Arquivo da tag: Economia

Countries should seize the moment to flatten the climate curve (The Economist)

economist.com

May 21st 2020 7-8 minutes


The pandemic shows how hard it will be to decarbonise—and creates an opportunity


Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

FOLLOWING THE pandemic is like watching the climate crisis with your finger jammed on the fast-forward button. Neither the virus nor greenhouse gases care much for borders, making both scourges global. Both put the poor and vulnerable at greater risk than wealthy elites and demand government action on a scale hardly ever seen in peacetime. And with China’s leadership focused only on its own advantage and America’s as scornful of the World Health Organisation as it is of the Paris climate agreement, neither calamity is getting the co-ordinated international response it deserves.

The two crises do not just resemble each other. They interact. Shutting down swathes of the economy has led to huge cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions. In the first week of April, daily emissions worldwide were 17% below what they were last year. The International Energy Agency expects global industrial greenhouse-gas emissions to be about 8% lower in 2020 than they were in 2019, the largest annual drop since the second world war.

That drop reveals a crucial truth about the climate crisis. It is much too large to be solved by the abandonment of planes, trains and automobiles. Even if people endure huge changes in how they lead their lives, this sad experiment has shown, the world would still have more than 90% of the necessary decarbonisation left to do to get on track for the Paris agreement’s most ambitious goal, of a climate only 1.5°C warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

But as we explain this week (see article) the pandemic both reveals the size of the challenge ahead and also creates a unique chance to enact government policies that steer the economy away from carbon at a lower financial, social and political cost than might otherwise have been the case. Rock-bottom energy prices make it easier to cut subsidies for fossil fuels and to introduce a tax on carbon. The revenues from that tax over the next decade can help repair battered government finances. The businesses at the heart of the fossil-fuel economy—oil and gas firms, steel producers, carmakers—are already going through the agony of shrinking their long-term capacity and employment. Getting economies in medically induced comas back on their feet is a circumstance tailor-made for investment in climate-friendly infrastructure that boosts growth and creates new jobs. Low interest rates make the bill smaller than ever.

Take carbon-pricing first. Long cherished by economists (and The Economist), such schemes use the power of the market to incentivise consumers and firms to cut their emissions, thus ensuring that the shift from carbon happens in the most efficient way possible. The timing is particularly propitious because such prices have the most immediate effects when they tip the balance between two already available technologies. In the past it was possible to argue that, although prices might entrench an advantage for cleaner gas over dirtier coal, renewable technologies were too immature to benefit. But over the past decade the costs of wind and solar power have tumbled. A relatively small push from a carbon price could give renewables a decisive advantage—one which would become permanent as wider deployment made them cheaper still. There may never have been a time when carbon prices could achieve so much so quickly.

Carbon prices are not as popular with politicians as they are with economists, which is why too few of them exist. But even before covid-19 there were hints their time was coming. Europe is planning an expansion of its carbon-pricing scheme, the largest in the world; China is instituting a brand new one. Joe Biden, who backed carbon prices when he was vice-president, will do so again in the coming election campaign—and at least some on the right will agree with that. The proceeds from a carbon tax could raise over 1% of GDP early on and would then taper away over several decades. This money could either be paid as a dividend to the public or, as is more likely now, help lower government debts, which are already forecast to reach an average of 122% of GDP in the rich world this year, and will rise further if green investments are debt-financed.

Carbon pricing is only part of the big-bang response now possible. By itself, it is unlikely to create a network of electric-vehicle charging-points, more nuclear power plants to underpin the cheap but intermittent electricity supplied by renewables, programmes to retrofit inefficient buildings and to develop technologies aimed at reducing emissions that cannot simply be electrified away, such as those from large aircraft and some farms. In these areas subsidies and direct government investment are needed to ensure that tomorrow’s consumers and firms have the technologies which carbon prices will encourage.

Some governments have put their efforts into greening their covid-19 bail-outs. Air France has been told either to scrap domestic routes that compete with high-speed trains, powered by nuclear electricity, or to forfeit taxpayer assistance. But dirigisme disguised as a helping hand could have dangerous consequences: better to focus on insisting that governments must not skew their bail-outs towards fossil fuels. In other countries the risk is of climate-damaging policies. America has been relaxing its environmental rules further during the pandemic. China—whose stimulus for heavy industry sent global emissions soaring after the global financial crisis—continues to build new coal plants (see article).

Carpe covid

The covid-19 pause is not inherently climate-friendly. Countries must make it so. Their aim should be to show by 2021, when they gather to take stock of progress made since the Paris agreement and commit themselves to raising their game, that the pandemic has been a catalyst for a breakthrough on the environment.

Covid-19 has demonstrated that the foundations of prosperity are precarious. Disasters long talked about, and long ignored, can come upon you with no warning, turning life inside out and shaking all that seemed stable. The harm from climate change will be slower than the pandemic but more massive and longer-lasting. If there is a moment for leaders to show bravery in heading off that disaster, this is it. They will never have a more attentive audience. ■

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Seize the moment”

economist.com

Can covid help flatten the climate curve?

May 21st 2020 8-10 minutes


Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

AMID COVID-19’s sweeping devastation, its effect on greenhouse gases has emerged as something of a bright spot. Between January and March demand for coal dropped by 8% and oil by 5%, compared with the same period in 2019. By the end of the year energy demand may be 6% down overall, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an intergovernmental forecaster, amounting to the largest drop it has ever seen.

Because less energy use means less burning of fossil fuels, greenhouse-gas emissions are tumbling, too. According to an analysis by the Global Carbon Project, a consortium of scientists, 2020’s emissions will be 2-7% lower than 2019’s if the world gets back to prepandemic conditions by mid-June; if restrictions stay in place all year, the estimated drop is 3-13% depending on how strict they are. The IEA’s best guess for the drop is 8%.

That is not enough to make any difference to the total warming the world can expect. Warming depends on the cumulative emissions to date; a fraction of one year’s toll makes no appreciable difference. But returning the world to the emission levels of 2010—for a 7% drop—raises the tantalising prospect of crossing a psychologically significant boundary. The peak in carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels may be a lot closer than many assume. It might, just possibly, turn out to lie in the past.

That emissions from fossil fuels have to peak, and soon, is a central tenet of climate policy. Precisely when they might do so, though, is so policy-dependent that many forecasters decline to give a straight answer. The IEA makes a range of projections depending on whether governments keep on with today’s policies or enact new ones. In the scenario which assumes that current policies stay in place, fossil-fuel demand rises by nearly 30% from 2018 to 2040, with no peak in sight.

The IEA, though, has persistently underestimated the renewable-energy sector. Others are more bullish. Carbon Tracker, a financial think-tank, predicted in 2018 that with impressive but plausible growth in renewable deployment and relatively slow growth in overall demand, even under current policy fossil-fuel emissions should peak in the 2020s—perhaps as early as 2023. Michael Liebreich, who founded BloombergNEF, an energy-data outfit, has also written about a possible peak in the mid 2020s. Depending on how the pandemic pans out he now thinks that it may be in 2023—or may have been in 2019.

Previously, drops in emissions caused by economic downturns have proved only temporary setbacks to the ongoing rise in fossil-fuel use. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Asian financial crash in 1997 and the financial crisis of 2007-09 all saw emissions stumble briefly before beginning to rise again (see chart). But if a peak really was a near-term prospect before the pandemic, almost a decade’s worth of setback could mean that, though emissions will rise over the next few years, they never again reach the level they stood at last year.

The alternative, more orthodox pre-covid view was that the peak was both further off and destined to be higher. On this view, emissions will regain their pre-pandemic level within a few years and will climb right on past it. Covid’s damage to the economy probably means that the peak, when it arrives, will be lower than it might have been, says Roman Kramarchuk of S&P Global Platts Analytics, a data and research firm. But an economic dip is unlikely to bring it on sooner.

What, though, if covid does not merely knock demand back, but reshapes it? This shock, unlike prior ones, comes upon an energy sector already in the throes of change. The cost of renewables is dipping below that of new fossil-fuel plants in much of the world. After years of development, electric vehicles are at last poised for the mass market. In such circumstances covid-19 may spur decisions—by individuals, firms, investors and governments—that hasten fossil fuels’ decline.

So far, renewables have had a pretty good pandemic, despite some disruptions to supply chains. With no fuel costs and the preferential access to electricity grids granted by some governments, renewables demand jumped 1.5% in the first quarter, even as demand for all other forms of energy sank. America’s Energy Information Administration expects renewables to surpass coal’s share of power generation in America for the first time this year.

Coal prices have fallen, given the low demand, which may position it well post-pandemic in some places. Even before covid, China was building new coal-fired plants (see article). But the cost of borrowing is also low, and likely to stay that way, which means installing renewables should stay cheap for longer. Renewable developers such as Iberdrola and Orsted, both of which have weathered covid-19 rather well so far, are keen to replace coal on an ever larger scale.

Those who see demand for fossil fuels continuing to climb as populations and economies grow have assumed demand for oil will be much more persistent than that for coal. Coal is almost entirely a source of electricity, which makes it ripe for replacement by renewables. Oil is harder to shift. Electric vehicles are sure to eat into some of its demand; but a rising appetite for petrochemicals and jet fuel, to which lithium-ion batteries offer no competition, was thought likely to offset the loss.

Breaking bounds

Now oil’s future looks much more murky, depending as it does on a gallimaufry of newly questionable assumptions about commuting, airline routes, government intervention, capital spending and price recovery. In the future more people may work from home, and commuting accounts for about 8% of oil demand. But those who do commute may prefer to do so alone in their cars, offsetting some of those gains. Chinese demand for oil has picked up again quickly in part because of reticence about buses and trains.

As to planes, Jeff Currie of Goldman Sachs estimates that demand for oil will recover to pre-crisis levels by the middle of 2022, but that demand for jet fuel may well stay 1.7m barrels a day below what it was as business travel declines. That is equivalent to nearly 2% of oil demand.

Such uncertainty means more trouble for the oil sector, whose poor returns and climate risks have been repelling investors for a while. Companies are slashing spending on new projects. By the mid-2020s today’s underinvestment in oil may boost crude prices—making demand for electric vehicles grow all the faster.

Natural gas, the fossil fuel for which analysts have long predicted continued growth, has weathered the pandemic better than its two older siblings. But it, too, faces accelerating competition. One of gas’s niches is powering the “peaker” plants which provide quick influxes of energy when demand outstrips a grid’s supply. It looks increasingly possible for batteries to take a good chunk of that business.

Those hoping for fossil fuels’ imminent demise should not be overconfident. As lockdowns around the world end, use of dirty fuels will tick back up, as they have in China. Energy emissions no longer rise in lockstep with economic growth, but demand for fossil fuels remains tied to it. Mr Currie of Goldman Sachs, for one, is wary of declaring a permanent decoupling: “I’m not willing to say there is a structural shift in oil demand to GDP.” Even so, a peak of fossil fuels in the 2020s looks less and less farfetched—depending on what governments do next in their struggle with the pandemic. Of all the uncertainties in energy markets, none currently looms larger than that. ■

Are We at War? The Rhetoric of War in the Coronavirus Pandemic (The Disorder of Things)

/ Guest Authors

The seventh contribution to our growing collection of writings on Covid-19 and this moment of crisis. Federica Caso is currently a teaching assistant at the University of Queensland, where she also completed her PhD in 2019. Her expertise is on militarisation and war memory in liberal societies. She also works on the politics of culture, art, and gender. Her most recent publication is titled “The Political Aesthetics of the Body of the Soldier in Pain” which features in Catherine Baker’s edited volume  Making War on Bodies.


In this pandemic, the war rhetoric has spread as fast as the coronavirus itself. Recently, US President Donald Trump has characterised himself as a wartime president. Hospitals are preparing for war and healthcare workers are heralded as the frontline soldiers in the war against COVID-19. Economists ask how the coronavirus war economy will change the world. Wartime terms such as shelter-in-place, panic-buying, and lockdown have entered our daily and most mundane conversations.

The language of war is so normalised that in a recent episode of the New York Times’ podcast The Daily, a medical doctor answers questions from US American children about the coronavirus using war metaphors. We have come to believe that these children, aged no more than 6 and raised in ‘peacetime’ and prosperity, naturally know about invasion, bombing, weapons, and strategic warfare. We have come to believe that this is the best language to teach them about life processes.

It is important to pay attention to the language that we use to describe the coronavirus pandemic because it determines how we respond to it.

The War Metaphor

This is not the first time that the language of war is stretched to contexts that are not legalistically wartimes. In the last fifty years, we have heard of the war of drugs, the war on poverty, the war on crime, and the war on plastic.

War is a powerful metaphor. It is an effective, immediate, and emotive tool to communicate urgency to the general public. It also conveys a sense of struggle and righteousness that can justify exceptional measures.

The power of the war metaphor is derived from the role that war played in crafting the modern nation-state and the European model of the international system. Modern warfare is codified as an instrument of policy to protect the political community. In this dominant depiction, war is a measure that states take in the name of the nation to defend their citizens against a threatening foreign enemy. This is largely how we have memorialised war, and this is the type of war that we invoke when we deploy the metaphor of war.

The Power of the War Rhetoric in the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is not only invoking metaphors from war, it is also unleashing war rhetoric. To clarify the distinction between war metaphor and war rhetoric consider the difference between the doctor hosted by The Daily that I mentioned before who uses examples from warfare to explain children how viruses work, and President Trump characterising himself as a war president. One assumes that children are familiar with the language of war more than the language of life, and therefore draws from the former to explain the latter. President Trump characterising himself as a war president is asking Americans to trust his abilities to deal with this difficult situation.

The war rhetoric presumes that we are at war when we are not to construct the realities of war. These war realities are invoked as a means of interrupting normalcy and call for exceptional measures. This strategy in the coronavirus pandemic has some merits.

The first invocation of the war rhetoric comes from doctors and health workers. For example, Italian doctors cry that the situation in the hospitals “is like a war”, and Australian health workers are preparing themselves for war. Here the war rhetoric functions to raise awareness about the challenges that the health system faces during this pandemic and the need for preparedness. The influx of patients and the shortage of supply and medical equipment are likened to wartime situations as a way of warning about the coming challenges to health systems worldwide.

The rhetoric of war is also invoked by politicians to compel compliance with orders designed to slow the spread of the virus. We are now all familiar with the expression “shelter-in-place,” which has its origin in the Cold War. Shelter-in-place evokes bunkers and nuclear fallout, and Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo has raised concerns that the expression fuels panic among the public. He is right and this is why the expression works. The language of war is imbued with fear, which makes it a compelling way to communicate when seeking obedience.

Finally, the rhetoric of war is enabling economic changes and flexibility that are much needed to face the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Economists are comparing the current unemployment rates, drops in market shares, and goods shortages to wartime scenarios. They are calling for wartime economic thinking to stimulate the economy and nationalise key services and industries. For example, in the US, the war rhetoric has tabled the need for the Defence Production Act, first introduced in 1950 during the Korean War, to support the production and distribution of medical materials such as ventilators and face masks. Given the fear around the nationalisation of industry and the spread of socialism in the US, the rhetoric of war might be a strategy to persuade the sceptical in the political class that the State must intervene in the economy.

We are not at War and We Should Stop Using the War Rhetoric          

While the war rhetoric is effective to communicate urgency and implement special measures, we are not at war. The coronavirus is not an enemy. It is a parasitic agent that attaches to living organisms to generate new viral particles. There is no war to be waged against such a thing, and we should consider carefully before continuing to use the war rhetoric.

The first reason why we should stop using the rhetoric of war is that it fuels hatred, antagonism, and nationalism. For example, tapping into the war mentality, US President Trump antagonised China when he labelled the coronavirus “the Chinese virus.” We are also witnessing the mushrooming of conspiracy theories that incite mistrust. Furthermore, cases of racism towards Asians in the West are also testament of the divisive attitude brought by the war rhetoric.

Secondly, the rhetoric of war breeds and legitimises authoritarianism. Fear is a tool of control. Frightened people are more likely to accept exceptional measures and limitations to their freedoms. For example, in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has used emergency powers to extend his rule indefinitely. Several states around the world are implementing curfews with an increased deployment of police in the streets and ensuing police brutality. China is rolling out a new surveillance system that tells people when they should quarantine. Germany is developing an app that uses geolocation to do contact tracing. We will soon be confronted with the implications of this enhanced surveillance.

Third, as the war on terror taught us, a war with an elusive enemy is an endless war. A war against the coronavirus begs the question of how far are we willing to go to win, what counts as victory, and what are we ready to relinquish to win. After 9/11, the US introduced The Patriot Act which stripped Americans of many civil rights and freedoms in the name of security. The elusive enemy of war on terror has bred widespread wars in the Middle East and justified authoritarian measures in other parts of the world. There are lessons to be learnt from the post-9/11 rush to the war rhetoric that are instructive to avoid repeating another two decades of global violence.

Finally, the language of war authorises war behaviours and psychology. We are living in anxious times: people fear disease and death; many have lost their job and their business; we are keeping physically away from each other; services including mental health facilities and abortion clinics are closed; and we are watching the news as if it were the scariest TV series. When we embellish all of this with the language of war either to compel obedience or to give ourselves a boost of excitement, we also justify and encourage the fight or flight mentality and muscular, selfish behaviours such as hoarding toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitiser, and even guns.

Rhetorical Revelations

An analysis of the use of the war rhetoric during the coronavirus pandemic brings two revelations.

First, the rhetoric of a war against the coronavirus externalises responsibilities for the fact that our system is ill-equipped to protect people. For minority groups and poor people this is not news. But for the middle class and wealthy white people it is. The coronavirus is magnifying the deficiencies of our political, social, and economic system. It is forcing on us some of the questions that have long been at the fringes of leftist activism such as unemployment, prisons’ overpopulation, access to health care, mutual aid and community support, and funding for the arts. These were questions that before affected mostly minority groups and the poorer segments of society. Now, they affect most of us.

A case in point of how the war rhetoric externalises responsibilities is the crisis that the health system is facing today. We are speaking of medical workers as soldiers and of hospitals as battlefields. This conceals that the present crisis is mostly the product of our trust in neoliberal economic logics and in technological progress.

The coronavirus pandemic is revealing that our hospitals are highly technological but cannot accommodate large numbers of sick people. Since the 1980s, the development of medical technology and treatments for diseases that previously kept patients in hospitals, prompted a reduction in hospital beds. Empty beds are not cost-efficient. And even if now we can source beds from hotels and private hospitals, we still face the problem of the shortage of medical equipment such as face masks and hand sanitiser. The political economy of these shortages is rather common: many countries in the West have outsourced the production of medical equipment such as face masks and ventilators to reduce costs (the political economy of ventilators in the US is even more disturbing). It is no surprise that China, the largest world producer of face masks, is keeping them in the country to protect its own people and medical workers in the face of its own pandemic challenges.

The language of war conceals that the economic model on which we run hospitals and health care is deficient, if not sick. It implies instead that it is under attack by an external enemy. Viruses are an occurrence of life, they are not enemies. We can speculate that the coronavirus is here to stay, that it can come back, or than another virus like it will eventually emerge. We cannot declare a war every time. We must be prepared with policies and equipment such that life does not have to stop every time. The recognition that our health system is diseased from the capitalist logics of efficiency, cost reduction, and profit maximisation is the starting point to build resilient hospitals and medical workforce. Health workers should not be considered frontline soldiers. Life is not a battle.

The language of war devolves our own responsibilities further through discourse around the need to protect the vulnerable. We know that the coronavirus is more likely to kill the vulnerable. The elderly immediately come to mind. Initially, this information inspired the confidence that we could have kept running business as usual if we avoided contact with the vulnerable. This was the early strategy of the UK, for example. Soon we have realised that the extent of the category of the vulnerable is much larger than we could have ever imagined. Emerging data reveal that the vulnerable to the coronavirus also include those with weak immune systems, those suffering from hypertension, diabetes, cardiac ischemia, and chronic renal and lung conditions. We have been confronted with the fact that conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and depression, which are widespread in today’s world but are generally not considered life-threatening, make us vulnerable to death when compounded with a disease such as that caused by the coronavirus.

There is a connection between poor health and socio-economic conditions. Most cases of vulnerability are bred by social policies, which means that the coronavirus will hit some communities harder than others. For example, in Australia, this disparity is revealed by the health directives which indicate that while the cut-off of vulnerability for non-Indigenous Australians is 60 years old for those with pre-existing conditions, and 70 for those without, it is 50 for First Nations people. As Chelsea Bond explains, poor health in Aboriginal communities is the product of 200 years of neglect. While the health agenda focused on finding cures for diseases that were endemic in Europe and that were affecting the settlers, Indigenous people were denied access to medical treatment and control over their health agenda.

The rhetoric of war against the coronavirus puts the blame for sickness and death onto an external invisible enemy, while masking that in fact our current political and economic system is at the basis of many of the health conditions that make us vulnerable to this virus. The number of those vulnerable to the coronavirus due to underlying conditions suggests that the health agenda has failed us because of the politics of class, race, and sexuality. We are not at war with an invisible enemy, the head and lymph of our health system is sick.

The second revelation is that we are ill-equipped to deal with death. Charles Einstein suggests that we are not at war with the virus, we are at war with death. The triumph over death has been considered to be the ultimate sign of civilisation. Medical technologies that make us live longer are heralded as symbol of progress and make us believe that we have control over death. The coronavirus is challenging our triumph over death and we are fighting to reclaim it.

We are in denial of death and we cannot accept it as part of life. We are so possessed by the belief that we have to defeat death that when it presents itself, we do anything we can to avoid it, even if the price is human life itself.

This pandemic has presented us with death. To avoid it, we are asked to forgo human contact: no handshakes, no hugs, no sex, no gatherings, and no public life. We are living secluded in our homes, desperately attempting to make technology a viable substitute for our previous life. We Facetime our friends and family, use Zoom to teach, learn, and exercise, and invent new ways to date remotely. This works enough to avoid total isolation, but not to sustain human life in the long term. Indeed, this is a small and temporary price to pay to save lives. But how long can this go on? And what are the implications of this lifestyle? As hospitals prepare themselves for the worse, we are facing a surge of isolation, depression, domestic abuse, and alcoholism, all problems that we have to live with to avoid death.

The coronavirus is shaking the ground of our civilizational triumph over death. To be sure, people die every day and they died even before the coronavirus. Many people die of preventable diseases, domestic and intimate partner violence, and of hunger. While there are organisations, campaigns, and activities of mutual aid that operate every day to save lives, there are also structures of power that cause, benefit, or cannot care for the many who die of preventable death. This pandemic is begging the question of whose life matter – once again.

Coronavirus deaths were unforeseen and are threatening the legitimacy and efficacy of our structures of power. They are putting people out of work, affecting oil price, changing patterns of capitalist consumption, and prompting government to subsidise citizens and workers around the world. They are undermining confidence in the robustness of the medical, social, economic, and political system. This is why we cannot be in denial of coronavirus deaths like we are for other types of deaths caused by power imbalances and structural inequality.

A critical look at death worldwide reveals that many die from perverse operations of power. But we are all dying from these power imbalances. We can see this if we consider the bigger picture of the unfolding climate disaster. We are all slowing but surely dying. Life in the Pacific Islands is under serious and immediate threat from raising sea levels. Australia has witnessed a long and unprecedented summer of bushfires that is likely to come back. Draughts and famine are threating life in many African states. Levels of pollution and industrial urbanisation in Asia are alarming. The fluctuating temperature of the last few winters in Europe are affecting summer crop production. Scientists keep predicting how many years human life on Earth can continue as is unless we reverse the trends, 20, 30, 13, 50 years. And yet, we remain in denial of our own mortality.

The rhetoric of war about the coronavirus reveals that despite (or possibly because of) the scientific progress that we have made, we are clinging onto anything that keeps life going, no matter what kind of life. And with the war rhetoric in place, if we die, at least we die heroically, as if in war. Our rejection of death is making us blind to the question about what kind of life is worth living and what is worth living for.

Like war, the coronavirus pandemic is a collective trauma. The ways in which we have dealt with war traumas have instantiated various forms of structural violence: nationalism, state borders, toxic (militaristic) masculinity, muscular politics, economic competition, expansionism, and settler colonialism. And this is another reason why we must avoid the language of war to describe the coronavirus pandemic, for we don’t want another collective trauma to turn into an opportunity to instantiate more structural violence. In the face of collective trauma, Emma Hutchison invites us to consider the politics of grief to reshape our sense of collectivity. This demands that we name and face our injuries, negative emotions, and their sources as a way of integrating the experience in our narratives of communal life and adapt accordingly. Through the politics of grief, we do not re-enact the past over and over again; we empower ourselves to write a different future. We need to come to terms with the limitations of our systems of politics, economy, society, and beliefs that the coronavirus pandemic is showing us. These limitations are the source of our collective trauma and the items that we need to address to grieve and integrate the traumatic experience of this pandemic.

Modern day internet wisdom suggests that

If you are in conflict with someone and they are unaware, then you are in conflict within yourself.

This quote captures our so-called war with the coronavirus. We are not at war against the virus. As Annamaria Testa remarks, we cannot be at war with the coronavirus because it is not an enemy. It does not hate us and does not want our destruction. The virus is not even aware of us, and knows nothing of us or of itself.

Instead, we are at war with ourselves and the systems that we have created. We hate that the virus is stripping naked in front us the limitations of our systems, political, economic, social, and of beliefs. We hate that our health system cannot save us as we wanted and expected. We hate that, after all, screen time is not a very good substitute for human touch and company. We hate that once again we have to trust untrustworthy politicians to get us through this. We hate that the dreams that we built on the shaky grounds of our sick systems are becoming perverse fantasies. We hate that we have to relinquish again our freedoms and liberties for the fantasy of security. We hate to feel that the ground under our feet is crumbling fast and inexorably. If anything, we are at war with ourselves, just like a cancer patient might be at war with their own cancer.

But the language of war is no good either for the cancer patient or for the demise of the Anthropocene. This is not a war. This is a lesson and an opportunity to change ourselves and our systems and structures. The virus made visible the deficiencies of the status quo. It has made us hit pause. And it is demanding that we make changes. Going back to “normal” is going back to the same system that led us here. And this “new normal” of shelter-in-place, no human contact, and enhanced digital and police surveillance is a perverse fantasy of safety.

Perda total ou em parte da renda mensal já atingiu 40% dos brasileiros (Carta Capital)

Agência Brasil

Perda total ou em parte da renda mensal já atingiu 40% dos brasileiros. Foto: AFP.

Perda total ou em parte da renda mensal já atingiu 40% dos brasileiros. Foto: AFP.

Pesquisa da CNI mostra que a maioria da população brasileira continua favorável ao isolamento social, apesar das possíveis perdas econômicas

Pesquisa da Confederação Nacional da Indústria (CNI), divulgada nesta quinta-feira 07, mostra que a perda do poder de compra já atingiu quatro em cada dez brasileiros desde o início da pandemia. Do total de entrevistados, 23% perderam totalmente a renda e 17% tiveram redução no ganho mensal, atingindo o percentual de 40%.

Quase metade dos trabalhadores (48%) tem medo grande de perder o emprego. Somado ao percentual daqueles que têm medo médio (19%) ou pequeno (10%), o índice chega a 77% de pessoas que estão no mercado de trabalho e têm medo de perder o emprego. De modo geral, nove em cada dez entrevistados consideram grandes os impactos da pandemia de coronavírus na economia brasileira.

A pesquisa mostra também que o impacto na renda e o medo do desemprego levaram 77% dos consumidores a reduzir, durante o período de isolamento social, o consumo de pelo menos um de 15 produtos testados. Ou seja, de cada quatro brasileiros, três reduziram seus gastos. Apenas 23% dos entrevistados não reduziram em nada suas compras, na comparação com o hábito anterior ao período da pandemia.

Questionada sobre como pretende se comportar no futuro, a maioria dos brasileiros planeja manter no período pós-pandemia o nível de consumo adotado durante o isolamento, sendo que os percentuais variam de 50% a 72% dos entrevistados, dependendo do produto. Essa tendência, segundo a CNI, pode indicar que as pessoas não estão dispostas a retomar o mesmo patamar de compras que tinham antes.

Apenas 1% dos entrevistados respondeu que vai aumentar o consumo de todos os 15 itens testados pela pesquisa após o fim do isolamento social. Para 46%, a pretensão é aumentar o consumo de até cinco produtos; 8% vão aumentar o consumo de seis a dez produtos; e 2% de 11 a 14 produtos. Para 44% dos entrevistados, não haverá aumento no consumo de nenhum dos itens.

Isolamento social

Os dados revelam que a população brasileira continua favorável ao isolamento social (86%), apesar das possíveis perdas econômicas, e quase todo mundo (93%) mudou sua rotina durante o período de isolamento, em diferentes graus.

No cenário pós-pandemia, três em cada dez brasileiros falam em voltar a uma rotina igual à que tinham antes. Em relação ao retorno para o trabalho depois de terminado o isolamento social, 43% dos trabalhadores formais e informais afirmaram que se sentem seguros, enquanto 39% se dizem mais ou menos seguros e 18%, inseguros.

“As atenções dos governos, das empresas e da sociedade devem estar voltadas, prioritariamente, para preservar vidas. Entretanto, é crucial que nos preocupemos também com a sobrevivência das empresas e com a manutenção dos empregos. É preciso estabelecer uma estratégia consistente para que, no momento oportuno, seja possível promover uma retomada segura e gradativa das atividades empresariais”, disse o presidente da CNI, Robson Braga de Andrade.

A maior parte dos entrevistados (96%) considera importante que as empresas adotem medidas de segurança, como a distribuição de máscaras e a adoção de uma distância mínima entre os colaboradores. Para 82% dos trabalhadores, essas medidas serão eficientes para proteger os empregados.

Dívidas

Um dado apontado pela pesquisa e considerado preocupante pela CNI é o endividamento, que atinge mais da metade da população (53%). O percentual é a soma dos 38% que já estavam endividados antes da pandemia e os 15% que contraíram dívidas nos últimos 40 dias, período que coincide com o começo do isolamento social.

Entre aqueles que têm dívida, 40% afirmam que já estão com algum pagamento em atraso em alguma dessas dívidas. A maioria dos endividados em atraso (57%) passou a atrasar suas parcelas nos últimos 40 dias, ou seja, período que coincide com o isolamento social.

O levantamento, realizado pelo Instituto FSB Pesquisa, contou com 2.005 entrevistados, a partir de 16 anos, de todas as unidades da Federação, entre os dias 2 e 4 de maio e tem margem de erro de dois pontos percentuais.

As Hunger Swells, Food Stamps Become a Partisan Flash Point (New York Times)

nytimes.com

By Jason DeParle – May 6, 2020

Democrats are seeking to raise benefits as research shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent amid the pandemic. But Republicans have balked at a long-term expansion of the program.

Volunteers preparing food at a distribution center in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., last month.
Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As a padlocked economy leaves millions of Americans without paychecks, lines outside food banks have stretched for miles, prompting some of the overwhelmed charities to seek help from the National Guard.

New research shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent. Among mothers with young children, nearly one-fifth say their children are not getting enough to eat, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution, a rate three times as high as in 2008, during the worst of the Great Recession.

The reality of so many Americans running out of food is an alarming reminder of the economic hardship the pandemic has inflicted. But despite their support for spending trillions on other programs to mitigate those hardships, Republicans have balked at a long-term expansion of food stamps — a core feature of the safety net that once enjoyed broad support but is now a source of a highly partisan divide.

Democrats want to raise food stamp benefits by 15 percent for the duration of the economic crisis, arguing that a similar move during the Great Recession reduced hunger and helped the economy. But Republicans have fought for years to shrink the program, saying that the earlier liberalization led to enduring caseload growth and a backdoor expansion of the welfare state.

For President Trump, a personal rivalry may also be in play: In his State of the Union address in February, he boasted that falling caseloads showed him besting his predecessor, Barack Obama, whom Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker, had derided as “the food stamp president.” Even as the pandemic unfolded, the Trump administration tried to push forward with new work rules projected to remove more people from aid.

Mr. Trump and his congressional allies have agreed to only a short-term increase in food stamp benefits that omits the poorest recipients, including five million children. Those calling for a broader increase say Congress has spent an unprecedented amount on programs invented on the fly while rejecting a proven way to keep hungry people fed.

“This program is the single most powerful anti-hunger tool that we have and one of the most important economic development tools,” said Kate Maehr, the head of the Chicago food bank. “Not to use it when we have so many people who are in such great need is heartbreaking. This is not a war that charity can win.”

The debate in Congress is about the size of benefits, not the numbers on the rolls. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are also known, expands automatically to accommodate need.

“SNAP is working, SNAP will increase,” said Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the program. “Anyone who qualifies is going to get those benefits. We do not need new legislation.”

Mr. Conaway noted that Republicans have supported huge spending on other programs to temper the economic distress, and increased benefits for some SNAP recipients (for the duration of the health emergency, not the economic downturn). Democrats, he said, want to leverage the pandemic into a permanent food stamp expansion.

“SNAP is working, SNAP will increase,” said Representative K. Michael Conaway, Republican of Texas, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “We do not need new legislation,” he added.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“I’m a little bit jaded,” he said. “The last time we did this, those changes were sold as being temporary — when unemployment improved, the rolls would revert back. That didn’t happen.”

Rejecting what he called the Democrats’ narrative of “hardhearted Republicans,” he warned against tempting people to become dependent on government aid. “I don’t want to create a moral hazard for people to be on welfare.”

Food stamp supporters say the program is well suited for the crisis because it targets the poor and benefits can be easily adjusted since recipients get them on a debit card. The money gets quickly spent and supplies a basic need.

During the Great Recession, Congress increased maximum benefits by about 14 percent and let states suspend work rules. Caseloads soared. By the time the rolls peaked in 2013, nearly 20 million people had joined the program, an increase of nearly 70 percent, and one in seven Americans received food stamps, including millions with no other income.

Supporters saw a model response. The share of families suffering “very low food security” — essentially, hunger — fell after the benefit expanded (and rose once the increase expired). Analysts at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arloc Sherman and Danilo Trisi, found that in 2012 the program lifted 10 million people out of poverty.

“This is what you want a safety net to do — expand in times of crisis,” said Diane Schanzenbach, an economist at Northwestern University.

But a backlash quickly followed, as a weak recovery and efforts to increase participation kept the rolls much higher than they had been before the recession.

Republican governors reinstated work rules for childless adults, and one of them, Sam Brownback of Kansas, succeeded in pushing three-quarters of that population from the rolls. A new conservative think tank, the Foundation for Government Accountability, said the policy “freed” the poor and urged others to follow. By the time Mr. Trump introduced his brand of conservative populism, skepticism of food stamps was part of the movement’s genome.

In a history that spans more than a half-century, the program has alternately been celebrated as “nutritional aid” and attacked as “welfare.”

Its current form dates to a 1977 compromise between two Senate lions, the liberal George McGovern and the conservative Bob Dole. But almost simultaneously Ronald Reagan added to a stream of racialized attacks on the program, invoking the image of a “strapping young buck” who used food stamps to buy steaks. As president, Reagan went on to enact large cuts.

A customer waiting in line outside a grocery store in Brooklyn. New research shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent.
Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

After President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare” in the 1990s by restricting cash aid, conservatives sought to include big cuts in food stamps, which he resisted. The law he signed subjected cash aid to time limits and work requirements but allowed similar constraints on just one group of food stamp recipients — adults without minor children, roughly 10 percent of the caseload. (Other provisions disqualified many immigrants.)

His Republican successor, George W. Bush, called himself a “compassionate conservative” and promoted food stamps — partly to help people leaving cash welfare to work — and the caseloads grew by nearly two-thirds.

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“I don’t see it as a welfare program,” said Eric M. Bost, Mr. Bush’s first food stamp administrator. “I see it as a nutritional assistance program. You can only use it to buy food.”

Food stamps remain central to the American safety net — costing much more ($60 billion) than cash aid and covering many more people (38 million). To qualify, a household must have an income of 130 percent of the poverty line or less, about $28,000 for three people. Before the pandemic, the average household had a total income of just over $10,000 and received a benefit of about $239 a month.

But Mr. Trump has done all he can to shrink the program. He sought budget cuts of 30 percent. He tried to replace part of the benefit with “Harvest Boxes” of cheaper commodities. He tried to reduce eligibility and expand work rules to a much larger share of the caseload. When Congress balked, he pursued his goals through regulations. His chief of staff, Mark Meadows, called last year for using erroneous food stamp payments to fund the border wall.

“Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food stamp rolls,” Mr. Trump said in his State of Union speech (understating the growth). “Under my administration, seven million Americans have come off food stamps.”

In December, Mr. Trump issued a rule that made it harder for states to waive work mandates in areas of high unemployment. Conservatives say liberal states have abused waivers to gut the work rules — only six of California’s 58 counties, for example, enforced the requirement at the start of the year.

“Millions of able-bodied, working-age adults continue to collect food stamps without working or even looking for work,” Mr. Trump said.

But opponents of the Trump work rule, which applies to able-bodied adults, say it will punish indigents willing to work but unable to find jobs. Before the pandemic, the administration predicted nearly 700,000 people would lose benefits. They have average cash incomes of about $367 a month.

“Under my administration, seven million Americans have come off food stamps,” President Trump said during his State of the Union address this year.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“This rule would take a group of people who are already incredibly poor, and make them worse off,” said Stacy Dean, vice president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which favors broad access to benefits.

Even as the pandemic unfolded in mid-March, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue vowed to implement the work rule on April 1 as scheduled. A federal judge halted the move, and Congress deferred the rule until the pandemic ends.

A second target of administration ire is a policy that lets states expand eligibility by waiving certain limits on income and assets. About 40 states do so, although the budget center found more than 99 percent of benefits go to households with net incomes below the poverty line ($21,700 for a family of three).

Critics of the policy — “broad-based categorical eligibility” — say it encourages abuse by allowing people with significant savings to collect benefits. The Trump administration is seeking to eliminate it and has predicted that 3.1 million people would lose benefits, 8 percent of the caseload.

The Republican distrust of food stamps has now collided with a monumental crisis. Cars outside food banks have lined up for miles in places as different as San Antonio, Pittsburgh and Miami Beach.

Among those seeking food bank help for the first time was Andrew Schuster, 22, a long-distance trucker who contracted Covid-19 and returned home to recover outside Cleveland.

Unable to get unemployment benefits as the state’s website crashed, he exhausted his $1,200 stimulus check on rent and watched his food shelves empty. He was down to ramen noodles when he learned the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio was distributing food at his high school.

“I felt kind of embarrassed, really, because of the stigma of it,” Mr. Schuster said. But a box of milk, corn and pork loin “lifted a weight off my shoulders — I was almost in tears.”

Mr. Schuster, who voted for Mr. Trump, said that he used to think people abused food stamps, but that he may need to apply. “I never thought I would need it.”

While Mr. Schuster’s income fell, others have seen expenses rise. Jami Clinkscale of Columbus, Ohio, who lives on a disability check of $580 a month, has gone from feeding two people to six after taking in grandchildren when their mother was evicted. She feeds them on $170 of food stamps and frequents food pantries. “I’ve eaten a lot less just to make sure they get what they need,” she said.

The new research by the Brookings Institution underscores the rising need. Analyzing data from the Covid Impact Survey, a nationally representative sample, Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow in economic studies, found that nearly 23 percent of households said they lacked money to get enough food, compared with about 16 percent during the worst of the Great Recession. Among households with children, the share without enough food was nearly 35 percent, up from about 21 percent in the previous downturn.

When food runs short, parents often skip meals to keep children fed. But Ms. Bauer’s own survey of households with children 12 and younger found that more than 17.4 percent reported the children themselves not eating enough, compared with 5.7 percent in the Great Recession. (Her survey is called the Survey of Mothers With Young Children.) Inadequate nutrition can leave young children with permanent developmental damage.

People lined up at a drive-through food bank in Kansas City, Kan.
Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

“This is alarming,” she said. “These are households cutting back on portion sizes, having kids skip meals. The numbers are much higher than I expected.”

Ms. Bauer said disruptions in school meal programs may be part of the problem, with some families unable to reach distribution sites and older siblings at home competing for limited food.

Republicans say the government is spending trillions to meet such needs. In addition to the stimulus checks, Congress has added $600 a week to jobless benefits through July and raised food stamp benefits during the pandemic for about 60 percent of the caseload, at a cost of nearly $2 billion a month. They note that Democrats have not only pushed a longer benefit increase but proposed to permanently block Mr. Trump’s work rules and asset limitations.

“This is a backdoor way to get permanent changes,” Mr. Conaway said.

Democrats say the emergency help will end before the economy recovers and mostly bypasses the neediest families, few of whom qualify for jobless benefits. About 40 percent of food stamp households — the poorest — were left out of the benefit expansion. (The increase gives all households the maximum benefit, $509 for a family of three, though the poorest 40 percent already received it.)

Prospects for a congressional deal remain unclear and may depend on horse-trading in a larger coronavirus bill. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is adamant that it should contain a broader food stamp expansion.

“First of all, it’s a moral thing to do,” she said in an interview with MSNBC. “Second of all, the people need it. And third of all, it’s a stimulus to the economy.”

Updated April 11, 2020

Not quite all there. The 90% economy that lockdowns will leave behind (The Economist)

It will not just be smaller, it will feel strange

BriefingApr 30th 2020 edition

Apr 30th 2020

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

IN THE 1970s Mori Masahiro, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, observed that there was something disturbing about robots which looked almost, but not quite, like people. Representations in this “uncanny valley” are close enough to lifelike for their shortfalls and divergences from the familiar to be particularly disconcerting. Today’s Chinese economy is exploring a similarly unnerving new terrain. And the rest of the world is following in its uncertain steps.

Whatever the drawbacks of these new lowlands, they are assuredly preferable to the abyss of lockdown. Measures taken to reverse the trajectory of the pandemic around the world have brought with them remarkable economic losses.

Not all sectors of the economy have done terribly. New subscriptions to Netflix increased at twice their usual rate in the first quarter of 2020, with most of that growth coming in March. In America, the sudden stop of revenue from Uber’s ride-sharing service in March and April has been partially cushioned by the 25% increase of sales from its food-delivery unit, according to 7Park Data, a data provider.

Yet the general pattern is grim. Data from Womply, a firm which processes transactions on behalf of 450,000 small businesses across America, show that businesses in all sectors have lost substantial revenue. Restaurants, bars and recreational businesses have been badly hit: revenues have declined some two-thirds since March 15th. Travel and tourism may suffer the worst losses. In the EU, where tourism accounts for some 4% of GDP, the number of people travelling by plane fell from 5m to 50,000; on April 19th less than 5% of hotel rooms in Italy and Spain were occupied.

According to calculations made on behalf of The Economist by Now-Casting Economics, a research firm that provides high-frequency economic forecasts to institutional investors, the world economy shrank by 1.3% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020, driven by a 6.8% year-on-year decline in China’s GDP. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York draws on measures such as jobless claims to produce a weekly index of American economic output. It suggests that the country’s GDP is currently running about 12% lower than it was a year ago (see chart 1).

These figures fit with attempts by Goldman Sachs, a bank, to estimate the relationship between the severity of lockdowns and their effect on output. It finds, roughly, that an Italian-style lockdown is associated with a GDP decline of 25%. Measures to control the virus while either keeping the economy running reasonably smoothly, as in South Korea, or reopening it, as in China, are associated with a GDP reduction in the region of 10%. That chimes with data which suggest that if Americans chose to avoid person-to-person proximity of the length of an arm or less, occupations worth approximately 10% of national output would become unviable.

The “90% economy” thus created will be, by definition, smaller than that which came before. But its strangeness will be more than a matter of size. There will undoubtedly be relief, fellow feeling, and newly felt or expressed esteem for those who have worked to keep people safe. But there will also be residual fear, pervasive uncertainty, a lack of innovative fervour and deepened inequalities. The fraction of life that is missing will colour people’s experience and behaviour in ways that will not be offset by the happy fact that most of what matters is still available and ticking over. In a world where the office is open but the pub is not, qualitative differences in the way life feels will be at least as significant as the drop in output.

The plight of the pub demonstrates that the 90% economy will not be something that can be fixed by fiat. Allowing pubs—and other places of social pleasure—to open counts for little if people do not want to visit them. Many people will have to leave the home in order to work, but they may well feel less comfortable doing so to have a good time. A poll by YouGov on behalf of The Economist finds that over a third of Americans think it will be “several months” before it will be safe to reopen businesses as normal—which suggests that if businesses do reopen some, at least, may stay away.

Ain’t nothing but tired

Some indication that the spending effects of a lockdown will persist even after it is over comes from Sweden. Research by Niels Johannesen of Copenhagen University and colleagues finds that aggregate-spending patterns in Sweden and Denmark over the past months look similarly reduced, even though Denmark has had a pretty strict lockdown while official Swedish provisions have been exceptionally relaxed. This suggests that personal choice, rather than government policy, is the biggest factor behind the drop. And personal choices may be harder to reverse.

Discretionary spending by Chinese consumers—the sort that goes on things economists do not see as essentials—is 40% off its level a year ago. Haidilao, a hotpot chain, is seeing a bit more than three parties per table per day—an improvement, but still lower than the 4.8 registered last year, according to a report by Goldman Sachs published in mid-April. Breweries are selling 40% less beer. STR, a data-analytics firm, finds that just one-third of hotel beds in China were occupied during the week ending April 19th. Flights remain far from full (see chart 2).

This less social world is not necessarily bad news for every company. UBS, a bank, reports that a growing number of people in China say that the virus has increased their desire to buy a car—presumably in order to avoid the risk of infection on public transport. The number of passengers on Chinese underground trains is still about a third below last year’s level; surface traffic congestion is as bad now as it was then.

Wanting a car, though, will not mean being able to afford one. Drops in discretionary spending are not entirely driven by a residual desire for isolation. They also reflect the fact that some people have a lot less money in the post-lockdown world. Not all those who have lost jobs will quickly find new ones, not least because there is little demand for labour-intensive services such as leisure and hospitality. Even those in jobs will not feel secure, the Chinese experience suggests. Since late March the share of people worried about salary cuts has risen slightly, to 44%, making it their biggest concern for 2020, according to Morgan Stanley, a bank. Many are now recouping the loss of income that they suffered during the most acute phase of the crisis, or paying down debt. All this points to high saving rates in the future, reinforcing low consumption.

A 90% economy is, on one level, an astonishing achievement. Had the pandemic struck even two decades ago, only a tiny minority of people would have been able to work or satisfy their needs. Watching a performance of Beethoven on a computer, or eating a meal from a favourite restaurant at home, is not the same as the real thing—but it is not bad. The lifting of the most stringent lockdowns will also provide respite, both emotionally and physically, since the mere experience of being told what you can and cannot do is unpleasant. Yet in three main ways a 90% economy is a big step down from what came before the pandemic. It will be more fragile; it will be less innovative; and it will be more unfair.

Take fragility first. The return to a semblance of normality could be fleeting. Areas which had apparently controlled the spread of the virus, including Singapore and northern Japan, have imposed or reimposed tough restrictions in response to a rise in the growth rate of new infections. If countries which retain relatively tough social-distancing rules do better at staving off a viral comeback, other countries may feel a need to follow them (see Chaguan). With rules in flux, it will feel hard to plan weeks ahead, let alone months.

Can’t start a fire

The behaviour of the economy will be far less predictable. No one really knows for how long firms facing zero revenues, or households who are working reduced hours or not at all, will be able to survive financially. Businesses can keep going temporarily, either by burning cash or by tapping grants and credit lines set up by government—but these are unlimited neither in size nor duration. What is more, a merely illiquid firm can quickly become a truly insolvent one as its earnings stagnate while its debt commitments expand. A rise in corporate and personal bankruptcies, long after the apparently acute phase of the pandemic, seems likely, though governments are trying to forestall them. In the past fortnight bankruptcies in China started to rise relative to last year. On April 28th HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, reported worse-than-expected results, in part because of higher credit losses.

Furthermore, the pandemic has upended norms and conventions about how economic agents behave. In Britain the share of commercial tenants who paid their rent on time fell from 90% to 60% in the first quarter of this year. A growing number of American renters are no longer paying their landlords. Other creditors are being put off, too. In America, close to 40% of business-to-business payments from firms in the spectator-sports and film industries were late in March, double the rate a year ago. Enforcing contracts has become more difficult with many courts closed and social interactions at a standstill. This is perhaps the most insidious means by which weak sectors of the economy will infect otherwise moderately healthy ones.

In an environment of uncertain property rights and unknowable income streams, potential investment projects are not just risky—they are impossible to price. A recent paper by Scott Baker of Northwestern University and colleagues suggests that economic uncertainty is at an all-time high. That may go some way to explaining the results of a weekly survey from Moody’s Analytics, a research firm, which finds that businesses’ investment intentions are substantially lower even than during the financial crisis of 2007-09. An index which measures American nonresidential construction activity 9-12 months ahead has also hit new lows.

The collapse in investment points to the second trait of the 90% economy: that it will be less innovative. The development of liberal capitalism over the past three centuries went hand in hand with a growth in the number of people exchanging ideas in public or quasi-public spaces. Access to the coffeehouse, the salon or the street protest was always a partial process, favouring some people over others. But a vibrant public sphere fosters creativity.

Innovation is not impossible in a world with less social contact. There is more than one company founded in a garage now worth $1trn. During lockdowns, companies have had to innovate quickly—just look at how many firms have turned their hand to making ventilators, if with mixed success. A handful of firms claim that working from home is so productive that their offices will stay closed for good.

Yet these productivity bonuses look likely to be heavily outweighed by drawbacks. Studies suggest the benefits of working from home only materialise if employees can frequently check in at an office in order to solve problems. Planning new projects is especially difficult. Anyone who has tried to bounce ideas around on Zoom or Skype knows that spontaneity is hard. People are often using bad equipment with poor connections. Nick Bloom of Stanford University, one of the few economists to have studied working from home closely, reckons that there will be a sharp decline in patent applications in 2021.

Cities have proven particularly fertile ground for innovations which drive long-run growth. If Geoffrey West, a physicist who studies complex systems, is right to suggest that doubling a city’s population leads to all concerned becoming on aggregate 15% richer, then the emptying-out of urban areas is bad news. MoveBuddha, a relocation website, says that searches for places in New York City’s suburbs are up almost 250% compared with this time last year. A paper from New York University suggests that richer, and thus presumably more educated, New Yorkers—people from whom a disproportionate share of ideas may flow—are particularly likely to have left during the epidemic.

Something happening somewhere

Wherever or however people end up working, the experience of living in a pandemic is not conducive to creative thought. How many people entered lockdown with a determination to immerse themselves in Proust or George Eliot, only to find themselves slumped in front of “Tiger King”? When mental capacity is taken up by worries about whether or not to touch that door handle or whether or not to believe the results of the latest study on the virus, focusing is difficult. Women are more likely to take care of home-schooling and entertainment of bored children (see article), meaning their careers suffer more than men’s. Already, research by Tatyana Deryugina, Olga Shurchkov and Jenna Stearns, three economists, finds that the productivity of female economists, as measured by production of research papers, has fallen relative to male ones since the pandemic began.

The growing gender divide in productivity points to the final big problem with the 90% economy: that it is unfair. Liberally regulated economies operating at full capacity tend to have unemployment rates of 4-5%, in part because there will always be people temporarily unemployed as they move from one job to another. The new normal will have higher joblessness. This is not just because GDP will be lower; the decline in output will be particularly concentrated in labour-intensive industries such as leisure and hospitality, reducing employment disproportionately. America’s current unemployment rate, real-time data suggest, is between 15-20%.

The lost jobs tended to pay badly, and were more likely to be performed by the young, women and immigrants. Research by Abi Adams-Prassl of Oxford University and colleagues finds that an American who normally earns less than $20,000 a year is twice as likely to have lost their job due to the pandemic as one earning $80,000-plus. Many of those unlucky people do not have the skills, nor the technology, that would enable them to work from home or to retrain for other jobs.

The longer the 90% economy endures, the more such inequalities will deepen. People who already enjoy strong professional networks—largely, those of middle age and higher—may actually quite enjoy the experience of working from home. Notwithstanding the problems of bad internet and irritating children, it may be quite pleasant to chair fewer meetings or performance reviews. Junior folk, even if they make it into an office, will miss out on the expertise and guidance of their seniors. Others with poor professional networks, such as the young or recently arrived immigrants, may find it difficult or impossible to strengthen them, hindering upward mobility, points out Tyler Cowen of George Mason University.

The world economy that went into retreat in March as covid-19 threatened lives was one that looked sound and strong. And the biomedical community is currently working overtime to produce a vaccine that will allow the world to be restored to its full capacity. But estimates suggest that this will take at least another 12 months—and, as with the prospects of the global economy, that figure is highly uncertain. If the adage that it takes two months to form a habit holds, the economy that re-emerges will be fundamentally different.

How Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Affect Global Food Supplies? Here’s What We Know (RFE/RL)

A Pakistani worker in Karachi sorts wheat grain on April 7 to make flour to keep people fed during the country's lockdown amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A Pakistani worker in Karachi sorts wheat grain on April 7 to make flour to keep people fed during the country’s lockdown amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Shahzaib Akber (EPA-EFE)

Original article

April 09, 2020 14:55 GMT

By RFE/RL

That strawberry you’re eating while self-isolating from the coronavirus?

Chances are it came from a farm. Or it may have come from a large agricultural operation many, many kilometers away from your home, harvested by hand, possibly by migrant workers brought in from other towns, cities, or even countries.

But can that system continue to bring you strawberries as the global coronavirus pandemic continues? Or bread? Pasta? Cooking oil?

The coronavirus has already sent the global economy into a tailspin, with tens of millions of people being put out of work, as factories from Wuhan to Bavaria to Michigan suspend operations.

What does this mean for the food we eat?

If you live in a rural setting in a temperate climate where the growing season is under way, you might be preparing to eat produce from your backyard or your dacha.

But if you live in a city – as more than half the world’s population does — chances are you rely on the global food supply chain to make sure your bread and milk, or noodles and bananas, are in stock at the market.

What happens when the people picking our fruits and vegetables get sick or have to quarantine? What happens when the packers who make sure the potatoes and onions are boxed and put onto trucks to be driven to towns and cities can’t work? What happens when wheat can’t be milled or shipped to bakeries to be baked into bread and sold at markets and food stores?

Could we be facing global food shortages in the coming months?

A man stands in front of empty shelves in a supermarket in Moscow on March 17.
A man stands in front of empty shelves in a supermarket in Moscow on March 17.

“Massive disruptions to global food supply system will result from the pandemic,” Chris Elliot, a professor at Queen’s University in Belfast, wrote in a post on Twitter.

Here’s what we know about how the coronavirus is affecting food supplies.

What’s Going On?

In mid-March, the pandemic was accelerating in most countries, even as a handful began to show signs of “flattening the curve” – the term used for slowing the rate of new infections.

But the stress on the global food supply system was already clear.

“A protracted pandemic crisis could quickly put a strain on the food supply chains, a complex web of interactions involving farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers, and more,” Maximo Cullen, the chief economist for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, warned in a paper.

Panic buying and hoarding in some places added to worries that retailers and wholesalers whose inventories might be small already could be wiped out.

By early April, the World Food Program – another UN agency – tried to reassure nervous consumers.

“Global markets for basic cereals are well-supplied and prices generally low,” the program said in a report released on April 3.

“Disruptions are so far minimal; food supply is adequate, and markets are relatively stable,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs was quoted as saying.

“But we may soon expect to see disruptions in food supply chains” if big importers lose confidence in the reliable flow of basic food commodities, she said.

Workers load a truck with food aid in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on April 8. Two Polish companies, Polski Cukier and Polskie Przetwory, donated food products to help those most in need because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Workers load a truck with food aid in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on April 8. Two Polish companies, Polski Cukier and Polskie Przetwory, donated food products to help those most in need because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For industrialized nations, whose food supply chains were already undergoing a shift due to changing consumer habits and tastes, that bodes for more uncertainty.

“We’re talking about a radical change to a food chain that was already going through a radical chain,” James Tillotson, a retired professor of food policy and international business at the Friedman School at Tufts University in the United States, told RFE/RL.

Who’s Most At Risk?

For major industrial nations, whose populations tend to be particularly concentrated in urban and suburban centers, the food supply chains are longer, more complex, and, possibly, more vulnerable.

For less industrial, more rural, and agrarian economies, supply chains tend to be shorter and simpler. If you’re not getting your eggs and milk from chickens and cows and goats in your backyard, for example, then you might be getting them from the farmers in the next village over.

Other commodity goods — such as wheat, corn, or soybeans — are sold and shipped in bulk, often over long distances. That means there are more points where the supply chain can be disrupted.

Add to that the fear factor: Consumers fearing the possibility of shortages rush to buy more than they otherwise would, thus causing the shortages they’d feared. Some food markets in Moscow, for example, reported shelves being emptied of ready-to-eat buckwheat.

Grain Drain: Coronavirus Concerns Drive Russians To Buy Up Buckwheat

That’s led some countries to cut back on food exports in a bid to ensure they have enough food for their own citizens.

Vietnam, a major exporter of rice, has suspended exports of that product and other commodities. India, a major producer of rice, like Vietnam, has also suspended exports.

In Kazakhstan, one of the world’s major exporters of wheat, the government has restricted exports of that commodity. Earlier, the government had suspended exports of other goods like onions, sugar, sunflower oil, and even buckwheat – a grain that has emotional resonance for many older Kazakhs and Russians as a way to ward off hunger.

Last month, Russia, the world’s largest wheat producer, suspended exports of processed grains such as buckwheat, rice, and oat flakes.

Restricted supplies have pushed up prices, not only locally but globally in some cases.

In the Boston area, for example, the price of a dozen eggs has tripled in recent weeks, Tillotson said.

Higher prices and supply restrictions have created opportunities for black marketeers. Police in Kyrgyzstan this week detained shipments of milled wheat flour that was being smuggled out of the country in sacks labeled “cement.”

In an unusual public appeal, activists, academics, and a group of executives for some of the world’s biggest food-processing companies warned on April 9 that the number of people going hungry around the world could increase dramatically in the coming months.

Sacks of flour stacked at a storage facility in Novosibirsk, Russia. Production of bread, grains, and pasta has been boosted in the Novosibirsk region due to increased demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sacks of flour stacked at a storage facility in Novosibirsk, Russia. Production of bread, grains, and pasta has been boosted in the Novosibirsk region due to increased demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There could not be a more important time in which to keep trade flows open and predictable,” according to the letter addressed to world leaders.

The letter urged food exporters to keep supplying international markets, and also called for supporting populations most at risk of hunger, as well as investing in local production.

Who’s Harvesting?

The process of picking crops and packing them for shipment is itself under stress, experts warned, as field workers struggle to get protective equipment to shield them from coronavirus infection or as workers are prevented from traveling to farms by lockdowns and travel restrictions.

“The issue of the health of the farm labor force as well as labor availability is one of the biggest challenges to production,” risk analyst group Fitch Solutions said in a March 25 report.

In the United States, migrant workers comprise the bulk of farm and agriculture labor. And in California, one of the leading U.S. states for producing food and agricultural goods, state officials have imposed a stay-at-home order to minimize people moving around and transmitting infection. That has affected farm labor.

The same holds true across Europe, where farms are doing spring planting and struggling to find workers to pick crops like strawberries and lettuce after border closures among European Union member choked off the flow of foreign laborers.

“At this point, it concerns vegetable growers who need manpower, both indoors and outdoors, in terms of sowing and doing spring work,” Stojan Marinkovic, president of the Republika Srpska Farmers’ Association, told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. “We are aware that this is a large group of people working in one place, so they have to take care of protecting both themselves and the people around them.”

Sooner or later, however, coronavirus infections will fall, governments will ease restrictions on travel and retailers, and supply chains will revert to normal, experts predict.

At that point, people may face a different problem: what to do with all the extra goods in their larders, cupboards, and freezers.

“If people are buying more goods now, it is not necessarily because they are using more — they are stockpiling. When things get back to normal, consumers will have a lot of canned soup and toilet paper at home and won’t need to buy more,” Goker Aydin, an operations management expert at the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University, said.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty © 2020 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Conventional wisdom holds that rising living standards are fueled by oil. What if that’s wrong? (Anthropocene Magazine)

Researchers found that recent improvements in life expectancy are only weakly coupled to increases in carbon emissions

By Sarah DeWeerdt

March 31, 2020

In recent decades, life has gotten better, more comfortable, and longer for many people around the world. Conventional wisdom holds that these gains in human well-being are underpinned by fossil fuel energy. After all, a country’s energy use tends to be correlated with its inhabitants’ life expectancy at any given point in time.

But this assumption doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, a new analysis indicates. And that, in turn, suggests the hopeful conclusion that decarbonization need not put future gains in well-being at risk.

Researchers in the UK and Germany analyzed data on energy extraction, carbon emissions, economic activity, food supply, residential electricity availability, and life expectancy in 70 countries around the world between 1971 and 2014.

They used a relatively new method called functional dynamic decomposition: a series of mathematical equations to analyze the changing relationships between two variables – such as carbon emissions and life expectancy – and assess whether changes in one drive changes in the other.

The method cannot demonstrate causality, but a lack of association between two variables over time is evidence of lack of causation.

In fact, while some variables are correlated at particular points, one does not drive the other over time, the researchers report in the journal Environmental Research Letters. They call this a “carbon-development paradox.”

The new results “demonstrate that fossil fuels are not, as often imagined or stated, significant contributors to improvements in human development,” the researchers write.

Carbon emissions, primary energy use, and economic activity as measured by market exchange rate income (MER, which depends on international trade) are all “dynamically coupled” over time.

So are economic activity as measured by purchasing power parity (PPP, which indicates how far people’s incomes go within their home country), food supply, residential electricity, and life expectancy.

“Recent improvements in life expectancy are only weakly coupled to increases in primary energy or carbon emissions,” the researchers write. Instead, life expectancy gains are more closely linked growth in real incomes, access to food, and availability of electricity at home.

And although increases in carbon emissions account for much of the increase in primary energy over time, they account for a relatively small amount of the increase in residential electricity.

Increases in primary energy account for the vast majority of increases in MER income, but only about half of increases in PPP. “Economic growth is thus not enough on its own: the question is what type of economic growth,” the researchers write.

So stoking the furnace of the economy with fossil fuels won’t necessarily result in human flourishing. And reducing energy use and carbon emissions won’t necessarily result in human suffering.

“Our results directly counter the claims by fossil fuel companies that their products are necessary for well-being,” lead author Julia Steinberger of the University of Leeds said in a statement. “Reducing emissions and primary energy use, while maintaining or enhancing the health of populations, should be possible.”

To do that, governments will need to prioritize people’s access to food, renewable energy, and other goods that are more directly related to well-being—rather than economic growth for its own sake.

Source: Steinberger J.K. et al.Your money or your life? The carbon-development paradox.” Environmental Research Letters 2020. 

Image: Shutterstock

How Does Pandemic Change the Big Picture? (Resilience.org)

By Richard Heinberg, originally published by Resilience.org

March 25, 2020

As of 2019, the Big Picture for humanity was approximately as follows. Homo sapiens (that’s us), a big-brained bipedal mammal, had spent the Pleistocene epoch (from 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago) developing its ability to control fire, talk, paint pictures, play bone flutes, and make tools and clothes. Language dramatically enhanced our sociality and helped enable us to invade and inhabit every continent except Antarctica. During the Holocene epoch (the last 12,000 years), we started living in permanent settlements, developed agriculture, and built state societies with kings, slavery, economic inequality, full-time division of labor, money, religions, and armies. The Anthropocene epoch (more of a brief interlude, really) dawned only a couple of centuries ago as we humans started using fossil fuels, which empowered us dramatically to grow our population and per capita consumption rates, mechanize production and transport, and basically dominate the entire planet. The mechanization of agriculture, by making the landed peasantry redundant, led to mass urbanization and quickly pumped up the size of the middle class. However, the use of fossil fuels destabilized the global climate, while also vastly increasing existing problems like pollution, resource depletion, and the destruction of habitat for most wild creatures. In addition, over the past few decades we learned how to use debt to transfer consumption from the future to the present, based on the risky assumption that the economy will continue to grow forever, thereby enabling future generations to pay for the lifestyle we enjoy now.

In short, the Big Picture was one of ever-increasing power and peril. Suddenly it has changed. A pattern of furious economic growth, consistent over many decades since the dawn of the Anthropocene (with only occasional interruptions, primarily consisting of the Great Depression and two World Wars), has slammed precipitously into the wall of pandemic (un)preparedness. In an effort to limit mortality from the novel coronavirus, governments around the world have put their economies into a state of suspended animation, telling most workers to stay home and to avoid direct contact with others.

How is this development impacting trends that were already underway? Will future generations look back on the coronavirus pandemic as a blip or a game changer? Let’s review a few of the major trends that developed during the Anthropocene and engage in a little informed speculation about how they might be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Climate change: In China, lockdowns of workers and closures of companies have led to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Over the coming weeks, emissions for the world as a whole could fall by ten percent or more. Note to climate warriors: don’t cheer too loudly; folks who are out of work won’t appreciate gloating greenies.

The world’s response to the coronavirus undermines the argument that governments cannot reduce carbon emissions because doing so would hurt their economies. Clearly, national leaders felt that the more immediate (though, in the larger scheme of things, much less significant) threat of pandemic justified shutting down commerce. Climate activists should now feel emboldened to make the following case: If economic degrowth is what it takes to preserve a habitable biosphere, then world leaders can and must find fair and humane ways to reduce society’s scale of energy usage, resource extraction, manufacturing, and waste dumping—all of which contribute to climate change.

However, the pandemic is not good news for the transition to renewable energy. Supply chains for solar and wind companies have been disrupted, and demand for new installations is down. And with super-cheap oil and gas in the offing (see “Resource Depletion,” below), market forces are likely to hinder rather than help both the renewables industry and the shift to electric cars.

Economic inequality: For the gig economy, and for people living paycheck to paycheck (which includes up to 74 percent of Americans earning hourly wages), the coronavirus lockdown is a catastrophe. Over the short term, existing economic inequalities will result in highly unequal levels of sacrifice and suffering. It may be relatively easy for low-wage workers to rationalize a mandated week or two at home as a forced vacation, but if tens of millions of Americans with no savings experience several months without income, regional social stresses could build to the breaking point. That’s one reason government officials are talking about cash handouts.

Over the longer term, recent absurd levels of inequality could get seriously snipped. In his book The Great Leveler, historian Walter Scheidel argues that, in the past, economic inequality has been reversed most dramatically by what he calls the “Four Horsemen”—mass mobilization for warfare, transformative revolution, state collapse, and plague. Currently many governments are undertaking economic re-allocation efforts equivalent in scale to those seen in the World Wars. For example, Denmark is paying 75 percent of wages (for salaries up to ~$50k/year) for companies that would otherwise have to lay off workers, for a period of three months. This not only enables quarantined workers to survive, but allows them to stay on the payroll and not have to go through a rehiring process later.

Thus, the current pandemic might arguably qualify as two of Scheidel’s Horsemen (mass mobilization and plague). The investor class is witnessing capital destruction at a prodigious rate and scale, while government efforts at maintaining civility and social well-being may entail providing a safety net for those with the least. Of course, this isn’t the way social justice advocates envisioned reining in inequality, but the result may end up being equivalent to another New Deal, and possibly even a Green New Deal.

Biodiversity loss: The novel coronavirus pandemic almost certainly began in wild animal markets in Wuhan, China. As Carl Safina put it in a recent article, “Humans caused the pandemic by putting the world’s animals into a cruel blender and drinking that smoothie.” While there have been other zoonotic epidemics in recent years, including HIV, the Marburg virus, SARS, and the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic, the global coronavirus outbreak could provide a teachable moment, when wildlife conservation organizations can call successfully for an international moratorium on the trade or sale of any non-domesticated animal species (with zoos providing a highly regulated exception).

Otherwise, don’t expect much of a change in the overall declining trend in the numbers of insects, reptiles, amphibians, and wild birds and mammals with which we share this little planet.

Overpopulation: A few cynical millennials have called the novel coronavirus the “Boomer Remover” due to its tendency to attack the elderly with greatest virulence. Because humanity has recently been adding 80 million new members per year (births minus deaths), an erasure of one year’s net growth in population is possible in a worst-case scenario. However, the potential for a short-term moderation of our overall pattern of demographic expansion could be at least partly offset by the results, starting nine months from now, of hundreds of millions of people of reproductive age worldwide staying home for weeks with little to keep them busy. For wealthy nations with falling fertility levels, a much bigger threat to human population stability will likely continue to be posed by the buildup of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment. For poor nations with high population growth trends, equal education opportunities for everyone regardless of gender will substantially help reduce growth rates.

Resource depletion: With manufacturing on the skids, demand and hence prices for most commodities are plummeting. The world’s most economically crucial commodity, oil, has seen its price fall from $50 a barrel to close to $20 (as of this writing); some analysts are forecasting prices in the single digits. With oil usage crashing, petroleum storage capacity will run out, at which point producers will have no choice but to mothball some oil wells. Oil companies will likely be bailed out, but cannot be profitable under current conditions. The prospect of ever ramping world oil extraction rates back up to recent levels seems dim. It is likely, then, that the long-anticipated moment of the world oil production peak has already occurred, with little fanfare, in November, 2018.

Of course, the blowout in oil markets is a result of economic disaster rather than sound policies of resource conservation. Therefore, adaptation on the part of industry and society as a whole will be chaotic. The international implications are fraught and hard to predict: several key Middle Eastern nations will see their economies shredded by low oil prices, and Great Powers (specifically, China and Russia) may seek to take advantage of the moment by seeking to realign alliances in the region.

Pollution: Marshall Burke of Stanford University has recently written that “the reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved 20 times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country.” Reduced rates of manufacturing and consumption should help to reduce overall pollution, but of course this is the side effect of crisis, not the result of sound policy. Therefore, without environmental policy interventions, there’s no reason to expect pollution reduction benefits to be sustained. Just one example of how some temporary benefits could be balanced by new harms: The use of single-use plastics is likely to increase during the pandemic response.

Global debt bomb: The world economy is again in a deflationary moment, as it was in 1932 and 2008. For central banks and governments, all fiscal efforts will be geared toward re-inflating an economy that is otherwise hissing and flattening. There is a heightened risk that investors will realize that, in a no-growth world, their financial instruments are inherently worthless, forcing not just a collapse of the market value of stocks, but a repudiation of the very rules of the game. However, since the coronavirus epidemic itself will eventually subside, the more likely outcome is a period of defaults and bankruptcies mitigated by heroic levels of Fed bond purchases, and government bailouts (of the oil and airline industries, just for starters) and deficit spending. Eventually, if money printing goes exponential, hyperinflation is a possibility, but not soon. Big takeaway: the financial system has been destabilized and, like the oil industry, may never return to “normal.”

*          *          *

Let’s return to the question posed above: Will humanity look back on the coronavirus pandemic as a blip or a game changer? The likely answer depends partly on how long the pandemic lasts, and that, in turn, will depend largely on how soon tests become widely available, and when treatments and vaccines are found. US Government documents marked “not for public release” suggest significant shortages not just of medical equipment, but also of general goods over the next 18 months for government, industry, and private citizens, if solutions are not quickly forthcoming.

The level at which the game is changed also depends on the degree of downturn in employment and GDP. Fred Bullard, President of the St. Louis Fed, has gone on record saying that the US unemployment rate may hit 30 percent in the second quarter because of shutdowns to fight the coronavirus, and that GDP could drop 50 percent. This would be economic carnage far beyond the scale of the Great Depression (the United States unemployment rate in 1933 was 25 percent; its GDP fell an estimated 15 percent). If the global economy falls that far, and remains locked down even for a few weeks, label the coronavirus “game changer, big time.”

But a change to what? Dystopian possibilities come only too readily to mind. However, in conversation, some of my think-tank colleagues have suggested the pandemic could turn out to be a “Goldilocks” crisis that would disrupt the global order just enough, and in such a way, as to foster a response that sets at least some societies on a trajectory toward cooperation, redistribution, and degrowth.

First, governments often deal with shortages (foreseen in the report cited above) through the tried-and-true strategy of quota rationing. As Stan Cox details in his indispensable book Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing, quota rationing doesn’t always work well; but when it does, the results can be fairly admirable. During both World Wars, Americans participated enthusiastically in rationing programs for food, tires, clothing, and more. Britain continued its rationing programs well after the end of WWII, and surveys showed that, during the period of rationing, Britons were generally better fed and healthier than either before or after. In most imaginary scenarios for deliberate economic degrowth, quota rationing programs for energy and materials figure prominently.

Cox concludes that rationing programs tend to be more successful when people are united against a common enemy, and when shortages are believed to be temporary. Despite President Trump’s efforts to dub it the “Chinese virus,” SARS-Cov-2 has no inherent nationality, nor is it Democrat or Republican. It is indeed a common enemy, and people tend to become more cooperative when faced with a collective threat. Further, epidemiologists agree that the threat will have an end point, even if we don’t know exactly when that will be. Therefore, conditions for success in rationing exist, and rationing could help foster more communitarian and cooperative attitudes overall.

Also, as discussed above, the pandemic has the potential for significant economic leveling. Historically, not all leveling moments featured increased cooperation: when initiated by state collapse or transformative revolution, leveling has been accompanied by widespread suffering and bloody conflict. However, during the great leveling moments of the twentieth century—the Depression and the two World Wars—Americans managed to pull together with a sense of shared sacrifice.

Over the longer term, we are still faced with the challenges of climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, pollution, and biodiversity loss. While the pandemic might have minor or temporary spinoff effects that ameliorate these problems, it won’t solve them. Significant, sustained collective effort will still be required to transform energy systems, economies, and lifestyles (though the pandemic could transform economies and lifestyles in unpredictable ways). If the coronavirus response puts us on a cooperative footing, all the better. Of course, that would be at the expense of currently unknown ultimate numbers of fatalities and sicknesses, as well as widespread fear and privation. The potential bits of silver I’ve mentioned are the linings of a cloud; but, as Monty Python can still remind us via YouTube, it’s always good to look on the bright side of life.

Como a pandemia muda o panorama geral planetário?

Por Richard Heinberg, publicado originalmente por Resilience.org. Traduzido por Renzo Taddei.

25 de março de 2020

No ano de 2019, o panorama geral para a humanidade era aproximadamente o seguinte. O Homo sapiens (nós), um mamífero bípede de cérebro grande, passou a época do Pleistoceno (de 2,5 milhões de anos atrás até 12.000 anos atrás) desenvolvendo sua habilidade de controlar o fogo, conversar, pintar imagens, tocar flautas ósseas e fazer ferramentas e roupas. A linguagem aumentou drasticamente nossa sociabilidade e nos ajudou a invadir e habitar todos os continentes, exceto a Antártica. Durante a época do Holoceno (os últimos 12.000 anos), começamos a viver em assentamentos permanentes, desenvolvemos a agricultura e construímos sociedades estatais com reis, escravidão, desigualdade econômica, divisão de trabalho em tempo integral, dinheiro, religiões e exércitos. A época do Antropoceno (um breve interlúdio, na verdade) surgiu há apenas alguns séculos, quando nós humanos começamos a usar combustíveis fósseis, o que nos capacitou dramaticamente a aumentar nossa população e nossas taxas de consumo per capita, mecanizar a produção e o transporte e basicamente dominar o planeta inteiro. A mecanização da agricultura, ao tornar redundante o campesinato, levou à urbanização em massa e rapidamente aumentou o tamanho da classe média. No entanto, o uso de combustíveis fósseis desestabilizou o clima global, além de aumentar enormemente os problemas existentes, como poluição, esgotamento de recursos e destruição de habitat para a maioria das criaturas selvagens. Além disso, nas últimas décadas, aprendemos a usar a dívida para transferir o consumo do futuro para o presente, com base no pressuposto arriscado de que a economia continuará a crescer para sempre, possibilitando às gerações futuras pagar pelo estilo de vida que desfrutamos agora.

Em suma, o quadro geral era de poder e perigo crescentes. De repente, o quadro mudou. Um padrão de crescimento econômico furioso, consistente ao longo de muitas décadas desde o início do Antropoceno (com interrupções ocasionais, consistindo principalmente na Grande Depressão e nas duas Guerras Mundiais), chocou-se com força contra a parede do (des)preparo pandêmico. Em um esforço para limitar a mortalidade pelo novo coronavírus, os governos de todo o mundo colocaram suas economias em um estado de hibernação, dizendo à maioria dos trabalhadores para ficar em casa e evitar o contato direto com os outros.

Como esse desenvolvimento está impactando as tendências que já estavam em andamento? As gerações futuras olharão para trás e verão a pandemia de coronavírus como algo que simplesmente passou, ou como um fenômeno que mudou o curso da história? Revisemos algumas das principais tendências que se desenvolveram durante o Antropoceno e exercitemos nossa capacidade de especulação bem informada sobre como elas podem ser afetadas pelo surto de COVID-19.

Mudança climática: Na China, o lockdown de trabalhadores e o fechamento de empresas levaram a uma redução drástica nas emissões de gases de efeito estufa. Nas próximas semanas, as emissões do mundo como um todo podem cair dez por cento ou mais. Nota para os guerreiros do clima: não comemorem de forma muito efusiva; ambientalista exultantes não serão bem vistos pelas pessoas que estão desempregadas por causa da pandemia.

A resposta do mundo ao coronavírus mina o argumento de que os governos não podem reduzir as emissões de carbono porque isso prejudicaria suas economias. Claramente, os líderes nacionais sentiram que a ameaça mais imediata (embora, no esquema mais amplo, menos significativa) da pandemia justificava o fechamento do comércio. Os ativistas climáticos sentem-se encorajados a defender o seguinte argumento: se o decrescimento econômico é o que é necessário para preservar uma biosfera habitável, os líderes mundiais podem e devem encontrar maneiras justas e humanas de reduzir o uso de energia, extração de recursos naturais, atividade industrial e lançamento de resíduos – todos eles elementos que contribuem para as mudanças climáticas.

No entanto, a pandemia não é uma boa notícia para a transição para as energias renováveis. As cadeias de suprimentos para empresas de energia solar e eólica foram interrompidas e a demanda por novas instalações foi reduzida. E com a perspectiva de petróleo e o gás superbaratos (veja “Esgotamento de recursos”, abaixo), é provável que as forças do mercado atrapalhem, em vez de ajudar tanto a indústria de energias renováveis ​​quanto a transição para carros elétricos.

Desigualdade econômica: para os freelancers e para as pessoas que vivem de salário em salário (o que representa 74% dos americanos que são horistas), o bloqueio do coronavírus é uma catástrofe. A curto prazo, as desigualdades econômicas existentes resultarão em níveis altamente desiguais de sacrifício e sofrimento. Pode ser relativamente fácil para trabalhadores com baixos salários racional recursos e aguentar uma ou duas semanas em casa como férias forçadas, mas se dezenas de milhões de americanos sem poupança ficarem vários meses sem renda, as tensões sociais regionais podem chegar ao ponto de ruptura. Essa é uma das razões pelas quais os funcionários do governo estão falando sobre distribuição de dinheiro.

No longo prazo, os recentes níveis absurdos de desigualdade podem ser seriamente rediuzidos. Em seu livro The Great Leveler, o historiador Walter Scheidel argumenta que, no passado, a desigualdade econômica foi revertida de forma dramática pelo que ele chama de “Os Quatro Cavaleiros” – mobilização em massa para guerra, revolução, colapso estatal e epidemias. Atualmente, muitos governos estão realizando esforços de realocação econômica equivalentes, em escala, aos vistos nas guerras mundiais. Por exemplo, a Dinamarca está pagando, por um período de três meses, 75% dos salários (para salários de até 50 mil dólares por ano) para empresas que, de outra forma, teriam que demitir trabalhadores. Isso não apenas permite que os trabalhadores em quarentena sobrevivam, como também permaneçam na folha de pagamento e não precisem voltar ao mercado de trabalho.

Assim, a atual pandemia pode se qualificar como dois cavaleiros de Scheidel (mobilização em massa e epidemia). A classe dos investidores está testemunhando a destruição de capital em taxa e escala prodigiosas, enquanto os esforços dos governos para manter a civilidade e o bem-estar social podem implicar a criação de uma rede de segurança para os mais pobres. Obviamente, não é assim que os advogados da justiça social imaginaram controlar a desigualdade, mas o resultado pode acabar sendo equivalente a outro New Deal, e possivelmente até a um Green New Deal.

Perda de biodiversidade: A nova pandemia de coronavírus quase certamente começou nos mercados de animais selvagens em Wuhan, China. Como Carl Safina colocou em um artigo recente, “os seres humanos causaram a pandemia colocando os animais do mundo em um liquidificador cruel e bebendo-os como um drink”. Embora tenha havido outras epidemias zoonóticas nos últimos anos, incluindo o HIV, o vírus de Marburg, a SARS e a pandemia de “gripe suína” (H1N1) de 2009, o surto global de coronavírus pode proporcionar um momento de aprendizado, em que as organizações de conservação da vida selvagem podem pedir com êxito uma moratória internacional ao comércio ou venda de qualquer espécie animal não domesticada (os zoológicos sendo uma exceção fortemente regulamentada).

Caso contrário, não espere muita mudança na tendência geral de declínio no número de insetos, répteis, anfíbios e pássaros e mamíferos selvagens com os quais compartilhamos este pequeno planeta.

Superpopulação: Alguns indívíduos cínicos da geração Y chamam o novo coronavírus de “Removedor de Boomers”, devido à sua tendência de atacar os idosos com maior virulência. Como a humanidade recentemente adicionou 80 milhões de novos membros por ano (nascimentos menos mortes), uma exclusão do crescimento líquido de um ano na população é possível no pior dos cenários. No entanto, o potencial para uma moderação de curto prazo de nosso padrão geral de expansão demográfica pode ser pelo menos parcialmente compensado pelos resultados, a partir de nove meses a partir de agora, de centenas de milhões de pessoas em idade reprodutiva em todo o mundo que ficam em casa por semanas com pouco o que fazer. Para nações ricas com níveis decrescentes de fertilidade, uma ameaça muito maior à estabilidade da população humana provavelmente continuará sendo representada pelo acúmulo de substâncias químicas no ambiente que causam desregulação endócrina. Para os países pobres com altas tendências de crescimento populacional, oportunidades iguais de educação para todos, independentemente do sexo, ajudarão substancialmente a reduzir as taxas de crescimento.

Esgotamento de recursos: com a produção industrial em queda, a demanda e, portanto, os preços da maioria das mercadorias estão caindo. A commodity mais economicamente crucial do mundo, o petróleo, viu seu preço cair de US$ 50 por barril para perto de US$ 20 (no momento em que este artigo foi escrito); alguns analistas estão prevendo preços em um dígito. Com a queda do uso de petróleo, a capacidade de armazenamento de excedente de petróleo acabará, e os produtores não terão escolha a não ser abandonar alguns poços. As companhias de petróleo provavelmente serão socorridas, mas não serão lucrativas nas condições atuais. A perspectiva de aumentar as taxas mundiais de extração de petróleo até níveis recentes parece fraca. É provável, então, que o momento tão antecipado do pico da produção mundial de petróleo já tenha ocorrido, com pouco alarde, em novembro de 2018.

Obviamente, a queda nos mercados de petróleo é resultado de um desastre econômico, e não de políticas sólidas de conservação de recursos. Portanto, a adaptação por parte da indústria e da sociedade como um todo será caótica. As implicações internacionais são difíceis de prever: várias nações importantes do Oriente Médio verão suas economias destruídas pelos baixos preços do petróleo, e as grandes potências (especificamente China e Rússia) podem tentar aproveitar o momento buscando realinhar alianças na região.

Poluição: Marshall Burke, da Universidade de Stanford, escreveu recentemente que “as reduções na poluição do ar na China causadas por essa perturbação econômica provavelmente salvaram 20 vezes mais vidas na China do que foram perdidas devido à infecção pelo vírus naquele país”. Taxas reduzidas de atividade fabril e de consumo devem ajudar a reduzir a poluição geral, mas é claro que esse é o efeito colateral da crise, não o resultado de uma política sólida. Portanto, sem intervenções em políticas ambientais, não há razão para esperar que os benefícios da redução da poluição sejam sustentados. Apenas um exemplo de como alguns benefícios temporários podem ser equilibrados por novos danos: o uso de plásticos descartáveis ​​provavelmente aumentará durante a resposta à pandemia.

Dívida global explosiva: a economia mundial está novamente em um momento deflacionário, como em 1932 e 2008. Para os bancos centrais e governos, todos os esforços fiscais serão voltados para reinflacionar uma economia que está murchando. Há um risco de que os investidores percebam que, em um mundo sem crescimento, seus instrumentos financeiros são inerentemente inúteis, forçando não apenas um colapso do valor de mercado das ações, mas um repúdio às próprias regras do jogo. No entanto, como a epidemia de coronavírus acabará por retroceder, o resultado mais provável é um período de inadimplência e falências, mitigadas por níveis heróicos de compras de títulos do Fed e ajudas dos governos (para as indústrias de petróleo e companhias aéreas, por exemplo) e déficit de gastos. Eventualmente, se a impressão de moeda crescer de forma exponencial, a hiperinflação é uma possibilidade, mas não tão cedo. Ponto central: o sistema financeiro foi desestabilizado e, como a indústria do petróleo, pode nunca voltar ao “normal”.

* * *

Voltemos à questão colocada acima: a humanidade voltará a olhar para a pandemia de coronavírus como um evento sem maior importância ou como uma transformação profunda? A resposta provável depende, em parte, de quanto tempo dura a pandemia, e isso, por sua vez, dependerá em grande parte da rapidez com que os testes se tornarem amplamente disponíveis e tratamentos e vacinas forem encontrados. Os documentos do governo dos EUA marcados como “impróprios para divulgação pública” sugerem escassez significativa não apenas de equipamentos médicos, mas também de bens em geral nos próximos 18 meses para governo, indústria e cidadãos, se as soluções não forem rapidamente encontradas.

O nível de mudança sistêmica também depende do grau de desaceleração do emprego e do PIB. Fred Bullard, presidente do Fed de St. Louis, afirmou que a taxa de desemprego nos EUA pode atingir 30% no segundo trimestre, devido a paralisações para combater o coronavírus, e que o PIB pode cair 50%. Isso seria uma carnificina econômica muito além da escala da Grande Depressão (a taxa de desemprego nos Estados Unidos em 1933 era de 25%; seu PIB caiu cerca de 15%). Se a economia global cair tanto e permanecer paralisada mesmo por algumas semanas, o coronavírus poderá ser chamado de “o grande divisor de águas”.

Mas uma mudança em que direção? As possibilidades distópicas vêm à mente com muita facilidade. No entanto, em conversas, alguns dos meus colegas que trabalham em think tanks sugeriram que a pandemia poderia se transformar em uma crise de tamanho suficiente para desorganizar a ordem global na medida certa e de tal maneira que promovesse respostas que induzissem pelo menos algumas sociedades à trajetória de cooperação, redistribuição e decrescimento.

Primeiro, os governos costumam lidar com a escassez (prevista nos documentos oficiais citado acima) por meio da estratégia testada e comprovada do racionamento de recursos. Como Stan Cox detalha em seu livro indispensável Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing, o racionamento nem sempre funciona bem; mas quando isso acontece, os resultados podem ser admiráveis. Durante as duas guerras mundiais, os americanos participaram entusiasticamente de programas de racionamento de alimentos, pneus, roupas e muito mais. A Grã-Bretanha continuou seus programas de racionamento bem após o final da Segunda Guerra Mundial, e pesquisas mostraram que, durante o período de racionamento, os britânicos eram geralmente mais bem alimentados e saudáveis ​​do que antes ou depois. Na maioria dos cenários imaginários de degradação econômica deliberada, os programas de racionamento de energia e bens são os mais prováveis.

Cox conclui que os programas de racionamento tendem a ser mais bem-sucedidos quando as pessoas estão unidas contra um inimigo comum e quando se acredita que a escassez seja temporária. Apesar dos esforços do presidente Trump em chamá-lo de “vírus chinês”, o SARS-Cov-2 não tem nacionalidade inerente, nem é democrata ou republicano. É de fato um inimigo comum, e as pessoas tendem a se tornar mais cooperativas quando confrontadas com uma ameaça coletiva. Além disso, os epidemiologistas concordam que a ameaça terá um ponto final, mesmo que não saibamos exatamente quando será. Portanto, existem condições para o sucesso do racionamento, e ele poderia ajudar a promover atitudes mais comunitárias e cooperativas em geral.

Além disso, como discutido acima, a pandemia tem potencial para a redução significativa das desigualdades econômicas. Historicamente, nem todos os momentos de nivelamento econômico promoveram a cooperação: quando gerados pelo colapso do Estado ou por uma revolução, o nivelamento econômico foi acompanhado por sofrimento generalizado e por conflitos sangrentos. No entanto, durante os grandes momentos de nivelamento do século XX – a Depressão e as duas Guerras Mundiais – os americanos conseguiram se unir ao redor do sentimento de sacrifício compartilhado.

A longo prazo, ainda enfrentamos os desafios das mudanças climáticas, esgotamento de recursos, superpopulação, poluição e perda de biodiversidade. Embora a pandemia possa ter impactos positivos secundários ou menores sobre esses problemas, ela não os resolverá. Esforços coletivos significativos e sustentados ainda serão necessários para transformar sistemas energéticos, economias e estilos de vida (embora a pandemia possa transformar economias e estilos de vida de maneiras imprevisíveis). Se a resposta do coronavírus nos colocar em uma base cooperativa, tanto melhor. Obviamente, isso seria às custas de montantes desconhecidos de mortes, bem como do medo e da privação generalizados. Os elementos positivos que são sólidos como uma nuvem; mas, como Monty Python nos lembra pelo YouTube, é sempre bom olhar para o lado positivo da vida.

Coronavírus: Médicos defendem ‘abordagem cirúrgica’ em vez de lockdown indefinido (Brazil Journal)

Geraldo Samor e Pedro Arbex – 22.03.2020


Thomas Friedman, um dos colunistas mais influentes do mundo, ouviu três médicos e escreveu o artigo mais contundente até agora sobre o risco do lockdown global se estender por muito tempo.

No texto, publicado hoje à tarde no The New York Times, Friedman nota que os políticos estão tendo que tomar “decisões enormes de vida ou morte, enquanto atravessam uma neblina com informação imperfeita e todo mundo no banco de trás gritando com eles. Eles estão fazendo o melhor que podem.”

Mas com o desemprego se alastrando pelo mundo tão rápido quanto o vírus, “alguns especialistas estão começando a questionar: ‘Espera um minuto! O que estamos fazendo com nós mesmos? Com nossa economia? Com a próxima geração? Será que essa cura — mesmo que por um período curto — será pior que a doença?’”

Friedman diz que as lideranças políticas estão ouvindo o conselho de epidemiologistas sérios e especialistas em saúde pública. Ainda assim, ele diz que o mundo tem que ter cuidado com o “pensamento de grupo” e que até “pequenas escolhas erradas podem ter grandes consequências.”

Para ele, a questão é como podemos ser mais cirúrgicos na resposta ao vírus de forma a manter a letalidade baixa e ao mesmo tempo permitir que as pessoas voltem ao trabalho o mais cedo possível e com segurança.

Friedman diz que “se a minha caixa de email for alguma indicação, uma reação mais inteligente está começando a brotar.”

Ele cita um artigo publicado semana passada pelo Dr. John P. A. Ioannidis, um epidemiologista e co-diretor do Centro de Inovação em Meta-Pesquisa de Stanford. No artigo, Ioannidis diz que a comunidade científica ainda não sabe exatamente qual é a taxa de mortalidade do coronavírus. Segundo ele, “as evidências disponíveis hoje indicam que a letalidade pode ser de 1% ou ainda menor.”

“Se essa for a taxa verdadeira, paralisar o mundo todo com implicações financeiras e sociais potencialmente tremendas pode ser totalmente irracional. É como um elefante sendo atacado por um gato doméstico. Frustrado e tentando fugir do gato, o elefante acidentalmente pula do penhasco e morre.”

Friedman também cita o Dr. Steven Woolf, diretor emérito do Centro Sobre a Sociedade e Saúde da Universidade da Virgínia, para quem o lockdown “pode ser necessário para conter a transmissão comunitária, mas pode prejudicar a saúde de outras formas, custando vidas.”

“Imagine um paciente com dor no peito ou sofrendo um derrame — casos em que a rapidez de resposta é essencial para salvar vidas — hesitando em chamar o serviço de emergência por medo de pegar coronavírus. Ou um paciente de câncer tendo que adiar sua quimioterapia porque a clínica está fechada.”

Friedman complementa: “Imagine o estresse e a doença mental que virá — já está vindo — de termos fechado a economia, gerando desemprego em massa.”

Woolf, o médico da Virgínia, afirma no artigo que a renda é uma das variáveis mais fortes a afetar a saúde e a longevidade. “Os pobres, que já sofrem há gerações com taxas de mortalidade mais altas, serão os mais prejudicados e provavelmente os que receberão menos ajuda. São as camareiras dos hotéis fechados e as famílias sem opções quando o transporte público fecha.”

Há outro caminho?, pergunta Friedman.

Para ele, a melhor ideia até agora veio do Dr. David Katz, diretor do Centro de Prevenção e Pesquisa da Universidade de Yale e um especialista em saúde pública e medicina preventiva.

Num artigo publicado sexta-feira no The New York Times, o Dr. Katz diz que há três objetivos neste momento: salvar tantas vidas quanto possível, garantindo que o sistema de saúde não entre em colapso, “mas também garantir que no processo de atingir os dois primeiros objetivos não destruamos nossa economia e, como resultado disso, ainda mais vidas.”

Como fazer isso?

Katz diz que o mundo tem que pivotar da estratégia de “interdição horizontal” que estamos empregando agora — restringindo o movimento e o comércio de toda a população, sem considerar a variância no risco de infecção severa — para uma estratégia mais “cirúrgica”, ou de “interdição vertical”.

“A abordagem cirúrgica e vertical focaria em proteger e isolar os que correm maior risco de morrer ou sofrer danos de longo prazo — isto é, os idosos, pessoas com doenças crônicas e com baixa imunidade — e tratar o resto da sociedade basicamente da mesma forma que sempre lidamos com ameaças mais familiares como a gripe.”

Katz sugere que o isolamento atual dure duas semanas, em vez de um período indefinido. Para os infectados, os sintomas aparecerão nesse período. “Aqueles que tiverem uma infecção sintomática devem se auto-isolar em seguida, com ou sem testes, que é exatamente o que fazemos com a gripe. Quem não estiver sintomático e fizer parte da população de baixo risco deveria voltar ao trabalho ou a escola depois daquelas duas semanas.”

“O efeito rejuvenescedor na alma humana e na economia — de saber que existe luz no fim do túnel — é difícil de superestimar. O risco não será zero, mas o risco de acontecer algo ruim com qualquer um de nós em qualquer dia da nossa vida nunca é zero.”

SAIBA MAIS

O custo econômico do shutdown global (e a busca por alternativas)

Texto original

Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth? (New Yorker)

Dept. of Finance February 10, 2020 Issue

The critique of economic growth, once a fringe position, is gaining widespread attention in the face of the climate crisis.

By John Cassidy February 3, 2020

person skateboarding downhill
The degrowth movement would overhaul social values and production patterns. Illustration by Till Lauer

In 1930, the English economist John Maynard Keynes took a break from writing about the problems of the interwar economy and indulged in a bit of futurology. In an essay entitled “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” he speculated that by the year 2030 capital investment and technological progress would have raised living standards as much as eightfold, creating a society so rich that people would work as little as fifteen hours a week, devoting the rest of their time to leisure and other “non-economic purposes.” As striving for greater affluence faded, he predicted, “the love of money as a possession . . . will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity.”

This transformation hasn’t taken place yet, and most economic policymakers remain committed to maximizing the rate of economic growth. But Keynes’s predictions weren’t entirely off base. After a century in which G.D.P. per person has gone up more than sixfold in the United States, a vigorous debate has arisen about the feasibility and wisdom of creating and consuming ever more stuff, year after year. On the left, increasing alarm about climate change and other environmental threats has given birth to the “degrowth” movement, which calls on advanced countries to embrace zero or even negative G.D.P. growth. “The faster we produce and consume goods, the more we damage the environment,” Giorgos Kallis, an ecological economist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, writes in his manifesto, “Degrowth.” “There is no way to both have your cake and eat it, here. If humanity is not to destroy the planet’s life support systems, the global economy should slow down.” In “Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities,” Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian environmental scientist, complains that economists haven’t grasped “the synergistic functioning of civilization and the biosphere,” yet they “maintain a monopoly on supplying their physically impossible narratives of continuing growth that guide decisions made by national governments and companies.”

Once confined to the margins, the ecological critique of economic growth has gained widespread attention. At a United Nations climate-change summit in September, the teen-age Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg declared, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” The degrowth movement has its own academic journals and conferences. Some of its adherents favor dismantling the entirety of global capitalism, not just the fossil-fuel industry. Others envisage “post-growth capitalism,” in which production for profit would continue, but the economy would be reorganized along very different lines. In the influential book “Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow,” Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, in England, calls on Western countries to shift their economies from mass-market production to local services—such as nursing, teaching, and handicrafts—that could be less resource-intensive. Jackson doesn’t underestimate the scale of the changes, in social values as well as in production patterns, that such a transformation would entail, but he sounds an optimistic note: “People can flourish without endlessly accumulating more stuff. Another world is possible.”

Even within mainstream economics, the growth orthodoxy is being challenged, and not merely because of a heightened awareness of environmental perils. In “Good Economics for Hard Times,” two winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, point out that a larger G.D.P. doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in human well-being—especially if it isn’t distributed equitably—and the pursuit of it can sometimes be counterproductive. “Nothing in either our theory or the data proves the highest G.D.P. per capita is generally desirable,” Banerjee and Duflo, a husband-and-wife team who teach at M.I.T., write.

The two made their reputations by applying rigorous experimental methods to investigate what types of policy interventions work in poor communities; they conducted randomized controlled trials, in which one group of people was subjected to a given policy intervention—paying parents to keep their children in school, say—and a control group wasn’t. Drawing on their findings, Banerjee and Duflo argue that, rather than chase “the growth mirage,” governments should concentrate on specific measures with proven benefits, such as helping the poorest members of society get access to health care, education, and social advancement.

Banerjee and Duflo also maintain that in advanced countries like the United States the misguided pursuit of economic growth since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution has contributed to a rise in inequality, mortality rates, and political polarization. When the benefits of growth are mainly captured by an élite, they warn, social disaster can result.

That’s not to say that Banerjee and Duflo are opposed to economic growth. In a recent essay for Foreign Affairs, they noted that, since 1990, the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day—the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty—fell from nearly two billion to around seven hundred million. “In addition to increasing people’s income, steadily expanding G.D.P.s have allowed governments (and others) to spend more on schools, hospitals, medicines, and income transfers to the poor,” they wrote. Yet for advanced countries, in particular, they think policies that slow G.D.P. growth may prove to be beneficial, especially if the result is that the fruits of growth are shared more widely. In this sense, Banerjee and Duflo might be termed “slowthers”—a label that certainly applies to Dietrich Vollrath, an economist at the University of Houston and the author of “Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success.”

As his subtitle suggests, he thinks that slower rates of economic growth in advanced countries are nothing to worry about. Between 1950 and 2000, G.D.P. per person in the U.S. rose at an annual rate of more than three per cent. Since 2000, the growth rate has slowed to about two per cent. (Donald Trump has not, as he promised, boosted over-all G.D.P. growth to four or five per cent.) The phenomenon of slow growth is often bemoaned as “secular stagnation,” a term popularized by Lawrence Summers, the Harvard economist and former Treasury Secretary. Yet Vollrath argues that slower growth is appropriate for a society as rich and industrially developed as ours. Unlike other growth skeptics, he doesn’t base his case on environmental concerns or rising inequality or the shortcomings of G.D.P. as a measurement. Rather, he explains this phenomenon as the result of personal choices—the core of economic orthodoxy.

Vollrath offers a detailed decomposition of the sources of economic growth, which uses a mathematical technique that the eminent M.I.T. economist Robert Solow pioneered in the nineteen-fifties. The movement of women into the workplace provided a onetime boost to the labor supply; in its aftermath, other trends dragged down the growth curve. As countries like the United States have become richer and richer, Vollrath points out, their inhabitants have chosen to spend less time at work and to have smaller families—the result of higher wages and the advent of contraceptive pills. G.D.P. growth slows when the growth of the labor force declines. But this isn’t any sort of failure, in Vollrath’s view: it reflects “the advance of women’s rights and economic success.”

Vollrath estimates that about two-thirds of the recent slowdown in G.D.P. growth can be accounted for by the decline in the growth of labor inputs. He also cites a switch in spending patterns from tangible goods—such as clothes, cars, and furniture—to services, such as child care, health care, and spa treatments. In 1950, spending on services accounted for forty per cent of G.D.P.; today, the proportion is more than seventy per cent. And service industries, which tend to be labor-intensive, exhibit lower rates of productivity growth than goods-producing industries, which are often factory-based. (The person who cuts your hair isn’t getting more efficient; the plant that makes his or her scissors probably is.) Since rising productivity is a key component of G.D.P. growth, that growth will be further constrained by the expansion of the service sector. But, again, this isn’t necessarily a failure. “In the end, that reallocation of economic activity away from goods and into services comes down to our success,” Vollrath writes. “We’ve gotten so productive at making goods that this has freed up our money to spend on services.”

Taken together, slower growth in the labor force and the shift to services can explain almost all the recent slowdown, according to Vollrath. He’s unimpressed by many other explanations that have been offered, such as sluggish rates of capital investment, rising trade pressures, soaring inequality, shrinking technological possibilities, or an increase in monopoly power. In his account, it all flows from the choices we’ve made: “Slow growth, it turns out, is the optimal response to massive economic success.”

Vollrath’s analysis implies that all the major economies are likely to see slower growth rates as their populations age—a pattern first established in Japan during the nineteen-nineties. But two-per-cent growth isn’t negligible. If the U.S. economy continues to expand at this rate, it will have doubled in size by 2055, and a century from now it will be almost eight times its current size. If you think about growth-compounding in other rich countries, and developing economies growing at somewhat faster rates, you can readily summon up scenarios in which, by the end of the next century, global G.D.P. has risen fiftyfold, or even a hundredfold.

Is such a scenario environmentally sustainable? Proponents of “green growth,” who now include many European governments, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and all the remaining U.S. Democratic Presidential candidates, insist that it is. They say that, given the right policy measures and continued technological progress, we can enjoy perpetual growth and prosperity while also reducing carbon emissions and our consumption of natural resources. A 2018 report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an international group of economists, government officials, and business leaders, declared, “We are on the cusp of a new economic era: one where growth is driven by the interaction between rapid technological innovation, sustainable infrastructure investment, and increased resource productivity. We can have growth that is strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive.”

This judgment reflected a belief in what’s sometimes termed “absolute decoupling”—a prospect in which G.D.P. can grow while carbon emissions decline. The environmental economists Alex Bowen and Cameron Hepburn have conjectured that, by 2050, absolute decoupling may appear “to have been a relatively easy challenge,” as renewables become significantly cheaper than fossil fuels. They endorse scientific research into green technology, and hefty taxes on fossil fuels, but oppose the idea of stopping economic growth. From an environmental perspective, they write, “it would be counterproductive; recessions have slowed and in some cases derailed efforts to adopt cleaner modes of production.”

For a time, official carbon-emissions figures seemed to support this argument. Between 2000 and 2013, Britain’s G.D.P. grew by twenty-seven per cent while emissions fell by nine per cent, Kate Raworth, an English economist and author, noted in her thought-provoking book, “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist,” published in 2017. The pattern was similar in the United States: G.D.P. up, emissions down. Globally, carbon emissions were flat between 2014 and 2016, according to figures from the International Energy Agency. Unfortunately, this trend didn’t last. According to a recent report from the Global Carbon Project, carbon emissions worldwide have been edging up in each of the past three years.

The pause in the rise of emissions may well have been the temporary product of a depressed economy—the Great Recession and its aftermath—and the shift from coal to natural gas, which can’t be repeated. According to a recent report by the United Nations and a number of climate-research institutes, “Governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway and 120% more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.” (Those were the targets established in the 2016 Paris Agreement.) In a recent review of the literature about green growth, Giorgos Kallis and Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, concluded that “green growth is likely to be a misguided objective, and that policymakers need to look toward alternative strategies.”

Can such “alternative strategies” be implemented without huge ruptures? For decades, economists have cautioned that they can’t. “If growth were to be abandoned as an objective of policy, democracy too would have to be abandoned,” Wilfred Beckerman, an Oxford economist, wrote in “In Defense of Economic Growth,” which appeared in 1974. “The costs of deliberate non-growth, in terms of the political and social transformation that would be required in society, are astronomical.” Beckerman was responding to the publication of “The Limits to Growth,” a widely read report by an international team of environmental scientists and other experts who warned that unrestrained G.D.P. growth would lead to disaster, as natural resources such as fossil fuels and industrial metals ran out. Beckerman said that the authors of “The Limits to Growth” had greatly underestimated the capacity of technology and the market system to produce a cleaner and less resource-intensive type of economic growth—the same argument that proponents of green growth make today.

Whether or not you share this optimism about technology, it’s clear that any comprehensive degrowth strategy would have to deal with distributional conflicts in the developed world and poverty in the developing world. As long as G.D.P. is steadily rising, all groups in society can, in theory, see their living standards rise at the same time. Beckerman argued that this was the key to avoiding such conflict. But, if growth were abandoned, helping the worst off would pit winners against losers. The fact that, in many Western countries over the past couple of decades, slower growth has been accompanied by rising political polarization suggests that Beckerman may have been on to something.

Some degrowth proponents say that distributional conflicts could be resolved through work-sharing and income transfers. A decade ago, Peter A. Victor, an emeritus professor of environmental economics at York University, in Toronto, built a computer model, since updated, to see what would happen to the Canadian economy under various scenarios. In a degrowth scenario, G.D.P. per person was gradually reduced by roughly fifty per cent over thirty years, but offsetting policies—such as work-sharing, redistributive-income transfers, and adult-education programs—were also introduced. Reporting his results in a 2011 paper, Victor wrote, “There are very substantial reductions in unemployment, the human poverty index and the debt to GDP ratio. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by nearly 80%. This reduction results from the decline in GDP and a very substantial carbon tax.”

More recently, Kallis and other degrowthers have called for the introduction of a universal basic income, which would guarantee people some level of subsistence. Last year, when progressive Democrats unveiled their plan for a Green New Deal, aiming to create a zero-emission economy by 2050, it included a federal job guarantee; some backers also advocate a universal basic income. Yet Green New Deal proponents appear to be in favor of green growth rather than degrowth. Some sponsors of the plan have even argued that it would eventually pay for itself through economic growth.

There’s another challenge for growth skeptics: how would they reduce global poverty? China and India lifted millions out of extreme deprivation by integrating their countries into the global capitalist economy, supplying low-cost goods and services to more advanced countries. The process involved mass rural-to-urban migration, the proliferation of sweatshops, and environmental degradation. But the eventual result was higher incomes and, in some places, the emergence of a new middle class that is loath to give up its gains. If major industrialized economies were to cut back their consumption and reorganize along more communal lines, who would buy all the components and gadgets and clothes that developing countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam produce? What would happen to the economies of African countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, and Rwanda, which have seen rapid G.D.P. growth in recent years, as they, too, have started to join the world economy? Degrowthers have yet to provide a convincing answer to these questions.

Given the scale of the environmental threat and the need to lift up poor countries, some sort of green-growth policy would seem to be the only option, but it may involve emphasizing “green” over “growth.” Kate Raworth has proposed that we adopt environmentally sound policies even when we’re uncertain how they will affect the long-term rate of growth. There are plenty of such policies available. To begin with, all major countries could take more definitive steps to meet their Paris Agreement commitments by investing heavily in renewable sources of energy, shutting down any remaining coal-fired power plants, and introducing a carbon tax to discourage the use of fossil fuels. According to Ian Parry, an economist at the World Bank, a carbon tax of thirty-five dollars per ton, which would raise the price of gasoline by about ten per cent and the cost of electricity by roughly twenty-five per cent, would be sufficient for many countries, including China, India, and the United Kingdom, to meet their emissions pledges. A carbon tax of this kind would raise a lot of money, which could be used to finance green investments or reduce other taxes, or even be handed out to the public as a carbon dividend.

Taking energy efficiency seriously is also vital. In a 2018 piece for the New Left Review, Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has helped design Green New Deal plans for a number of states, listed several measures that can be taken, including insulating old buildings to reduce heat loss, requiring cars to be more fuel efficient, expanding public transportation, and reducing energy use in the industrial sector. “Expanding energy-efficiency investment,” he pointed out, “supports rising living standards because, by definition, it saves money for energy consumers.”

To ameliorate the effects of slower G.D.P. growth, policies such as work-sharing and universal basic income could also be considered—especially if the warnings about artificial intelligence eliminating huge numbers of jobs turn out to be true. In the United Kingdom, the New Economics Foundation has called for the standard workweek to be shortened from thirty-five to twenty-one hours, a proposal that harks back to Victor’s modelling and Keynes’s 1930 essay. Proposals like these would have to be financed by higher taxes, particularly on the wealthy, but that redistributive aspect is a feature, not a bug. In a low-growth world, it is essential to share what growth there is more equitably. Otherwise, as Beckerman argued many years ago, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Finally, rethinking economic growth may well require loosening the grip on modern life exercised by competitive consumption, which undergirds the incessant demand for expansion. Keynes, a Cambridge aesthete, believed that people whose basic economic needs had been satisfied would naturally gravitate to other, non-economic pursuits, perhaps embracing the arts and nature. A century of experience suggests that this was wishful thinking. As Raworth writes, “Reversing consumerism’s financial and cultural dominance in public and private life is set to be one of the twenty-first century’s most gripping psychological dramas.” ♦Published in the print edition of the February 10, 2020, issue, with the headline “Steady State.”

John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for newyorker.com.

Climate Change – Catastrophic or Linear Slow Progression? (Armstrong Economics)

woolyrhinoIndeed, science was turned on its head after a discovery in 1772 near Vilui, Siberia, of an intact frozen woolly rhinoceros, which was followed by the more famous discovery of a frozen mammoth in 1787. You may be shocked, but these discoveries of frozen animals with grass still in their stomachs set in motion these two schools of thought since the evidence implied you could be eating lunch and suddenly find yourself frozen, only to be discovered by posterity.

baby-mammoth

The discovery of the woolly rhinoceros in 1772, and then frozen mammoths, sparked the imagination that things were not linear after all. These major discoveries truly contributed to the “Age of Enlightenment” where there was a burst of knowledge erupting in every field of inquisition. Such finds of frozen mammoths in Siberia continue to this day. This has challenged theories on both sides of this debate to explain such catastrophic events. These frozen animals in Siberia suggest strange events are possible even in climates that are not that dissimilar from the casts of dead victims who were buried alive after the volcanic eruption of 79 AD at Pompeii in ancient Roman Italy. Animals can be grazing and then suddenly freeze abruptly. That climate change was long before man invented the combustion engine.

Even the field of geology began to create great debates that perhaps the earth simply burst into a catastrophic convulsion and indeed the planet was cyclical — not linear. This view of sequential destructive upheavals at irregular intervals or cycles emerged during the 1700s. This school of thought was perhaps best expressed by a forgotten contributor to the knowledge of mankind, George Hoggart Toulmin in his rare 1785 book, “The Eternity of the World“:

” ••• convulsions and revolutions violent beyond our experience or conception, yet unequal to the destruction of the globe, or the whole of the human species, have both existed and will again exist ••• [terminating] ••• an astonishing succession of ages.”

Id./p3, 110

bernhardi-erratics

In 1832, Professor A. Bernhardi argued that the North Polar ice cap had extended into the plains of Germany. To support this theory, he pointed to the existence of huge boulders that have become known as “erratics,” which he suggested were pushed by the advancing ice. This was a shocking theory for it was certainly a nonlinear view of natural history. Bernhardi was thinking out of the box. However, in natural science people listen and review theories unlike in social science where theories are ignored if they challenge what people want to believe. In 1834, Johann von Charpentier (1786-1855) argued that there were deep grooves cut into the Alpine rock concluding, as did Karl Schimper, that they were caused by an advancing Ice Age.

This body of knowledge has been completely ignored by the global warming/climate change religious cult. They know nothing about nature or cycles and they are completely ignorant of history or even that it was the discovery of these ancient creatures who froze with food in their mouths. They cannot explain these events nor the vast amount of knowledge written by people who actually did research instead of trying to cloak an agenda in pretend science.

Glaciologists have their own word, jökulhlaup(from Icelandic), to describe the spectacular outbursts when water builds up behind a glacier and then breaks loose. An example was the 1922 jökulhlaup in Iceland. Some seven cubic kilometers of water, melted by a volcano under a glacier, had rushed out in a few days. Still grander, almost unimaginably events, were floods that had swept across Washington state toward the end of the last ice age when a vast lake dammed behind a glacier broke loose. Catastrophic geologic events are not generally part of the uniformitarian geologist’s thinking. Rather, the normal view tends to be linear including events that are local or regional in size

One example of a regional event would be the 15,000 square miles of the Channeled Scablands in eastern WashingtonInitially, this spectacular erosion was thought to be the product of slow gradual processes. In 1923, JHarlen Bretz presented a paper to the Geological Society of America suggesting the Scablands were eroded catastrophically. During the 1940s, after decades of arguing, geologists admitted that high ridges in the Scablands were the equivalent of the little ripples one sees in mud on a streambed, magnified ten thousand times. Finally, by the 1950s, glaciologists were accustomed to thinking about catastrophic regional floods. The Scablands are now accepted to have been catastrophically eroded by the “Spokane Flood.” This Spokane flood was the result of the breaching of an ice dam which had created glacial Lake Missoula. Now the United States Geological Survey estimates the flood released 500 cubic miles of water, which drained in as little as 48 hours. That rush of water gouged out millions of tons of solid rock.

When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, this too produced a catastrophic process whereby two hundred million cubic yards of material was deposited by volcanic flows at the base of the mountain in just a matter of hours. Then, less than two years later, there was another minor eruption, but this resulted in creating a mudflow, which carved channels through the recently deposited material. These channels, which are 1/40th the size of the Grand Canyon, exposed flat segments between the catastrophically deposited layers. This is what we see between the layers exposed in the walls of the Grand Canyon. What is clear, is that these events were relatively minor compared to a global flood. For example, the eruption of Mount St. Helens contained only 0.27 cubic miles of material compared to other eruptions, which have been as much as 950 cubic miles. That is over 2,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens!

With respect to the Grand Canyon, the specific geologic processes and timing of the formation of the Grand Canyon have always sparked lively debates by geologists. The general scientific consensus, updated at a 2010 conference, maintains that the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon beginning 5 million to 6 million years ago. This general thinking is still linear and by no means catastrophic. The Grand Canyon is believed to have been gradually eroded. However, there is an example cyclical behavior in nature which demonstrates that water can very rapidly erode even solid rock. An example of this took place in the Grand Canyon region back on June 28th, 1983. There emerged an overflow of Lake Powell which required the use of the Glen Canyon Dam’s 40-foot diameter spillway tunnels for the first time. As the volume of water increased, the entire dam started to vibrate and large boulders spewed from one of the spillways. The spillway was immediately shut down and an inspection revealed catastrophic erosion had cut through the three-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls and eroded a hole 40 feet wide, 32 feet deep, and 150 feet long in the sandstone beneath the dam. Nobody thought such catastrophic erosion that quick was even possible.

Some have speculated that the end of the Ice Age resulted in a flood of water which had been contained by an ice dam. Like that of the Scablands, it is possible that a sudden catastrophic release of water originally carved the Grand Canyon. It is clear that both the formation of the Scablands and the evidence of how Mount St Helens unfolded, may be support for the catastrophic formation of events rather than nice, slow, and linear formations.

Then there is the Biblical Account of the Great Flood and Noah. Noah is also considered to be a Prophet of Islam. Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah was based on the biblical story of Genesis. Some Christians were angry because the film strayed from biblical Scripture. The Muslim-majority countries banned the film Noah from screening in theaters because Noah was a prophet of God in the Koran. They considered it to be blasphemous to make a film about a prophet. Many countries banned the film entirely.

The story of Noah predates the Bible. There exists the legend of the Great Flood rooted in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh dates back nearly 5,000 years which is believed to be perhaps the oldest written tale on Earth. Here too, we find an account of the great sage Utnapishtim, who is warned of an imminent flood to be unleashed by wrathful gods. He builds a vast circular-shaped boat, reinforced with tar and pitch, and carries his relatives, grains along with animals. After enduring days of storms, Utnapishtim, like Noah in Genesis, releases a bird in search of dry land. Since there is evidence that there were survivors in different parts of the world, it is merely logical that there should be more than just one.

Archaeologists generally agree that there was a historical deluge between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago which hit lands ranging from the Black Sea to what many call the cradle of civilization, which was the floodplain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The translation of ancient cuneiform tablets in the 19th century confirmed the Mesopotamian Great Flood myth as an antecedent of the Noah story in the Bible.

The problem that existed was the question of just how “great” was the Great Flood? Was it regional or worldwide? The stories of the Great Flood in Western Culture clearly date back before the Bible. The region implicated has long been considered to be the Black Sea. It has been suggested that the water broke through the land by Istanbul and flooded a fertile valley on the other side much as we just looked at in the Scablands. Robert Ballard, one of the world’s best-known underwater archaeologists, who found the Titanic, set out to test that theory to search for an underwater civilization. He discovered that some four hundred feet below the surface, there was an ancient shoreline, proving that there was a catastrophic event did happen in the Black Sea. By carbon dating shells found along the underwater shoreline, Ballard dated this catastrophic event to around 5,000 BC. This may match around the time when Noah’s flood could have occurred.

Given the fact that for the entire Earth to be submerged for 40 days and 40 nights is impossible for that much water to simply vanish, we are probably looking at a Great Flood that at the very least was regional. However, there are tales of the Great Floodwhich spring from many other sources. Various ancient cultures have their own legends of a Great Flood and salvation. According to Vedic lore, a fish tells the mythic Indian king Manu of a Great Flood that will wipe out humanity. In turn, Manu also builds a ship to withstand the epic rains and is later led to a mountaintop by the same fish.

We also find an Aztec story that tells of a devout couple hiding in the hollow of a vast tree with two ears of corn as divine storms drown the wicked of the land. Creation myths from Egypt to Scandinavia also involve tidal floods of all sorts of substances purging and remaking the earth. The fact that we have Great Flood stories from India is not really a surprise since there was contact between the Middle East and India throughout recorded history. However, the Aztec story lacks the ship, but it still contains punishing the wicked and here there was certainly no direct contact, although there is evidence of cocaine use in Egypt implying there was some trade route probably through island hopping in the Pacific to the shores of India and off to Egypt. Obviously, we cannot rule out that this story of the Great Flood even made it to South America. 

Then again, there is the story of Atlantis – the island that sunk beath the sea. The Atlantic Ocean covers approximately one-fifth of Earth’s surface and second in size only to the Pacific Ocean. The ocean’s name, derived from Greek mythology, means the “Sea of Atlas.” The origin of names is often very interesting clues as well. For example. New Jersey is the English Translation of Latin Nova Caesarea which appeared even on the colonial coins of the 18th century. Hence, the state of New Jersey is named after the Island of Jersey which in turn was named in the honor of Julius Caesar. So we actually have an American state named after the man who changed the world on par with Alexander the Great, for whom Alexandria of Virginia is named after with the location of the famous cemetery for veterans, where John F. Kennedy is buried.

So here the Atlantic Ocean is named after Atlas and the story of Atlantis. The original story of Atlantis comes to us from two Socratic dialogues called Timaeus and Critias, both written about 360 BC by the Greek philosopher Plato. According to the dialogues, Socrates asked three men to meet him: Timaeus of Locri, Hermocrates of Syracuse, and Critias of Athens. Socrates asked the men to tell him stories about how ancient Athens interacted with other states. Critias was the first to tell the story. Critias explained how his grandfather had met with the Athenian lawgiver Solon, who had been to Egypt where priests told the Egyptian story about Atlantis. According to the Egyptians, Solon was told that there was a mighty power based on an island in the Atlantic Ocean. This empire was called Atlantis and it ruled over several other islands and parts of the continents of Africa and Europe.

Atlantis was arranged in concentric rings of alternating water and land. The soil was rich and the engineers were technically advanced. The architecture was said to be extravagant with baths, harbor installations, and barracks. The central plain outside the city was constructed with canals and an elaborate irrigation system. Atlantis was ruled by kings but also had a civil administration. Its military was well organized. Their religious rituals were similar to that of Athens with bull-baiting, sacrifice, and prayer.

Plato told us about the metals found in Atlantis, namely gold, silver, copper, tin and the mysterious Orichalcum. Plato said that the city walls were plated with Orichalcum (Brass). This was a rare alloy metal back then which was found both in Crete as well as in the Andes, in South America. An ancient shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Sicily in 2015 which contained 39 ingots of Orichalcum. Many claimed this proved the story of AtlantisOrichalcum was believed to have been a gold/copper alloy that was cheaper than gold, but twice the value of copper. Of course, Orichalcum was really a copper-tin or copper-zinc brass. We find in Virgil’s Aeneid, the breastplate of Turnus is described as “stiff with gold and white orichalc”.

The monetary reform of Augustus in 23BC reintroduced bronze coinage which had vanished after 84BC. Here we see the introduction of Orichalcum for the Roman sesterius and the dupondius. The Roman As was struck in near pure copper. Therefore, about 300 years after Plato, we do see Orichalcum being introduced as part of the monetary system of Rome. It is clear that Orichalcum was rare at the time Plato wrote this. Consequently, this is similar to the stories of America that there was so much gold, they paved the streets with it.

As the story is told, Atlantis was located in the Atlantic Ocean. There have been bronze-age anchors discovered at the Gates of Hercules (Straights of Gibralter) and many people proclaimed this proved Atlantis was real. However, what these proponents fail to take into account is the Minoans. The Minoans were perhaps the first International Economy. They traded far and wide even with Britain seeking tin to make bronze – henceBronze Age. Their civilization was of the Bronze Age rising civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC – nearly 12,000 years. Their trading range and colonization extended to Spain, Egypt, Israel (Canaan), Syria (Levantine), Greece, Rhodes, and of course to Turkey (Anatolia). Many other cultures referred to them as the people from the islands in the middle of the sea. However, the Minoans had no mineral deposits. They lacked gold as well as silver or even the ability to produce large mining of copper. They appear to have copper mines in Anatolia (Turkey) in colonized cities. What has survived are examples of copper ingots that served as MONEY in trade. Keep in mind that gold at this point was rare, too rare to truly serve as MONEY. It is found largely as jewelry in tombs of royal dignitaries.

The Bronze Age emerged at different times globally appearing in Greece and China around 3,000BC but it came late to Britain reaching there about 1900BC. It is known that copper emerged as a valuable tool in Anatolia (Turkey) as early as 6,500BC, where it began to replace stone in the creation of tools. It was the development of casting copper that also appears to aid the urbanization of man in Mesopotamia. By 3,000BC, copper is in wide use throughout the Middle East and starts to move up into Europe. Copper in its pure stage appears first, and tin is eventually added creating actual bronze where a bronze sword would break a copper sword. It was this addition of tin that really propelled the transition of copper to bronze and the tin was coming from England where vast deposits existed at Cornwall. We know that the Minoans traveled into the Atlantic for trade. Anchors are not conclusive evidence of Atlantis.

As the legend unfolds, Atlantis waged an unprovoked imperialistic war on the remainder of Asia and Europe. When Atlantis attacked, Athens showed its excellence as the leader of the Greeks, the much smaller city-state the only power to stand against Atlantis. Alone, Athens triumphed over the invading Atlantean forces, defeating the enemy, preventing the free from being enslaved, and freeing those who had been enslaved. This part may certainly be embellished and remains doubtful at best. However, following this battle, there were violent earthquakes and floods, and Atlantis sank into the sea, and all the Athenian warriors were swallowed up by the earth. This appears to be almost certainly a fiction based on some ancient political realities. Still, the explosive disappearance of an island some have argued is a reference to the eruption of MinoanSantorini. The story of Atlantis does closely correlate with Plato’s notions of The Republic examining the deteriorating cycle of life in a state.

 

There have been theories that Atlantiswas the Azores, and still, others argue it was actually South America. That would explain to some extent the cocaine mummies in Egypt. Yet despite all these theories, usually, when there is an ancient story, despite embellishment, there is often a grain of truth hidden deep within. In this case, Atlantis may not have completely submerged, but it could have partially submerged from an earthquake at least where some people survived. Survivors could have made to either the Americas or to Africa/Europe. What is clear, is that a sudden event could have sent a  tsunami into the Mediterranean which then broke the land mass at Istanbul and flooded the valley below transforming this region into the Black Sea becoming the story of Noah.

We also have evidence which has surfaced that the Earth was struck by a comet around 12,800 years ago. Scientific American has published that sediments from six sites across North America—Murray Springs, Ariz.; Bull Creek, Okla.; Gainey, Mich.; Topper, S.C.; Lake Hind, Manitoba; and Chobot, Alberta, have yielded tiny diamonds, which only occur in sediment exposed to extreme temperatures and pressures. The evidence surfacing implies that the Earth moved into an Ice Age killing off large mammals and setting the course for Global Cooling for the next 1300 years. This may indeed explain that catastrophic freezing of Wooly Mammoths in Siberia. Such an event could have also been responsible for the legend of Atlantis where the survivors migrated taking their stories with them.

There is also evidence surfacing from stone carvings at one of the oldest sites recorded located in Anatolia (Turkey). Using a computer programme to show where the constellations would have appeared above Turkey thousands of years ago, researchers were able to pinpoint the comet strike to 10,950BC, the exact time the Younger Dryas,which was was a return to glacial conditions and Global Cooling which temporarily reversed the gradual climatic warming after the Last Glacial Maximum that began to recede around 20,000 BC, utilizing ice core data from Greenland.

Now, there is a very big asteroid which passed by the Earth on September 16th, 2013. What is most disturbing is the fact that its cycle is 19 years so it will return in 2032. Astronomers have not been able to swear it will not hit the Earth on the next pass in 2032. It was discovered by Ukrainian astronomers with just 10 days to go back in 2013.  The 2013 pass was only a distance of 4.2 million miles (6.7 million kilometers). If anything alters its orbit, then it will get closer and closer. It just so happens to line up on a cyclical basis that suggests we should begin to look at how to deflect asteroids and soon.

It definitely appears that catastrophic cooling may also be linked to the Earth being struck by a meteor, asteroids, or a comet. We are clearly headed into a period of Global Cooling and this will get worse as we head into 2032. The question becomes: Is our model also reflecting that it is once again time for an Earth change caused by an asteroid encounter? Such events are not DOOMSDAY and the end of the world. They do seem to be regional. However, a comet striking in North America would have altered the comet freezing animals in Siberia.

If there is a tiny element of truth in the story of Atlantis, the one thing it certainly proves is clear – there are ALWAYS survivors. Based upon a review of the history of civilization as well as climate, what resonates profoundly is that events follow the cyclical model of catastrophic occurrences rather than the linear steady slow progression of evolution.

Ciência climática é ferramenta no combate à seca no Nordeste, afirma Carlos Nobre (ABIPTI)

JC 5593, 7 de fevereiro de 2017

“O entendimento das causas subjacentes às secas do Nordeste tem permitido se prever com antecedência de alguns meses a probabilidade de uma particular estação de chuvas no semiárido do Nordeste”, afirmou

O relatório oriundo da última reunião do Grupo de Trabalho de Previsão Climática Sazonal (GTPCS) do Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (MCTIC) aponta para um cenário preocupante: até o início de 2018, é esperado que os grandes e médios reservatórios nordestinos sequem. Por isso, é preciso criar novas oportunidades para a população.

Reconhecido como um dos principais pesquisadores mundiais sobre clima, Carlos Nobre destacou o papel das ciências climáticas para mitigar os impactos econômicos e sociais da seca na Região Nordeste. O pesquisador do Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais e professor de pós-graduação do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) ressaltou que o conhecimento do clima cria alternativas econômicas e sociais para os moradores da região.

Na avaliação do pesquisador, a ciência climática evoluiu rapidamente nas últimas décadas, sendo uma ferramenta eficaz no combate à seca. “O entendimento das causas subjacentes às secas do Nordeste tem permitido se prever com antecedência de alguns meses a probabilidade de uma particular estação de chuvas no semiárido do Nordeste de fevereiro a maio ser deficiente, normal ou abundante. Estas previsões climáticas vêm sendo aperfeiçoadas ao longo do tempo e utilizadas para apoio ao planejamento agrícola, à gestão hídrica e à mitigação de desastres naturais”, afirmou Nobre.

Entre as ações propostas pelo cientista, está o investimento na criação de uma economia regional baseada em recursos naturais renováveis. Uma das alternativas sugeridas é a criação de parques de geração de energia eólica e solar fotovoltaica.

“O Nordeste tem um enorme potencial de energia eólica e solar, capaz de atender a todas suas necessidades e ainda exportar grandes volumes para o restante do Brasil. Estas formas de energia renovável distribuídas geram empregos permanentes localmente, mais numerosos do que aqueles gerados por hidrelétricas ou termelétricas e que poderiam beneficiar populações urbanas e rurais da região”, informou.

Carlos Nobre tem extensa atuação na área climática. Além de ocupar vários cargos no governo referentes ao setor climático, foi vencedor do Volvo Environment Prize – um dos principais prêmios internacionais sobre clima – e membro do Conselho Científico sobre Sustentabilidade Global da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU).

Agência ABIPTI, com informações do MCTI e Valor Econômico

You’re witnessing the death of neoliberalism – from within (The Guardian)

What does it look like when an ideology dies? As with most things, fiction can be the best guide. In Red Plenty, his magnificent novel-cum-history of the Soviet Union, Francis Spufford charts how the communist dream of building a better, fairer society fell apart.

Even while they censored their citizens’ very thoughts, the communists dreamed big. Spufford’s hero is Leonid Kantorovich, the only Soviet ever to win a Nobel prize for economics. Rattling along on the Moscow metro, he fantasises about what plenty will bring to his impoverished fellow commuters: “The women’s clothes all turning to quilted silk, the military uniforms melting into tailored grey and silver: and faces, faces the length of the car, relaxing, losing the worry lines and the hungry looks and all the assorted toothmarks of necessity.”

But reality makes swift work of such sandcastles. The numbers are increasingly disobedient. The beautiful plans can only be realised through cheating, and the draughtsmen know it better than any dissidents. This is one of Spufford’s crucial insights: that long before any public protests, the insiders led the way in murmuring their disquiet. Whisper by whisper, memo by memo, the regime is steadily undermined from within. Its final toppling lies decades beyond the novel’s close, yet can already be spotted.

When Red Plenty was published in 2010, it was clear the ideology underpinning contemporary capitalism was failing, but not that it was dying. Yet a similar process as that described in the novel appears to be happening now, in our crisis-hit capitalism. And it is the very technocrats in charge of the system who are slowly, reluctantly admitting that it is bust.

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF.

What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”.

The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism. Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition.

The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree. And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde with George Osborne.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde with George Osborne. ‘Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does.’ Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

Two things need to be borne in mind here. First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does. Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses. The authors even defend privatisation as leading to “more efficient provision of services” and less government spending – to which the only response must be to offer them a train ride across to Hinkley Point C.

Even so, this is a remarkable breach of the neoliberal consensus by the IMF. Inequality and the uselessness of much modern finance: such topics have become regular chew toys for economists and politicians, who prefer to treat them as aberrations from the norm. At last a major institution is going after not only the symptoms but the cause – and it is naming that cause as political. No wonder the study’s lead author says that this research wouldn’t even have been published by the fund five years ago.

From the 1980s the policymaking elite has waved away the notion that they were acting ideologically – merely doing “what works”. But you can only get away with that claim if what you’re doing is actually working. Since the crash, central bankers, politicians and TV correspondents have tried to reassure the public that this wheeze or those billions would do the trick and put the economy right again. They have riffled through every page in the textbook and beyond – bank bailouts, spending cuts, wage freezes, pumping billions into financial markets – and still growth remains anaemic.

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits. Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made a remarkable concession. It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west.

Red Plenty ends with Nikita Khrushchev pacing outside his dacha, to where he has been forcibly retired. “Paradise,” he exclaims, “is a place where people want to end up, not a place they run from. What kind of socialism is that? What kind of shit is that, when you have to keep people in chains? What kind of social order? What kind of paradise?”

Economists don’t talk like novelists, more’s the pity, but what you’re witnessing amid all the graphs and technical language is the start of the long death of an ideology.

Regulators Warn 5 Top Banks They Are Still Too Big to Fail (New York Times)

‘LIVING WILLS’ AT A GLANCE

The Fed and the F.D.I.C. found that the plans of five banks were “not credible.”

  • Failed

  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Bank of America
  • Wells Fargo
  • Bank of New York Mellon
  • State Street
  • Mostly Satisfied

  • Citigroup
  • Split Decision

  • Goldman Sachs
  • Morgan Stanley

The five banks that received rejections have until Oct. 1 to fix their plans.

After those adjustments, if the Fed and the F.D.I.C. are still dissatisfied with the living wills, they may impose restrictions on the banks’ activities or require the banks to raise their capital levels, which in practice means using less borrowed money to finance their business.

And if, after two years, the regulators still find the plans deficient, they may require the banks to sell assets and businesses, with the aim of making them less complex and simpler to unwind in a bankruptcy.

Also on Wednesday, JPMorgan announced a decline in both profit and revenue for the first quarter. Other large banks will report quarterly results this week.

“Obviously we were disappointed,” Marianne Lake, chief financial officer of JPMorgan, said on Wednesday morning.

The results are a particular blow for JPMorgan because it often boasts about the strength of its operations and its ability to weather any crisis. Just last week, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive, bragged in his annual letterthat the bank “had enough loss-absorbing resources to bear all the losses,” under the Fed’s annual stress-test situations, of the 31 largest banks in the country.

But the Fed and F.D.I.C. said on Wednesday that JPMorgan appeared to be unprepared for a crisis in a number of areas. The regulators said, for instance, that the bank did not have adequate plans to move money from its operations overseas if something went wrong in the markets.

The letter also said that JPMorgan did not have a good plan to wind down its outstanding derivative contracts if other banks stopped trading with it.

Ms. Lake said “there’s going to be significant work to meet the expectations of regulators.” But she also expressed confidence that the bank could do so without significantly changing how it does business.

Investors appeared to agree that the verdicts from regulators did not endanger the banks’ current business models. Shares of all of the big banks rose on Wednesday.

Wells Fargo, which is generally considered the safest of the large banks, was the target of unexpected criticism from the Fed and F.D.I.C.

The agencies criticized Wells Fargo’s governance and legal structure, and faulted it for “material errors,” which, the regulators said, raised questions about whether the bank has a “robust process to ensure quality control and accuracy.”

In a statement, Wells Fargo said it was disappointed and added, “We understand the importance of these findings, and we will address them as we update our plan.”

The banking industry has complained that the process of submitting living wills is complex and hard to complete and it has suggested changes.

“A useful process reform might be to do living wills every two or three years, instead of annually,” said Tony Fratto, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a public relations firm that works with the banks. “The time required for banks to produce them and regulators to react to them is clearly too tight.”

But Martin J. Gruenberg, the chairman of the F.D.I.C., said on Wednesday that regulators were “committed to carrying out the statutory mandate that systemically important financial institutions demonstrate a clear path to an orderly failure under bankruptcy at no cost to taxpayers.”

“Today’s action is a significant step toward achieving that goal,” he added.

Mudanças climáticas provocarão prejuízo de US$ 2,5 trilhões (O Globo)

05/04/2016, por O Globo

Colheita de cana de açúcar: rombo acontecerá mesmo se os países cumprirem as metas voluntárias apresentadas na conferência climática de Paris, em dezembro de 2015 – Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg/18-9-2014

RIO — As mudanças climáticas podem afetar investimentos equivalentes a US$ 2,5 trilhões da economia mundial até 2100, segundo um estudo publicado ontem na revista “Nature Climate Change”. O prejuízo seria resultado do aumento da temperatura em 2,5 graus Celsius até o fim do século, em relação aos níveis pré-industriais. Esta quantia é equivalente à metade do valor atual das empresas de combustíveis fósseis. Se os termômetros avançarem além de 2 graus Celsius — valor máximo admitido pelos climatologistas —, a economia mundial sofreria um rombo de US$ 1,7 trilhão.

Entre os meios de destruição mais comuns ligados às mudanças climáticas estão o aumento do nível do mar — que afeta principalmente setores da economia atuantes na zona costeira —, além de secas e tempestades, capazes de interromper atividades de diferentes ramos do mercado.

A pesquisa concentrou-se principalmente em investimentos ligados a petróleo, carvão e gás, recursos que serão perdidos se os países insistirem na adoção de combustíveis fósseis, em de vez de optar por energias sustentáveis.

De acordo com o Instituto de Pesquisa Grantham sobre Mudanças Climáticas, que elaborou o estudo, seus cálculos são a primeira estimativa do impacto causado pelo aquecimento global sobre ativos financeiros.

As projeções, realizadas com o uso de modelos matemáticos, foram baseados em um valor estimado de US$ 143,3 trilhões em ativos não bancários globais em 2013, valor determinado por economistas.

Considerando as atuais emissões de gases-estufa, os climatologistas indicam que o planeta está a caminho de um aquecimento global equivalente ou superior a 4 graus Celsius. Se as nações cumprirem as metas que apresentaram na Conferência do Clima em Paris, no fim do ano passado, o aumento da temperatura global chegará a 3 graus Celsius.

As mudanças climáticas devem ser encaradas com preocupação para setores e investidores que exercem a atividade pensando a longo prazo, como os fundos de pensão e reguladores financeiros.

Diretor do programa de finanças sustentáveis da Universidade de Oxford, no Reino Unido, Ben Caldecott ressalta que os impactos financeiros das mudanças climáticas são um risco de grande escala.

— Os investidores podem fazer muito para diferenciar entre as empresas mais ou menos expostas e, assim, conseguirem ajudar a reduzir os riscos para a economia global, apoiando ações ambientais sobre as mudanças climáticas.

MAIS GRAVE QUE POLIOMIELITE

Ontem, um relatório divulgado na Casa Branca alertou que as mudanças climáticas representam uma grave ameaça para a saúde pública — em muitos aspectos, pior do que a poliomielite — e atacará especialmente gestantes, crianças, pessoas de baixa renda, negros, asiáticos e hispânicos.

O documento “Os impactos das mudanças climáticas na saúde humana nos EUA: uma avaliação científica”, adverte sobre os riscos arrebatadores para a saúde pública do aumento da temperatura nas próximas décadas, que também levaria a mais mortes e doenças por insolação, insuficiência respiratória e doenças como o vírus do Nilo Ocidental.

Conta das mudanças climáticas é mais alta para nações ricas (O Globo)

ActionAid calcula que países desenvolvidos devem doar 0,1% do PIB a fundo comum

POR O GLOBO

18/11/2015 6:00

 

Mulheres polonesas conversam em frente à usina: países desenvolvidos não pagam valores justos para atenuar mudanças climáticas, diz ONG – JOE KLAMAR/AFP

RIO — Um novo estudo da ONG ActionAid denunciou ontem a diferença abissal entre as quantias exigidas e as doadas pelos países desenvolvidos para que as nações mais pobres criem medidas de adaptação contra as mudanças climáticas. Em 2013, foram destinados cerca de US$ 5 bilhões para o combate ao aquecimento global. Na próxima década, serão necessários US$ 150 bilhões por ano para combater os eventos extremos. O debate sobre financiamento está entre as prioridades da Conferência do Clima de Paris, a partir do dia 30.

De acordo com o instituto, as nações ricas deveriam dedicar pelo menos 0,1% de seu PIB a um fundo climático internacional. É um índice 70 vezes menor do que o gasto em 2008 para a adoção de políticas contra a recessão econômica.

Os EUA deveriam aumentar suas contribuições aos países pobres em mais de 154 vezes, passando dos US$ 440 milhões gastos em 2013 para US$ 67,5 bilhões em 2025.

A União Europeia precisa multiplicar os seus investimentos em 11 vezes, passando dos US$ 3,2 bilhões vistos em 2013 para US$ 36,9 bilhões em 2025.

Os cálculos são baseados nas emissões históricas — a contribuição atribuída a cada país para provocar as mudanças climáticas — e em sua capacidade de ajudar financeiramente, levando em conta os dados da Organização para a Cooperação e Desenvolvimento Econômico (OCDE).

Especialista em financiamento climático da ActionAid, Brandon Wu acredita que os países em desenvolvimento estão enfrentando sozinhos “uma crise que não causaram”.

— O problema não é falta de dinheiro — assegura. — Os EUA, por exemplo, gastam muito mais em subsídios para os combustíveis fósseis do que em medidas de adaptação ao clima. É falta de vontade política.

IMPASSE HISTÓRICO

Wu avalia que o financiamento contra as mudanças climáticas pode ser o item mais polêmico entre os discutidos na Conferência do Clima. Tradicionalmente, os países ricos e pobres discordam sobre o tamanho do rombo, e as nações desenvolvidas não concordam em assumir totalmente as indenizações contra o aquecimento global, eximindo economias emergentes, como China e Brasil, de qualquer compromisso financeiro.

— Um novo acordo (global sobre o clima) não é possível sem esclarecimento sobre como serão as finanças — pondera. — Os países em desenvolvimento não podem adaptar suas economias, livrando-as das emissões de carbono, sem apoio internacional. Talvez não consigamos saber exatamente quanto será investido por cada país, mas precisamos impor novos prazos e objetivos. Aqueles discutidos até agora são vagos demais.

Já Osvaldo Stella, diretor do Programa de Mudanças Climáticas do Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, acredita que as negociações financeiras não devem ser uma prioridade.

— O mais importante é discutir que metas podem impedir o avanço da temperatura global — defende. — O financiamento é um jogo político. Resistimos a abandonar o petróleo, da mesma forma como, antes, não queríamos largar o carvão. Mais do que abrir o cofre, precisamos pensar em um novo modelo econômico, que tipo de capitalismo devemos adotar.

Cortar emissões aumenta PIB (Observatório do Clima)

26/08/2015

 O biodiesel é uma das tecnologias de mitigação propostas. Foto: Agência Brasil

O biodiesel é uma das tecnologias de mitigação propostas. Foto: Agência Brasil

Por Cíntya Feitosa, do OC – 

Relatório produzido por grupo de 80 especialistas indica que economia cresce quase 4% mais com políticas mais ambiciosas de redução de gases-estufa até 2030.

Se o governo brasileiro ampliar medidas de redução de emissões de gases de efeito estufa em sua economia, o país pode crescer mais e com menos desigualdades sociais em 2030. A conclusão é de um grande estudo realizado durante um ano por um grupo de 80 especialistas, sob coordenação do Fórum Brasileiro de Mudanças Climáticas.

Segundo o estudo, o PIB (Produto Interno Bruto) do país pode chegar a R$ 5,68 trilhões em 2030 se forem adotadas medidas adicionais de redução de emissões no cenário mais ambicioso. A cifra é 3,98% maior do que o PIB previsto se forem adotadas apenas ações de mitigação já em curso, do atual Plano Nacional de Mudanças Climáticas. Com as ações sugeridas pelo relatório, o país pode chegar a 2030 emitindo 1 bilhão de toneladas de gás carbônico equivalente (CO2e), 39% a menos que o estimado com a adoção de ações governamentais já previstas (1,6 bilhão de toneladas) e 25% menos do que o país emitia em 1990. No cenário menos ambicioso, a redução de emissões é de 5% em relação a 1990, as emissões chegam a 1,3 bilhão de toneladas e o PIB fica 3,91% maior do que sem medidas adicionais.

De acordo com o “IES Brasil: Implicações Econômicas e Sociais: Cenários de Mitigação de GEE 2030”, 75% do potencial de abatimento de emissões tem custo abaixo de US$ 20 por tonelada de CO2e. O setor com maior margem de redução de emissões é o de agricultura, florestas e uso da terra – que também é o setor que mais emite gases causadores do efeito estufa no Brasil. As medidas mais caras são as de mudança em infraestrutura urbana, como melhorias no sistema de transporte.

A taxa de desemprego também cai com os cenários de mitigação adicional – com mais medidas de redução de emissões do que o Plano Nacional de Mudanças Climáticas. A projeção é que, com a adoção de medidas mais ousadas do que as previstas, a taxa varie entre 3,5% e 4,08%, enquanto a taxa de acordo com o cenário projetado pelo governo deve ser de 4,35%.

“A nossa projeção considera que o governo vai reduzir o custo Brasil, aumentar a nossa produtividade, investir em educação e inclusão social”, ressaltou William Wills, coordenador de modelagem do IES Brasil. “Se o governo brasileiro fizer o que tem que ser feito, não são políticas mais ambiciosas de redução de emissões que vão reduzir o potencial de crescimento”, disse. Ele apresentou os dados nesta terça-feira, durante audiência pública na Comissão Mista de Mudança Climática do Congresso.

grafico-ies-brasil

 

Os cenários de mitigação adicional preveem investimentos que variam entre R$ 164 bilhões, com adoção de medidas de baixo custo, e R$ 524 bilhões, contemplando medidas de maior custo, de 2015 e 2030. Em 2030, o valor investido poderia variar entre R$ 20,7 bilhões e R$ 82,9 bilhões – de 0,37% a 1,46% do PIB previsto para aquele ano.

Aumento de renda e poder de compra

O estudo também projeta um aumento de renda e poder de compra em todas as classes sociais. De acordo com o estudo, alguns setores produtivos em uma economia de baixo carbono – com menos emissões – empregam mais que os setores que emitem gases de efeito estufa. O relatório do IES Brasil destaca a oportunidade de geração de empregos no setor energético, em especial na produção de biomassa e biocombustíveis.

Se as negociações climáticas internacionais adotarem a taxação de carbono como medida de mitigação, a economia brasileira também pode ser beneficiada, de acordo com o estudo. Apesar de uma leve queda na projeção do PIB, a taxa de desemprego pode ser menor. Além disso, a imposição de uma taxa de carbono global pode beneficiar a indústria brasileira, que utiliza fontes mais limpas de energia, aumentando a competitividade no mercado.

Os técnicos responsáveis pelo relatório sugerem alocar a receita da taxa imposta aos setores que emitem mais gases de efeito estufa na desoneração da folha de pagamento dos que emitem menos, estimulando a criação de empregos. “É possível crescer economicamente, reduzir desigualdades e reduzir emissões, em todos os cenários estudados”, concluiu Wills. (Observatório do Clima/ #Envolverde)

* Publicado originalmente no site Observatório do Clima.

‘Targeted punishments’ against countries could tackle climate change (Science Daily)

Date:
August 25, 2015
Source:
University of Warwick
Summary:
Targeted punishments could provide a path to international climate change cooperation, new research in game theory has found.

This is a diagram of two possible strategies of targeted punishment studied in the paper. Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Targeted punishments could provide a path to international climate change cooperation, new research in game theory has found.

Conducted at the University of Warwick, the research suggests that in situations such as climate change, where everyone would be better off if everyone cooperated but it may not be individually advantageous to do so, the use of a strategy called ‘targeted punishment’ could help shift society towards global cooperation.

Despite the name, the ‘targeted punishment’ mechanism can apply to positive or negative incentives. The research argues that the key factor is that these incentives are not necessarily applied to everyone who may seem to deserve them. Rather, rules should be devised according to which only a small number of players are considered responsible at any one time.

The study’s author Dr Samuel Johnson, from the University of Warwick’s Mathematics Institute, explains: “It is well known that some form of punishment, or positive incentives, can help maintain cooperation in situations where almost everyone is already cooperating, such as in a country with very little crime. But when there are only a few people cooperating and many more not doing so punishment can be too dilute to have any effect. In this regard, the international community is a bit like a failed state.”

The paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, shows that in situations of entrenched defection (non-cooperation), there exist strategies of ‘targeted punishment’ available to would-be punishers which can allow them to move a community towards global cooperation.

“The idea,” said Dr Johnson, “is not to punish everyone who is defecting, but rather to devise a rule whereby only a small number of defectors are considered at fault at any one time. For example, if you want to get a group of people to cooperate on something, you might arrange them on an imaginary line and declare that a person is liable to be punished if and only if the person to their left is cooperating while they are not. This way, those people considered at fault will find themselves under a lot more pressure than if responsibility were distributed, and cooperation can build up gradually as each person decides to fall in line when the spotlight reaches them.”

For the case of climate change, the paper suggests that countries should be divided into groups, and these groups placed in some order — ideally, according roughly to their natural tendencies to cooperate. Governments would make commitments (to reduce emissions or leave fossil fuels in the ground, for instance) conditional on the performance of the group before them. This way, any combination of sanctions and positive incentives that other countries might be willing to impose would have a much greater effect.

“In the mathematical model,” said Dr Johnson, “the mechanism works best if the players are somewhat irrational. It seems a reasonable assumption that this might apply to the international community.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Samuel Johnson. Escaping the Tragedy of the Commons through Targeted PunishmentRoyal Society Open Science, 2015 [link]

Climate change seen as greatest threat by global population (The Guardian)

Environment damage followed by worldwide economic instability and Isis in list of concerns, according to survey by Pew Research Center

Climate change

Climate change was the highest concern in almost half of all countries polled, with the issue particularly feared in Latin America and Africa. Photograph: Daniel Reinhardt/EPA

Climate change is what the world’s population perceives as the top global threat, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, with countries in Latin America and Africa particularly concerned about the issue.

It is followed by global economic instability and the Islamic State militant group.

The survey, conducted in 40 countries and taking in the views of more than 45,000 respondents, attempts to measure perceptions of global threats. In 19 of the 40 countries polled, climate change was found to be the issue of highest concern.

A median average of 61% of Latin Americans said they were very concerned about climate change, the highest share of any region. In Brazil and Peru, 75% of respondents said they were very concerned about the issue. Burkina Faso had the highest share of any country, with 79% expressing the highest level of concern.

Isis was viewed as the biggest threat for people in Lebanon with 84% saying they were very concerned – understandable given the region’s close proximity to the group’s activities. However, Isis was also viewed as the top threat a lot further away in the US (68%), Australia (69%) and the UK (66%).

Global economic instability is another major worry. It was found to be the top concern in a number of countries, including Venezuela – which has been undergoing a severe financial crisis – as well as Senegal and Tanzania. It was also found to be the second biggest concern in half of all those surveyed.

Pew found that major worries about Iran’s nuclear programme were limited to a few nations, with the US, Spain and Israel (the only country to cite Iran as the highest threat) the most concerned.

Tensions between Russia and its neighbours, and territorial disputes between China and surrounding countries, “remain regional concerns”, said Pew – 62% of respondents in Ukraine and 44% in Poland said they were very concerned about tensions with Moscow. However, 44% of US respondents were also very concerned about this issue, closely followed by France (41%), the UK (41%) and Germany (40%).

Cyber-attacks are also viewed as a considerable threat in the US, with 59% of Americans saying they were very concerned. The survey was conducted after the hack and leak of Sony Pictures emails, which the US government blamed on North Korea. In South Korea, cyber-attacks were the second highest concern (55%) after Isis (75%).

The report focuses on those who say they are “very concerned” about each issue and surveyed respondents from March 25 to May 27, 2015.

Climate change: world’s wealthiest understand, but only half see it as threat (The Guardian)

In every South American country, along with Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco, concern over climate change is above 90%

Waves break into anti-tsunami barriers

A typhoon breaks near the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan is one of the few rich states whose population is as concerned about climate change as poorer countries. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/REUTERS

People living in the world’s wealthiest nations generally understand what climate change is but in many countries just half perceive it to be a threat, new research has found.

The analysis of perceptions in 119 countries found living standards and relative wealth are “poor predictors” of whether someone considers climate change to be a severe risk.

While more than 75% of people in Australia, the US, UK and most of the rest of Europe were aware of climate change, far fewer considered it to be detrimental to themselves or their families.

In Australia – recently cited as being a world leader in climate science denialism – as well as the US, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, climate change was perceived to be a threat by just over half of those polled.

In Russia, despite widespread understanding of climate change, less than 50% of people thought it was a risk to them.

The risks of climate change are more widely believed by people in France and Spain, but the greatest concern about its impacts are held elsewhere.

In every South American country, concern over climate change is above the 90% mark, with this level of worry shared by Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco. Japan is one of the few highly advanced economies in the world to have a population as concerned about the risks of climate change.

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, found different factors drove awareness and risk perceptions of climate change. Education levels and understanding the human influence upon the climate was the greatest factor in Europe, while perception of changing temperatures is the key influence in many African and Asian countries.

Authors of the paper, who come from a selection of US universities, say the results show “the need to develop tailored climate communication strategies for individual nations. The results suggest that improving basic education, climate literacy, and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital to public engagement and support for climate action.”

The paper analysed the results of Gallup polls taken in 119 countries, where respondents were asked how much they know about climate change and whether they consider it a threat to them.

Dr Debbie Hopkins, an expert at the social understandings of climate change at the University of Otago, said many people still see climate change as a remote issue.

“People can be aware of it but they see it as a distant risk and don’t engage with it much,” she said. “This disjunction can negate the feeling that we need to act on climate change.

“In many developed countries we have confidence in our adaptive capacity. We think we can adapt and cope, and in many ways we can do so more than developing economies.

“We also talk about global averages and that’s a difficult term for many people because two degrees doesn’t seem like a lot. That risk seems diminished whereas if you’re living somewhere with extreme variability and extreme weather events, two degrees can seem like a lot.”

Hopkins said accurate media reporting of climate change and more engaged conversations with people on the issue at a local level would help illustrate the threat posed by changes such as rising sea levels and increased heat waves.

Climate change is already having its biggest impact upon the world’s most vulnerable, according to the UN, which voiced concern last year that rising temperatures will fuel conflict, war and migration.

The number of natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 was around three times higher than in the 1980s, the UN said.

Da crise emergirá o pós-capitalismo? (Outras Palavras)

150728-Banksy2

Jornalista britânico que cobriu levantes pós-2011 em todo o mundo aposta: sistema não suportará sociedade conectada em rede que ajudou a criar

28/07/2015

Entrevista a Jonathan Derbyshire, em Prospect | Tradução: Gabriela Leite Inês Castilho | Imagem: Banksy

Ao cobrir, para a TV britânica, a fase mais recente da crise na Grécia, o jornalista Paul Mason alcançou quase-onipresença em seu país: Mason falando com Alexis Tsipras e outros membros do Syriza; Mason em mangas de camisa diante da câmera, diante do banco central da Grécia; Mason desviando de bombas em outro confronto entre anarquistas e a polícia — isso forma parte da iconografia da crise grega para muitos britânicos.

Agora, enquanto a Grécia e o resto da Europa recuperam seu fôlego, Mason retornou para a Inglaterra para lançar seu novo livro: “Post-Capitalism: a guide to our future” [“Pós-capitalismo: um guia para nosso futuro”]. Não é um trabalho de reportagem, mas uma ampla análise histórica e econômica. Inspirada pela análise de Marx sore relações sociais capitalistas, ela vai, no entanto, além disso — de uma maneira que, reconhece o autor, talvez não agrade alguns de seus amigos na extrema esquerda. O livro é uma análise do “neoliberalismo” — o capitalismo altamente financeirizado que dominou a maior parte do mundo desenvolvido nos últimos 30 anos — e, ao mesmo tempo, uma tentativa de imaginar o que poderia substituí-lo.

“Pós-Capitalismo: Um Guia para Nosso Futuro”, de Paul Mason, foi publicado por Allen Lane.

O capitalismo, escreve Mason, é um sistema altamente adaptativo: “Nos grandes momentos de encruzilhada, ele se transforma e muda, em resposta ao perigo”. Seu instinto mais básico de sobrevivência, ele argumenta, “é impulsionar mudanças tecnológicas”. Mas o autor acredita que as tecnologias de informação que o capitalismo desenvolveu nos últimos vinte anos ou mais não são, apesar das aparências, compatíveis com o capitalismo — não em sua forma presente, e talvez nem em qualquer outra forma. “Quando o capitalismo não puder mais se adaptar à mudança tecnológica, o pós-capitalismo irá se tornar necessário”.

Mason não está sozinho ao acreditar que a humanidade está à beira de uma profunda revolução tecnológica, é claro. Ouve-se isso de outras vozes: que falam, por exemplo, sobre a “Segunda Era da Máquina” e a promessa (assim como a ameaça) de máquinas inteligentes e da “internet das coisas”. O que torna singular a análise de Mason é, no entanto, a maneira pela qual ele funde um balanço das mutações tecnológicas do que costumava ser chamado de “capitalismo tardio” com uma tentativa de identificar o que Engels chamou, no final do século XIX, de a “parteira da sociedade”, a classe capaz de liderar a transformação social. Segundo o livro, não será a velha classe trabalhadora, como Marx e Engels pensaram, mas o que Mason chama de “rede”. Ao colocar em contato permanente milhões de pessoas, Mason escreve, “o capitalismo da informação criou um novo agente de mudança na história: o ser humano bem formado e conectado”.

Encontrei-me com Mason em Londres e comecei a entrevista pedindo a ele:

Paul Mason: para ele, "indivíduos em rede"  são um novo sujeito histórico, que substituíram a velha classe trabalhadora do marxismo, e se converteram no que Engels chamava de "parteiros da história"

Descreva, por favor, o modelo “neoliberal”, que segundo você chegou a um ponto de ruptura

O neoliberalismo é tanto uma ideologia quanto um modelo econômico. O capitalismo precisa ser compreendido em seu conjunto em cada fase de sua existência. Vivemos o que podemos chamar de capitalismo neoliberal. Este sistema que funciona com um núcleo que opera de acordo com valores neoliberais e uma periferia que não opera. Argumento que o neoliberalismo, como sistema funcional, está em crise porque sua mola central — o amplo consumo financeirizado, combinado com baixo crescimento dos salários — é uma máquina para produzir bolhas e seu estouro. No livro, sustento que uma eventual saída para o sistema (rumar para um info-capitalismo bem sucedido) pode ser viável em certas circunstâncias, mas esta transição é improvável.

Lado a lado com o que você identifica como as características negativas do neoliberalismo (financeirização excessiva e desestabilizadora), também há a revolução tecnológica.

O neoliberalismo foi a forma econômica na qual ocorreram os avanços mais dramáticos da técnica humana sobre a natureza. Em segundo lugar, foi o período no qual países como China e Índia desenvolveram-se de modo surpreendente, um fenômeno que ainda precisa ser compreendido em sua totalidade. Argumento, porém, que esta forma econômica não é mais capaz de conter os níveis do dinamismo tecnológico que conseguiu liberar. Não acredito que o próprio neoliberalismo, eu seus próprios valores neoliberais, seja o condutor da mudança tecnológica. A economista Mariana Mazzicato prova esse ponto: não são apenas o Vale do Silício, o empreendedorismo e o dinheiro dos fundos de hedge que produzem o iPhone — é a Nasa, são as grandes universidades como Stamford.

O que estamos vendo hoje é que a rapidez da inovação não está sendo combinada com implementação de políticas ou evolução de modelos de negócios. Isso impõe uma questão: até que ponto o poder de transformação destas novas tecnologias resultará numa terceira revolução industrial? Eu não vejo isso acontecer sob paradigma neoliberal.

Mas, como você mesmo aponta, a nova tecnologia também foi possibilitadora do neoliberalismo, por ter aprimorado a capacidade de explorar o que é chamado algumas vezes de “capital humano”.

A era Keynesiana produziu a última geração de indivíduos hierarquizados, coletivizados. Eu fui produzido por ela e sei que este mundo acabou. Uma das virtudes de se ter 55 anos é ter visto o novo mundo nascer. Hoje, como Foucault afirma, somos empreendedores do self. A internet permitiu que as massas fossem parte do laboratório social do self. Ela nos permite fazê-lo de uma maneira que nem começamos a entender. Ela criou um novo sujeito humano.

A divergência entre eu e os apoiadores do neoliberalismo é em torno de uma questão: o sujeito humano vai transcender o sistema atual, romper com ele e reformar a sociedade humana? Todas as visões de transformação social têm, a partir de agora, de enxergar o que eu chamo de “indivíduo em rede”. Acredito que as revoltas que narrei em meu livro anterior, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere (“Por que está começando em todo lugar”, em tradução livre), são revoltas destas pessoas. Se elas são um novo sujeito histórico, que substitui a velha classe trabalhadora do marxismo, essa é uma grande coisa. É uma grande novidade que devemos buscar compreender.

Você lamenta o mundo que perdemos? O mundo keynesiano de coletividades e solidariedades? Poucas partes de seu livro têm tom de elegia. A nota dominante é mais de excitação com as possibilidades econômicas e políticas que as novas tecnologias e novos modos de subjetividade humana oferecem.

Eu lamento, sim. Escrevi em meu primeiro livro, Live Working or Die Fighting (Viva trabalhando ou morra lutando”, em tradução livre), que o que estamos lamentando, e o que ficou para trás, foi uma anomalia na história do movimento dos trabalhadores. Foi um movimento de trabalhadores socialmente estável, que construiu um caminho de coexistência pacífica com o capital. O que fiz foi cavar na história e descobrir que a indisciplinada história do trabalho foi a de pessoas que foram, elas mesmas e de sua própria maneira, empreendedoras de si mesmas. E tiveram um nível de quase total oposição ao mundo que viveram, coisa que a geração do meu pai, a da era keynesiana, não teve.

De que tradições você está falando, especificamente?

Anarquismo na comuna de Paris. Anarco-sindicalismo nos EUA — os Wobblies. O que o comunismo acrescentou a essas histórias foi a coletividade. Mas se você esquecer as histórias oficiais marxistas sobre a Comuna ou os Wobblies, descobrirá que é uma história de indivíduos rebeldes. Quando comecei a mergulhar nessa história, percebi que a era Keynesiana, apesar do nosso luto, foi uma anomalia.

Também foi uma anomalia na história do capitalismo, não? Não é essa uma das mensagens do livro de Thomas Pikkety, O Capital no Século XXI?

É uma anomalia na história do capitalismo. Também é uma anomalia da história da classe trabalhadora.

Vamos nos voltar ao aspecto econômico de sua argumentação no livro. Sua afirmação é que o capitalismo não consegue “capturar o ‘valor’ gerado pela nova tecnologia.” Você pode desenvolver isso um pouco?

Assim que soubemos que estávamos em uma economia da informação, ficou óbvio que a categoria das coisas chamadas pelos economistas de “externalidades” seriam importantes. O teorista do capital cognitivo, Yann Moulier-Boutang, coloca desta maneira (e eu concordo): toda a questão do capitalismo do século XXI é saber quem captura as externalidades. Devem ser as empresas, que vão ter posse delas e utilizá-las, como faz o Google? A externalidade positiva para o Google é que ele pode ver o que estamos buscando, mas nós não conseguimos ver o que nós mesmo estamos. Então ele pode, agora, construir um modelo de negócio monopolizado, com base nos segredos revelados por sua mineração de dados.

Você quer dizer que, sob os atuais arranjos, o capitalismo só pode capturar o valor gerado pelas novas tecnologias por meio do monopólio? Google, Apple e outros estão ganhando muito dinheiro com isso.

Eles estão ganhando dinheiro. Criaram um monopólio da informação. E, especialmente no que diz respeito aos bens de informação, têm conseguido suprimir o mecanismo de formação de preços. Ele iria, em condições naturais, reduzir o preço da informação que estão vendendo a zero. Eu digo no livro que a declaração da missão da Apple deveria ser, na verdade: “Existimos para prevenir a abundância de música!” Ou, do Google: “Existimos para prevenir a abundância do autoconhecimento das pessoas sobre o que elas fazem na internet”.

Existem dois problemas com isso. Primeiro, é lógico sugerir que nenhum desse monopólios pode sobreviver. Certamente, seu valor de mercado não reflete sua capacidade para continuar monopolizando o que fazem. Segundo: portanto, você não pode ter a completa utilização da informação. A próxima questão é: Existe um meio termo? Haverá algum espaço, que possamos explorar, entre o monopólio e a liberdade? Acredito realmente que sim. Não estou dizendo que tudo deve ser de graça. Estou dizendo que deve haver múltiplos modelos de negócio entre o monopólio e a liberdade.

Você não está dizendo, então, que os mercados vão desaparecer em um futuro pós-capitalista? Afinal, mercados e capitalismo não são a mesma coisa. Mercados são apenas mecanismos para alocar recursos.

É natural — e está acontecendo — que a natureza social da informação leve a formas de atividade de não-mercado. A Wikipédia é uma forma de atividade não mercantil — é um buraco de 3 milhões de dólares no mundo da propaganda.

Você escreve, em certo ponto, que os membros “mais perspicazes” da elite global já são lúcidos a ponto de abordar algumas das questões com as quais você lida no livro — por exemplo, a desigualdade, seu impacto sobre o crescimento, a “estagnação secular” e o papel da negociação coletiva na garantia de salários maiores. O antigo secretário do Tesouro dos EUA, Larry Summers, escreveu vastamente sobre todos estes três problemas, oferecendo diagnósticos não tão diferentes dos seus.

Há pessoas na elite global que se permitiram entender o que estamos passando. Uma das coisas que compreendem é que a desigualdade vai ser desfuncional. Não apenas não querem ser linchados em suas camas, mas também entendem que o dinamismo das economias capitalistas só será retomado se houver um aumento dos salários. Também compreenderam a chamada questão do limite de juro zero — a ideia de que, em uma economia onde as taxas de juros reais estão constantemente zeradas, será constantemente necessário adotar políticas monetárias não-ortodoxas. Políticas monetária não-ortodoxas são arenosas. Qualquer um que entendeu a crítica de Keynes nos anos 1920 e começo dos 1930 vai entender o problema da “viscosidade”. Nos anos trinta, os salários eram pegajosos — eles não iriam cair o suficiente. Agora, é a política monetária que é pegajosa. O problema é: de onde o novo dinamismo da economia virá? Larry Summers entende isso. E pessoas nos mercados de títulos também.

O passo final é que eles olham aos choques exógenos e isso os aterroriza. Isso me aterroriza também. As pessoas no poder, nos ministérios da Fazenda, não vão se autorizar a quantificar a gravidade dos choques que estão a caminho. Se 60% dos títulos emitidos pelos Tesouros nacionais tornarem-se insolventes devido aos custos relacionados com o envelhecimento das populações, algo que as agências de risco consideram provável; se a imigração acontecer na escala que se espera; se tivermos nove bilhões de pessoas clamando para entrar no mundo desenvolvido…

Se o neoliberalismo fosse um sistema funcional, como era nos idos de 2001, e não tivesse deixado esta condição, você provavelmente poderia dizer: “Droga, as coisas vão ficar realmente difíceis, mas provavelmente será possível resolver.” Mas esse capitalismo eclerosado, estagnado e fibrilado sob o qual vivemos desde 2008, não tem chance alguma de sobreviver às tormentas. E mesmo que eu esteja errado sobre a transição que vejo e desejo, seus defensores teriam de aparecer e dizer o que um info-capitalismo dinâmico, o que uma terceira revolução industrial poderia ser.

Mas me parece que Summers ou alguém como o economista Robert Gordon teriam que aceitar a parte de diagnóstico de sua análise…

Certo. Mas a razão pela qual não atravessei o caminho até o território do Robert Gordon é que lá está a produtividade potencial. Sua visão da produtividade potencial inerente à tecnologia da informação transbordando para o mundo real … Acho que é maior do que ele aceita ser.

Por que você pensa que ele subestima isso?

É porque pessoas como Gordon não estão preparadas para entrar nesse mundo inferior, entre valor de uso e valor de troca, que as externalidades representam. Não acho que lendo meu livro a maioria das pessoas aceitarão que a transição, potencialmente, se dá em direção ao  mundo não-mercantil, centralizado na informação, de baixa intensidade de trabalho, pós-capitalista. Mas se pensam que estamos indo em direção a uma forma de info-capitalismo com uma terceira revolução industrial, eles precisam contar para nós qual é a síntese de alto-valor. Que cara terá essa era eduardiana da terceira revolução industrial?

Haverá sinais desse futuro na chamada economia do compartilhamento? Em empreendimentos como Airbnb e Uber?

Meu palpite é que eles são o AltaVista da economia de partilha. O teórico social francês André Gorz explorou isso. Disse que é perfeitamente possível imaginar o capitalismo colonizando as relações interpessoais. O Uber é isso – a questão não são os motoristas de taxi, mas as pessoas darem carona umas às outras. Gorz prevê que nos tornaríamos provedores mútuos de microsserviços. Mas disse: “Essa não pode ser uma economia de alto-valor”. Esse é o problema. Você não pode construir um negócio garimpando a reserva da capacidade automobilística de todos, sua capacidade para fazer massagem Reiki, a meia hora sobressalente de cada eletricista. Você pode fazê-lo, e a economia da partilha é a maneira perfeita para fazê-lo, mas isso simplesmente não resulta na era eduardiana, na Belle Epoque. A Belle Epoque será o sequenciamento de genes e a possibilidade de gastar metade do dia jogando squash.

A maioria dos marxistas detestará esta hipótese. Significa dizer, contra Marx, que a humanidade se liberta por si própria, que as pessoas podem descobrir, dentro do capitalismo, recursos mentais para imaginar um novo futuro e ir direto a ele de um modo que, de 1844 em diante, Marx pensou ser impossível.

Você toma emprestada a ideia de “ciclo longo” do economista soviético Nikolai Kondratieff. Ele argumentava que a história do capitalismo pode ser entendida como uma sucessão de ciclos, cada um deles com uma ascensão turbinada por inovação tecnológica com duração de aproximadamente 25 anos, seguida de uma queda com aproximadamente a mesma duração e que geralmente acaba numa depressão. Esses longos ciclos são muito mais longos que os ciclos de negócio identificados com a economia convencional. Por que você considera proveitosa a abordagem de Kondratieff?

Penso que necessitamos de teorias maiores que os ciclos de negócio e menores que a destruição completa do sistema. Quando você aplica a teoria de Kondratieff ao período pós 1945, percebe o sistema funcionando perfeitamente até 1973. E então ele desmorona. O neoliberalismo vem junto e resolve o problema destruindo o poder de barganha do trabalho. Olhar para as coisas através das lentes de Kondratieff força você a colocar a questão: será o neoliberalismo a forma bem sucedida do novo capitalismo ou o fim da linha que prolongou o ciclo por tempo demais? Escolho a segunda alternativa.

Em que parte do ciclo nos encontramos agora?

Estamos bem no fim de um quarto longo ciclo muito prolongado. Estamos na fase de depressão do quarto longo ciclo, que coincidiu com a ascensão tecnológica do quinto. De modo que acredito que os longos ciclos podem sobrepor-se. Penso que estamos numa posição incomum, do ponto de vista histórico. Claramente, a revolução da informação está ai e as bases de um tipo de capitalismo completamente novo podem estar emergindo. O que aconteceu é que as velhas relações sociais da metade passada da onda anterior não irão adiante. Não há Keynes, apenas o reminiscente do velho. Se você olha para Mark Zuckerberg, do Facebook, ou Jeff Bezos, da Amazon, verá que são pessoas agnósticas sobre o futuro de todo o sistema. Eles veem apenas o futuro de sua própria corporação.

Meu uso de Kondratieff é para tentar responder a pergunta sobre onde estamos. As outras periodicidades – o ciclo de negócio de dez anos e a época, de 500 anos – não são suficientes. Não há uma cadeira de Estudos Pós Capitalistas na Universidade de Wolverhampton! Eles estão na infância.

Você mencionou André Gorz. No livro, você cita um trecho em que ele diz, em 1980, que a classe trabalhadora está morta. Se estava certo, quem será o agente de mudança social?

O fato terrível e desafiante pode ser que, se o capitalismo tem um início, um meio e um fim, então o movimento dos trabalhadores também. Em outras palavras, o declínio da luta trabalhista organizada, com base no trabalho manual, especializado, branco e masculino, parece-me partedo que está acontecendo ao capitalismo. Sou alguém que veio deste background e viveu mergulhado nele. Mas argumento que o sujeito histórico que trará o pós-capitalismo já existe e é o indivíduo em rede. A noção de Antonio Negri de “fábrica social” era arrogante nos anos 1970s, porque era muito cedo. Mas me parece ser justa agora – todos nós participamos na criação de marcas, no estabelecimento de escolhas de consumo, estamos alimentando o capitalismo financeiro por meio do nosso uso das finanças. Por isso, consigo comprar a ideia de que existe uma fábrica social. Se quiser desligá-la, deve fazer como William Benbow sugeriu na década de 1820, parando a “grande festa”. Agora, duvido que isso vá acontecer. Portanto, a maneira menos utópica de fazer isso é lutando pelos interesses dos indivíduos em rede, para que eles não tenham suas informações roubadas, arbitrariamente acessadas pelo Estado, para seus estilos de vida poderem florescer, para que eles tenham escolhas.

São tantos os levantes que cobri – Turquia e Brasil são bons exemplos. São assalariados em rede que não aguentam os níveis de corrupção e intromissão em suas vidas – o islamismo na Turquia, corrupção no Brasil. Que tipo de revolução é essa? Há uma discussão entre aqueles que se envolveram com meu livro: se este é o agente, é “por si” ou “em si”, como diria Marx. Seriam essas pessoas capazes de adquirir um nível espontâneo de entendimento da situação que os levasse a tomar algumas das medidas políticas insinuadas neste livro como um caminho a seguir? Neste momento eles ainda não chegaram lá, claramente. O que são é muito hábeis em construir seu espaço pessoal. Podemos zombar disso, por ser em pequena escala. Mas, ao construir um espaço que é simultaneamente econômico e pessoal, penso que esta geração está fazendo algo muito significativo.

Será que os impregno com a mesma inevitabilidade e teleologia com que o marxismo impregnou a classe trabalhadora? Não. No livro, gasto muito tempo desmontando a compreensão marxista de classe trabalhadora. Sempre senti, como alguém que tem essa bagagem, que o kit de ferramentas que o marxismo tinha para descrever a classe trabalhadora era dos menos convincentes – sobretudo para a própria classe trabalhadora.

A certa altura, você altura escreve que o marxismo é uma grande “teoria da história”, porm se equivoca como “teoria da crise”. O que quer dizer com isso?

Quero dizer que é uma grande teoria para analisar a sociedade de classes. Por exemplo, durante a revolução do Egito em 2011, tendo lido O 18 Brumário de Luis Bonaparte, de Marx, eu poderia dizer aos radicais egípcios que, quando o caos se instalasse, as mesmas pessoas que estavam ao lado deles dariam as boas vindas à ditadura. É provável que o capitalismo evocasse algo novo, capaz de impor ordem. O que impôs desordem foi a Irmandade Muçulmana. Ver as mesmas pessoas que tinham apoiado a revolução chamando o general Sisi para derrubar a Irmandade faz sentido, se você leu O 18 Brumário.

Eu perguntei a Alexis Tsipras antes de o Syriza ser eleito: “Quais seriam as ameaças para um governo de esquerda, se você conquistasse o poder?” Contei a ele: “Você se lembra que [Salvador] Allende nomeou [Augusto] Pinochet [no Chile]? Allende nomeou o general para deter um golpe militar. Nós rimos. A questão, você poderia argumentar, é que o governo da Grécia está sendo colonizado pelas mesmas forças que ele imaginou estar ali para combater. Neste momento, a elite empresarial está pensando: “Apenas Tsipras pode governar a Grécia.” Eles prefeririam que ele governasse a Grécia sem a extrema esquerda do próprio partido. Sempre encontro capitalistas gregos que me dizem: “Se Tsipras nos escutasse, a Grécia seria um grande país.”

O marxismo força você a fazer perguntas que não são feitas pelos jornalistas mainstream. Neste momento, a questão mais importante para os gregos é: o que está acontecendo com as massas? As massas não estão derrotadas. Elas não acreditam que Tsipras é Luis Bonaparte. Muitos fazem objeção ao que ele fez, mas não acreditam que ele seja uma força da reação. Eles acreditam no que está dizendo – que está fazendo algo contra a própria vontade e que irá compensar isso com um ataque à oligarquia. Esperam que esse ataque à oligarquia aconteça. Minha observação é de que houve uma grande radicalização, na Grécia. Quando o verão terminar, veremos uma renovação real tanto das lutas de base como do radicalismo do governo.

O foco naquilo que as pessoas estão dizendo nos pubs é algo que interessa muito a dois tipos de pessoas: às forças da polícia secreta e aos marxistas! Eu gasto o maior tempo possível ouvindo as pessoas.

Qual é o desafio jornalístico para ventilar esse tipo de questão? Trabalhar para uma rede de TV como o Channel Four impõe certamente certas restrições ao modo como você opera.

Um bom jornalista de assuntos sociais, que é o que penso ser, irá, na Grécia por exemplo, conversar com primeiros-ministros, ministros de Estado, mas irá também atrás dos estivadores, dos anarquistas. Ainda por cima, você tem somente dois minutos e trinta segundos. Essa é a razão por que gastei os últimos seis meses buscando recursos e realizando um grande documentário que virá a público, espero, no final deste ano, e que conta a história do Syriza desde as bases, a partir das ruas. Queria fazer isso porque no meu trabalho diário nunca poderia contar essa história. É simplesmente impossível.

E sobre a acusação, frequentemente dirigida a você (e feita várias vezes, durante os últimos meses na Grécia) de que, ao operar dessa forma, você excede os limites da propriedade jornalística ou da isenção?

Penso que todos estão errados! A realidade é que o mundo é governado por uma elite dedicada a reforçar, de modo às vezes completamente aberto, a desigualdade e tudo o que a acompanha. Na Grécia, a “austeridade” é uma forma de coerção. Fico feliz de dizer isso porque essa é a minha análise da realidade. Muita gente no Financial Times ou no Wall Street Journal não compartilha dessa minha visão. Mas estou muito feliz, e meus patrões estão permanentemente felizes com o modo como pratico o jornalismo. As pessoas que não gostam devem simplesmente acostumar-se a ele.

Com ideias como as que estão neste livro, a razão de divulgar uma ideia radical é que você não espera que Andy Burnham ou Tim Farron, [dirigentes do Partido Trabalhista britânico] irão telefonar e dizer, “gosto disso, Paul. Vamos incluir na política do partido.” A questão é ser um pouco do contra. Há pensamento único demais. Meu desejo com esse livro é fazer como num workshop de teatro – levar as pessoas a uma experiência fora do corpo, a ficar largadas no chão, na piscina das próprias lágrimas. Então, quando elas voltarem à segurança do grupo, talvez possam fazer alguma coisa mais honesta.

The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever (Bloomberg)

These six shifts will transform markets over the next 25 years

The renewable-energy boom is here. Trillions of dollars will be invested over the next 25 years, driving some of the most profound changes yet in how humans get their electricity. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets to 2040.

Here are six massive shifts coming soon to power markets near you:

1. Solar Prices Keep Crashing

The price of solar power will continue to fall, until it becomes the cheapest form of power in a rapidly expanding number of national markets. By 2026, utility-scale solar will be competitive for the majority of the world, according to BNEF. The lifetime cost of a photovoltaic solar-power plant will drop by almost half over the next 25 years, even as the prices of fossil fuels creep higher.

Solar power will eventually get so cheap that it will outcompete new fossil-fuel plants and even start to supplant some existing coal and gas plants, potentially stranding billions in fossil-fuel infrastructure. The industrial age was built on coal. The next 25 years will be the end of its dominance.

2. Solar Billions Become Solar Trillions

With solar power so cheap, investments will surge. Expect $3.7 trillion in solar investments between now and 2040, according to BNEF. Solar alone will account for more than a third of new power capacity worldwide. Here’s how that looks on a chart, with solar appropriately dressed in yellow and fossil fuels in pernicious gray:

Electricity capacity additions, in gigawatts
Source: BNEF


3. The Revolution Will Be Decentralized 

The biggest solar revolution will take place on rooftops. High electricity prices and cheap residential battery storage will make small-scale rooftop solar ever more attractive, driving a 17-fold increase in installations. By 2040, rooftop solar will be cheaper than electricity from the grid in every major economy, and almost 13 percent of electricity worldwide will be generated from small-scale solar systems.

$2.2 Trillion Goes to Rooftops by 2040

Rooftop (small-scale) solar in yellow. Renewables account for about two-thirds of investment over the next 25 years.

4. Global Demand Slows

Yes, the world is inundated with mobile phones, flat screen TVs, and air conditioners. But growth in demand for electricity is slowing. The reason: efficiency. To cram huge amounts of processing power into pocket-sized gadgets, engineers have had to focus on how to keep those gadgets from overheating. That’s meant huge advances in energy efficiency. Switching to an LED light bulb, for example, can reduce electricity consumption by more than 80 percent.

So even as people rise from poverty to middle class faster than ever, BNEF predicts that global electricity consumption will remain relatively flat. In the next 25 years, global demand will grow about 1.8 percent a year, compared with 3 percent a year from 1990 to 2012. In wealthy OECD countries, power demand will actually decline.

This watercolor chart compares economic growth to energy efficiency. Each color represents a country or region. As economies get richer, growth requires less power.

The Beauty of Efficiency

Source: BNEF

5. Natural Gas Burns Briefly

Natural gas won’t become the oft-idealized “bridge fuel” that transitions the world from coal to renewable energy, according to BNEF. The U.S. fracking boom will help bring global prices down some, but few countries outside the U.S. will replace coal plants with natural gas. Instead, developing countries will often opt for some combination of coal, gas, and renewables.

Even in the fracking-rich U.S., wind power will be cheaper than building new gas plants by 2023, and utility-scale solar will be cheaper than gas by 2036.

Fossil fuels aren’t going to suddenly disappear. They’ll retain a 44 percent share of total electricity generation in 2040 (down from two thirds today), much of which will come from legacy plants that are cheaper to run than shut down. Developing countries will be responsible for 99 percent of new coal plants and 86 percent of new gas-fired plants between now and 2040, according to BNEF. Coal is clearly on its way out, but in developing countries that need to add capacity quickly, coal-power additions will be roughly equivalent to utility-scale solar.

Source: BNEF

6. The Climate Is Still Screwed

The shift to renewables is happening shockingly fast, but not fast enough to prevent perilous levels of global warming.

About $8 trillion, or two thirds of the world’s spending on new power capacity over the next 25 years, will go toward renewables. Still, without additional policy action by governments, global carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector will continue to rise until 2029 and will remain 13 percent higher than today’s pollution levels in 2040.

That’s not enough to prevent the surface of the Earth from heating more than 2 degrees Celsius, according to BNEF. That’s considered the point-of-no-return for some worst consequences of climate change.

CO2 emissions from the power sector don’t peak until 2029
Source: BNEF

China’s Communist-Capitalist Ecological Apocalypse (Truthout)

Sunday, 21 June 2015 00:00 By Richard Smith, Truthout | News Analysis 

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask in Beijing, Jan. 17, 2012. Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie/The New York Times)

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask in Beijing, January 17, 2012. Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie/The New York Times)

This article seeks to explain why China’s environmental crisis is so horrific, so much worse than “normal” capitalism most everywhere else, and why the government is incapable of suppressing pollution even from its own industries. I begin with an overview of the current state of China’s environment: its polluted air, waters, farmland and the proximate causes, including overproduction, overdevelopment, profligate resource consumption, uncontrolled dumping and venting of pollutants. I then discuss the political-economic drivers and enablers of this destruction, the dynamics and contradictions of China’s hybrid economy, noting how market reforms have compounded the irrationalities of the old bureaucratic collectivist system with the irrationalities of capitalism resulting in a diabolically ruinous “miracle” economy. I conclude with a précis of the emergency steps the country will have to take to take to brake the drive to socio-ecological collapse, with dire implications for us all.

The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, he could not believe his eyes. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their factory compound without a word.

In March 2008, Li and other farmers in Gaolong, a village in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River, told a Washington Post reporter that workers from the nearby Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company had been dumping this industrial waste in fields around their village every day for nine months. The liquid, silicon tetrachloride, was the byproduct of polysilicon production and it is a highly toxic substance. When exposed to humid air, silicon tetrachloride turns into acids and poisonous hydrogen chloride gas, which can make people dizzy and cause breathing difficulties.

Ren Bingyan, a professor of material sciences at Hebei Industrial University, contacted by the Post, told the paper that “the land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in its place … It is … poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it.”

When the dumping began, crops wilted from the white dust, which sometimes rose in clouds several feet off the ground and spread over the fields as the liquid dried. Village farmers began to faint and became ill. And at night, villagers said “the factory’s chimneys released a loud whoosh of acrid air that stung their eyes and made it hard to breath.”

“It’s poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can’t sit outside. You have to close all the doors and windows,” said Qiao Shi Peng, 28, a truck driver who worried about the health of his 1-year-old.

China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost.

Reckless dumping of industrial waste is everywhere in China. But what caught the attention of The Washington Post was that the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company was a “green energy” company producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world. Indeed, it was a major supplier to Suntech Power Holdings, then the world’s leading producer of solar panels, and Suntech’s founder, Shi Zhengrong, topped the Hunrun list of the richest people in China in 2008. (1)

Silicon tetrachloride is an unavoidable byproduct of polysilicon production. But reckless pollution of farm villages is not unavoidable. Today, China is the only country in the world where such criminal behavior and cynical disregard for the health and lives of farmers and workers has become standard practice on a national scale by governments at every level, even as the government’s own environmental agencies decry such behavior and struggle, mostly in vain, to stop it. As one Chinese researcher told the Post, “If this happened in the United States, you’d be arrested.” But in China environmental regulations are regularly flouted by state-owned and private industries with the connivance of government officials at all levels while protesting farmers, workers and environmental activists are arrested, jailed, beaten or worse, and their lawyers with them.

Polysilicon production produces about four tons of silicon tetrachloride liquid waste for every ton of polysilicon produced. In Germany, where Siemens produces solar panels, pollution recovery technology is installed to process the silicon tetrachloride waste and render it harmless. But such environmental protection technology is expensive. In 2008, the cost to produce polysilicon safely was about $84,500 a ton in Germany and would not have cost much less in China. Chinese companies have been producing it for $21,000 to $56,000 a ton, saving millions of dollars a month, by just dumping the toxic waste in rural areas on helpless village communities.

Gaolong village is a mirror to China. It illustrates how the marriage of capitalism and Stalinist bureaucratic collectivism has created a diabolically destructive hybrid economic system, a rogue economy that is ravaging China’s environment, ruining the health of Chinese people, rendering more and more of the country unlivable, driving the country to ecological collapse and threatening to bring the whole planet down with it. (2)

I. China Self-Destructs

For more than three decades, China’s “miracle” economy has been the envy of the world or at least the envy of capitalist economists for whom wealth creation is the highest purpose of human life. Since 1979, China’s GDP has grown by an average of just under 10 percent per year. Never, the World Bank tells us, has a nation industrialized and modernized so quickly or lifted so many millions out of poverty in such a short time. From a backward, stagnant, largely agrarian socialism-in-poverty, Deng Xiaoping brought in foreign investors, introduced market incentives, set up export bases, turned China into the light-industrial workshop of the world and renovated China’s huge state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

“Fast fashion” is speeding the disposal of the planet.

Three and a half decades of surging economic growth lifted China from the world’s 10th largest economy in 1979 to No. 1 by 2014. What’s more, after decades of export-based growth, China’s 12th Five-Year Plan 2011-2015 sought to refocus the economy on internal market demand to realize Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation and turning China into a mass consumer society on the model of the United States. As China sailed right through the global near-collapse of 2008 to 2009, hardly missing a beat, while Western capitalist economies have struggled to keep from falling back into recession, even the Thatcherite Economist magazine had to concede that China’s state capitalism may be in certain respects superior to capitalist democracies and is perhaps even the wave of the future.

But China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost. It’s difficult to grasp the demonic violence and wanton recklessness of China’s profit-driven assault on nature and on the Chinese themselves. Ten years ago, in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine in March 2005, Pan Yue, China’s eloquent, young vice-minister of China’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) told the magazine, “the Chinese miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.” Pan Yue added:

We are using too many raw materials to sustain [our] growth … Our raw materials are scarce, we don’t have enough land, and our population is constantly growing. Currently there [are] 1.3 billion people living in China, that’s twice as many as 50 years ago. In 2020 there will be 1.5 billion … but desert areas are expanding at the same time; habitable and usable land has been halved over the past 50 years … Acid rain is falling on one third of Chinese territory, half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless, while one fourth of our citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. One third of the urban population is breathing polluted air, and less than 20 percent of the trash in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable manner … Because air and water are polluted, we are losing between 8 and 15 percent of our gross domestic product. And that doesn’t include the costs for health … In Beijing alone, 70 to 80 percent of all deadly cancer cases are related to the environment.

And criticizing Western economists who reassure us that more growth is the key to repairing the environmental damage done from growth, Pan said:

And there is yet another mistake … It’s the assumption that economic growth will give us the financial resources to cope with the crises surrounding the environment, raw materials, and population growth. [But] there won’t be enough money, and we are simply running out of time. Developed countries with a per capita gross national product of $8,000 to $10,000 can afford that, but we cannot. Before we reach $4,000 per person, different crises in all shapes and forms will hit us. Economically we won’t be strong enough to overcome them. (3)

Pan Yue’s searing honesty got him sidelined but if anything, he understated the speed, ferocity and scale of China’s ecological destruction, a destruction that extends far beyond China itself.

A. Consuming the Planet to Support Unsustainable Growth

As China’s growth took off in the 1980s and 1990s, the industrial boom rapidly depleted the country’s resources, especially lumber, oil and minerals, forcing Beijing to turn outward to feed its voracious engines of growth. The manic and thirsty industrialization boom in China’s northern industrial cities drained China’s northern fresh aquifers leaving some 600 cities, including Beijing, facing dire water shortages while severely polluting most remaining reserves. Profit-hungry loggers cut down most of what was left of China’s forests, recklessly denuding mountains and precipitating such extensive flooding and loss of life in 2009 that the government banned domestic logging. Chinese loggers then turned to plundering Siberia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even New Guinea and parts of Africa. China had little oil to begin with so industrialization and automobilization quickly turned China from a modest oil exporter into a net importer in 1993 and the world’s leading oil importer by 2013. China’s iron ore, copper and other critical industrial mineral reserves have also been rapidly drawn down, forcing the country to import growing quantities of minerals.

The government has squandered astounding quantities of resources building entire industries China does not need.

In result, today, with 20 percent of the world’s population, China is now by far the world’s largest consumer of marketed primary industrial raw materials (cement, metal ores, industrial minerals, fossil fuels and biomass). China consumes more than 32 percent of the world’s total of these resources, nearly four times as much as the United States, the second largest consumer. China consumes just over half the world’s coal and a third of the world’s oil. China is the leading producer and consumer of steel with 46 percent of world output and now relies on imports for 77 percent of its iron ore. (4) China has become the world’s largest consumer of lumber and forest products, leveling forests from Siberia to Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Congo and Madagascar. Greenpeace concluded that on current trends “future generations will be living on a planet without ancient forests.” (5)

Of course, China has the world’s largest population and is industrializing from a comparatively low level just three decades ago so it’s hardly surprising that it would consume lots of resources to build infrastructure and modernize. But the fact is, most of these resources have been squandered on a stupendous scale, and for all the waste and pollution, most Chinese have gotten surprisingly little out of it all.

The Disposables Revolution and “The Great Acceleration” of Global Consumption

For a start, look at the export bases that have powered China’s rise. When China launched its “reform and opening” (gaige kaifang) in the early 1980s and invited foreign investors to set up joint-ventures and special economic zones, China’s combination of ultra cheap labor plus few-to-no environmental restrictions attracted many of the world’s dirtiest and least sustainable industries. Steel, coke, aluminum, cement, chemicals and petrochemicals, metal plating, leather tanning, plastics, paints and finishes, synthetic fibers and textile production, fabric dyeing, paper production, along with auto battery and electronics recycling – most of the toxic and smokestack industries facing increasingly tough environmental restrictions at home in the United States and Europe, relocated to China after 1980. (6) Seventy percent of the world’s e-waste is dumped in China.

On top of this, China’s masses of low-paid migrant workers were a magnet for the world’s most labor-intensive manufacturing and assembly industries. By the 1990s, China had more than 104 million manufacturing workers, about twice as many as the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, combined. And they worked eight- to 16-hour days, often seven days a week, for an average of $0.57 per hour in 2002, by one estimate, less than the handloom operators earned in the early Industrial Revolution in England. This “China Price” set the global floor for high-volume, light-industrial manufacturing from the 1980s. (7)

The price collapse spurred the biggest boom in global consumption in history and this in turn accelerated global resource plunder on an unprecedented scale. The sudden availability of such a huge pool of ultra-cheap workers also spurred a minor industrial revolution enabling producers to annihilate most of the remaining categories of durable goods and replace them with cheaper, disposable substitutes. With the disposables revolution, local tailors and alteration shops, shoe repair shops, appliance repair shops, TV repairmen and the like all but vanished in the West as it became cheaper to toss these items and replace them than repair them.

The Chinese Communist Party promoted the car craze to bolster status-seeking middle-class political support.

Take clothes: “Fast fashion,” (also known as “trashion fashion”) from H&M, Target, Zara and others, now rules the women’s apparel market with clothes so cheap it’s often not worth the cost of dry cleaning them. As Elizabeth Kline relates in her recent book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, “seasonal shopping patterns have given way to continuous consumption.” Zara delivers new lines twice a week to its stores. H&M and Forever 21 stock new styles every day. In Kline’s words: “Buying so much clothing and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable.” To say the least.

The US cotton crop requires the application of 22 billion pounds of toxic pesticides every year. Most fiber is dyed or bleached, and treated in toxic chemical baths to make it brighter, softer, more fade resistant, waterproof or less prone to wrinkles. Upholstery fabrics and children’s pajamas are treated with ghastly chemicals to make them stain resistant or fireproof. These toxic baths consume immense quantities of chemicals and water, and it goes without saying that in China, the chemicals are routinely just dumped in rivers and lakes, untreated, just like that silicon tetrachloride poured out on Li Gengxuan’s cornfield. Then after all the chemical treatments, the fabrics have to be dried under heat lamps. These processes consume enormous quantities of energy.

The textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and it’s growing exponentially. In 1950, when there were about 2.5 billion people on earth, they consumed around 10 million tons of fabric for all uses. Today, we are 7 billion, but we consume more than 70 million tons of fabric annually, nearly three times as much per person as we consumed in the 1950s. Producing 70 million tons of fabric consumes astounding quantities of resources including more than 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of fresh water, every year. Synthetic fibers like polyester and such (now 60 percent of the market) are the worst: They consume between 10 and 25 times as much energy to produce as natural fibers. In short, “fast fashion” is speeding the disposal of the planet. (8)

And what’s true for China’s garment industry is true for most of the rest of China’s export industries. From cheap, disposable shoes and clothes, toys, tools, housewares, Christmas junk and flimsy plastic appliances to meticulously made and expensive but nevertheless designed-to-be-obsolesced iPhones and 60-inch flat-screen TVs, most of the world’s light-industrial goods are made in China and they are, for the most part, deliberately designed to be unrepairable and mostly unrecyclable. After their short life, they all end up piled on the world’s ever-growing garbage mountains, sent back to China in containers filled with e-trash to be “recycled” by children melting the plastic off motherboards over open fires, or left floating around the world’s oceans in giant plastic gyres over vast stretches of oceans, hundreds of feet deep. (9)

Scenes of Planetary Destruction From the 12th Five-Year Plan

When we turn to China’s domestic economy, the waste is breathtaking. As China’s economy opened to the West and China’s exports began returning billions of dollars in foreign exchange, Beijing launched wave after wave of gargantuan development projects: dams, airports, rail systems, roads, subways, sewerage systems, new industries, new housing, new cities, new ports and more. China’s supercharged government planners have been showcasing China’s engineering prowess and economic might by building the world’s biggest dams, the tallest skyscrapers, biggest airports, longest and highest bridges, longest rail and road networks and longest tunnels.

Since the 1980s, China has built enough new housing to re-house the entire population.

Since Deng Xiaoping launched his “Four Modernizations of agriculture, defense, science and technology” and reform and opening up, the country has been in perpetual Great Leap Forward mode: Five-Year plans have set annual industrial growth rates of 8 percent and promoted successive sets of “pillar” industries – autos, electronics, petrochemicals, clean energy and so on. In the current 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the State Council calls for development of “seven strategic emerging industries” including 1) energy efficient and environmental technologies like “clean coal,” 2) next generation IT and cloud computing and the “Internet of Things,” 3) biotechnology, 4) high-tech manufacturing of vehicles and aircraft, expanding high-speed rail service to 45,000 kilometers, expanding motor expressways to 83,000 kilometers, 5) new-generation nuclear power, more solar and wind energy systems, 6) new materials including development of rare earths, special glass and ceramics, high-performance fiber and composite materials, 7) new-energy vehicles: motor batteries, drive motors, electronic controls, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, low-emissions vehicles. (10)

No doubt, the Chinese have benefited from new housing, infrastructure, schools, hospitals and so on. But the government has also squandered astounding quantities of resources building entire industries China does not need, building useless vanity projects, superfluous housing, redundant infrastructure and more. From the start this investment boom has been characterized by uncontrolled overproduction and out-of-control pollution.

Scene 1: The “Car Craze” China and Planet Earth Did Not Need

The 12th Five-Year Plan calls for “enhancing China’s independent capacity to manufacture automobiles, domesticating production of all key parts,” for “large-scale commercialization” of energy efficient and hybrid vehicles, for “building … world-famous brands and core competencies” and so on. Hybrid or not, this is an industry the Chinese do not need. Up to 1979, China produced around 160,000 motor vehicles per year with trucks and buses accounting for 90 percent of the output. People got around on bicycles, buses and trains. In 1990, China had just 5.5 million cars, trucks and buses on the road. By 2013, China became the world’s largest auto assembler cranking out 18.7 million cars and light vehicles, more than twice the number produced in the United States in that year. By 2013, China had 240 million cars on its roads, almost as many as in the United States, and China could have an estimated 390-532 million cars on the road by 2050. The question is, why does China need anything like such a huge auto industry? The lead headline of Bloomberg News for April 9, 2014, citing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, was “Cars become the biggest driver of greenhouse-gas increases.” What’s wrong with this picture?

China surpassed the US in 2007 to become the world’s leading carbon dioxide emitter.

The automobilization of China has brought three profound changes. First, it has dramatically lengthened the time it takes to get anywhere in China’s gridlocked cities (average speed on Beijing’s ring roads is 9 miles per hour) and created epic, world-historic traffic jams on highways feeding into Beijing and other cities. One jam-up near Beijing in 2010 stretched over 100 kilometers and lasted for two weeks. Secondly, it has added a dense new layer of smog on top of the already thick layers of smog from coal combustion smothering China’s cities. And thirdly, it has paved over much-needed farmland and wetlands and wasted enormous resources China, and the world, does not have to waste. This did not have to happen.

The Communist Party promoted joint-venture auto production as a “pillar” industry in the 1990s for two reasons: First, once the government embarked on its market-reform strategy, abandoning lifetime employment, it needed to push growth to generate private- and state-sector jobs, like capitalist governments everywhere. Speaking in November 2013, Prime Minister Li Keqiang stressed that:

Employment is the biggest thing for well-being. The government must not slacken on this for one moment … For us, stable growth is mainly for the sake of maintaining employment.

Auto manufacture and related industries now account for one out of every eight urban jobs in China excluding road building, another big employer.

Secondly, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) promoted the car craze to bolster status-seeking middle-class political support. In the 1980s, the CCP supported a modest consumerism. But after the Tiananmen uprising in the spring of 1989, the government opted for expansive consumerism to placate the middle classes. Hence the car craze, followed by the airline craze, the shopping mall craze, the high-speed train craze, the foreign tourism craze, and so on. It is no small irony that just as the CCP was ramping up auto production and banning bicycles from public roads in the 1990s, European countries were moving in the opposite direction – barring cars from many central city streets, promoting bicycles and car sharing, and expanding public transit. China didn’t begin expanding its urban subways in earnest until the late 2000s, after two decades of automobilization had gridlocked its cities and dramatically increased air pollution.

Scene 2: The Roads Not Taken

As China was racing to surpass the US as the world’s largest car market, the Communist Party decided that China should also “catch up and overtake” the US interstate highway system as well. So by 2010 China built 53,000 miles of intercity expressways, exceeding the US interstate highway system’s 47,000 miles. But this program, built at huge cost and by tearing through cities and paving over thousands of square miles of valuable farms, wetlands and so on, is yet another ill-conceived boondoggle because except for a few highways near major cities like Beijing or Shenzhen, China’s expressways are often little used. In places, farmers dry their crops on empty super highways. McClatchy’s Beijing bureau chief Tom Lasseter writes under this picture:

Do you see any cars along this road? One often hears about the traffic jams in the big cities of China. But here’s the flip side of the coin: In rural towns and cities in China, local officials like to build big showcase projects, displaying grandiosity but little utility. I was in the city of Fengzhen in Inner Mongolia yesterday. By Chinese standards, it is a small place, maybe 200,000 people. So imagine my surprise as we leave the downtown to come across this eight-lane highway going past a mammoth new City Hall. Nary a car on it. A passerby could keel over with a stroke on that highway and not risk getting run over for many hours. The city is already in hot water for building a power plant that Beijing says is unneeded. Across China, there are plenty of largely empty hotels, brand new empty highways, modern airports that lose money for lack of traffic, etc. What happens is that unelected local officials, not particularly responsive to local needs, find that pharaonic projects give their municipalities a luster that can attract investment, which is their path to promotion within the one-party system. So for every eight-lane road you see like this, there is a happy bureaucrat pondering a bright career ahead. (11)

How much cement has been poured, how much iron rebar has been forged, and how much coal has been burned to produce the energy to pave over so much of China – for no useful purpose whatsoever?

Scene 3: Half-Empty Trains and Subways

And how much steel, aluminum, copper, cement and electricity have been consumed to build China’s huge national network of high-speed trains? The 12th Five-Year Plan budgeted hundreds of billions of dollars to build more than 16,000 miles of high-speed rails by 2020. By 2013, China had already built more high-speed trains than the rest of the world combined. But this too is more make-work and prestige project than modernizing necessity. High-speed trains are hugely expensive to build and operate and consume more than twice as much electricity to run as regular trains, so tickets can cost 10 times the price of regular train tickets in China. Since few Chinese people can afford such prices, the trains often run at half capacity or less. Chinese transportation experts say the government is throwing money away on bullet trains, money that could be better spent on regular railroads, especially cargo lines, and developing mass transit in and around cities. (12) New York University economist Nouriel Roubini told Reuters in 2011:

“I was recently in Shanghai and I took their high-speed train to Hangzhou,” he said, referring to the new Maglev line that has cut traveling time between the two cities to less than an hour from four hours previously.

“The brand new high-speed train is half-empty and the brand new station is three-quarters empty. Parallel to that train line, there is also a new highway that looked three-quarters empty. Next to the train station is also the new local airport of Shanghai and you can fly to Hangzhou,” he said.

“There is no rationale for a country at that level of economic development to have not just duplication but triplication of those infrastructure projects.” (13)

Duplication, triplication, overconstruction and waste is everywhere in China, even with subways. Twenty-two cities already have subway systems and money was budgeted in 2012 to build subways in another 16 by the end of 2018. Wang Mengshu, a subway engineer from the Chinese Academy of Engineering who helped design China’s first subway in Beijing in 1965, says these are completely unnecessary, too expensive, again more prestige projects than public service: “Second-, third-, fourth-tier cities … those cities don’t need to build subways. Even if they can afford to build them, they can’t afford to run them. But a lot of places think that if they have a subway, then they are a big city.” (14)

Scene 4: China as “Major Aerospace and Air-Travel Power”

The 12th Five-Year Plan grandiosely calls for a push to make China a “major aerospace and air-travel power.” Plans call for nearly a hundred new airports, thousands of new airliners, thousands of helicopters, business jets and small aircraft of all varieties. Boeing estimates Chinese carriers will need more than 5,260 new airliners – worth $670 billion – by 2031. (15) Great for Boeing. But not only did China not “need” this industry, it’s just suicidal for developing countries like China to repeat the same environmental mistakes as the West did.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that aviation is currently responsible for about 3.5 percent of anthropogenic climate change and says that if present trends continue this share will grow to between 5 percent and 15 percent by 2050 while the absolute contribution of aviation generated emissions will soar. Aviation is already the fastest growing source of global carbon dioxide emissions and if it continues to grow at its current rate it will overwhelm all the cuts engineers have managed to make elsewhere. (16) There are not currently nor are there on the horizon any practical alternatives to kerosene-based fuels for commercial jet aircraft. This is why after surveying the literature on potentials for greenhouse gas mitigation in other forms of transportation, environmental journalist George Monbiot concludes that while some forms of transport can be rendered a bit greener, there’s virtually nothing we can do with aviation with present or foreseeable technologies:

There is, in other words, no technofix. The growth in aviation and the need to address climate change cannot be reconciled. Given that [efficiency gains tend to be canceled out by growth] a 90 percent cut in emissions requires not only that growth stops, but that most of the planes which are flying today are grounded. I recognize that this will not be a popular message. But it is hard to see how a different conclusion could be extracted from the available evidence. (17)

In a world where climate scientists tell us we need to cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent by 2050, global aviation emissions are on course to double by 2030. It will be suicidal to let this happen. Absent some technical miracle, the only way to suppress aviation emissions is to suppress the numbers of people jetting around the planet, not add hundreds of millions of Chinese to this jet set. Coming to grips with this reality may not be popular in China or the United States, but the alternative is not going to be popular either.

Scene 5: Construction Frenzies, Ghost Cities and the Mother of All Real Estate Bubbles

Yet none of the above compares with the resources squandered on the construction boom of recent decades. China’s construction juggernaut has been gobbling up China’s best peri-urban farmland, expelling tens of millions of farmers and urban residents and consuming staggering quantities of resources to build unneeded housing, shopping malls, industrial parks, office buildings, power plants and infrastructure in a country already bursting with overpopulated, polluted megacities. (18) Millions of urban residents were cleared out of Beijing and Shanghai, which were completely rebuilt with thousands of skyscrapers, apartment blocks, highways and shopping malls. (19) Cities and provinces compete to build cloud-piercing skyscrapers even if they have no prospective tenants for them.

In one village, 80 percent of the population is said to have died from pollution-induced cancers since 1991.

By 2020, 12 of the planet’s 20 tallest towers are expected to be in provincial cities like Shenyang, Wuhan and Suzhou. The office vacancy rate in Shenyang is nearly 30 percent, yet three more towers, all bigger than the Chrysler Building in New York City, are under construction, and another 12 are on the drawing boards. Beijing’s premier architectural atrocity, the Rem Koolhaas-designed CCTV tower – dubbed “Big Underpants” by the locals – sits nearly empty since it was built in 2008. Cities compete to build ersatz Wall Street “financial centers” as in Beijing (abandoned) and Tianjin (abandoned and unfinished). Stunningly lavish offices for cadres are built everywhere. China’s coast has multiple redundant ports, some nearly empty, but more are planned.

Since the 1980s, China has built enough new housing to re-house the entire population but the construction boom has become a self-sustaining, perpetual engine of construction for the sake of construction – supply with no demand. And there are not just miles of empty apartment blocks but entire “ghost cities” complete with office towers, hospitals, schools, futuristic airports, museums, universities, libraries, theaters, sports fields, and miles and miles of apartment towers and subdivisions of McMansions – but almost no people. (20) Twenty-one percent of China’s urban residents, the wealthy and middle classes, own two urban apartments, some own three or four – all bought for speculation, not to live in, not vacation homes. More than 22.4 percent of urban apartments and houses remained vacant in 2014.  (21) By one estimate, more than 64 million surplus apartments had been built in China, enough to house almost half the population of the United States, yet millions more are under construction. (22) Economists have warned that what China is really building is the biggest real estate bubble in history. CBS interviewed Wang Shi, CEO of China Vanke, China’s biggest homebuilder (which makes him the world’s biggest homebuilder), who told CBS’s Lesley Stahl that this can’t last, “this is a bubble, for sure.” When it bursts, “it will be a disaster, a disaster.” (23)

Scene 6: Tofu Construction

Construction is breathtakingly fast in China but it can also be breathtakingly sloppy, dangerous and destined to a short life span. That’s because China’s local building department regulators, like food safety and environment regulators, are subordinate to local officials who partner with and profit off the very construction companies the regulators are nominally supposed to regulate. In result, safety is often subordinated to speed and cost, with predictable results. The Chinese call it doufazha, “tofu” construction. Bridges collapse regularly. Between July 2011 and August 2012, eight major bridges collapsed. An Australian reporter counted four collapsed bridges in just nine days in July 2012. (24) High-speed railway bridges collapse. Buildings collapse. Some just topple over. Millions of peasants have been cleared off the land and dumped into “new towns” around cities where the shoddy new housing is already crumbing as the displaced farmers move in. In 2010, China’s Ministry of Housing admitted the low quality of construction and warned that “China’s newly-built houses can only last for 20 or 30 years.” (25) Have the Chinese invented disposable housing?

Officials call for tougher regulations but most Chinese blame corruption. Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing, says bid rigging is the norm and there are no checks or balances on the procurement process. “We do have relevant laws regarding the bidding process, but there is a lack of enforcement. The bidding process is only a show.” A college student, Zeo Niu, interviewed by National Public Radio after a major bridge collapse in 2012, knew the system well. Her uncle runs a construction company in central China. She said using substandard material while charging for high-quality goods is routine. What really upsets her, she said, “is that so many projects collapse, people just become overwhelmed. ‘I will never remember those victims’ names in this accident, and people won’t remember it,’ Niu said. ‘It will all be buried by another accident.'” (26)

“Twenty More Years of Roaring Growth”?

In The Wall Street Journal of August 20, 2014, Justin Yifu Lin, an economist and close adviser to senior leaders in Beijing, stated that he’s confident China can sustain its recent 8 percent per year growth rate for the foreseeable future. He predicts “20 years of roaring growth” for China. Really? Where does Yifu think the resources are going to come from for this scale of consumption? As it happens, in 2011, the Earth Policy Institute at Columbia University calculated that if China keeps growing by around 8 percent per year, Chinese average per capita consumption will reach the current US level by around 2035. But to provide the natural resources for China’s 1.3 billion to consume on a per capita basis like the United States’ 330 million consume today, the Chinese – roughly 20 percent of the world’s population – will consume as much oil as the entire world consumes today. It would also consume more than 60 percent of other critical resources.

Production Consumption* Commodity Unit Consumption Latest Year Projected Consumption 2035
U.S. China China World
Grain Million Tons 338 424 1,505 2,191
Meat Million Tons 37 73 166 270
Oil Million Barrels per Day 19 9 85 86
Coal Million Tons of Oil Equivalent 525 1,714 2,335 3,731
Steel Million Tons 102 453 456 1,329
Fertilizer Million Tons 20 49 91 214
Paper Million Tons 74 97 331 394

*Projected Chinese consumption in 2035 is calculated assuming per-capita consumption will be equal to the current US level, based on projected GDP growth of 8 percent annually. Latest year figures for grain, oil, coal, fertilizer and paper are from 2008. Latest year figures for meat and steel are from 2010. Source: Earth Policy Institute, 2011

How can this happen? What would the rest of the world live on? Already, as resource analyst Michael Klare reviews in his latest book, The Race for What’s Left (2012), around the world existing reserves of oil, minerals and other resources “are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future.”

B. Airpocalypse Now

Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze since the 1990s have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. Scientists have compared north China’s toxic smog to a “nuclear winter” and the smog is also sharply reducing crop yields. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of death in Beijing and nationally pollution-induced lung disease is taking the lives of more than 1.2 million people a year. With 20 percent of the world’s population, China now burns as much coal as the rest of the world put together. Twenty of the world’s 30 smoggiest cities are in China.

As domestic food grows increasingly unsafe, alarmed middle-class Chinese strip supermarkets of imported food.

Ironically, China is also a “green technology” leader, the world’s largest producer of both windmills and solar panels. Yet in China these account for barely 1 percent of electricity generation. Coal presently supplies 69 percent of China’s total energy consumption; oil accounts for 18 percent; hydroelectric, 6 percent; natural gas, 4 percent; nuclear, less than 1 percent; and other renewables including solar and wind, 1 percent. (27)China currently burns 4 billion tons of coal a year; the US burns less than 1 billion; the European Union, about 0.6 billion. China has marginally reduced the carbon intensity of production in recent years by installing newer, more efficient power plants but these gains have been outstripped by relentless building of more power plants. To make matters worse, even when power plants are fitted with scrubbers to reduce pollution, operators often don’t turn on the scrubbers because these cut into their profits.

While government plans call for reducing coal’s share of the energy mix from 69 percent to 55 percent by 2040, it projects that China’s absolute coal consumption will still rise by more than 50 percent in the same period in line with China’s projected economic growth of around 7.7 percent per year. The World Health Organization considers air pollution above 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter (PM2.5) to be unsafe. China’s current national average is 75 micrograms but particulate levels in many cities average in the hundreds.

In the winter of 2013, China suffered from the worst air pollution in its history as half of the country, nearly the whole of northern and eastern China, was smothered in dense smog for weeks at a time. Smog alerts were called in 104 cities in 20 of China’s 30 provinces as schools and airports closed in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. In January, PM2.5 levels in Beijing reached 900 micrograms per cubic meter. As Beijing was choking in smog in the winter of 2013, Deutsche Bank analysts gloomily concluded that even if China’s economy slowed to 5 percent growth per year from it’s current 7.6 percent rate, coal consumption would still nearly double and China’s smog could increase by as much as 70 percent by 2030. (28)

China’s leaders thus face an intractable dilemma. They can’t keep growing the economy without consuming ever more coal, oil and gas. Yet the more fossil fuels they burn, the more uninhabitable China’s cities become, the more Chinese people flee the country, and the faster China’s emissions are driving global warming.

Cooking the Planet to Produce Junk No One Needs

China surpassed the United States in 2007 to become the world’s leading carbon dioxide emitter. By 2013, China’s emissions were already nearly double those of the US. The US Energy Information Administration calculates that even if China grows at only 5.7 percent per year, 2 percent less than its current rate and about half the average rate it grew over the past decade, its carbon dioxide emissions would still soar to almost 15 billion tons by 2040, almost triple that of the US. (29) By 2013, China’s per capita emissions surpassed those of Europe. With just 20 percent of the world’s population, China already accounts for almost 30 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Coal-to-Gas Bases Will Doom the Climate

Under pressure to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions but still maintain economic growth, the government has begun talking about putting a cap on coal emissions. But this cap would be pegged to expected growth and demand, so coal use is likely to continue rising for years. (30) Yet the most worrisome threat to reducing emissions comes from the government’s newest plan to “clean up its cities” by building dozens of huge “coal-gasification bases” in Shanxi, the Ordos Basin, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and other remote areas. These plants will burn coal directly to generate electricity in situ and convert coal to liquid fuels like “syngas” (like natural gas but from coal), which will then be transported to the cities to be burned in power plants, factories and cars.

These huge bases, some encompassing areas larger than the states of Delaware and Connecticut, will be the largest fossil fuel development projects in the world. And far from reducing coal use, scientists say, these complexes consume so much coal-fired energy to produce the syngas and other chemicals that they generate almost twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as if the coal were just directly burned in power plants. (31) Furthermore, water-intensive coal extraction in the new coal bases in northern and western provinces threatens to seriously aggravate China’s already severe water crisis in these regions. (32) And as if all this weren’t enough, the government has also declared its intention to develop “fracking” wherever possible in China. (33)

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that if we’re to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, humanity cannot add more than 880 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere before 2050. Collectively, we’ve already used up more than half of that “carbon budget” leaving us a remaining budget of just 349 billion gigatons. If China produces just 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, its current rate, with no growth whatsoever, it will still consume the entire carbon budget for the whole of humanity by itself by 2050.

C. Undrinkable Water, Poisoned Soils, Toxic Food

If the air is bad, the water is far worse. In a few decades of breakneck industrialization, the Chinese have managed to severely and irreversibly pollute most of the nation’s fresh water supplies with dire implications for public health. China’s fresh water sources are contaminated by pesticides, industrial chemicals, heavy metals and myriad other toxics. China’s largest rivers resemble vast open cesspools and for much of their length the banks are strewn with every imaginable kind of trash, and numberless outlet pipes spewing multiple toxics, dead fish, dead pigs and pigswill. Gushing pollutants turn long stretches of rivers bright red or purple or milky white or inky black. Sewage is routinely dumped mostly untreated in the nation’s rivers, the same rivers many cities take their drinking water from, imperiling the health of hundreds of millions. The government has built wastewater treatment facilities all over the country but most remain unused. (34)

These days China’s state sector has all the superficial trappings of a market economy.

China’s rivers suffer huge spills of all kinds of toxic chemicals – benzene, xanthogenate, analine – every year. In north China, the Yellow River “is a catastrophe” and the 300-odd rivers that drain the North China Plain “are open sewers if they are not completely dry” in the words of Ma Jun, China’s leading authority on the country’s water crisis. (35) According to a government report, the Yangtze River, the world’s third longest, is seriously and irreversibly polluted. Long stretches are said to be in “critical condition,” in places, too dangerous even to touch. Aquatic life has all but collapsed. Pollution and shipping wiped out China’s legendary Yangtze Baiji dolphin while even common carp “are gasping for survival.” (36) The 500-mile-long reservoir filling up behind the huge Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze qualifies as the world’s biggest cesspool. In some areas groundwater is being irreversibly polluted as textile dyeing mills and other factories, looking to avoid fines for dumping their effluents into rivers, instead drill and pump them into the earth. Some “use high-pressure pumps to discharge huge volumes of their wastewater directly underground.” According to one scientist, “deliberate, malicious waste discharge by factories has already become endemic.” (37)

The China Geological Survey reported in 2013 that 90 percent of the country’s groundwater is polluted, and 60 percent of it is “severely” polluted. A survey of 11 cities across China in 2012 indicated that 64 percent of water sources were severely polluted and 33 percent moderately polluted. Only 3 percent of sources could be graded as clean. (38) It’s difficult to overstate the dire implications of these practices: In China, groundwater is not only tapped for drinking water throughout rural China as well as in many cities, but over much of the country, especially the parched northern plains, this is the main source of water for farming.

Mass Production of “Cancer Villages”

China’s rivers have received many major toxic industrial chemical spills over the years. In September 2004, Jim Yardley of The New York Times reported on the situation in the Huai River basin, upstream from Shanghai, after a huge chemical spill created an 82-mile-long band of water that killed nearly every living thing and was too polluted even to touch. And the Huai, Yardley pointed out, was supposed to have been a government “success story.” (39) In April 2014, a major leak of benzene poisoned the drinking water for millions in Gansu Province.

Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, the government promoted the development of market-oriented “township and village industries” to promote growth and employment. These industries, the darlings of the World Bank and Western market-enthusiast academics, became notorious polluters. Foreign-invested special economic zone industries are also major polluters. (40) In the 1990s and 2000s, in response to growing anti-pollution protests in the cities, the government pushed dirty industries out of the cities and into the countryside and rural towns. This brilliant move resulted in horrific contamination of whole rural regions and the mass production of “cancer villages” where extraordinary numbers of inhabitants are dying from intestinal, liver and other cancers caused by ingesting toxic water and food.

Nongovernmental organizations count at least 459 villages spread across every province except far-western Qinghai and Tibet. In one village, 80 percent of the population is said to have died from pollution-induced cancers since 1991. (41) There are villages where almost every child is lead-poisoned. (42) Dumping of toxic chemicals and heavy metals extends even to remote corners of China. In neo-tropical Yunnan Province, investigators have found “rampant chromium dumping” polluting rice paddies and drinking water.

The Damage Done

The problem with water pollution, unlike air pollution, is that it doesn’t disappear once the dumping stops. Heavy metals and other contaminants don’t easily break down or wash away. They can be very long-lived and can’t really be “cleaned up.” (43) Once groundwater is polluted, there’s just no possible remediation. This means that extensive areas of China’s farmland, especially in the north, are effectively doomed. (44) This is taking a huge toll on the health of Chinese people as well as non-human life forms and poses a mortal threat to the entire society. Elizabeth Economy, author of The Rivers Run Black (2007), writes that “Less well documented [than air pollution] but potentially even more devastating is the health impact of China’s polluted water. Today, fully 190 million Chinese are sick from drinking contaminated water. All along China’s major rivers, villages report skyrocketing rates of diarrheal diseases, cancer, tumors, leukemia, and stunted growth.” (45)

The Bad Earth and Toxic Foods

China’s farmlands are extensively polluted with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, sewage sludge and innumerable industrial toxics. Much of this comes from polluted irrigation water. In places, even industrial wastewater has been used to irrigate farms when local wells have dried up or are themselves too polluted to use. In December 2013, the Ministry of Land and Resources reported that 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres – roughly the area of Belgium) of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops on and researchers said that “as much as 70 percent” of China’s farmland could be contaminated to some degree. (46) In April 2014, the government reported that almost 20 percent of the country’s arable land, 10 percent of its woodlands and 10 percent of its grassland soils were seriously polluted with heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, zinc and nickel plus inorganic compounds including DDT. The survey, carried out between 2006 and 2010, but suppressed for four years as a state secret out of fear of public outrage, summed up the nation’s farmland situation as “grim”(yanjun). (47)

Shocking as this is for a nation that must try to feed 20 percent of the world’s population on 7 percent of the world’s arable land, environmentalists suspect the published figures understate the true extent of soil contamination. (48) In November 2014, the government conceded that 40 percent of the nation’s farmland is degraded from acidification, pollution and erosion, and the government “is growing increasingly concerned about its food supply after years of rapid industrialization resulted in widespread pollution of waterways and farmland.” (49)

Life in the Communist Party is not so different from life in the mafia.

In May 2013, the Food and Drug Administration of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, reported that 40 percent of the rice tested at restaurants that spring was contaminated with cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal than can cause bone disease, cancer and other illnesses. Since extensive national testing has not yet been done for this or other contaminants, there is concern that such pollution is widespread. Fish (and fishermen) have also been found to have high levels of cadmium, mercury and lead. (50)

To add further insult to consumers, deliberate food adulteration, contamination and fakery is rife in China. In 2008, public anger erupted after the government reported that tens of thousands of children were at risk of kidney stones and other organ damage from milk powder mixed with melamine, a chemical used to deceive protein tests. At least six infants died from illnesses linked to the tainted powder, which sickened more than 300,000 children.

Despite repeated government crackdowns, food contamination is severe and growing in China. As domestic food grows increasingly unsafe, alarmed middle-class Chinese strip supermarkets of imported food and Chinese tourists clear out the shelves of baby formula from New Zealand to Holland to pack and take home in their suitcases. Public alarm is also driving up food imports, which in turn is driving up world food prices. (51) For the first time in its history, China now imports more grain than it produces. This is bad news not only for China’s basic food security but also for natural resources around the world as China’s demand for soybeans, corn, wheat and other grains is leveling forests from Africa to the Amazon.

What’s Going on Here?

Why is it that the same government that has lifted the living standards of more people – millions – faster than any other nation in history, that has built the world’s largest high-speed rail network, the largest airports, longest bridges, skyscrapers by the hundreds and whole cities practically overnight, can’t guarantee safe drinking water or food or medicines or breathable air to its citizens? Why can’t it enforce its own environmental regulations, or its own building codes? Why can’t it stop its own local governments from squandering money building unneeded housing, airports and rail lines? Why is it that the same ruthless police state that so proficiently crushes dissent and censors the internet can’t stop producers, even state-owned companies, from making lead-paint-coated toys, poisoned milk and baby formula, and toxic meat and dumplings, and can’t suppress corruption in its own officials? The answer to all these questions is to be found in the nature, contradictions and tendencies of China’s hybrid bureaucratic collectivist-capitalist economic system.

II. A Political Economy

China’s rulers preside over the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, a powerhouse of international trade whose state-owned conglomerates count among the largest companies in the world. They profit immensely from their state-owned enterprises’ (SOEs) market returns. But they’re not capitalists, at least not with respect to the state-owned economy. Communist Party members don’t own individual SOEs or shares in state companies like private investors. They collectively own the state, which owns most of the economy. They’re bureaucratic collectivists who run a largely state-planned economy that also produces extensively for the market. But producing for the market is not the same thing as capitalism. (52)

Three of the top 10 2014 Fortune Global 500 corporations are Chinese. But they’re not owned by Chinese capitalists. They’re owned by the Chinese government. James McGregor notes, “Of the sixty-nine companies from mainland China in the Fortune Global 500 in 2012, only seven were not SOEs … [and all of these seven] companies have received significant government assistance and most count government entities among their shareholders.” Thirty-five years after the introduction of market reforms, China’s government still owns and controls the commanding heights of the economy: banking, large-scale mining and manufacturing, heavy industry, metallurgy, shipping, energy generation, petroleum and petrochemicals, heavy construction and equipment, atomic energy, aerospace, telecommunications, vehicles (often in partnership with Western companies), aircraft manufacture, airlines, railways, biotechnology, military production and more. Plus all the land and natural resources: There is no private property in China.

“Families benefited from their control of state companies, amassing private wealth as they embraced the market economy.”

In key industries SOEs own and control between 75 and 100 percent of assets including 96.2 percent of telecom, 91.6 percent of power generation, 76.6 percent of petroleum and petrochemicals, 76.2 percent of airlines, 74 percent of autos, and so on. China’s banks are 100 percent state-owned (though there are some private equity firms). (53) In the words of James McGregor, “SOEs monopolize or dominate all significant sectors of the economy and control the entire financial system. Party leaders deploy the SOEs to build and bolster the economy – and undergird the Party’s monopoly political control. The private sector provides a lubricant for growth and the opportunity for people to become rich as long as they support the Party.” (54) SOEs together with local government-owned urban collective and township and village industries currently account for 50 percent of China’s current non-farm GDP. Foreign-invested joint ventures account for about 30 percent of non-farm GDP (though Chinese partners of larger joint ventures, like auto assembly, are mostly SOEs). China’s indigenous private sector accounts for about 20 percent of non-farm GDP. (55)

SOEs resemble capitalist corporations but they’re not driven by the same motor of market competition; they don’t face the same incentives and penalties as capitalist firms, at least not to the same extent, and they’re not run like capitalist companies. (56) These days China’s state sector has all the superficial trappings of a market economy: corporations, CEOs, IPOs, stock markets and so on. The Ministry of Petroleum is now called China National Petroleum Corporation. Baoshan Iron and Steel now calls itself Baosteel Group Corp. and so on. But SOEs aren’t “corporations.”

Dozens of Chinese SOEs have held IPO listings on the New York Stock Exchange and China’s own toy stock markets in Shenzhen and Shanghai. But the government won’t allow its companies to be bought and sold. It will only permit a minority of shares, not more than 25 percent, and only non-voting shares at that, to be traded on the market. As one expert put it “the Chinese government is the only shareholder that counts.” (57) Lots of SOEs produce some or most of their output for the market. State Grid produces power for, besides China (where it has a monopoly), Singapore and Australia, and is developing facilities in the Philippines and Portugal. But State Grid does not answer to shareholders or boards. China’s SOEs are not run by boards of directors and elected CEOs. They don’t have boards of directors. And their CEOs and senior management are all appointed by the Communist Party. All Chinese state “corporations” have Communist Party secretaries who without exception outrank the enterprise CEOs. (58)

To be sure, China has a vast capitalist market economy side-by-side with the state sector. Thousands of real, foreign corporations operate in China today: Apple, Toyota, Audi, GM, Samsung, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, even the Avon lady. And China has plenty of homegrown entrepreneurs and privately owned businesses. China is said to have more than a million US-dollar millionaires and at least 89 billionaires. The private sector includes sizeable companies like Baidu (the internet search giant that dominates the China market since Google left), Tencent (instant messaging), Jack Ma’s Alibaba, real estate developers like Dalian Wanda Group and China Vanka, food processors like Wahaha Corp., insurance companies, and others. But these are not the core of the economy. China’s biggest private company by valuation, Alibaba, doesn’t produce anything at all; like eBay it just connects sellers with buyers. Most of China’s private businesses are small, on average less than half the size of SOEs, and the vast majority are even smaller. They include thousands of small coal mines, thousands of local construction companies, some small steel mills, textile and garment industries, shoemakers, retail shops and supermarkets, restaurants, self-employed truckers, family businesses and the like.

“Get Rich and You’ll Get Audited”

The Communist Party keeps its domestic capitalists on a short leash. Successful entrepreneurs soon find they need a state “partner,” or the government sets up its own competitors to suppress them, or they suffer forced buyouts. Those who cross the Party disappear and their property is seized, and worse. (59) Those whose names appear on Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest citizens or the Hong Kong Hunrun Rich List sometimes vanish without a trace. Chinese people call these the “pig-killing lists.” Middle-class Chinese speculate on apartments and suburban villas but the land they sit on is state-owned. Indeed, even title to the apartments and villas they’ve bought is never really secure because these can easily be seized by the state on a whim, with no recourse.

It’s been estimated that in the last three decades more than 60 million Chinese farmers and urban residents have been summarily evicted from their homes and farms to make way for government development projects of all sorts across the country. More than a million and a half farmers and townsfolk were evicted to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. Several million residents of Beijing were evicted to shabby satellite towns while their ancient Beijing homes, some dating back to the Ming dynasty, were leveled to make way for shopping malls, apartment towers and Olympic sports stadiums. (60) In such a system, arbitrary political power and generalized insecurity condition every aspect of life, even within the ruling Party itself – especially within the ruling Party.

A. Beijing’s Game of Thrones

China’s ruling class is the nomenklatura, the upper ranks of the 86-million-member Chinese Communist Party. Since the victory of the revolution in 1949, China has been run by the party-army-bureaucratic aristocracy, the leaders of which reside behind the walls of the Zhongnanhai complex adjacent to the Forbidden City. (61) In the 1950s, they nationalized the economy, divided up government administrative and economic management posts among themselves and centralized all surplus extraction. Today, this state-owned economy is run by their children and will soon be run by their grandchildren.

Since Mao’s death in 1976, the inner circle of the ruling “red families” have been headed up by the so-called “Eight Immortals”: Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun (the CCP’s leading economic planner), Wang Zhen, Li Xiannian (PRC president), Peng Zhen (NPC Congress chair), Song Renqiong (party personnel chief), Yang Shangkun (PRC president), and Bo Yibo (vice premier and last of the eight to die at 98 in 2007). (62)As the elders retired and died off they entrusted the reins of power to their children, the “princeling” (taizi dang) sons and daughters of the first generation of communist rulers. Since the bad old days when Mao and his Gang of Four dispatched their rivals to rot in dungeons, or shot Lin Biao’s plane out of the sky to prevent his escape to Moscow, the Communist Party has made every effort to present a public façade of leadership unity and discipline and portray its internal workings as “regularized” with “collective leadership,” “10-year rotations” of “presidents” and “prime ministers,” “mandatory retirement of senior officials at 65” and so on. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A study released in February 2015 declared that living in China’s cities is “as deadly as smoking.”

Today, as in Mao’s day, CCP internal political machinations resemble nothing so much as The Godfather or “Game of Thrones.” And how could it be otherwise? In the absence of the rule of law, without elections to choose government representatives, without inner-party democracy, without constitutional procedures to regularize succession to office, without an independent judiciary, justice department, attorney generals and police to systematically prosecute and punish corrupt politicians, in such a system, no one owns their office, position or job on the basis of merit, professional qualification, fixed-year terms or enforceable contracts. Every cadre’s personal and political security depends, above all, on the strength of his/her guanxi: his connections and relationships with networks of allies, their patrons above, their supporters below and especially to families, clans and factions.

From the days of Mao’s purges of “capitalist roaders” Lin Biao, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, to Deng Xiaoping’s own purge of the Maoist Gang of Four, to Jiang Zemin’s purge of “counterrevolutionaries” Zhao Ziyang, Bao Tong et al. in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising, to current President Xi Jinping’s show trials of  “corrupt” rival Bo Xilai (son of Bo Yibo) and his persecution of powerful opponents in the oil faction and secret police led by Zhou Yongkang, the Chinese Communist Party’s internal political dramas differ little from the treacherous, fratricidal power struggles of the Corleones, Barzinis and Straccis of The Godfather or the bloody feudal wars of the Starks, Tullys and Boltons for supremacy in Westeros. As in “Game of Thrones,” China’s communists are embroiled in nonstop faction building, never-ending intrigue and infighting, and treacherous factional struggles while the paramount leader du jour‘s claim to the red throne in Zhongnanhai is never completely secure. (63)

President Xi Jinping came into office in 2012 on a campaign vowing to “swat tigers and flies alike.” Xi had been brought in to replace the disgraced Shanghai Mayor Chen Liangyu on the strength of his anticorruption campaigns in Zhejian Province where he once told an anti-graft conference: “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives and friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.” (64) But Xi is just as corrupt as all the rest, and just as thuggish.

Xi once remarked that as a young man he liked to watch The Godfather. Yu Jie, an exiled author of numerous critical books on China, titled his latest book, Godfather of China Xi Jinping (still awaiting publication as of March 2015). Yu told The New York Times that the film was Xi’s political study guide: “The Communist Party is China’s biggest mafia, and the party boss Xi Jinping is the godfather of China.” As if to confirm Yu’s thesis, when he tried to publish the book in Hong Kong, one publisher was arrested in Shenzhen and disappeared. A second prospective publisher received a threatening phone call from Beijing telling him that the book “absolutely cannot be published” and if he publishes it, “your personal safety and the safety of your family cannot be guaranteed” so he immediately dropped the project.

Life in the Communist Party is not so different from life in the mafia: It’s a constant, treacherous and highly dangerous nonstop factional struggle between crime family-based groupings in struggle with one another over top offices and treasure. The key to safety is building unshakable vertical and horizontal networks of support and protection – of guanxi. And the key to solidifying those networks is sharing the loot from corruption. As political scientist Minxin Pei put it: “If your patrons do not protect you, you’re toast … Corruption is the glue that keeps the party stuck together.” (65)

B. Grabbing the Brass Ring: Gangster Capitalism and the Necessity of Corruption

China’s economy mirrors its politics. China’s communist party-state has grown immensely wealthy over the past three decades from rivers of income flowing in from huge state monopolies like Sinopec (China Petroleum), State Grid, Bank of China, China Telecom, from taxing export foreign exchange earnings, and more. But the question is, how is this loot shared out among the ruling class of China, the “gang” of 86 million Communist Party members? In capitalist economies, this is entirely formalized and regularized. One’s wealth is based on property, cash in the bank, stock ownership and such – all secured by the rule of law, enforceable contracts, an impersonal state, independent judiciary and the police. But China has none of this. Cadres don’t privately own SOEs; they don’t own shares in SOEs.

Yet we know from multiple sources including trials of corrupt officials, revelations about secret offshore bank accounts, records of foreign property purchases, and especially from recent headline exposés in The New York Times and Bloomberg News on the wealth of China’s leading “princelings” including former and current heads of state, that China’s Communist Party cadres have gotten gloriously rich by way of market reforms. (66) The New York Times calculated that former Premier Wen Jiabao was worth at least $2.7 billion when he retired in 2012, all secreted under the names of close relatives. (67) As Xi Jinping climbed the party ranks, his extended family got rich in minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment. Today, his family is worth at least $376 million, again, with virtually all of it listed in the names of his close relatives rather than his own.

Markets and the Mother of All Moral Hazards

When Deng Xiaoping rejected Maoism and told the Chinese that now it was OK, even  “glorious to get rich,” he faced an immediate problem: To get marketization rolling, he urged the cadres to promote private businesses and joint-ventures with foreign investors, to “jump into the sea of commerce” as he said in his famous “southern tour” of Shenzhen in 1992. Deng’s market reforms thus presented the personally penniless but functionally all-powerful CCP cadres with the mother of all moral hazards. China’s reintroduction of capitalism presented the cadres with a once-in-an-epoch opportunity to grab the brass ring, to get rich, really rich, and fast. The party-state owned all land, resources and industries, and controlled the banks and pension funds, foreign trade and currency exchange, courts, police and everything else. The problem was that the only ways to profit from this were all illegal: bribery, smuggling, influence peddling, embezzling money from state industries, profiting from guandao (reselling state-owned raw materials and commodities on the free market at huge markups), asset stripping, currency manipulation, money laundering and so on.

Risky, but how could they resist? Far from resisting, they led the way in what exiled economist He Qinglian called “the marketization of power.” (68) Besides, since there was no independent judicial system, it was left to the party officials to police themselves. The very people who stood to gain the most from the coming market boom were supposed to refrain from self-dealing. Even so, the breadth and brazenness of corruption grew slowly at first. Looking back to the 1980s, Bao Tong, a senior party official arrested and imprisoned as a “counterrevolutionary” during the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown told Bloomberg News in December 2013: “A bottle of Moutai, two cartons of Chunghwa cigarettes – corruption was no more than that at the beginning…. Now an enterprise worth 10 billion yuan can be purchased with 1 billion. This would have been appalling to people back then.” (69)

“It Doesn’t Matter Who Owns the Money; It Only Matters Who Gets to Use It”

Today, the buffet of benefits available to the upper ranks includes extravagant state-provided housing, posh offices, fleets of limousines, access to state-owned vacation villas, travel and plenty of pocket change to spend on fine French wines, Rolexes, Louis Vuitton handbags and the rest. At the top, princelings are often heads of giant conglomerates, which themselves own dozens or even hundreds of individual SOEs. Presumably this gives them access to multiple income streams and ample opportunities to plunder the government’s ever-growing treasure. Princeling Bo Xilai didn’t send his son Guagua to Harrow, Oxford and Harvard, and buy him Porsches, Ferraris and fancy apartments in Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts, on his official salary.

Even China’s leaders complain that China’s “governments at all levels” had turned the state’s banks into “ATMs for officials and official businessmen.” (70) As one SOE boss put it: “It doesn’t matter who owns the money; it only matters who gets to use it.” (71) As individuals, they loot according to their rank, positions and guanxi. And of course, who gets to use exactly what is shrouded in secrecy. Financial Times Beijing bureau chief Richard McGregor quotes a businessman jailed on corruption charges who said: “Every official has three lives. Their public life, their private life, and their secret life.” (72)

In the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s in China’s ruling class, taking their cue from New York banksters who were becoming their partners and backers, corruption flourished on a previously unimagined scale. They siphoned huge sums from state banks, SOEs and ministries. They looted pension funds and state charities. They’ve profited from illegal arms sales and smuggling. They made vast fortunes in real estate evicting millions of farmers and selling their land to developers. They made more fortunes taking cuts from listing Chinese companies on the New York Stock Exchange. In all this, the “princeling” children and grandchildren of the “Eight Immortals” have led the way.

“The anticorruption push is more of a Stalinist purge than a genuine attempt to clean up the government.”

In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun and the other aging revolutionary generation leaders entrusted their children to run the new market-oriented state conglomerates like CITIC, China Poly Group (arms, African oil, etc.). Deng’s daughter Deng Rong and her brother Deng Zhifang were among the first to go into real estate in the 1990s. As Bloomberg reported in its investigative report on the 103 children and grandchildren of the Eight Immortals, “Families benefited from their control of state companies, amassing private wealth as they embraced the market economy. Forty-three of the 103 ran their own business or became executives in private firms … The third generation – grandchildren of the Eight Immortals and their spouses, many of whom are in their 30s and 40s – have parlayed family connections and overseas education into jobs in the private sector.” Others took over state-sector conglomerates and SOEs.

Twenty-six of the heirs of just these eight revolutionary leaders ran or held top positions in big SOEs: “Three children alone – General Wang’s son, Wang Jun, Deng’s son-in-law, He Ping; and Chen Yuan, the son of Mao’s economic tsar – headed or still run state-owned companies with combined assets of about $1.6 trillion in 2011. (73) Deng’s son-in-law Wu Jianchang got himself appointed head of numerous metals companies and then became, conveniently, minister of metallurgy. Deng’s grandson Zhuo Su got himself appointed head of a company that bought into an Australian iron ore business. Wang Jun, the revolutionary general’s son, set up a huge conglomerate, Poly Group, with Deng Xiaoping’s son-in-law He Ping, another general. Chen Yun installed his son Chen Yuan as head of the giant state-owned China Development Bank with assets of more than $1 trillion. His sister, Chen Xiaodan, worked at Morgan Stanley in New York, set up her own private equity firm, and worked with her father’s China Development Bank to support Chinese firms investing abroad in Europe and elsewhere.

Wang Zhi, General Wang’s third son, “borrowed” 300,000 yuan from his employer, the Ministry of Electronics, to set up his own company building personal computers, eventually partnering with Bill Gates to develop a Chinese version of Windows software. As Yang Dali of the University of Chicago put it, “The entire country was in business – the Party, the military, the courts, the prosecutor’s office, the police…. Insiders could get rich very quickly.” And “[w]hen the top is corrupt, this is how it will be all the way down,” said Dai Qing, China’s leading environmental activist who herself grew up in the Zhongnanhai compound with the princelings after being adopted by a famous general. (74) Bloomberg reports that, when he was lying in a hospital bed in 1990, hardline Maoist Gen. Wang Zhen (1908-1993) told a visitor that he felt betrayed by his own children. Decades after he had risked his life fighting for an egalitarian utopia, his children were only interested in getting rich: “Turtle eggs,” he said to the visiting well-wisher, using a slang term for bastards. “I don’t recognize them as my sons.” (75)

Getting the Loot Out of China

International banking connections also have been key to the princelings’ strategy of getting their loot out of China. Over the years, it has been estimated that princelings and other high cadres, cronies and capitalists have funneled $1-4 trillion in unreported assets out of the country since 2000. Credit Suisse, PricewaterhouseCoopers and UBS – Western banks with notorious experience in sheltering US and other tax evaders – set up secret companies and accounts for at least 21,000 Chinese in Caribbean tax havens including for Wen Yunsong, Wen Jiabao’s son. High cadres, their relatives and other rich guys fly suitcases of money to North America, Australia, Caribbean havens and other friendly destinations. (76)

In February 2014, it was reported that more than 45,000 (!) Chinese millionaireshad queued up in Vancouver, British Columbia, to get investor residence visas in return for five-year, interest-free loans to the Canadian government. In the US, 80 percent of the government’s EB-5 investor program visas are going to wealthy ex-mainland Chinese; in Australia, it’s nine out of 10. At least 18 of the Eight Immortals’ descendants own or run entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Liberia and other secret offshore tax havens. (77) Bo Yibo’s wife Gu Kailai, convicted in 2012 of murdering her British business partner, controlled a web of businesses from Beijing to the Caribbean worth at least $126 million and stashed many of her assets with her sister in places like the British Virgin Islands, according to Bloomberg. (78) So it goes.

C. Implications, Tendencies, Consequences

This structural arrangement of bureaucratic/gangster capitalist power and property has given China’s economy a radically different pattern and trajectory of economic development from normal capitalism anywhere in the West. We can specify at least the following broad systemic tendencies in this hybrid economic system:

1. Priority to the state-owned economy: Shocked and riveted by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and especially the communist debacle in the USSR, Deng Xiaoping and his successors have been determined to avoid such a fate by maintaining state control over the commanding heights of the economy, avoiding substantial privatization and limiting the internal market, as noted above. That’s why the maximand of China’s SOEs is not profit maximization. Their maximand is the security, wealth and power of the Chinese Communist Party and that’s not the same thing. The Bank of China, China Development Bank, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and other huge state banks sit at the apex of China’s economy and count among the Global Fortune 500 largest companies. But unlike Citibank or HSBC, their job isn’t to make money. Their job is to lose money – or more precisely, to disburse it.

It’s often said that in the transition to capitalism China’s market reformers “abandoned central planning.” That’s an exaggeration. They reduced the scope of indicative planning but they did not abandon planning the state sector; they monetized it. Instead of issuing physical output targets à la Stalin and Mao, they direct most of the state economy by writing checks: by ordering state banks to disburse funds to support the production goals of the state plans (though they still set physical targets for some items – kilometers of rails, kilometers of roads, tons of wheat and cotton etc., as noted above). In the 1990s, the government leased out, sold off or closed down thousands of small unprofitable SOEs producing consumer goods including wood and leather products, furniture, building materials, garments, food products and the like. Dispensing with these, the government concentrated on restructuring, modernizing, expanding and diversifying the state’s SOEs. (79)

The government also expanded the state sector by establishing entirely new industries: consumer appliances, solar and wind power, biotech, high-speed trains, passenger aircraft, IT and others. But instead of assigning production targets for quantities of Geely cars, Suntech solar panels or China National Railways (CNR) high-speed trains, they allocate funds via state banks to support state-owned industries like CNR and to establish and support state-private joint ventures like Suntech and Geely. Since the 1990s, China’s SOEs, and the entire state industrial sector, have grown enormously. Whereas in the 1970s, China’s SOEs counted for almost nothing in the world economy, today, China’s “national champions” Sinopec, China National Petroleum and State Grid Corporation rank among the 10 largest companies by revenue in the 2014 Fortune 500.

Prioritizing the state sector means that the government often finds it rational to subvert its own market reforms to protect state interests: So when the head of a major state-owned conglomerate was removed for embracing market economics too enthusiastically, a Beijing University expert on China’s state-enterprises commented: “There’s a system in place, not just one person. The party’s appointee draws his position from patronage … and the task is to engage with state leaders and safeguard government assets, not to maximize profits.” (80) This is why the government enforces SOE monopolies regardless of efficiency, why it limits Western investor ownership share in joint ventures, why it bars Western firms from investing in key industries, and why it directs its huge sovereign wealth fund mainly to invest in the resource extraction industries China needs to fuel its national economic development even though global resource prices and resource industry profits have both been falling since 2008. (81) This is all in the collective interest of China’s state-based ruling class.

Yet at the same time, individually, princelings and well-placed cadres are simultaneously conniving, like the gangsters they are, to privatize pieces of the state-owned economy and to sell them at huge discounts to themselves, their relatives and partners, usually via private investment banks that have their real owners concealed behind multiple layers of paper and shell companies. Cadres also funnel money out of SOE profits to buy businesses and properties in the West. SOE overseas companies open still other opportunities to privately pocket profits earned overseas before they’re sent back to China. It can’t be ruled out that such trends could eventually lead to a broad selloff of state assets à la Poland. But for the present, the party seems determined to protect the state-owned economy rather than let it collapse and be sold off and privatized.

2. Hypergrowth drivers: incentives without penalties: China’s SOEs, as we noted, don’t live or die on the basis of their performance in the market. Lots of SOEs are inefficient but because many are also monopolies, they can still be gold mines. (82) As one official observed, “the overall economy has been so good that even pretty stupid SOEs could do well without much effort.” (83) Broke, indebted, inefficient or not, so long as their SOEs are in-plan, and especially if they’ve been designated “key” or “strategic” or “pillar” industries like coal, oil, autos, aerospace, biotech, high-speed rail or some other priority, SOE managers could assume that they would never be forced out of business regardless of their economic performance and generally speaking they have not been.

In result, SOE managers have had the best of both worlds: They have every incentive to borrow and spend, especially on capital construction (including those palatial offices to run the operations), but they face little or no threat of discipline for excess or failure. Given the profit-sharing arrangement between the center and the SOEs, for SOE bosses, it’s capitalism when the SOE is making money but socialism when it needs a government bailout. This is the main driver of “blind growth” across the economy and this can be expected to continue.

3. Hypergrowth drivers: job creation: In capitalist economies, neither individual companies nor governments are obliged to create jobs, though in extreme circumstances like the Great Depression, governments have set up jobs programs to keep the peace. But in China, in the old Maoist bureaucratic collectivist system, the government was the only employer, so it had to employ everyone because there was nowhere else to find work. In Mao’s day, successive generations of workers were simply assigned to work units (danwei) with the result that China’s industries and government offices were often abundantly overstaffed. But with the turn to the market, the government abolished guaranteed employment in the mid-1990s and SOEs laid off some 50 million superfluous workers in the 1990s to make their industries more efficient.

By then however, many excessed workers could find jobs in the new parallel market economy while others were forced into retirement on subsistence pensions. The destruction of millions of state jobs with state benefits provoked widespread protests and unrest in the late 1990s and early 2000s. To contain this unrest, and also to keep up with China’s relentless population growth, the government has been forced to spend heavily on wave after wave of WPA-like, make-work capital construction projects across the country since the 1990s, even if much of what got built was unneeded, as noted above. Given the special threat that extensive unemployment poses to a nominally workers state, this pattern of make-work overproduction and overdevelopment can be expected to continue.

4. Collective property weakens efforts to reduce pollution: Collective ownership means that even with its police-state dictatorship, the center can’t always enforce its will against lower-level officials because those local, country, provincial, ministerial officials, SOE bosses and so on are more partners with Beijing in their joint ownership of the national economy than strictly subordinates. They all have their own guanxi networks to defend their turf and promote their own interests in contravention of central initiatives when it suits their purposes. This is why central efforts to restrain pollution tend to be subverted or defeated by local officials whose overriding concern is to keep the economic engines running regardless of the smog.

China has comprehensive environmental legislation on the books. It has its own Environmental Protection Agency equivalent, the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). It has a State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) and other regulatory agencies. But the evidence everywhere is that regulation is largely a failure. (84) Here and there SEPA has managed to enforce some cleanups and shutdowns of some conspicuous polluters, usually smaller operations. But more often than not, SEPA regulators are powerless against polluters because environmental protection officers are subordinate to and even paid by local officials who profit from and generate jobs in the same polluting industries SEPA wants to suppress. (85)

In her documentary Under the Dome, Chai Jing asks Ding Yan, the director of the government’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) Vehicular Pollution Research Institute, about why his agency doesn’t force China’s vehicle manufacturers to stop selling trucks with fake National Standard 4 emission stickers certifying that the vehicles meet the highest emissions standards when in fact they only meet the lowest National Standard 1. “If you (the MEP) assert you have legal authority, no one can deny that, so why not just execute the law?” Ding told her that regardless of the law, his agency had no real power to enforce it: “Nowadays, I don’t dare open my mouth out of fear that [the polluters] will see that I have no teeth” (at 48:19).

Since the highly personalized and politicized state can’t rely on the rule of law, independent courts and police to enforce its environmental regulations, the government has to resort to “campaigns” to enforce environmental compliance. But this approach is hopelessly ineffectual. Beijing issues big directives, sends inspectors around and fines the polluting companies. But as often as not local government partners just pay the fines, or block regulators from shutting down the polluters, or let the regulators shut them down but then let the companies reopen under a new name. If all else fails, there’s always bribery. MEP officials are regularly bribed to let polluters continue operations. (86)

A year after Xi Jinping launched his “war on pollution,” the official press describes Beijing as “all but unlivable.” A study released in February 2015 declared that living in China’s cities is “as deadly as smoking.” (87) The government’s ambitious plans to improve water quality and safety have likewise failed. The 12th Five-Year Plan goal of “completely solving rural drinking water issues” by the end of 2015 “will not be met, and some villages are going backward because of scarcity and pollution.” Urban water safety has not improved and even bottled water is often contaminated. (88)

Moreover, the center itself is conflicted about enforcing its own pollution regulations because the central government, as much as local governments, needs to maximize growth to meet its plan targets and maintain employment to keep the peace. So while it talks about cracking down on pollution, more often than not Beijing also has to prioritize job creation over environmental protection. (89) Therefore, so long as there is no real separation of powers, these trends can be expected to continue and China’s pollution problems will remain essentially unsolvable.

5. Bureaucratic particularism and competition drive redundancy and overinvestment: SOE bosses, and local, provincial and ministerial officials may not face market competition in the same way and to the same extent as capitalist firms, but they face intense bureaucratic competition for access to resources and appropriations from the center. This particularistic intra-ruling class struggle over access to state funds also shapes the broad pattern of China’s economic development, powering tendencies to redundancy, duplication, irrational investment and waste throughout the economy. Thus, in his book on China’s growing airline industry, James Fallows writes:

Foreign reports often present these projects as carefully coordinated expressions of China’s larger ambitions for a modern transportation system and to an extent they are. But there is also bitter bureaucratic and commercial rivalries between the airline and railroad interests within China, each seizing on any opportunity to argue that it reflected the wiser and more farsighted use of the country’s resources. (90)

In China’s hybrid economic system, generally speaking, officials can only profit from their own units – their localities, ministries and SOEs. Cadres can’t buy shares in SOEs anywhere in the economy like in capitalism. No cadre in Sichuan can invest in and profit off of state-owned industries in Shanghai or Shenzhen. So if Sichuan officials wanted to profit from Premier Wen Jaibao’s call at the launching of the 12th Five-Year Plan, to “enhance China’s automobile manufacturing capability,” their only way to do was to build auto plants in their own province. And that’s what happens. That’s why China has more than 130 auto plants, thousands of power plants (one for every three square kilometers in Jiangsu province), roads and bridges to nowhere, more than 30 airlines, near-empty airports everywhere, more than 800 shipyards, redundant ports, redundant “world financial centers,” redundant shopping malls and ghost cites, with all the waste those entail. These tendencies are, again, built into the bureaucratic collectivist nature of this economic system and will continue as long as this system is in effect.

6. Rampant, ineradicable corruption: Anticorruption campaigns have been a feature of CCP inner-party struggles since long before the founding of the People’s Republic. They reached their apogee of hysteria in Mao Zedong’s terror campaign of the “cultural revolution” against “capitalist roaders” in his own party. These days the party brags that it disciplines tens of thousands of corrupt officials every year. Prominent party and state figures tried and punished in recent years include Beijing Mayor Liu Zhihua who received a suspended death sentence in 2009 for bribery. Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu got 18 years in 2008 for corruption. Zheng Xiaoyu, head of China’s SFDA, was executed in 2007 for taking bribes to approve an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths. Rixin Kang, former head of China’s nuclear power agency, was sent to prison for life in 2011; Cheng Tonghai, former head of Sinopec, got a suspended death sentence in 2009. Li Peiying, the head of Beijing’s Capital Airport, was executed in August 2009. Railway minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence in 2013. Bo Xilai, the first member of the Party’s Politburo to be arrested since the end of the Mao era, was given a suspended death sentence in 2013. In January 2015, 70 SOE bosses were nabbed in one sweep, 16 generals in another.

Yet for all the campaigns, arrests and executions, corruption only grows worse every year. And why would it not? Opportunities for getting rich quick have grown as fast as the economy. And despite all the lurid press reports, the chances of getting caught are miniscule and for most corruption cases the consequences are not nearly as dire as the headlines imply, especially for the most elite, the biggest gangsters. (91)Geremie Barmé of the Australian National University says that in his research, for all the drama, most of the offspring of China’s revolutionary founders, the so-called “second red generation,” whose ranks include Xi Jinping and Bo Xilai, had largely escaped serious punishment: “In the murky corridors of Communist power, an impressive number of party gentry progeny, or the offspring of the Mao-era nomenklatura, have been implicated in corrupt practices … But word has it that, like the well-connected elites of other climes, they’ve enjoyed a ‘soft landing’: being discretely relocated, shunted into delicate retirement or quietly ‘redeployed.'” (92)Bo Xilai’s confinement is thought to be not too harsh, and not include orange suits.

Guanxi rules. Xi Jinping’s “war on corruption” is swatting competing tigers like Zhou Yangkang’s clique but has conspicuously failed to swat blatantly corrupt tigers right under his nose, starting with his own sister, brother-in-law, niece and their private sector partners, all of whom have made fortunes trading influence for lucrative state-private deals. Instead, Xi is just pushing them to cash out of their hundreds of millions of dollars in politically vulnerable investments. (93) Novelist Murong Xuecun writes in The New York Times that “the anticorruption push is more of a Stalinist purge than a genuine attempt to clean up the government.” Xi, he says, has mainly targeted specific party factions while those groups that support and pledge loyalty to Xi appear untouched. He notes that in Xi’s former fiefs in Fujian and Zhejian provinces, “as best I can tell not one official above the deputy provincial level has been arrested on suspicion of corruption. Recently the question was raised on the internet: Why have no ‘big tigers’ been found in Fujian and Zhejiang? The message was almost immediately deleted.” (94)

Without the rule of law, an independent judiciary, courts and police to prosecute and punish corrupt cadres, Xi Jinping’s only option is to try to terrorize the cadres by sending down “discipline inspection teams” to punish local transgressors and jail some blatant offenders. The Chinese call it “killing the chickens to scare the monkeys.” But after the terror passes and the teams return to Beijing, it’s back to business as usual. So after wrapping up the second round of two-month inspections in 10 provinces launched in July 2014, Wang Qishan, head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) warned officials, “Don’t go back on your old ways when our backs are turned … we will come back and catch you off guard.” (95)

But really, what can the poor CCDI do? The Chinese Communist Party is a cesspool of corruption from top to bottom. The CCDI can’t arrest the entire party. Xi needs these officials to run his economy and administration, but most are well enough connected to avoid his terrorists. Xi can’t trust the police to systematically enforce anticorruption measures because the police themselves are notoriously corrupt. Even his corruption investigators can’t be trusted (1,575 corruption investigators were themselves busted in 2014). By October, Wang was complaining that the cadres were not taking him seriously: “We have stepped up the anti-graft campaign but some party cadres are still undeterred. Some have become even more corrupt.” Wang “vowed to ramp up inspections of the lower tiers of government.” (96) Good luck on that, Mr. Wang.

Pursued with too much vigor, Xi’s anticorruption campaign against senior officials risks not only unsettling elite stability, but also destroying what’s left of the party’s credibility. As a retired princeling military officer said about the most recent campaign against graft and profiteering in the army: “You can’t do it too much, otherwise the party comes out too black, and the leaders won’t like it.” (97) Of course, self-limiting anticorruption campaigns only guarantee that corruption will continue to grow. Moreover, the anti-graft drive is also hurting economic growth as cadres sit on their hands, fearing to do any work that might bring complication, and companies pull back from spending on luxury goods, feasting, champagne and cars – the spending by the 1% that drives so much growth in China, as in the West.

What’s worse is that with the spectacle of China’s political leadership by “communist” princelings-turned-billionaires, corruption rots the whole society from the top down. Whereas in the 1980s, millions of China’s youth were idealistic passionate protesters for democracy, today many of China’s millennial generation have lost all hope for change, been seduced by capitalism and consumerism, become cynical and indifferent toward politics, human rights and the environment, and are insouciant toward CCP lies and repression. Others are just giving up and emigrating.

III. Braking the Drive to Collapse

It goes without saying that the Chinese have every right to modernize, industrialize and improve their material standard of living. But the problem is that capitalism can’t sustainably provide this for the Chinese, the Americans or anyone anymore. As many Chinese say today, “Who cares if we have the world’s highest GDP if we can’t live here?” The Chinese don’t need a higher standard of living based on endless consumerism. They need a better mode of life: clean, unpolluted air, water and soil; safe and nutritious food; comprehensive public health care; safe, quality housing; a public transportation system centered on urban bicycles and public transit instead of cars and ring roads; and more.

We all need to live better by consuming less and consuming rationally, fairly and sustainably. Given the planet’s desperate shape today, the only way humanity is going to survive this century is if developed countries and developing countries contract and converge their resource consumption and pollution around a sustainable global average that will permit the world’s peoples to live in tolerable conditions while reserving resources for future generations and other life forms. (98)

As China Goes, So Goes the World

Climate scientists tell us that, given all the failed promises to date, the backpedaling and soaring carbon dioxide emissions, we now face a “climate emergency.” On present trends we’re on course to a 4 to 6-degree Celsius warming before the end of this century: If we don’t radically suppress fossil fuel burning over the next few decades to keep the warming below the 2-degree Celsius threshold, planetary heating will accelerate beyond any human power to stop it and global ecological collapse will be unavoidable. To have a chance of staying below 2 degrees, the industrialized nations and China must cut carbon emissions by 40 to 70 percent globally by 2050 as compared to 2010, which would require cuts on the order of 6 to 10 percent per year. (99) China would have to cut its industrial emissions by 30 to 90 percent as compared to 2010, the variance depending upon expected growth rates and other assumptions. (100)

The only way China could suppress its greenhouse gas emissions by anything like that amount would be to impose a drastic across-the-board economic contraction, including radical retrenchments and shutdowns of most of the industries that have been built up in the last three decades of market mania. I’m sure this sounds extreme, if not completely crazy. But I don’t see what other conclusion we can draw from the science. On the positive side, as I surveyed above, since so much of China’s resource waste and pollution is just completely unnecessary and harmful, what sounds like extreme austerity could prove just the opposite: liberating, a move to that “better mode of life.” Such an emergency plan would have to include at least the following elements:

  • Shut down all but critically essential coal-fired power plants needed as a temporary measure to keep the lights and heat on and essential public services in operation until renewable replacements can be brought on line. Abandon the coal gasification projects and phase out oil- and gas-powered fuel plants as quickly as possible. Force a rapid transition of energy generation to renewable wind, water and solar energy sources but with the goal of producing much less electricity overall, closer to what China produced in the early 1980s before the market-driven industrialization boom. The US and other developed countries should be obliged to provide extensive technical and material assistance to facilitate this transition.
  • Shut down most of the auto industry. This industry is just a total waste of resources and is the second-biggest contributor to global warming. Most public transportation will have to shift back to bicycles, buses, trains and subways – basically a modernized and expanded version of what the Chinese had in the early 1980s before the auto craze. But the air will be cleaner, transportation will be faster, people will be healthier and immense resources will be conserved.
  • Shut down most of the coastal export industries. Most of China’s coastal export industries are geared to producing unsustainable, disposable products, as noted above. There is just no way to have a sustainable economy in China or anywhere if we don’t abolish the throwaway repetitive-consumption industries in China and around the world.
  • Retrench or close down aviation, shipping, and other redundant and unsustainable transportation industries. Abandon the “aviation superpower” boondoggle. Abandon further expansion of the high-speed train network. China has already built more planes, trains and subways than it needs by any rational accounting of needs. Same with the shipbuilding industry, most of which is geared to container and bulk carrier shipping. This industry needs to be drastically reduced as China’s imports and exports decline with industrial contraction.
  • Shut down most of the construction industry. Even with China’s huge population, the country is massively overbuilt and littered with useless, superfluous buildings, housing, highways, bridges, airports and so on. Some of this can be repurposed. Some should be demolished and the lands returned to farmlands, wetlands, parks or other beneficial use.
  • Abandon the urbanization drive and actively promote re-ruralization.Urban life has its advantages but urban residents consume several times the energy and natural resources and generate several times as much pollution as rural farm families. Besides, most of the tens of millions of Chinese who were relocated to the cities in the last three decades did not go voluntarily; they were forced off their farms by land-grabbing, profiteering local officials. Those ex-farmers who wish to return to the land should be permitted to do so. There is no law of nature that says farm families must be impoverished. In today’s world, family farmers with adequate land and decent technology, who can market their own produce so they don’t get ripped off by middlemen, and who are not under the thumb of banks, landlords or state-landlords, can do very well. (101) China’s farmers are poor because the state has been squeezing them to subsidize industrialization. The best way to raise rural living standards is to give them security in their farms and pay them fair prices for their produce.
  • Abandon the imperial plunder and Han colonization of the West.Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia are not ethnically Chinese. If the Chinese government abandons its market-based development strategy it would have no “need” to plunder the natural resources of the West; those peoples can be left in peace to develop at their own pace and in accordance with their ecological limits. And after wrecking so much of their environment, the Chinese owe them some help.
  • Launch an emergency national plan for environmental remediation and restoration of public health. Chinese environmental and health experts have called for a comprehensive integrated plan to address the nation’s environmental and public health issues. (102) Experts say it could take generations to restore China’s farmlands, rivers and lakes to tolerable biological health though, as noted above, in places this may be impossible. A significant share of the costs of this remediation should also be borne by the Western nations whose companies callously contributed to this pollution by offshoring their dirtiest industries to China.
  • Launch a national public works jobs program. If China is going to have to shut down so much of its industrial economy to brake the drive to ecological collapse, then it is going to have to find or create new jobs for all those displaced workers. In Guangdong Province alone, there are something like 40 million manufacturing workers, most of them dedicated to producing the sorts of needless products described above. Forty million unemployed workers would be a big problem. And that’s just Guangdong. But unbreathable air, undrinkable water, unsafe food, polluted farmland, epidemic cancer, rising temperatures and rising seas along coastal China are bigger problems. So there’s just no way around this very inconvenient truth. Making bad stuff has to stop; stopping it will unemploy vast numbers of workers, and other, non-destructive, low-carbon jobs have to be found or created for them. Fortunately, in China, there is no shortage of other socially and environmentally useful work to do: environmental remediation, reforestation, transitioning to organic farming, transitioning to renewable energy, rebuilding and expanding public social services, rebuilding the social safety net, especially for China’s aging population, and much else.

Pan Yue was certainly prescient: The Chinese miracle has come to an end because the environment can no longer keep pace. The question is, can the Chinese find a way to grab hold of the brakes and wrench this locomotive of destruction to a halt before it hurls the country off the cliff?

Revolution or Collapse?

One thing is certain: This locomotive is not going to be stopped so long as the Communist Party has its grip on the controls. The Chinese Communist Party is locked in a death spiral. It can’t rein in corruption because the party is built on corruption, thrives on corruption and can’t police itself. It can’t rein in ravenous resource consumption and suicidal pollution because, given its dependence on the market to generate new jobs, it has to prioritize growth over the environment like capitalist governments everywhere.

It can’t even discipline its own subordinate officials to enforce and obey the government’s environmental, food and drug safety, building codes and similar laws because in this system subordinate officials aren’t necessarily subordinate and can often mobilize their family and guanxi-based backers to defend their interests and thwart Beijing. So long as this basic structural class/property arrangement remains in effect, no top-down “war on pollution” or “war on corruption” is going to change this system or brake China’s trajectory to ecological collapse. Given the foregoing, I just don’t see how China’s spiral to collapse can be reversed short of social revolution.

China’s Communist Party seems all-powerful and unassailable. But it’s not. It’s frightened, desperate and disintegrating. It faces unprecedented threats: near daily industrial strikes; militant and often violent protests over land grabs, chemical plants, incinerators, power plants and the like; “terrorist” attacks from Xinjiang; and even worse, subversive thought that just can’t be stopped by the Great Firewall. Chai Jing’s Under the Dome had 300 million downloads before the government took it down off the web after a week and a half. Who knows what spark will light the next social explosion?

Resistance is growing as pollution and public health worsen, as it becomes harder to sustain that 8 percent growth rate to stave off unrest, as Xi Jinping’s war on corruption only serves to publicize the unregenerate character of the entire Communist Party and underscore its incapacity to solve any of China’s huge problems. Since Xi took over in 2012, he’s been determined to save China’s Communist Party from the fate of its Soviet cousin. Xi ridiculed Mikhail Gorbachev’s “weakness” and cast himself as the tough-guy Godfather, cracking down on the press, the internet and social media, religious groups, democrats, nongovernmental organizations, Western joint-venture partners and “Western ideas.” But this repression just reveals his weakness, not his strength.

The more he harasses, fines and drives Western joint-venture partners out of China, the less access he will have to their technology and the less competitive his SOEs will become. The more tightly he polices culture and censors the internet, the faster China’s intellectuals, scientists, professionals and college graduates will pack up and move to Australia. Nothing demonstrates this weakness and lack of self-confidence more than the Party’s very public disintegration: The government bitterly complains that large numbers of “ready-to-flee, naked officials” (so-called because they’ve sent their families and money to Los Angeles or Vancouver) are scheming to follow them. Surveys show that half of China’s rich (most of whom are Communist Party members) have either left the country or are planning to do so as soon as they can. (103)

China has to be the first nation in history in which significant numbers of its own triumphant ruling class are abandoning their own success story en masse. Today, Xi Jinping faces subversion and resistance everywhere he looks, yet he can’t even count on his comrades. To add to his headaches, Godfather Xi now faces an in-your-face democracy movement in Hong Kong that refuses to die. From workers’ strikes to environmental protests to Occupy Central for Love and Peace, these struggles and movements are fragmented, inchoate and unorganized, so far, but they all share a common demand: bottom-up democracy. Therein lies China’s best hope.

Footnotes

1. Ariana Enjung Cha, “Solar energy firms leave waste behind in China,” The Washington Post, 9 March 2008. All quotations are from this article.

2. There’s no better illustration of this government-industry collusion and pollution’s catastrophic impact on the health of China’s people than journalist Chai Jing’s sensational new documentary on China’s smog Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog (Wumai diaocha: qiongding zhixia) which went online in late February and is being rightly hailed as China’s Silent Springhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X2uwlQGQM.

3. “The Chinese miracle will end soon,” Der Spiegel 7 March 2005: www.spiegel.de/speigel/0,1515,345694.html.

4. Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi, By All Means Necessary, Oxford 2014, chapters 3 and 4.

5. Craig Simons, The Devouring Dragon, New York, 2013, p. 9 and chapters 7 and 8.

6. Joseph Kahn and Mark Landler, “China grabs west’s smoke-spewing factories,” The New York Times, 21 December 2007. William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs, The People’s Republic of Chemicals (Los Angeles: Vireo 2014).

7. Alexandra Harney, The China Price, New York, 2008, pp. 8-9.

8.Overdressed, New York, 2013, pp. 3, 124-125. Energy consumption: FAO, cited in “Fabric and your carbon footprint, O Ecotextiles, 10 March 2013, at http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/fabric-and-your-carbon-footprint/.

9. Niu Yue, “China No 1 dumper of plastic into ocean,” China Daily, February 19, 2015.

10.State Council Decision on Accelerating the Development of Strategic Emerging Industries, October 2010 at http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2010-10/18/content_1724848.htm.
State Council 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) on Development of Strategic Emerging Industries, July 2012 at http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2012-07/20/content_2187770.htm.
MOF and NDRC Interim Measures for the Administration of Special Funds for Strategic Emerging Industries, December 2012 at http://jjs.mof.gov.cn/zhengwuxinxi/zhengcefagui/201301/t20130124_729883.html.

11. Tom Lasseter, “Empty highways,” McClatchy News, August 24, 2006, 11:33PM at http://blogs.mcclatchydc.com/china/2006/08/empty_highways.html.

12. Professor Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiaotong University says, “It is unwise to continue building high-speed rail lines while the current high-speed network has a hard time getting enough passengers and is operating at a loss … The country has built more than 10,000 kilometers of high-speed rail lines and most lines are losing money because of inadequate demand.” Some lines run at only 30 percent of capacity he said, and even the busiest, such as the train from Beijing to Shanghai, “will run a loss for a long time … The rush to build high-speed rail networks indicates that the old investment-driven growth model has hardly changed.” Sun Wenjing, “Government throwing money away on bullet trains, expert says,” Caixin, 10 July 2014 at http://english.caixin.com/2014-07-10/100702343.html.

13. Kevin Lim, “‘Meaningful probability’ of a China hard landing: Roubini,” Reuters, 13 June 2011.

14. Wang is quoted in Tania Branigan, “Riding Beijing’s subway end to end: 88km of queues and crushes on 20p ticket,” The Guardian, 10 September, 2014 at http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/10/-sp-beijing-subway-china-metro-queues-ticket-investment.

15. James Fallows, China Airborne, New York, 2012, pp. 28-29. David Barboza, “Airports in China hew to an unswerving flight path,” The New York Times, 3 April 2013. Bloomberg News, “China plan seeks to bolster airports, locally-produced airplanes,” 21 January 2013 at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-21/china-plan-seeks-to-bolster-airports-locally-produced-airplanes.html.

16. IPCC, Aviation and the Global Atmosphere: A Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge UK 1999, at http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc/aviation/index.htm. George Monbiot, Heat, Cambridge UK 2007, p. 174.

17. Monbiot, Heat, p. 182 and sources cited therein.

18. In the decade from 2000 China’s cities expanded by over 80 percent. A national land survey found that 130,000 square kilometers of farmland, equal to half the area of Germany, was paved over in the urbanization frenzy between 1996 and 2009 – and it hasn’t slowed since. Mandy Zuo, “Stop concreting over prime farmland, China’s big cities told,” South China Morning Post, 9 November, 2014. Cui Zheng, “Scientists issue warning over development of coastal wetlands,” Caixin, 25 November 2014.

19. See Jasper Becker, City of Heavenly Tranquility, Oxford 2008, chapters 17 and 18.

20. See Darmon Richter, “Welcome to Ordos: the world’s largest ‘ghost city’ [China],” The Bohemian Blog, 13 February 2014 at: http://www.thebohemianblog.com/2014/02/welcome-to-ordos-world-largest-ghost-city-china.html.

21. “Housing oversupply causing major crisis for Chinese economy, NTD.TV, 16 May 2014 at http://www.ntd.tv/en/programs/news-politics/china-forbidden-news/20140516/143998-housing-oversupply-causing-major-crisis-for-chinese-economy-.html. Eg. George Steinmetz, “Let a hundred McMansions bloom,” The New York Times Magazine, 21 September 2014. Neil Gough, “A muddy tract now, but by 2020, China’s answer to Wall Street,” The New York Times, 3 April, 2014.

22. Lillian Liu, “A question of time, FinanceAsia, 8 September 2010 at http://www.financeasia.com/News/231364. Vincent Fernando, CFA, “There are now enough vacant properties in China to house over half of America,” Business Insider, 8 September 2010 at http://www.businessinsider.com/there-are-now-enough-vacant-properties-in-china-to-house-over-half-of-america-2010-9. Robin Banerji and Patrick Jackson, “China’s ghost towns and phantom malls,” BBC News Online, 13 August 2012 at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19049254. Yifei Chen, “Chasing ghosts: where is China’s next wave of empty ‘new towns’?” South China Morning Post, February 13, 2015.

23. “China’s real estate bubble,” CBS 60 Minutes, 11 August 2013 at http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/chinas-real-estate-bubble/. Gus Lubin, “Satellite pictures of the empty Chinese cities where home prices are crashing,” Business Insider, 10 December 2011, 1:48PM at http://www.businessinsider.com/china-ghost-cities-2011-11#. David Barboza, “Chinese city has many buildings but few people,” The New York Times, 9 October 2010.

24. Zarathustra, “China’s crumbing infrastructure model,” Macrobusiness, 28 July 2012 at 9:49AM at http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2011/07/is-chinas-growth-model-a-train-wreck/.Wall Street Examiner reporter/blogger Russ Winter posted several photos of collapsed bridges in his “Yes, China is truly different” Winter Economic and Market Watch, 28 August 2012 at http://www.wallstreetexaminer.com/blogs/winter/?p=5290.

25. Lu Chen, op. cit. After the collapse of an apartment in Fenhua, Zhejian Province in April 2014, officials warned of a “coming wave of such accidents as the ‘fast food’ buildings built in the 1980s and 1990s enter their 30s and 20s.” Building safety experts warned people not to purchase apartments in certain localities known to be particularly risky. Most “won’t last 50 years, or in some cases about 25 years,” and they present constant safety hazards. Zheng Fengtian, “Weak buildings threaten life,” China Daily, 11-14 April 2014.

26. Frank Langfitt, “Chinese blame failing bridges on corruption,” National Public Radio, 29 August 2012 at http://www.npr.org/2012/08/29/160231137/chinese-blame-failed-infrastructure-on-corruption.

27. US E.I.A., China, updated 4 February 2014 at http://www.eia.gov/co.

28. Lily Kuo, “China’s nightmare scenario: by 2025 air quality could be much much worse,” posted 12 March 2013 on Quartz at http://qz.com/61694/chinas-nightmare-scenario-by-2025-air-quality-could-be-much-much-worse/. Wang Yue, “China unlikely to reduce coal use in the next decade,” Chinadialogue.org, 10 February 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/6718-China-unlikely-to-reduce-coal-use-in-the-next-decade/esn. US EIA, China, 4 February 2014, op cit.

29. Zeke Hausfather, “Global carbon dioxide emissions: increases dwarf US reductions,” Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, 2 July 2013 at http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2013/07/global-co2-emissions-increases-dwarf-recent-u-s-reductions/.

30. Chris Buckley, “China’s plan to limit coal use could spur consumption for years,” The New York Times, 25 July 2014. As Xi Jinping and Barack Obama concluded their “historic” accord in November 2014 to cut both country’s carbon dioxide emissions and Xi promised to reduce China’s reliance on coal for power generation and boost renewables, the news that China’s coal consumption actually fell by 2.5 percent in 2014, the first decline in a century, gave cause for optimism. Combined with the fact that China continues to lead the world in annual additions of wind and solar power, many hoped that China’s coal consumption was finally peaking. But as Andrew Revkin points out, while China’s coal production and imports declined in 2014, half of China’s coal is used outside the power sector, in heavy industry, which use has fallen as the overall economy has slowed in recent years. Coal consumption in the power sector continues its relentless climb: In 2014, China’s newly added coal power capacity exceeded new solar energy by 17 times, new wind energy by four times, even new hydro power by more than three times. In just this one year, China added more new coal-fired power plants than Britain’s entire fleet. These new plants will be pumping out greenhouse gases for many decades to come and in fact, most of China’s coal-fired power plants are less than 15 years old so could they could still be running half a century from now. In short, for all the promises, coal is still king in China. Moreover, the economic slowdown is also likely to be short-lived as the government is furiously pumping money into the economy to revive growth. Andrew Revkin, “A look behind the headlines on China’s coal trends,” Dot Earth, The New York Times, 18 February 2015: 6:00 PM at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/18/a-look-behind-the-headlines-on-chinas-coal-trends/?_r=0.

31. William J. Kelly, “China’s plan to clean up air in cities will doom the climate, scientists say,” InsideClimate News, 13 February 2014 at http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140213/chinas-plan-clean-air-cities-will-doom-climate-scientists-say.

32.Reuters, “China’s coal expansion may spark water crisis, warns Greenpeace,” The Guardian, 15 August 2012. See also the accompanying documentary photos by Lu Guang: “China’s mega coal power bases exacerbate water crisis – in pictures,” The Guardian, August 21, 2012 at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2012/aug/21/china-mega-coal-water-crisis-in-pictures.

33. See Sophie Beach, “China’s fracking boom and the fate of the planet” in China Digital Times 19 September 2014 at http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2014/09/chinas-fracking-boom-fate-planet/.

34. Investigators have found that only a third of China’s wastewater treatment plants are operating. Cui Zheng, “Seas of sewage,” CaixinOnline, 12 October 2012 at http://english.caixin.com/2012-10-12/100446374.html.

35. Ma Jun, China’s Water Crisis, Norwalk 2004, p. vii.

36. Sun Xiaohua, “Pollution takes heavy toll on Yangtze,” China Daily, 16 April 2007.  Shai, Oster, “It may be too late for China to save the Yangtze goddess,” The Wall Street Journal, 6 December 2006.

37. Xu Nan, “Poisoned groundwater sparks media storm in China,” China Dialogue, February 2, 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/5749-Poisoned-groundwater-sparks-media-storm-in-China/en.

38. Cecilia Torajada and Asit K. Biswas, “The problem of water management,” China Daily, March 5, 2013. Gong Jing and Liu Hongqiao, “Half of China’s urban drinking water fails to meet standards,” China Dialogue, June 6, 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/6074-Half-of-China-s-urban-drinking-water-fails-to-meet-standards.

39. Ten years previously, a pollution tide had killed fish and sickened thousands of people. By 2001, the government claimed to have shut down polluters and declared the cleanup a success. But the Huai is now a symbol of the failure of environmental regulation in China. After spending more than $8 billion over a decade to clean up the Huai basin, the State Environmental Protection Administration concluded in 2004 that “some areas were more polluted than before.” Jim Yardley, “Rivers run black, and Chinese die of cancer,” The New York Times, 12 September 2004. An Baijie, “Polluted river flows with carcinogens,” China Daily, 8 August 2013 (on pollution of the Huaihe in Anhui Province by manganese, nitrates and other carcinogens from local factories).

40. Dr. Linda Greer (NRDC), “Top clothing brands linked to water pollution scandal in China,” China Dialogue, 9 October 2012 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/5203-Top-clothing-brands-linked-to-water-pollution-scandal-in-China/en. (Armani, Calvin Klein, Marks and Spencer, Zara and others.)

41. Xue Haitao and Liku Hongqiao, “Sip of death plagues cancerous river villages,” CaixinOnline, 9 October 2013 at http://english.caixin.com/2013-10-09/100589447.html. Yu Dawei et al., “The poisoning of the Nanpan river basin,” CaixinOnline, 1 September 2011 at http://english.caixin.com/2011-09-01/100297332.html.  Sophie Beach “Shangba, China’s village of death,” posted 3 December 2007 on www.sprol.com/?p=371. Mary Ann Toy, “Waiting for death in fetid cancer villages,” Sidney Morning Herald, 26 May 2007. Jim Yardley, “Rivers run black, and Chinese die of cancer,” The New York Times 12 September 2004. Staff, “South China river polluted by thallium, cadmium,” China Daily, 6 July 2013. Elizabeth Economy, The River Runs Black.

42. Michael Wines, “Smelter in China poisons more than 1,300 children” The New York Times, 21 August 2009. Staff, “Anhui battery factory poisons 200 children,” Caixin slide show, 6 January 2011 at http://english.caixin.com/2011-01-06/100214424.html.

43. Luna Lin, “China’s water pollution will be more difficult to fix than its dirty air,” China Dialogue, 17 February 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/6726-China-s-water-pollution-will-be-more-difficult-to-fix-than-its-dirty-air-/en. Zhang Chun, “China ‘lacks experience’ to clean up its polluted soil,” China Dialogue, 14 April 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/6897-China-lacks-experience-to-clean-up-its-polluted-soil.

44. Matt Currell, “Losing lifeblood in north China,” China Dialogue, September 17, 2010 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/3823-Losing-lifeblood-in-north-China.

45. Economy, “The great leap backwards,” Foreign Affairs, September-October 2007.

46.Reuters in Beijing, “China says more than 3m hectares of land too polluted to farm,” South China Morning Post, 30 December 2013.

47. Ministry of Environmental Protection, Huanjing baohu bu he guotu ziyuan bu fabu quanguo turang wuran zhuangkuang diaocha gongbao (Environmental Protection Ministry and Land and Natural Resources Ministry release countrywide soil contamination condition survey bulletin), 17 April 2014 at http://www.mep.gov.cn/gkml/hbb/qt/201404/t20140417_270670.htm.

48. See Sam Geal and Elizabeth Hilton, “Culture of secrecy behind China’s pollution crisis,” and Angel Hsu and Andrew Moffat, ” China’s soil pollution crisis still buried in mystery,” both in Pollution and Health in China: Confronting the Human Crisis, special issue of China Dialogue, 9 September 2014 at https://s3.amazonaws.com/cd.live/uploads/content/file_en/7289/chinadialogue_health_journal.pdf.

49.Xinhua, “More than 40 percent of China’s arable land degraded,” China Daily, 5 November 2014.

50. Liu Hongqiao, “The polluted legacy of China’s largest rice-growing province,” China Dialogue, 30 May 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7008-The-polluted-legacy-of-China-s-largest-rice-growing-province. Zheng Yesheng and Qian Yihong, Shendu Youhuan  –  Dangdai Zhongguo de Kechixu Fazahan Wenti (Grave Concerns: Problems of Sustainable Development for China) (Beijing: China Publishing House 1998), pp. 8-10.

51. John Dearing, “China’s polluted soil and water will drive up world food prices,” China Dialogue, 3 March 2015 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7768-China-s-polluted-soil-and-water-will-drive-up-world-food-prices.

52. For example, antebellum southern planters produced cotton, tobacco, sugar and indigo entirely for market, indeed for the world market. But they did so with slave labor. This hybrid capitalist-slave mode of production was obviously radically different than production for a market based on free labor in the North and it had broad implications for productivity, economic development, and more. It gave their economy an entirely different character, dynamic and trajectory, and it had profound economic, social, political and psychological consequences, many of which we still deal with today.

53. James McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: the Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism (Westport: Prospecta Press: 2012), p. 4-5, 16-19 (quote from p. 57) and the sources cited therein, including the head of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC).

54.No Ancient Wisdom, p. 2

55. Andrew Szamosszegi and Cole Kyle, “An Analysis of State-owned Enterprises and State Capitalism in China,” October 26, 2011. US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), pp. 21-22 at http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/10_26_11_CapitalTradeSOEStudy.pdf.On state control of the banking sector, see Carl E. Walter and Fraser J.T. Howie, Red Capitalism: The Fragile Foundations of China’s Extraordinary Rise (Singapore: Wiley & Sons, 2012), pp. 31-33 and passim. Also: Henry Sanderson and Michael Forsythe, China’s Superbank (Singapore: Wiley & Sons, 2013). Barry Naughton, The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth (Cambridge: MIT 2007), pp. 190, 299-304, 325.

56. Thus with respect to the banking sector, Szamosszegi and Cole write that: “The state banking sector dominates the landscape in China and tends to favor SOEs at the expense of private sector firms. Second, SOEs are in general an important instrument of government policy. The government uses SOEs to facilitate structural change in the Chinese economy, to acquire technology from foreign firms, and to secure raw material sources from beyond China’s borders. For example, in 2009, the government turned to its SOEs and state‐owned banks to provide stimulus to the domestic economy. Third, the CCP and SASAC maintain important influence over the executives of SOEs. These executives face two sets of incentives. On the one hand, the entities they control are supposed to be profitable, and SOE executives are now rewarded based on financial performance. On the other hand, the appointments of top executives to SOE management and their future career paths upon leaving the SOE are determined by the Central Organization Department of the CCP. Thus, SOE executives have an incentive to follow the government’s policy guidance. Recent examples, as well as financial disclosure documents, indicate that if maximizing shareholder value conflicts with state goals, SOEs and their wholly owned subsidiaries are likely to pursue the goals of the state.” “An Analysis of State-owned Enterprises” op.cit. p. 3.

57. McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, p. 59.

58. Walter and Howie, Red Capitalism, p. 24, 187.

59. Ben Blanchard, “Chinese billionaire mining tycoon Liu Han is executed over his links to a ‘mafia-style’ gang,” Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 2015. Most accounts say that his real crime was his link to the Zhou Yongkang clique.

60. Becker, City of Heavenly Tranquility, pp. 287-289.

61. Sydney University’s Kerry Brown says the number of “high-level cadres” (gaoji ganbu) who run the ministries, the state conglomerates and the administration, all concentrated in Beijing, total no more than 2,562, which means, he says, that China is effectively “run by group of people that is smaller than most villages in Europe.” The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China, New York 2014, pp. 20-21.

62. Richard McGregor, The Party, New York 2010. Carl E. Walter and Fraser J.T. Howie, Red Capitalism, Singapore 2012, pp. 22-25 and passim.

63. Eg. Shi Jiangtao, “Struggle for supremacy by party factions now on display,” South China Morning Post, 13 October 2012. Matthew Robertson, “China’s ‘hatchet man’ set to be purged in party struggle,” Epoch Times, 30 May-3 June 2014 (reporting a rumored threat to Xi Jinping’s life by the Bo Xilai faction). Teddy Ng, “Rising star Li Yuanchao forges ties with all political factions in China, South China Morning Post,1 October 2012.

64. Quoted in Bloomberg News, “Xi Jinping millionaire relations reveal fortunes of elite,” 29 June 2012.

65. Quoted in David Barboza, “The Corruptibles,” The New York Times, 3 September 2009. See also again, Robertson, “China’s ‘Hatchet Man’ set to be purged … ” in op cit.

66. Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, incoming Premier Xi Jinping, and other wealthy princelings were profiled in Bloomberg News and The New York Times, in 2012 and 2013 – which got both papers shut down in China and their reporters denied visa renewals in 2013. See “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility” and links to related stories in Bloomberg News, 26 December 2012 at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-26/immortals-beget-china-capitalism-from-citic-to-godfather-of-golf.html. Also again Richard McGregor, The Party and Kerry Brown, The New Emperors.

67. David Barboza, “Billions in hidden riches for family of Chinese leader,” The New York Times, 25 October, 2012.

68.Zhongguode xianjing (China’s Pitfalls) (Hong Kong: Mingjing chubanshe, 1997)

69. “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility,” op cit. p. 11.

70. Ex-Premier Zhu Rongji, quoted in Richard McGregor, The Party, p. 45.

71. Quoted in Walter and Howie, Red Capitalism, p. 23. In October 2014, one high-level cadre in the energy ministry caught up in Xi Jinping’s anticorruption sweep, had stashed away 200 million yuan (HK$252 million) in banknotes in one of his apartments. The pile of banknotes weighed more than 2.3 tons.

72. Quoted in Richard McGregor, The Party, pp. 140-41.

73. “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility,” Bloomberg News, 26 December 2012 p. 3 at
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-26/immortals-beget-china-capitalism-from-citic-to-godfather-of-golf.html. Further citations below are from articles in this collection.

74. Yang Dali and Dai Qing were quoted in Bloomberg News, “Heirs” op cit. pp. 5,6 and 10.

75.Bloomberg News, “Heirs,” pp. 1,5.

76. Chinese fly cash to North America, by the suitcase,” The Wall Street Journal, 2 January 2013. Shen Ming, “Chinese military officers secretly moving money offshore,” Epoch Times, 28 June 2012. Benjamin Robertson, “US1.25 trillion moved out of mainland China illegally in 10 years, says report,” South China Morning Press, 16 December 2014.

77. James Ball and Guardian US Interactive Team, “China’s princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven,” The Guardian, 21 January 2014, reporting on the findings of a two-year reporting effort by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Bloomberg News, “Heirs” p. 6.

78. “China murder suspect’s sisters ran $126 million empire,” Bloomberg News, 13 April 2012.

79. On SOE restructuring and growth of the planned economy, see Peter Nolan, Transforming China: Globalization, Transition and Development, London 2004, chapter 5.

80. James T. Areddy and Laurie Burkitt, “Shake-up at China firm shows reach of graft crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, 23 April 2014.

81. So for example, with respect to China’s investment in mines in Zambia, Professor Ching Kwan Lee quotes a Chinese mining executive who says “We don’t need to maximize profit, but we need to make some profit. The state won’t support us if we make losses year after year.” Lee adds, “between profit optimization and profit maximization lies the space for achieving other types of return – political influence and access to raw materials.”  “The spectre of global China,” New Left Review 2/89, September-October 2014, p. 36.

82. Thus James McGregor writes: “Despite their chronically imprudent lending habits, SOE banks are kept afloat – and reap huge profits to boot – through government-set interest rates. With a ceiling on the interest rates for deposits and a floor on lending rates, China’s banks have enjoyed a comfortable spread of about three percentage points, which guarantees profits.” No Ancient Wisdom, p. 65.

83. Long Youngtu, China’s chief negotiator at the WTO, quoted in James McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, p. 5 (my italics).

84. Liu Jianqiang, “China’s environment ministry an “utter disappointment,” China Dialogue, March 7, 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5788-China-s-environment-ministry-an-utter-disappointment-.  Tang Hao, “China’s food scares show the system is bust,” China Dialogue, 31 August 2012, at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5142-China-s-food-scares-show-the-system-is-bust.

85. See Brian Tilt, The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China, New York 2010, chapter 6. Han Wei, “Officials failing to stop textile factories dumping waste in Qiantang River,” China Dialogue, 1 August 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5589-Officials-failing-to-stop-textile-factories-dumping-waste-in-Qiantang-River.

86. Liu Qin, “China’s environment ministry launches anti-graft reforms,” China Dialogue, 11 March, 2015.

87. John McGarrity, “One year on after “war” declared on pollution, Beijing air scarcely improves,” China Dialogue, 2 February 2015. https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/7695-One-year-on-after-war-declared-on-pollution-Beijing-air-scarcely-improves/en. Xu Nan, “China’s noxious air ‘as deadly as smoking: study,” China Dialogue, 4 February 2015 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/7697-China-s-noxious-air-as-deadly-as-smoking-study/en.

88. Lu Hongqiao, “China set to miss safe rural drinking water targets,” China Dialogue, March 5, 2015 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7762-China-set-to-miss-safe-rural-drinking-water-targets. Huang Hao, “Village water supplies in China hit by scarcity and contamination,” China Dialogue, March 5, 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7209-Village-water-supplies-in-China-hit-by-scarcity-and-contamination. Abigail Barnes, “China’s bottled water: the next health crisis? China Dialogue, July 22, 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7152-China-s-bottled-water-the-next-health-crisis-.

89. Judith Shapiro writes that “There are competing and conflicting emphases on growth, government legitimacy, clean development, and stability, creating a confusing policy-making landscape in which actors sometimes work at cross purposes or with uncertain lines of responsibility … Economic realities and concerns about unemployment and social unrest often push the government away from environmentally friendly action. The Ministry of Environmental Protection is hardly in a position to close the enormous state-run iron and steel plants in the great north-eastern rust belt, where unemployment is exceedingly high and shutdowns would mean even more job losses.” Shapiro, China’s Environmental Challenges, Cambridge UK 2012, pp. 69-70.

90.China Airborne, p. 99.

91. China’s Communist Party currently counts around more than 85 million members. Last year, the government reported that more than 71,000 cadres were “investigated for violating Party regulations.” Of these only 23,000 “received Party or administrative penalities,” mostly censures, and comparatively few were actually sent to prison or are executed. Pretty good odds. “Disciplinary watchdogs seek to fight factionalism within the Party,” People’s Daily, 12 January 2015 at http://en.people.cn/n/2015/0112/c90785-8834538.html.

92. Barmé is quoted in Andrew Jacobs, “In China’s antigraft campaign, small victories and bigger doubts,” The New York Times, 16 January 2015.

93. Michael Forsythe, “As China’s leader fights graft, his relatives shed assets,” The New York Times, 17 June 2014.

94. “China’s selective crackdown,” 17 January 2015.

95. Alice Yan, “Don’t go back on your old ways when our backs are turned, CCDI warns cadres,” South China Morning Post, 5 November 2014.

96. Andrea Chen, “Some cadres shrugging off anticorruption campaign, graft-buster warns,” South China Morning Post, 25 October 2014.

97. Jane Perlez, “Corruption in military poses a test for China,” The New York Times, 14 November 2012.

98. On this see my “Capitalism and the destruction of life on earth: six theses on saving the humans” Real-world Economics Review, July 2013 at http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue64/Smith64.pdf and my “Climate crisis, the deindustrialization imperative, and the jobs vs. environment dilemma” in Truthout, 17 November, 2014 at http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27226-climate-crisis-the-deindustrialization-imperative-and-the-jobs-vs-environment-dilemma.

99. IPCC, Climate Change 2014: IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report (November 2014) at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/. James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, New York 2009.

100. Ecofys, WWF Report 2015, It’s Time to peak: why China’s corporate sector needs to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets,” (WWF, February 2015) p. 11 at http://www.ecofys.com/files/files/wwf-ecofys-2015-it-is-time-to-peak.pdf.

101. Eg. Chrystia Freeland, “The triumph of the family farm,” The Atlantic, 13 June 2012. Also: “Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-centered food systems,” n.a., Farm Aid, 2013 at http://www.farmaid.org/makethecase. Alan Bjerga, “Organic lets family farms prosper in industrial-agriculture era,” Bloomberg News, 28 June 2012 at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-28/organic-lets-family-farms-prosper-in-industrial-agriculture-era.html.

102. Eg. He Guangwei, “China faces long battle to clean up its polluted soil,” He Guangwei, “The victims of China’s soil pollution crisis, Chu Han, “The human cost of living in the ‘mercury capital’ of China [Guizhou province],” Angel Hu and Andrew Moffet, “China’s soil pollution crisis still buried in mystery,” all in Pollution and Health in China: Confronting the Human Crisis, special issue of China Dialogue, September 9, 2014 (in Chinese with some English summaries) at https://s3.amazonaws.com/cd.live/uploads/content/file_en/7289/chinadialogue_health_journal.pdf.

103. “Almost half of wealthy Chinese want to leave, study shows,” The Wall Street Journal, 5 September 2014. Benjamin Carlson, “As war on corruption mounts, China’s rich flee to America, Global Post, 9 February 2014. John Kennedy, “China has at least 1.18 million ready-to-flee ‘naked officials,’ anticorruption rant reveals,” South China Morning Post, 27 February 27, 2013 at  http://www.scmp.com/comment/blogs/article/1159628/china-has-least-118-million-ready-flee-naked-officials-anti-corruption.

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