Acesse a contribuição do grupo de trabalho (em inglês) aqui ou no site da instituição.

A Unidade de Apoio Técnico do GT 2 é hospedada pela Carnegie Institution for Science e financiada pelo governo dos Estados Unidos.

Mapa
“O relatório do Grupo de Trabalho 2 é outro importante passo para a nossa compreensão sobre como reduzir e gerenciar os riscos das mudanças climáticas”, destaca o presidente do IPCC, RajendraPachauri. “Juntamente com os relatórios dos grupos 1 e 3, fornece um mapa conceitual não só dos aspectos essenciais do desafio climático, mas as soluções possíveis.”

O relatório do GT 1 foi lançado em setembro de 2013, e o do GT 3 será divulgado neste mês. O quinto relatório de avaliação (AR5) será concluído com a publicação de uma síntese em outubro.

O Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudança do Clima é o organismo internacional para avaliar a ciência relacionada à mudança climática. Foi criado em 1988 pela Organização Meteorológica Mundial e pelo Programa das Nações Unidas para o Ambiente (Pnuma), para fornecer aos formuladores de políticas avaliações regulares da base científica das mudanças climáticas, seus impactos e riscos futuros, e opções para adaptação e mitigação.

Foi na 28ª Sessão do IPCC, realizada em abril de 2008, que os membros do painel decidiram preparar o AR5. O documento envolveu 837 autores e editores de revisão.

(Ascom do MCTI, com informações do IPCC)
http://www.mcti.gov.br/index.php/content/view/353700/Relatorio_do_IPCC_aponta_riscos_e_oportunidades_para_respostas.html

80 percent of U.S. adults face near-poverty, unemployment, survey finds (CBS)

People look through boxes of food during a food distribution by the Food Bank of the Southern Tier Mobile Food Pantry on June 20, 2012 in Oswego, New York. The mobile food pantry program was introduced in 2007 in the Southern Tier of New York and covers nearly 4,000 predominately rural miles. The converted beverage truck delivers fresh produce, dairy products and other grocery items to individuals and families in need. The pantry typically distributes for a period of two hours and provides 100 to 160 families with food. According to the 2010 Census, 15.72% the population serviced by the mobile pantry live at or below the federal poverty level. According to statistics presented at a recent U.S. Senate committee hearing, almost one in seven Americans are living below the poverty line with a significant number of them being children.  SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

The findings come as President Barack Obama tries to renew his administration’s emphasis on the economy, saying in recent speeches that his highest priority is to “rebuild ladders of opportunity” and reverse income inequality.

As nonwhites approach a numerical majority in the U.S., one question is how public programs to lift the disadvantaged should be best focused — on the affirmative action that historically has tried to eliminate the racial barriers seen as the major impediment to economic equality, or simply on improving socioeconomic status for all, regardless of race.

Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy “poor.”

“I think it’s going to get worse,” said Irene Salyers, 52, of Buchanan County, Va., a declining coal region in Appalachia. Married and divorced three times, Salyers now helps run a fruit and vegetable stand with her boyfriend but it doesn’t generate much income. They live mostly off government disability checks.

“If you do try to go apply for a job, they’re not hiring people, and they’re not paying that much to even go to work,” she said. Children, she said, have “nothing better to do than to get on drugs.”

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government’s poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

The gauge defines “economic insecurity” as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

Marriage rates are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones.

“It’s time that America comes to understand that many of the nation’s biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position,” said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty. He noted that despite continuing economic difficulties, minorities have more optimism about the future after Obama’s election, while struggling whites do not.

“There is the real possibility that white alienation will increase if steps are not taken to highlight and address inequality on a broad front,” Wilson said.

___

Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white.

More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

Sometimes termed “the invisible poor” by demographers, lower-income whites generally are dispersed in suburbs as well as small rural towns, where more than 60 percent of the poor are white. Concentrated in Appalachia in the East, they are numerous in the industrial Midwest and spread across America’s heartland, from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma up through the Great Plains.

Buchanan County, in southwest Virginia, is among the nation’s most destitute based on median income, with poverty hovering at 24 percent. The county is mostly white, as are 99 percent of its poor.

More than 90 percent of Buchanan County’s inhabitants are working-class whites who lack a college degree. Higher education long has been seen there as nonessential to land a job because well-paying mining and related jobs were once in plentiful supply. These days many residents get by on odd jobs and government checks.

Salyers’ daughter, Renee Adams, 28, who grew up in the region, has two children. A jobless single mother, she relies on her live-in boyfriend’s disability checks to get by. Salyers says it was tough raising her own children as it is for her daughter now, and doesn’t even try to speculate what awaits her grandchildren, ages 4 and 5.

Smoking a cigarette in front of the produce stand, Adams later expresses a wish that employers will look past her conviction a few years ago for distributing prescription painkillers, so she can get a job and have money to “buy the kids everything they need.”

“It’s pretty hard,” she said. “Once the bills are paid, we might have $10 to our name.”

poverty, urban decline, generic, america, connecticut

A car drives by a closed factory on May 20, 2013 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Waterbury, once a thriving industrial city with one of the largest brass manufacturing bases in the world, has suffered economically in recent decades as manufacturing jobs have left the area. According to recent census data, 20.6 percent of the city’s residents are living below the poverty level. SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Census figures provide an official measure of poverty, but they’re only a temporary snapshot that doesn’t capture the makeup of those who cycle in and out of poverty at different points in their lives. They may be suburbanites, for example, or the working poor or the laid off.

In 2011 that snapshot showed 12.6 percent of adults in their prime working-age years of 25-60 lived in poverty. But measured in terms of a person’s lifetime risk, a much higher number — 4 in 10 adults — falls into poverty for at least a year of their lives.

The risks of poverty also have been increasing in recent decades, particularly among people ages 35-55, coinciding with widening income inequality. For instance, people ages 35-45 had a 17 percent risk of encountering poverty during the 1969-1989 time period; that risk increased to 23 percent during the 1989-2009 period. For those ages 45-55, the risk of poverty jumped from 11.8 percent to 17.7 percent.

Higher recent rates of unemployment mean the lifetime risk of experiencing economic insecurity now runs even higher: 79 percent, or 4 in 5 adults, by the time they turn 60.

By race, nonwhites still have a higher risk of being economically insecure, at 90 percent. But compared with the official poverty rate, some of the biggest jumps under the newer measure are among whites, with more than 76 percent enduring periods of joblessness, life on welfare or near-poverty.

By 2030, based on the current trend of widening income inequality, close to 85 percent of all working-age adults in the U.S. will experience bouts of economic insecurity.

“Poverty is no longer an issue of ‘them’, it’s an issue of ‘us’,” says Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who calculated the numbers. “Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.”

The numbers come from Rank’s analysis being published by the Oxford University Press. They are supplemented with interviews and figures provided to the AP by Tom Hirschl, a professor at Cornell University; John Iceland, a sociology professor at Penn State University; the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute; the Census Bureau; and the Population Reference Bureau.

Among the findings:

–For the first time since 1975, the number of white single-mother households living in poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade, spurred by job losses and faster rates of out-of-wedlock births among whites. White single-mother families in poverty stood at nearly 1.5 million in 2011, comparable to the number for blacks. Hispanic single-mother families in poverty trailed at 1.2 million.

–Since 2000, the poverty rate among working-class whites has grown faster than among working-class nonwhites, rising 3 percentage points to 11 percent as the recession took a bigger toll among lower-wage workers. Still, poverty among working-class nonwhites remains higher, at 23 percent.

–The share of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods — those with poverty rates of 30 percent or more — has increased to 1 in 10, putting them at higher risk of teenage pregnancy or dropping out of school. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 17 percent of the child population in such neighborhoods, compared with 13 percent in 2000, even though the overall proportion of white children in the U.S. has been declining.

The share of black children in high-poverty neighborhoods dropped from 43 percent to 37 percent, while the share of Latino children went from 38 percent to 39 percent.

–Race disparities in health and education have narrowed generally since the 1960s. While residential segregation remains high, a typical black person now lives in a nonmajority black neighborhood for the first time. Previous studies have shown that wealth is a greater predictor of standardized test scores than race; the test-score gap between rich and low-income students is now nearly double the gap between blacks and whites.

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Going back to the 1980s, never have whites been so pessimistic about their futures, according to the General Social Survey, a biannual survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Just 45 percent say their family will have a good chance of improving their economic position based on the way things are in America.

The divide is especially evident among those whites who self-identify as working class. Forty-nine percent say they think their children will do better than them, compared with 67 percent of nonwhites who consider themselves working class, even though the economic plight of minorities tends to be worse.

Although they are a shrinking group, working-class whites — defined as those lacking a college degree — remain the biggest demographic bloc of the working-age population. In 2012, Election Day exit polls conducted for the AP and the television networks showed working-class whites made up 36 percent of the electorate, even with a notable drop in white voter turnout.

Last November, Obama won the votes of just 36 percent of those noncollege whites, the worst performance of any Democratic nominee among that group since Republican Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide victory over Walter Mondale.

Some Democratic analysts have urged renewed efforts to bring working-class whites into the political fold, calling them a potential “decisive swing voter group” if minority and youth turnout level off in future elections. “In 2016 GOP messaging will be far more focused on expressing concern for ‘the middle class’ and ‘average Americans,'” Andrew Levison and Ruy Teixeira wrote recently in The New Republic.

“They don’t trust big government, but it doesn’t mean they want no government,” says Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who agrees that working-class whites will remain an important electoral group. His research found that many of them would support anti-poverty programs if focused broadly on job training and infrastructure investment. This past week, Obama pledged anew to help manufacturers bring jobs back to America and to create jobs in the energy sectors of wind, solar and natural gas.

“They feel that politicians are giving attention to other people and not them,” Goeas said.

A Return to a World Marx Would Have Known (New York Times)

Doug Henwood is editor of Left Business Observer, host of a weekly radio show originating on KPFA, Berkeley, and is author of several books, including “Wall Street: How It Works and For Whom” and “After the New Economy.”

UPDATED MARCH 30, 2014, 7:02 PM

I don’t see how you can understand our current unhappy economic state without some sort of Marx-inspired analysis.

Here we are, almost five years into an officially designated recovery from the worst downturn in 80 years, and average household incomes are more than 8 percent below where they were when the Great Recession began, and employment still 650,000 short of its pre-recession high.

For years, excessive consumer borrowing muted the effects of stagnant wages. But low demand is stifling the economy, with no end in sight.

Though elites are prospering, for millions of Americans, it’s as if the recession never ended.

How can this all be explained? The best way to start is by going back to the 1970s. Corporate profitability — which, as every Marxist schoolchild knows, is the motor of the system — had fallen sharply off its mid-1960s highs. Stock and bond markets were performing miserably. Inflation seemed to be rising without limit. After three decades of seemingly endless prosperity, workers had developed a terrible attitude problem, slacking off and, quaintly, even going out on strike. It’s no accident that Johnny Paycheck scored a No. 1 country hit with “Take This Job and Shove It” in 1977 — utterly impossible to imagine today.

This is where Marx begins to come in. At the root of these problems was a breakdown in class relations: workers no longer feared the boss. A crackdown was in order.

And it came, hard. In October 1979, the Federal Reserve began driving interest rates toward 20 percent, to kill inflation and restrict borrowing, creating the deepest recession since the 1930s. (It was a record we only broke in 2008/2009). A little over a year later, Ronald Reagan came into office, fired the striking air-traffic controllers, setting the stage for decades of union busting to follow. Five years after Johnny Paycheck’s hit, workers were desperate to hold and/or get jobs. No more attitude problem.

The “cure” worked for about 30 years. Corporate profits skyrocketed and financial markets thrived. The underlying mechanism, as Marx would explain it, is simple: workers produce more in value than they are paid, and the difference is the root of profit. If worker productivity rises while pay remains stagnant or declines, profits increase. This is precisely what has happened over the last 30 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity rose 93 percent between 1980 and 2013, while pay rose 38 percent (all inflation-adjusted).

The 1 percent got ever-richer and more powerful. But there was a problem: a system dependent on high levels of mass consumption has a hard time coping with the stagnation or decline in mass incomes.The development of a mass consumer market after Marx died, with the eager participation of a growing middle class, caused a lot of people to say his analysis was obsolete. But now, with the hollowing out of the middle class and the erosion of mass purchasing power, the whole 20th century model of mass consumption is starting to look obsolete.

Borrowing sustained the mass consumption model for a few decades. Non-rich households borrowed to buy cars, buy food, pay medical bills, buy ever-more-expensive houses, and so on. Conveniently, rich households had plenty of spare cash to lend them.

That model broke apart in 2008 and has not — and cannot — be revived. Without the juice provided by spirited borrowing, demand remains constricted and growth rates, low. (See also: Europe.)

Raising the incomes of the bottom 90 percent of the population through higher wages and public spending initiatives — stifled since Reagan starting putting the squeeze on them — could change that. But the stockholding class has resisted that, and they have a lot of political power.

And an extraordinarily lopsided economy is the result. We didn’t expect that the 21st century would bring about a return of the 19th century’s vast disparities, but it’s looking like that’s just what’s happened.

Return of the oppressed (Aeon)

From the Roman Empire to our own Gilded Age, inequality moves in cycles. The future looks like a rough ride

by 

Jack Whinery and family, homesteaders photographed in Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Photo courtesy the Library of CongressJack Whinery and family, homesteaders photographed in Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress

Peter Turchin is professor of ecology and mathematics at the University of Connecticut and vice president of the Evolution Institute. He co-authored Secular Cycles (2009).

Today, the top one per cent of incomes in the United States accounts for one fifth of US earnings. The top one per cent of fortunes holds two-fifths of the total wealth. Just one rich family, the six heirs of the brothers Sam and James Walton, founders of Walmart, are worth more than the bottom 40 per cent of the American population combined ($115 billion in 2012).

After thousands of scholarly and popular articles on the topic, one might think we would have a pretty good idea why the richest people in the US are pulling away from the rest. But it seems we don’t. As the Congressional Budget Office concluded in 2011: ‘the precise reasons for the rapid growth in income at the top are not well understood’. Some commentators point to economic factors, some to politics, and others again to culture. Yet obviously enough, all these factors must interact in complex ways. What is slightly less obvious is how a very long historical perspective can help us to see the whole mechanism.

In his book Wealth and Democracy (2002), Kevin Phillips came up with a useful way of thinking about the changing patterns of wealth inequality in the US. He looked at the net wealth of the nation’s median household and compared it with the size of the largest fortune in the US. The ratio of the two figures provided a rough measure of wealth inequality, and that’s what he tracked, touching down every decade or so from the turn of the 19th century all the way to the present. In doing so, he found a striking pattern.

We found repeated back-and-forth swings in demographic, economic, social, and political structures

From 1800 to the 1920s, inequality increased more than a hundredfold. Then came the reversal: from the 1920s to 1980, it shrank back to levels not seen since the mid-19th century. Over that time, the top fortunes hardly grew (from one to two billion dollars; a decline in real terms). Yet the wealth of a typical family increased by a multiple of 40. From 1980 to the present, the wealth gap has been on another steep, if erratic, rise. Commentators have called the period from 1920s to 1970s the ‘great compression’. The past 30 years are known as the ‘great divergence’. Bring the 19th century into the picture, however, and one sees not isolated movements so much as a rhythm. In other words, when looked at over a long period, the development of wealth inequality in the US appears to be cyclical. And if it’s cyclical, we can predict what happens next.

An obvious objection presents itself at this point. Does observing just one and a half cycles really show that there is a regular pattern in the dynamics of inequality? No, by itself it doesn’t. But this is where looking at other historical societies becomes interesting. In our bookSecular Cycles (2009), Sergey Nefedov and I applied the Phillips approach to England, France and Russia throughout both the medieval and early modern periods, and also to ancient Rome. All of these societies (and others for which information was patchier) went through recurring ‘secular’ cycles, which is to say, very long ones. Over periods of two to three centuries, we found repeated back-and-forth swings in demographic, economic, social, and political structures. And the cycles of inequality were an integral part of the overall motion.

Incidentally, when students of dynamical systems (or, more colourfully, ‘chaoticians’ such as Jeff Goldblum’s character in the filmJurassic Park) talk about ‘cycles’, we do not mean rigid, mechanical, clock-like movements. Cycles in the real world are chaotic, because complex systems such as human societies have many parts that are constantly moving and influencing each other. Despite this complexity, our historical research on Rome, England, France, Russia and now the US shows that these complex interactions add up to a general rhythm. Upward trends in variables (for example, economic inequality) alternate with downward trends. And most importantly, the ways in which other parts of the system move can tell us why certain trends periodically reverse themselves. Understanding (and perhaps even forecasting) such trend-reversals is at the core of the new discipline of cliodynamics, which looks at history through the lens of mathematical modelling.

So it looks like the pattern that we see in the US is real. Ours is, of course, a very different society from ancient Rome or medieval England. It is cut off from them by the Industrial Revolution and by innumerable advances in technology since then. Even so, a historically based model might shed light on what has been happening in the US over the past three decades.

First, we need to think about jobs. Unless other forces intervene, an overabundance of labour will tend to drive down its price, which naturally means that workers and their families have less to live on. One of the most important forces affecting the labour supply in the US has been immigration, and it turns out that immigration, as measured by the proportion of the population who were born abroad, has changed in a cyclical manner just like inequality. In fact, the periods of high immigration coincided with the periods of stagnating wages. The Great Compression, meanwhile, unfolded under a low-immigration regime. This tallies with work by the Harvard economist George Borjas, who argues that immigration plays an important role in depressing wages, especially for those unskilled workers who compete most directly with new arrivals.

Immigration is only one part of a complex story. Another reason why the labour supply in the US went up in the 19th century is, not to put too fine a point on it, sex. The native-born population was growing at what were, at the time, unprecedented rates: a 2.9 per cent growth per year in the 1800s, only gradually declining after that. By 1850 there was no available farmland in Eastern Seaboard states. Many from that ‘population surplus’ moved west, but others ended up in eastern cities where, of course, they competed for jobs with new immigrants.

This connection between the oversupply of labour and plummeting living standards for the poor is one of the more robust generalisations in history. Consider the case of medieval England. The population of England doubled between 1150 and 1300. There was little possibility of overseas emigration, so the ‘surplus’ peasants flocked to the cities, causing the population of London to balloon from 20,000 to 80,000. Too many hungry mouths and too many idle hands resulted in a fourfold increase in food prices and a halving of real wages. Then, when a series of horrible epidemics, starting with the Black Death of 1348, carried away more than half of the population, the same dynamic ran in reverse. The catastrophe, paradoxically, introduced a Golden Age for common people. Real wages tripled and living standards went up, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Common people relied less on bread, gorging themselves instead on meat, fish, and dairy products.

The tug of war between the top and typical incomes doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, but in practice it often is

Much the same pattern can be seen during the secular cycle of the Roman Principate. The population of the Roman Empire grew rapidly during the first two centuries up to 165AD. Then came a series of deadly epidemics, known as the Antonine Plague. In Roman Egypt, for which we have contemporary data thanks to preserved papyri, real wages first fell (when the population increased) and then regained ground (when the population collapsed). We also know that many grain fields were converted to orchards and vineyards following the plagues. The implication is that the standard of life for common people improved — they ate less bread, more fruit, and drank wine. The gap between common people and the elites shrank.

Naturally, the conditions affecting the labour supply were different in the second half of the 20th century in the US. An important new element was globalisation, which allows corporations to move jobs to poorer countries (with that ‘giant sucking sound’, as Ross Perot put it during his 1992 presidential campaign). But none of this alters the fact that an oversupply of labour tends to depress wages for the poorer section of the population. And just as in Roman Egypt, the poor in the US today eat more energy-dense foods — bread, pasta, and potatoes — while the wealthy eat more fruit and drink wine.

Falling wages isn’t the only reason why labour oversupply leads to inequality. As the slice of the economic pie going to employees diminishes, the share going to employers goes up. Periods of rapid growth for top fortunes are commonly associated with stagnating incomes for the majority. Equally, when worker incomes grew in the Great Compression, top fortunes actually declined in real terms. The tug of war between the top and typical incomes doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, but in practice it often is. And so in 13th-century England, as the overall population doubles, we find landowners charging peasants higher rents and paying less in wages: the immiseration of the general populace translates into a Golden Age for the aristocrats.

As the historian Christopher Dyer wrote, life was good for the upper-crust English around 1300. They drank more wine and spent their spare cash building or refurbishing castles, cathedrals, and monasteries. They didn’t just enjoy a better living standard; they also grew in number. For example, the number of knights and esquires tripled between 1200 and 1300. But disaster struck in 1348, when the Black Death removed the population surplus (and then some). By the 15th century, while the common people were enjoying their own Golden Age, the aristocracy had fallen on hard times. We can infer the severity of their financial straits from the amount of claret imported from France. Only the gentry drank wine, and around 1300, England imported 20,000 tuns or casks of it from France per year. By 1460, this declined to only 5,000. In the mid-15th century, there were simply fewer aristocrats and they were much poorer.

In the US between around 1870 and 1900, there was another Golden Age for the elites, appropriately called the Gilded Age. While living standards for the majority declined (seen vividly in dwindling average heights and life expectancies), the moneyed classes were enjoying ever more luxurious lifestyles. And just like in 13th-century England, the total number of the wealthy was shooting up. Between 1825 and 1900, the number of millionaires (in constant 1900 dollars) went from 2.5 per million of the population to 19 per million. In our current cycle, the proportion of decamillionaires (those whose net worth exceeds 10 million in 1995 dollars) grew tenfold between 1992 and 2007 — from 0.04 to 0.4 per cent of the US population.

This seems like a peculiar development. The reason for it — cheeringly enough, you might say — is that cheap labour allows many enterprising, hard-working or simply lucky members of the poorer classes to climb into the ranks of the wealthy. In the 19th century, a skilled artisan in the US could expand his workshop by hiring other workers, eventually becoming the owner of a large business; Sven Beckert’s The Monied Metropolis (2003) describes many instances of this story playing out. In America today, enterprising and hard-working individuals start dotcom companies or claw their way into jobs as the CEOs of large corporations.

On the face of it, this is a wonderful testament to merit-based upward mobility. But there are side effects. Don’t forget that most people are stuck with stagnant or falling real wages. Upward mobility for a few hollows out the middle class and causes the social pyramid to become top-heavy. Too many elites relative to the general population (a condition I call ‘elite overproduction’) leads to ever-stiffer rivalry in the upper echelons. And then you get trouble.

In the US, there is famously a close connection between wealth and power. Many well-off individuals — typically not the founders of great fortunes but their children and grandchildren — choose to enter politics (Mitt Romney is a convenient example, though the Kennedy clan also comes to mind). Yet the number of political offices is fixed: there are only so many senators and representatives at the federal and state levels, and only one US president. As the ranks of the wealthy swell, so too do the numbers of wealthy aspirants for the finite supply of political positions.

When watching political battles in today’s Senate, it is hard not to think about their parallels in Republican Rome. The population of Italy roughly doubled during the second century BC, while the number of aristocrats increased even more. Again, the supply of political offices was fixed — there were 300 places in the senate and membership was for life. By the end of the century, competition for influence had turned ugly. During the Gracchan period (139—110BC), political feuding led to the slaughter of the tribunes Tiberius and Gaius on the streets of Rome. During the next century, intra-elite conflict spilt out of Rome into Italy and then into the broader Mediterranean. The civil wars of the first century BC, fuelled by a surplus of politically ambitious aristocrats, ultimately caused the fall of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire.

Beside sheer numbers, there is a further, subtler factor that aggravates internal class rivalry. So far I have been talking about the elites as if they are all the same. But they aren’t: the differences within the wealthiest one per cent are almost as stark as the difference between the top one per cent and the remaining 99. The millionaires want to reach the level of decamillionaires, who strive to match the centimillionaires, who are trying to keep up with billionaires. The result is very intense status rivalry, expressed through conspicuous consumption. Towards the end of the Republic, Roman aristocrats competed by exhibiting works of art and massive silver decorations in their homes. They threw extravagant banquets with peacocks from Samos, oysters from Lake Lucrino and snails from Africa, all imported at great expense. Archaeology confirms a genuine and dramatic shift towards luxury.

The US political system is much more attuned to the wishes of the rich than to the aspirations of the poor

Intra-elite competition also seems to affect the social mood. Norms of competition and extreme individualism become prevalent and norms of co-operation and collective action recede. Social Darwinism took off during the original Gilded Age, and Ayn Rand (who argued that altruism is evil) has grown astonishingly popular during what we might call our Second Gilded Age. The glorification of competition and individual success in itself becomes a driver of economic inequality. As Christopher Hayes wrote in Twilight of the Elites (2012): ‘defenders of the status quo invoke a kind of neo-Calvinist logic by saying that those at the top, by virtue of their placement there, must be the most deserving’. By the same reasoning, those at the bottom are not deserving. As such social norms spread, it becomes increasingly easy for CEOs to justify giving themselves huge bonuses while cutting the wages of workers.

Such cultural attitudes work with economic forces to widen inequality. Economists know very well that few markets are ‘efficient’ in the sense that their prices are set entirely by the forces of supply and demand. Labour markets are especially sensitive to cultural norms about what is fair compensation, so prevailing theories about inequality have practical consequences. And labour markets are also strongly affected by government regulation, as the economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has argued. So let’s consider how politics enters the equation here.

The US, as we saw, breeds strong links between wealth and politics. Some wealthy individuals run for office themselves. Others use their money to support their favoured politicians and policies. As a result, the US political system is much more attuned to the wishes of the rich than to the aspirations of the poor. Kevin Phillips has been one of the most influential voices raised in alarm at the dangers for democracy of growing wealth disparity.

Inverse relationship between well-being and inequality in American history. The peaks and valleys of inequality (in purple) represent the ratio of the largest fortunes to the median wealth of households (the Phillips curve). The blue-shaded curve combines four measures of well-being: economic (the fraction of economic growth that is paid to workers as wages), health (life expectancy and the average height of native-born population), and social optimism (the average age of first marriage, with early marriages indicating social optimism and delayed marriages indicating social pessimism).Inverse relationship between well-being and inequality in American history. The peaks and valleys of inequality (in purple) represent the ratio of the largest fortunes to the median wealth of households (the Phillips curve). The blue-shaded curve combines four measures of well-being: economic (the fraction of economic growth that is paid to workers as wages), health (life expectancy and the average height of native-born population), and social optimism (the average age of first marriage, with early marriages indicating social optimism and delayed marriages indicating social pessimism).

Yet the US political system has been under the influence of wealthy elites ever since the American Revolution. In some historical periods it worked primarily for the benefit of the wealthy. In others, it pursued policies that benefited the society as a whole. Take the minimum wage, which grew during the Great Compression era and declined (in real terms) after 1980. The proportion of American workers who were unionised changed in a similarly cyclical fashion, as the legislative field tilted first one way then the other. The top marginal tax rate was 68 per cent or higher before 1980; by 1988 it declined to 28 per cent. In one era, government policy systematically favoured the majority, while in another it favoured the narrow interests of the wealthy elites. This inconsistency calls for explanation.

It is relatively easy to understand the periods when the wealthy bent the agenda to suit their interests (though of course, not all rich people care exclusively about their own wealth). How, though, can we account for the much more broadly inclusive policies of the Great Compression era? And what caused the reversal that ended the Gilded Age and ushered in the Great Compression? Or the second switch, which took place around 1980?

History provides another clue. Unequal societies generally turn a corner once they have passed through a long spell of political instability. Governing elites tire of incessant violence and disorder. They realise that they need to suppress their internal rivalries, and switch to a more co-operative way of governing, if they are to have any hope of preserving the social order. We see this shift in the social mood repeatedly throughout history — towards the end of the Roman civil wars (first century BC), following the English Wars of the Roses (1455-85), and after the Fronde (1648-53), the final great outbreak of violence that had been convulsing France since the Wars of Religion began in the late 16th century. Put simply, it is fear of revolution that restores equality. And my analysis of US history in a forthcoming book suggests that this is precisely what happened in the US around 1920.

Reforms that ensured an equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth turned out to be a highly effective counter to the lure of Bolshevism

These were the years of extreme insecurity. There were race riots (the ‘Red Summer of 1919’), worker insurrections, and an Italian anarchist terrorist campaign aimed directly at the elites. The worst incident in US labour history was the West Virginia Mine War of 1920—21, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Although it started as a workers’ dispute, the Mine War eventually turned into the largest armed insurrection that the US has ever seen, the Civil War excepted. Between 10,000 and 15,000 miners armed with rifles battled against thousands of strikebreakers and sheriff deputies. The federal government eventually called in the Air Force, the only time it has ever done so against its own people. Add to all this the rise of the Soviet Union and the wave of socialist revolutions that swept Europe after the First World War, triggering the Red Scare of 1921, and you get a sense of the atmosphere. Quantitative data indicate that this period was the most violent in US history, second only to the Civil War. It was much, much worse than the 1960s.

The US, in short, was in a revolutionary situation, and many among the political and business elites realised it. They began to push through a remarkable series of reforms. In 1921 and 1924, Congress passed legislation that effectively shut down immigration into the US. Although much of the motivation behind these laws was to exclude ‘dangerous aliens’ such as Italian anarchists and Eastern European socialists, the broader effect was to reduce the labour surplus. Worker wages grew rapidly. At around the same time, federal income tax came in and the rate at which top incomes were taxed began to increase. Somewhat later, provoked by the Great Depression, other laws legalised collective bargaining through unions, introduced a minimum wage, and established Social Security.

The US elites entered into an unwritten compact with the working classes. This implicit contract included the promise that the fruits of economic growth would be distributed more equitably among both workers and owners. In return, the fundamentals of the political-economic system would not be challenged (no revolution). The deal allowed the lower and upper classes to co-operate in solving the challenges facing the American Republic — overcoming the Great Depression, winning the Second World War, and countering the Soviet threat during the Cold War.

It almost goes without saying that there was a racist and xenophobic underside to all this. The co-operating group was mainly native-born white Protestants. African-Americans, Jews, Catholics and foreigners were excluded or heavily discriminated against. Nevertheless, while making such ‘categorical inequalities’ worse, the compact led to a dramatic reduction in overall economic inequality.

The ‘New Deal Coalition’ which ruled the US from 1932 to the late 1960s did so well that the business community, opposed to its policies at first, came to accept them in the post-war years. As the historian Kim Phillips-Fein wrote in Invisible Hands (2010):
Many managers and stockholders [made] peace with the liberal order that had emerged. They began to bargain regularly with the labour unions at their companies. They advocated the use of fiscal policy and government action to help the nation to cope with economic downturns. They accepted the idea that the state might have some role to play in guiding economic life.

When Barry Goldwater campaigned on a pro-business, anti-union and anti-big government platform in the 1964 presidential elections, he couldn’t win any lasting support from the corporate community. The conservatives had to wait another 16 years for their triumph.

But by the late 1970s, a new generation of political and business leaders had come to power. To them the revolutionary situation of 1919-21 was just history. In this they were similar to the French aristocrats on the eve of the French Revolution, who did not see that their actions could bring down the Ancien Régime — the last great social breakdown, the Fronde, being so far in the past.

The US elites, similarly, took the smooth functioning of the political-economic system for granted. The only problem, as they saw it, was that they weren’t being adequately compensated for their efforts. Feelings of dissatisfaction ran high during the Bear Market of 1973—82, when capital returns took a particular beating. The high inflation of that decade ate into inherited wealth. A fortune of $2 billion in 1982 was a third smaller, when expressed in inflation-adjusted dollars, than $1 billion in 1962, and only a sixth of $1 billion in 1912. All these factors contributed to the reversal of the late 1970s.

It is no coincidence that the life of Communism (from the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) coincides almost perfectly with the Great Compression era. The Red Scares of, firstly, 1919—21 and then 1947—57 suggest that US elites took the Soviet threat quite seriously. More generally, the Soviet Union, especially in its early years, aggressively promoted an ideology that was highly threatening to the political-economic system favoured by the US elites. Reforms that ensured an equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth turned out to be a highly effective counter to the lure of Bolshevism.

Nevertheless, when Communism collapsed, its significance was seriously misread. It’s true that the Soviet economy could not compete with a system based on free markets plus policies and norms that promoted equity. Yet the fall of the Soviet Union was interpreted as a vindication of free markets, period. The triumphalist, heady atmosphere of the 1990s was highly conducive to the spread of Ayn Randism and other individualist ideologies. The unwritten social contract that had emerged during the New Deal and braved the challenges of the Second World War had faded from memory.

What, then, explains the rapid growth of top fortunes in the US over the past 30 years? Why did the wages of unskilled workers stagnate or decline? What accounts for the bitterness of election rhetoric in the US, the growing legislative gridlock, the rampant political polarisation? My answer is that all of these trends are part of a complex and interlocking system. I don’t just mean that everything affects everything else; that would be vacuous. Rather, that cliodynamic theory can tell us specifically how demographic, economic and cultural variables relate to one another, and how their interactions generate social change. Cliodynamics also explains why historical reversals in such diverse areas as economics and culture happen at roughly similar times. The theory of secular cycles was developed using data from historical societies, but it looks like it can provide answers to questions about our own society.

Our society, like all previous complex societies, is on a rollercoaster. Impersonal social forces bring us to the top; then comes the inevitable plunge. But the descent is not inevitable. Ours is the first society that can perceive how those forces operate, even if dimly. This means that we can avoid the worst — perhaps by switching to a less harrowing track, perhaps by redesigning the rollercoaster altogether.

Three years ago I published a short article in the science journalNature. I pointed out that several leading indicators of political instability look set to peak around 2020. In other words, we are rapidly approaching a historical cusp, at which the US will be particularly vulnerable to violent upheaval. This prediction is not a ‘prophecy’. I don’t believe that disaster is pre-ordained, no matter what we do. On the contrary, if we understand the causes, we have a chance to prevent it from happening. But the first thing we will have to do is reverse the trend of ever-growing inequality.

Correction, Feb 13, 2013: When first published, this article misidentified Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, as an inheritor of a large fortune. In fact he amassed most of his wealth himself.

7 February 2013