BUILDING BRIDGES

7 08 2010

I have long believed in the importance of talking with people with whom I disagree strongly, although I have not always been successful in creating the healing dialogues I long for.

Towards the end of the years I lived on the Farm when I  didn’t like the materialist direction in which things were going, my friends and I invited a lot of people to sweat lodges and full moon drum circles, hoping that sharing prayer and ecstatic experience would bond us and create a deeper basis on which to discuss the community’s direction.  The adults we wanted to commune with never showed up, but accused us of corrupting the youth when their kids did.  Socrates, I feel for ya. Eventually, pretty much all of us who held a “hippie/spiritual” vision of the community left, feeling like victims of subtle ethnic cleansing.

After that, I spent several years in Vermont, a place distant enough from The Farm that, if I said I was “from the Farm,” the most common response was, “which farm?”

Oddly enough, I did end up living at a place that everybody in the neighborhood referred to as “The Farm,” but that’s a digression….my experience with sweat lodges had left me curious about the sacramental role of tobacco in Native American ceremony, and so I planted a few rows of it in my garden, where, to my surprise and delight, it flourished, growing six feet tall, topped with huge clusters of white flowers that, unlike commercial cigarettes, smelled simply heavenly in the moonlight.

I dried my crop and found myself in possession of several pounds of organically grown tobacco leaves.  I have never been a cigarette smoker, but I crumbled up a little bit of dry leaf and stuffed it into a pipe.  The taste was not unpleasant, but the effects, if any, were pretty minimal.  Aware of the fact that I was messing with a plant that is not only highly addictive but also potentially lethal, I confined my tobacco use to rare, ceremonially appropriate occasions, and came up with an idea for political theater:  I would go to the Montpelier farmers’ market and offer tobacco in ounce and quarter-ounce baggies, as well as potted tobacco plants, for those who wanted to grow their own.  In this way, I hoped to start a dialog about tobacco, the sacramental use of herbs, the commercialization of sacramental herbs, addiction, and who knows what else.

First, I had to get it clear with the Farmers’ Market management, who were wary about being raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for selling tobacco outside the normal channels.  I called the BATF, and a gentleman there assured me that, as long as I was selling simple air-dried tobacco leaves that had not been “cured” in any way, they had no jurisdiction over me.

I had a good time, sitting there at my table full of rolled-up baggies, offering samples from a small pipe, selling rolling papers,  and getting double-takes from all the pot smokers in the crowd.  I could actually make decent money at it, generally managing to gross $30-50 over the course of a morning.  But the hoped-for dialogues never happened.  I found I was basically “preaching to the choir,” talking to hippies who already dug what I was doing, while straight, square types with cigarettes in their mouths or packs in their pockets barely gave me a glance.

With the help of friends, I eventually expanded my business, selling incense, spiritual books, and imported batik clothing to benefit the Buddhist center with which I was affiliated.  It was fun selling beautiful clothes to beautiful women, but what I enjoyed most was the occasional deep conversation about a book or the spiritual essence of tobacco or the other (legal!) herbs I sold.    That business wound down in the late nineties as the music festival vending scene became overcrowded and overpriced, and my modus operandi for seeking dialogue on serious issues morphed again.

I wore a shirt that said, “WILL WORK FOR BUDDHA” to a job interview for the produce department at the new Wild Oats store that was opening in Nashville, and it just so happened that the guy who interviewed me had been a student of Baba  Ram Dass,  and had helped him start Naropa Institute, a Buddhist university, in Boulder, Colorado.  Ram Dass’s partner in starting Naropa, was, of course,the famous (or, in some quarters, notorious) Chogyam Trungpa, who has perhaps done more than any other Tibetan to transform the somewhat arcane practices of Tibetan Buddhism into something culturally understandable by Americans.    As so often happens, I’m digressing–the upshot is, he hired me.

Ten years ago, when this happened, Wild Oats’ motto was, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and store clerks were expected to be not mere faceless shelf-stockers, but dynamic, knowledgeable personalities who could educate customers on the virtues of the stores’ products.  As someone who had farmed for nearly twenty years, both conventionally and organically, and who feels passionate about the virtues of organic farming,  I was a natural for the produce department.

For several years, I enjoyed this position.  Sure, I wasn’t talking with people who disagreed about the advantages of healthy, organic food, but I was able to educate a lot of people who already knew a little and wanted to learn more.

But Wild Oats was changing.  Management squared up and expected us to do the same.  I found I was being harassed for the same behavior I had been hired for, and left the company, landing in another health food store where, in spite of it being smaller and more informal, I was talking less with customers than I had at Wild Oats, if only because there were fewer customers and my duties kept me behind the scenes more of the time.

In 2005, Radio Free Nashville went on the air. I began doing this radio show, and started the blog that records it.  “Another chance for dialogue,” I thought, but for years comments were sparse, and favorable.  I began to feel like I was still just preaching to the choir.  In the last few months, that has changed.  Let me tell you, I have had some dialogues that about made my head spin.

The first ones were not too promising.  In response to my “OBAMA THE SOCIALIST AND OTHER DELUSIONS” post, “Commieblaster” dropped me a link about how “Obama is more Marxist than socialist.”  Simple, and easy to counter.  But then somebody named  “Wouldee” sent me a longer love note that started,

obama is just as confused as you, libtard. You idiots are amazingly ignorant of reality. bye bye. You sealed the deal for the youngsters’ better judgment, showing how stupid you marxist-socailist (sic) asshats really are on the LEFT. You will hate what is coming at you for reward….

What the hell, I printed it, and responded, in part:

I’m sorry, sir, that you’re so angry and looking for some satisfaction in blaming me for Obama and Obama for the mess we’re in. I agree with you that Obama has contributed to the mess, but, again–I’ve been saying since day one that Obama is part of the problem, not part of the solution. If you’re not paying enough attention to tell me from him, you’re not paying enough attention to keep yourself from getting hurt long before you have the chance to do damage to anyone else. Please be careful!

The ice was broken.  “Clarance R” went several rounds with me on “SCIENCE-BASED MEDICINE” largely on the basis that plant medicines couldn’t possibly be as effective as synthesized, concentrated pharmaceuticals.  I’m not sure s/he ever did get the point that I think we need to look to the plants because the pharmaceuticals may not be widely available much longer, but the exchange evolved from an argument to a discussion, and left me feeling good about it.

Then I started hearing from “Jack,” who wrote in his opening response to “TEA PARTIES–BOSTON OR WONDERLAND?”

…in the past ten years I have moved to the right politically and by now the Tea Partiers make more sense to me than The Farm’s veterans…..

Reading your words I remember how I used to see the world a few decades ago and I realize how difficult it is to bridge the gap between, roughly, the right and the left, the red and the blue, the Tea Party and The Farm.

I don’t have a solution for that. The differences are real and they go pretty deep. The two sides talk but they don’t really hear each other because the words aren’t understood in the same way and they are connected to different sets of facts with different shadings of emphasis and different belief systems of how things fit together.

America is about as polarized now as in the sixties and seventies. I find it distressing but it seems like something we will just have to work through as best we can , with as much respect and love as we can manage, and that seems to be a tall order for everyone these days.

I responded, in part:

I share your concern about people not listening to each other, and not being able to hear/understand each other when they try. It will take some effort and commitment, but if we are as intelligent a species as we like to think we are, we can learn to do it. In fact, we had better.

In further exchanges, he pointed out that, if I’m really seeking dialogue, I might have more success without terms like “Repugs” and “deluded,” and I responded…anyway, with dialogue being a rare critter these days, I think it would be worth your time to go to the blog and check it out, just for a model of what Tea Party-Green dialogue can be.

there’s more.  “Rogerthesurf” doubted my claim that we are running out of oil (TRUTH IN STRANGE PLACES–LAMAR ALEXANDER):

You have to remember that we heard the same stories as you write above in the ’70′s and ’80′s.
Well the shortage then was manufactured by politicians, for example President Carter with his domestic oil price policy etc.

I came back with:

If we had taken Carter’s advice then instead of drinking Reagan’s Kool-Aid, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today, with the US running major deficits to import oil and major military missions (and consequent deficits) to secure oil supplies from Iraq because “the American way of life is not negotiable.” The oil companies wouldn’t be pressing to drill in dangerous, expensive places like a mile under the ocean or the far Arctic if they knew of “easy oil.”

And we were off!  It was quite a spirited debate, and about the last I heard from Roger was

Well Brother Martin, thanks for answering my questions so well.

I will leave you in peace.

However do you have any advice for the normal individual on how to prepare for the approaching holocaust?
For instance, are you taking any steps yourself?

And I answered,

cultivate a circle of friends of varied ages and aptitudes, and do things together that build your trust in each other. Learn and practice basic knowledge and skills–gardening, carpentry with hand tools, hand sewing, “barefoot doctor” medical skills, including herbal medicine and skin stitching, shoemaking, metal working, bow hunting, small animal raising, butchering, simple ways to preserve food–including meat. (I’m a vegetarian, but if I can’t raise enough beans and grains, I’m not going to starve for my principles! There’s more important things in life than what we eat.) Pay off all your debts. Make home improvements that improve the efficiency of your home. Cultivate good relations with your neighbors, even if they don’t end up being the people in your circle of close friends. Do your best to hip people to what you see coming–the greatest security is created by the maximum number of people being most prepared, not by who’s got the most guns and ammo.
Cultivate tolerance and humor, and do your best to be easy to get along with, caring and sharing.

As for what steps I/we are taking, that same list about covers it.

Hope that’s helpful to you. Happy trails!

A few days after that, “Sarah” left a note on the “TEA PARTIES” thread, saying

Maybe you should copy this thread as a post so more people will read it. Or post a condensed version.

Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah.  I’ve had to give a very condensed version, but hopefully it will inspire some of my readers and listeners to check out the conversation, and maybe even contribute something to it…meanwhile, I’m very happy to finally get to communicate with some people who challenge my views and make me think about why I think what I think.  Occasional rigorous examination of our own biases, opinions, and beliefs is as essential to a sane future as any material survival skill…as one of my favorite bumper stickers says, “DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK!”

Speaking of which, P.S. to Jack on the “McCHRYSTAL FOR PRESIDENT?” thread:  after reading Hansen, Jonah Goldberg, and a few other right-wing commentators, I see what you mean about it being unlikely that McChrystal will be the Republican presidential candidate…he bucked authority and that’s a big no-no….

music: The beatles, “Hey Bulldog

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48 responses

8 08 2010
rogerthesurf

Thankyou for kindly mentioning me in this post.

However you omitted to include my final comment which I reproduce here below, just to keep the record straight.

Cheers

Roger

“Brother Martin,

I think what you say is probably the best advice given the circumstances.
Where we probably differ most is that I believe the holocaust will not come from actual lack of oil,(and I agree that one day that must be inevitable) but prematurely, as we try and reduce CO2 emissions according to the IPCC demands. The sad thing in my mind is that we will not only be neglecting the planet in areas where we should take responsibility, but basing the whole decline of civilisation as we know it on a flawed and unproven science.

Cheers

Roger”

9 08 2010
brothermartin

Thanks for speaking up for what’s important to you…I have to fit all my monthly posts into a one-hour radio slot, so I can’t always include everything I’d like in that amount of time–as it was, I had to cut Richard Thompson short this month…but, since you mentioned it, here’s my response to you on the “Lamar Alexander” post:

“Thanks, Roger, and best wishes to you…and yes, we have our differences–from my perspective, the IPCC hasn’t been demanding enough, let alone the US Congress, which has put off climate legislation for another year (possibly just as well, since they are so under the sway of the coal, oil, and nuclear lobbies that anything Congress passed would, like the insurance industry bailout/aka “Obamacare,” just make things worse. And the science of climate change is not “flawed and unproven”–it’s well proved, and so far the flaws seem to be that the severity and speed of global warming was underestimated.

“Thanks again for the exchange, and may all your future choices be wise ones.”

27 08 2010
Jack

Brother Martin: Thanks for mentioning our exchanges in some earlier topics. I thought those were good too.

However, they were a lot of work. I read your responses and I can see that we are so far apart in our understanding of the way the world is and the way it works that if our dialogues were pursued in sufficient depth to have a decent conversation about, say, Tea Parties, Barack Obama or Global Warming, we would need about a hundred thousand words to put us on the same page.

These days it’s not just that people disagree about some topic, they don’t even agree about what they disagree about or even know how the deep the disagreement goes. It would be funny, like misunderstandings in a sitcom, if it weren’t so important in real ways in the real world.

Anyway, I’ve been working hard on some programming projects, spending time with friends, and watching old “Friends” episodes on DVD. That was a funny, goodhearted show. I missed it when it was first broadcast.

Hope summer’s been good for you.

27 08 2010
brothermartin

It was work for me, too, but as I said, it’s the work I’ve been wanting to do, and thank you for being one of the people who made it happen. As for being far apart, I think “yes and no”–sometimes what seems like great differences turn out to be much closer than they appear. It might take a hundred thousand words, but you’re welcome to keep trying with me.

I’ve been spending the summer staying out of the heat, not getting a whole lot “done.” I did manage to replaster some walls I last worked on before my heart attack, which felt like a milestone, and I’ve been working with a local guy who has a bandsaw mill to get some sassafras, oak, and locust trees that came down on our property turned into lumber to build a greenhouse. He’s in even worse shape medically than me, and likes to take it slow, so it is taking all summer to get the wood cut–between our various doctors’ appointments, his and his wife’s hospitalizations, and so on–due to his heart condition he can only run the mill a couple of hours a day, and due to mine, I don’t mind that a bit. He’s a Vietnam vet. We haven’t talked politics.

It’s been a good summer in a lot of ways, even if nothing like what I considered a “good summer” a few years ago–no concerts, big parties, road trips, camping trips, just laying low and, as Kunstler sez, watching the amazing pileup from a cheap (and already paid-for) seat.

28 08 2010
Jack

Sorry to hear of your heart attack. I find myself slowing down as I age in any event and not getting out so much but not regretting it either.

Perhaps 100,000 words is on the high side, but when I read your claims like “And the science of climate change is not ‘flawed and unproven’–it’s well proved, and so far the flaws seem to be that the severity and speed of global warming was underestimated” my heart sinks.

I disagree with most of what you said there and I’ve read easily a half million words of the often acrimonious debate on the subject plus I’ve worked my way through a Teaching Company Course on climate (http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/coursedesclong2.aspx?cid=1219 ) which was mostly oriented towards global warming. I’ve also gone toe-to-toe with Gavin Schmidt over at RealClimate. (BTW the Teaching Company courses are pretty good if you haven’t tried them.)

I’m not convinced. When it comes to climate change, I don’t understand how either side can be as certain as many of their vocal advocates are.

Furthermore, I bought into the apocalypticism of the seventies (including from Stephen) and noticed that all the dire predictions flying around then failed to come to pass, so part of my skepticism is due to a weariness with the nonstop litany of doom I hear from environmentalists and academics.

A big problem in today’s world IMO is that people we used to trust for objective information — scientists, experts, and journalists — have blurred their roles with advocacy for various causes.

28 08 2010
brothermartin

Re “the apocalypticism of the seventies”–somebody recently asked me what i’ve been wrong about, and my response was, “in the 70’s, i thought things were going to get worse–and better–a whole lot faster than they have.” But then there’s the question of “which apocalyptic prediction?” California hasn’t fallen into the ocean, and Jesus hasn’t come in the clouds.

Other than that, I feel that most of the concerns I had in the late 60’s and early 70’s have been validated by what’s happened since. Overpopulation, pollution, resource depletion, a federal government that is both intrusive and neglectful about all the wrong stuff, corporate dominance. It’s been a little slower than I anticipated, and managed to take down the Farm as an effective counterforce (aided by our own inexperience and subconscious), much to my dismay, but I still have a certain amount of faith that the whole big ugly wave will dissipate from its own internal contradictions (not to mention resource shortages) before it washes away everything that makes life worthwhile….but enough from me. You feel the “litany of doom” is overstated and overrated?

28 08 2010
brothermartin

OK, two other 60’s faves that haven’t happened: Atlantis has not risen, and the flying saucer people have not landed–but that’s probably because we’ve failed their intelligence test.

28 08 2010
Jack

Oh, come on. I’m not talking about Atlantis, the rapture or flying saucers. “If you don’t underestimate me, I won’t underestimate you.”

I am talking about the dire predictions of Paul Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, Stewart Brand, Jacque Cousteau, etc. How about these two from Ehrlich:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970’s and 1980’s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.
— Dr. Paul Ehrlich, “The Population Bomb” (1968), p.1

This vast tragedy, however, is nothing compared to the nutritional disaster that seems likely to overtake humanity in the 1970s (or, at the latest, the 1980s) … A situation has been created that could lead to a billion or more people starving to death.
— Dr. Paul Ehrlich, “The End of Affluence” (1974), p.21

Ehrlich was even talking about Americans starving to death in large numbers. I was so alarmed by all this talk, as well as Stephen’s lectures about voluntary peasantry, that I dropped out of college in 1974 and figured I”d go back to the land or emigrate to New Zealand to wait out the coming apocalypse.

All of this sounds insane now, given that the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties turned out to be decades of astonishing prosperity, progress, environmental gains and peace, compared to the horrors of the first half of the 20th century. Even though the world population nearly doubled, the rate of starvation dropped from 35% in 1970 to 18% in 2000, and it’s still dropping. Nonetheless in the Seventies, many people believed the scenarios of doom and gloom, even if they did not act on their beliefs as directly as I did.

Today we have Al Gore et al. scaring people to death over global warming. After his Inconvenient Truth book and movie came out a Gallup poll said that 55% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans believe that “Human life will cease to exist on earth” due to global warming.

This is pure apocalyptic hysteria. This is the litany of doom I am referring to. Environmentalists have cried wolf too often.

28 08 2010
brothermartin

A worthwhile question…what Ehrlich failed to take into account in his calculations was “the Green Revolution” of Dr. Norman Borlaug, which temporarily boosted crop yields in the 3rd world by means of petroleum-based inputs: fertilizer, sprays, and deep-quifer pumped irrigation water. Still, a billion people on the planet, mostly in the 3rd world, do not have enough to eat on a daily basis, and, with petroleum prices rising due to the increased difficulty of drilling for it, and water tables falling in India and China, it seems we can expect that number to grow, although it will not be obvious to us wealthy 1st-worlders for a while.

As for the Club of Rome, I couldn’t put it any more succinctly than this quote:
“In 2008 Graham Turner at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia published a paper called “A Comparison of `The Limits to Growth` with Thirty Years of Reality”.[5][6] It examined the past thirty years of reality with the predictions made in 1972 and found that changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the book’s predictions of economic and societal collapse in the 21st century.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth

Opposition to the Club’s predictions came from a well-orchestrated set of business interests who were afraid it would hurt the short-term bottom line.

Most of the “prosperity and progress” in the US in the 80’s and 90’s was done on borrowed money, which we are now reaping the consequences of. Environmental gains? Depends on how you define that. “Peace”? Depends on where you were at the time.

Gotta go get some homesteading done!

28 08 2010
rogerthesurf

Jack,

” that I dropped out of college in 1974 and figured I”d go back to the land or emigrate to New Zealand to wait out the coming apocalypse. ”

No use emigrating here! Our socialist unicameral government as always, is taxing hell out of us and blowing our tax money foolishly, including trying to lead the world in ETS schemes and “showing” the way how to reduce our carbon footprints.
We may have all the natural resources and fertility in the world but our economy has slipped from the top 5 to between 25 and 50th according to which account you read.
If you want to wait out the apocalypse here forget it. We are creating one of our own.

Cheers

Roger

http://www.rogerromnewzealand.wordpress.com

29 08 2010
brothermartin

Well, roger, look on the bright side–when tshtf, NZ is reasonably self-sufficient and isolated enough that the hungry masses won’t be showing up on your doorstep. I, too, considered relocating to NZ at a couple of different points in my life…and “growth economies” are overrated, imho…kind of like “which cancer is growing fastest?”

And it’s ironic that NZ is trying so hard to cut its already miniscule carbon footprint. A lot of good that will do when the US, India, and China are burning coal and oil like there’s no tomorrow….still, a gold star for trying.

One thing for sure–when tshtf, what happens in New Zealand will stay in New Zealand!

btw, Roger, your link didn’t lead to a blog…or anything…wordpress asked me if I wanted to start a blog by that name….try again?
thanks!

29 08 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

Yes I’m sure a gold star will do us a lot of good as we descend into unneccessary poverty.

For you information, NZ is very far from being self sufficient. All we are good at here is growing food. Without trade with other countries we simply will slip back into 18th century conditions. I know you may think that might be a good thing, but although you may see the “good” side of that, the harsh reality is pretty horrific.

Sorry about my link, I made a typo. Here it is again.

Cheers

Roger

http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

29 08 2010
brothermartin

No, I don’t think slipping back to 18th century conditions would be a good thing. Considering my medical condition, I would likely not survive very long. It may be selfish, but I don’t like that idea. That’s some of why I’m so deeply concerned about the mid-term future.

In fact, I think it would be all too easy to slip way past the 18th century, because advances inour technology have tended to dissolve the technology that existed prior to them, leaving the possibility of a big gaping hole if current technology should, in its incredible, delicate complexity, fail. Paper making and printing presses are the first things that come to mind…think about it.

30 08 2010
Jack

Roger: My plans to emigrate to NZ were strictly part of my Seventies phase. (Likewise I thought I might eventually settle on The Farm.) I did know one hippie couple that did follow that dream and moved from New Mexico to Australia.

By now, I imagine I’m too old and not rich enough to be accepted by NZ even if I wanted.

30 08 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

I would be more concerned about eating although the technology or lack of it to keep people with medical conditions enjoying life is important as well.

I agree with you about forgotten technology, but particularly with regards to food production and preservation.
Refrigeration and modern fertilisers have made us forget how to manage in their absence.

Cheers

Roger

30 08 2010
Jack

Martin: I remember Limits of Growth making explicit and incorrect predictions. I’m not the only one who remembers LOG this way. See this MacLean’s quote.

But as critics point out, the current End of Oil books are just the latest in a lengthy line of scientific warnings of doom. In the late 1960s, Paul Ehrlich’s bestseller The Population Bomb predicted famines that would kill hundreds of millions in the 1970s as the world’s population passed the sustainability point. The landmark 1972 Limits of Growth study by the Club of Rome predicted that if consumption continued to exponentially expand, the world would run out of gold by 1981, mercury by 1985, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and natural gas by 1993.

http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20060213_121197_121197

According to Wiki, LOG’s defenders say that LOG’s predictions were for the late 21st century and those who say otherwise misunderstood. Maybe. I’ll check for a used copy of LOG and see for myself.

In any event LOG strongly reinforced the notion that humanity was headed for the apocalypse if it didn’t rein in population and consumption.

30 08 2010
Jack

Basically LOG is Malthus dressed up with computer simulations. Malthus’s argument that the growth of human population and consumption would outstrip our resources and ability to grow food has made eminent sense since 1800. Yet this keeps not happening and Malthusians keep making excuses (Norman Borlaug!) and moving the goal posts farther away.

Many earlier predictions of resource depletion, such as Thomas Malthus’ 1798 predictions about approaching famines in Europe,[22] The Population Bomb (1968),[23][24][25] Limits to Growth (1972),[23][24][25] and the Simon–Ehrlich wager (1980) [26] have proven false, one reason being that advancements in technology and science have continually allowed previously unavailable resources to be utilized more economically.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_growth

Maybe someday the Malthusians will be right. But so far human resourcefulness (Norman Borlaug!) has confounded that argument again and again, and I expect it will continue to do so.

Likewise I expect environmentalists to keep telling us that the sky is falling because that’s the narrative through which they view the world. When their predictions fail, they forget them, and move the goalposts or change the area of concern.

Likewise your breezy dismissals of the real and remarkable economic expansion since WWII, and the real and remarkable progress in reducing war since WW II seem to be filtered by the same pessimistic narrative.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:World_GDP_Capita_1-2003_A.D.png

See http://users.rcn.com/mwhite28/atrox.htm .

In both cases remember that the world population has more than doubled since WW II.

30 08 2010
Jack

And here’s a blast from the past as a reminder of how rampant environmental apocalypticism was in the early seventies.

I’ve still got my old Whole Earth Catalogs and CoEvolution Quarterlies. “Apocalypse Juggernaut Hello” was a regular feature until the fears of imminent apocalypse started to seem embarrassing even to Brand.

Note the fears of Global Cooling at the end. Today Brand argues that we are looking at a blazing hot future in which crocodiles are frolicking in the Arctic Sea.

Apocalypse Juggernaut, hello.
Short Term Forecasting

We print well-founded rumors

The first two come from recent conversation with ex-General Gavin, who presently heads the Arthur D Little research corporation. Says he:

* Food will be short in the U.S. by next winter. Not just expensive but short. Sugar and molasses will be the first to disappear. The major reasons is shortages of petroleum-based fertilizers. The current run on beef (wheat-fed) is doing in the wheat supply.

*Also, says Gavin, expect massive federal spending programs from an administration that is terrified enough of a recession to try and buy its way out.

*As we mentioned in Harper’s, vegetable seeds are scarce this Spring. The Burpee Company warned us to buy early or forget it.

* Signs are that the climate will be getting steadily worse for several decades at least It will be colder in the temperate zones and dryer near the equator, causing widespread famine in countries dependent on the monsoon cycle— Africa, India, South Asia, parts of Central America. The problem is that the recent 50 years of good weather (the best in a thousand years) is returning to normal— much colder.

Stewart Brand, CoEvolution Quarterly, Spring 1974

30 08 2010
Jack

Correction: That should be Limits To Growth and LTG, not Limits of Growth and LOG.

31 08 2010
rogerthesurf

Jack,
You may be interested in some of the links on my blog which touch on your subjects.
Look under “•A 1974 CIA report on Global Cooling or as they put it, “The coming ice age”, “Emergency! Incontrovertible observations showing the Arctic ice at an all time low and the sea at alltime warmth”

Cheers

Roger

31 08 2010
brothermartin

OK, I see what you mean about “100,000 words”!

I’m going to do my best to keep it simple and straightforward.

This planet is not some magician’s hat, capable of producing an infinite number of energizer bunnies. It is only so big and only contains so many minerals. Pennsylvania and Ohio, and California used to have major oil fields. They don’t anymore. Pennsylvania used to be the home of the anthracite coal industry. They mined it out. Here in Tennessee, there are places that once produced phosphate, iron, and copper that are now just gaping holes in the ground. The world is a finite place, and so are its resources. Whether they run out twenty years ago, now, or forty or even a couple hundred years in the future, it’s hardly any different in the overall timeline of the human race, let alone the whole planet.

Internationally, oil companies are having to go to greater and greater lengths to find new oil deposits. The rate of new discoveries is falling off. An oil geologist says in one of the articles I will cite at the end of this that, what with satellite mapping and everything, we pretty much know what’s on this planet, and there aren’t any big oil deposits out there waiting to be exploited. That’s why the oil companies aren’t creating new refineries: there would be no point.

The same is basically true of any other mineral. There are no big, easy-to-access stashes left. Where there are big unexploited resources, such as lithium in Afghanistan and Bolivia, the logistics of extracting it–the amounts of water needed, or the lack of access and electrical power–are dauntingly expensive, even before we take into consideration the native cultures who would have to give up their water and their way of life so we can have our toys.

But make no mistake, this whole shebang runs on oil. There is nothing we can substitute for it. The “economic growth” of the last thirty years has been accomplished by stealing resources from the unborn, who will not have the resources that we have wasted on wars and consumer culture. Shame on us. The planet is not going to make more minerals in anything less than a few million years. It’s going to be a long dry spell.

We were not “crying wolf” in the 70’s, we were raising an early warning. Had our warning been heeded at that time, the transition would have been much smoother. At this point, we have used up a whole lot of the pad that we would have had back then.

The culture and way of life you seem to be defending is a linear model, that takes raw materials in one end and dumps useless trash out the other. This is not “conservatism,” it is radical irresponsibility of the worst sort, promoted by people drunk from the energy orgy we have indulged ourselves in over the last couple of hundred years.

The opposition to the transition some of us have been advocating for forty years now is fueled by cynical millionaires like the Koch brothers, who have capitalized on ignorance and fear to create a mass movement that pushes their elitist agenda: salvation for the wealthy, and to hell with the rest of us. If they are successful, they will use the Tea Partying masses to get what they want and then, when the going gets tough, cast them (or should I say, “you”?) adrift. I would like to think homo sapiens is sapient enough not to fall for their foolishness.

“Limits to Growth” has better defenders than I….check out
http://www.alternet.org/story/18978/

from that article:
“It is also a source of sadness for me to see so much energy invested in denial and almost none put into making the changes that would let humanity survive on this beautiful planet in good order more or less indefinitely. For our research clearly points out that feasible changes in cultural norms and goals would let us ease back down to sustainable levels, fulfill basic human needs, and structure an orderly society more or less indefinitely.

“Because of the long time horizon involved in our studies, we always realized it would require several decades to get any perspective on the accuracy of our forecasts. Now, three decades later, we are into the 21st century within 20 years of the time when our scenarios suggest that growth will near its end. The basic conclusions are still the same. We have modified our model only a little to reflect some better data about the effects of technology on land yields and birth rates. And we have spent much more time elaborating on the structural features of the global system — delays, growth, and limits — that predispose it to overshoot and collapse.”

and
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5330

“Charles A. S. Hall and John W. Day revisit these predictions in an article published this month in American Scientist called Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil. Their analysis indicates that the predictions from 1972 were surprisingly accurate, considering how long ago they were made….”

from Hall’s article, available at

http://www.esf.edu/efb/hall/2009-05Hall0327.pdf

“Likewise, when the oil shock induced
a recession in the early 1980s, and Eh-
rlich and Simon made their bet, the re-
laxed demand for all resources led to
lower prices and even some increase in
the quality of the resources mined, as
only the highest-grade mines were kept
open. But in recent years energy prices
increased again, demand for materials
in Asia soared and the prices of most
minerals increased dramatically. Had
Ehrlich made his bet with Simon over
the past decade, he would have made a
small fortune, as the price of most raw
materials, including the ones they bet
on, had increased by 2 to 10 times in re-
sponse to huge demand from China and
declining resource grades.”

The defense rests.

1 09 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

“This planet is not some magician’s hat, capable of producing an infinite number of energizer bunnies. It is only so big and only contains so many minerals.”
Agreed, but what I do not understand why we are being incouraged in committing sepukku by chasing the life giving gas CO2, before the time you mention above comes to pass.

Cheers

Roger

2 09 2010
jack

Martin: I have to say that your posts provide a good catalog of why I no longer take environmentalists very seriously.

First, two posts of condescending nonsense about flying saucers and the Second Coming, when it was obvious that the apocalypses I was talking about were the dire scenarios predicted by environmentalists like Paul Ehrlich.

Then the strawman attack about the earth as a magician’s hat. No, that’s not what I believe and that’s not what I was arguing. Yes, I am aware that the earth is finite.

Then the equivocation over failed predictions as “warnings” even though I quoted Paul Ehrlich’s failed predictions then Stewart Brand’s.

They were wrong and I can get you more examples if you like. And these predictions continue, though environmentalists have learned to locate the serious consequences a couple generations out rather than within a year or ten. James Lovelock, one of Stewart Brand’s mentors, is now saying that it’s over already. He’s not even warning us to change our ways, just to prepare for most of humanity to die off and try to preserve slivers of civilization in the Arctic. “Enjoy life while you can” — http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2008/mar/01/scienceofclimatechange.climatechange)

In your approach I don’t see any responsibility for environmentalists — they get credit if they are right or if they might have been right or if they have an excuse or if they would have been right ten years later of if they will be right by 2100.

For myself, I see no reason to give much credence to people who get things wrong as often and about such serious matters as environmentalists. Some guy took hostages yesterday because he had an “awakening” while watching Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.”

This was followed by your inability to take good news about the world graciously, i.e. economic expansion and the reduction of warfare. Just dis it, move on, and don’t acknowledge that there really has been progress in these areas.

Then the insistence to attack, attack, only attack whatever target seemed promising — in this case my point about failed predictions in LTG, even after I granted that I might be wrong about that.

(BTW — I looked for LTG yesterday at a large used bookstore without success. On Amazon I see that the paperback copy of LTG goes for $25 – $50 on Amazon. And “Hey Beatnik” fetches a cool $100!)

This does not seem to me to be a good faith discussion between equals — ironic in a topic titled “Building Bridges.”

If you are just going to come at me like I’m some stupid unread person in the clutches of the oil companies and the Tea Party who has never thought about this stuff, I don’t see the point in continuing this discussion.

4 09 2010
brothermartin

The McLean’s article you cite is much less critical of TPB/Ehrlich than you seem to perceive it. It seemed to be an attempt to present a “balanced” view of the dispute, while acknowledging (in my perception, at least) that we most likely are about to run out of the basic materials for our high-tech culture, concluding, as it does, with this quote:

Most people spend their lives trying to avoid the issue of their mortality. Staring into the abyss is only bearable if you have a way to avoid falling in. If scientists, thinkers and politicians really want the public to pay attention to a pressing problem, they’d best find a way to offer some hope along with the fear.

In a recent article, “The Population Bomb Revisited“, Paul and Anne Ehrlich point out that their prediction that “famines would kill hundreds of millions” did come true–approximately 300 million people have died of famine since then, mostly in Africa, where they don’t get that much media attention. The Ehrlichs also comment in this article that many people confused “scenarios” that they wrote about with “predictions,” and that they regret having confused people this way. They further say that the book (whose title, amusingly enough, was not of their choosing but comes from a Bush senior friend who was concerned about “the white race” being drowned in an ocean of colored people) was by no means their final take on the problem of overpopulation vs. dwindling resources, but has been taken by many critics as such, despite the numerous papers they have published updated their view. You, for example, do not care to be held to what you professed in the late ’70s, I believe? :-)

6 09 2010
brothermartin

Roger…you a little shook up from that quake? I don’t understand what you mean here:

Agreed, but what I do not understand why we are being incouraged in committing sepukku by chasing the life giving gas CO2, before the time you mention above comes to pass.

please explain?
thanks
m

7 09 2010
brothermartin

Jack said:

I have to say that your posts provide a good catalog of why I no longer take environmentalists very seriously.

First, two posts of condescending nonsense about flying saucers and the Second Coming, when it was obvious that the apocalypses I was talking about were the dire scenarios predicted by environmentalists like Paul Ehrlich.

Geez….if you’re “not taking environmentalists seriously,” where’s your sense of humor? It was NOT obvious to me that you were referring to Paul Ehrlich, who, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, says that he regrets writing up “scenarios” that people then took as “predictions.” In any case, he based his views on the best information available at the time, and has changed as the information has changed, although his critics still hold him to his 1980 positions. If you’re not arguing about the finite nature of the planet’s resources, what’s your problem with people reminding us that they will end in the near-term future? As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, recent mineral discoveries are increasingly small and increasingly difficult to extract. What part of “fishing the couch for change” don’t you understand?

As for our marvelous “economic expansion,” Alan Greenspan, who, as Fed chairman, was largely responsible for it and the bubble burst that ended it, has admitted he was wrong.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/24/business/economy/24panel.html

that’s what he gets for following Ayn Rand…unfortunately, he didn’t seem to think that he and the banksters he unleashed should have to give back any of their ill-gotten gains to the millions of middle-class citizens they fleeced….many of whom have irrationally reacted to this fleecing by joining a “tea party” movement that calls for even more of the deregulation that screwed everybody in the first place…go figure.

And “reduction of warfare”? Not if you lived in large parts of Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, what was once Yugoslavia, big chunks of Central and South America and SE Asia. Sure, most of these were “asymmetrical conflicts” that pitted state armies (often US-supplied) against ethnic minorities who were in the way of, or otherwise unwilling to get with, the program. True, the only big army vs. big army conflict was the Iran-Iraq war, which prompted more than one wag to observe that “the reason Bush Jr. thought Saddam had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was because Reagan, Bush Sr., and Rumsfeld gave them to him!” But he used them all up in his wars against the Iranians and the Kurds. Unless you lived in North America, Western Europe, or Australia, the last two decades have not been peaceful. Check out http://www.onwar.com/aced/chrono/index.htm

Stewart Brand is advocating for nuclear power these days, which from my view is extremely short-sighted and a remarkable descent for somebody who started out with the Whole Earth Catalog, but he’s certainly not the only old hippie who’s gone way off the tracks….f’rinstance, Allen Greenspan used to jam with Stan Getz! (we’re talking pre-hippie bohemianism here, i admit) He shoulda stuck with the clarinet.

As for James Lovelock, I sure hope he’s wrong, but I think he’s right in emphasizing the very high cost of doing nothing.

I’m sorry if you’re having a hard time perceiving this as a “good faith discussion.” I’m doing my best, honest!

7 09 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

My mind is fine thanks although I cannot believe how violent this quake was, and the power of the aftershocks are still incredible. I am still surprised that this house still has a roof, however many in this city are not so fortunate.

My point about seppuku is an attempt to explain the relationship between our depletion of natural (fossil) resources and our fruitless chase after the life giving gas CO2.

Yes when we run out of fossil energy, we seem to be in agreement that our society and economies will slide into a shadow of their former selves.

My reference to seppuku is an attempt to point out that if we take on the IPCC emission reductions to the extent of 40% lower than 1990 levels and carry out the wealth transfers the IPCC also advocate, we will be entering a very similar era identical to running out of fossil fuels.

Seeing as how AGW is simply a hysterical piece of propaganda and we will be entering this era prematurely, I liken this to commiting seppuku. Killing oneself before the end of one’s natural life.

Hope this explains.

Cheers

Roger

http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

8 09 2010
brothermartin

In my thoroughly non-professional opinion, loss of the N. Polar ice cap could still cause an ice age. The polar region is, in rainfall terms, a desert at this point, because the frozen Arctic Ocean doesn’t allow much water to evaporate and then condense as rain or snow on the landmasses that surround it. If it warms up enough to thaw the Arctic Ocean, but not so much that the precipitation falls mainly as rain, I think we could, indeed, see a localized “ice age” around the N. pole. With the planet overall heating up, it would probably create some unstable weather around its boundaries. When I was a kid, reading a lot of science fiction, I wished my dull suburban life would somehow take some science-fiction turns. Well, it has… I was hoping for “Foundation and Empire,” but it looks like we’re getting “A Canticle for Leibowitz” instead….

8 09 2010
brothermartin

Glad you and your home survived the jolt. Here in Tennessee, we’re overdue for one. The New Madrid Fault, which, they tell me, commonly goes off every 150-200 years, is now over the 200-year mark, having last thrown a major quake in 1800 or thereabouts, long before Memphis, Little Rock, St. Louis, Jackson, or Nashville were much more than trading posts. All could be subject to substantial damage in the event of an 1800-intensity quake, especially since there is nothing about making buildings earthquake-resistant in the local building codes. Some earth scientists think the New Madrid may have spent itself, although there are still a lot of low-grade quakes along it. Sooner or later, we’ll find out.

Thanks for clarifying what you wrote–I understand you much better this time. As far as I can tell, taking the IPCC’s recommendations would not be “committing sepuku,” it would be more like providing for our descendants by leaving oil and coal in the ground where they would be available for future generations to use, in carefully measured quantities, for some of the essential products that are made from them, or to provide power to create things that are hard to energize otherwise. In my flaming a-hole radical environmentalist opinion, this is the very opposite of sepuku. Whaddaya think?

8 09 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

I think the New Madrid fault will be benign so long as you keep having those little quakes you mentioned.
In my city, this quake was entirely unexpected, even by NZ standards. Faults have manifested themselves for the first time in recorded history, previously invisible because they are covered with hundreds of meters of glacial debris.
It is a credit to the strict earthquake proofing building codes enforced and honestly followed here that we have a city that is still standing with no loss of life. Basically no modern buildings (built since about 1935) have suffered any significant damage, whereas the earlier buildings, built to British standards fell down. I must add that a program of earthquake strengthening of old buildings by adding steel etc to critical places has proven successful as these have also suffered little damage.
However in the parts of the city where the ground water table is high, a large degree of liquification occurred ,(mainly residential) which rendered a number of homes uninhabitable. It seems that houses with a concrete slab as a foundation have been particularly vulnerable as I know of several instances of this slab fracturing during the liquification.

So the moral of the story is this; make sure your home has a timber or steel frame, a light roof, ample cross bracing and the foundations are on rock and contain plenty of steel.

As for the seppuku we mentioned, I have no problem with conserving our natural resources for future generations, simply I am concerned that 1. The IPCC is suggesting we do this for the wrong reasons.
2. If the transition is done at too rapid a pace there will be casualties and social crises preciptated.

Being a died in the wool capitalist, I think as natural resources become genuinely more scarce, the market will encourage other technologies and social adjustment at a minimal catestrophic pace.
What ever governments try to do will be political and for the wrong reasons and therefore increase the chaos.

For example the IPCC requirements will quickly make us poverty stricken and less likely to adjust to the new conditions without terrible human cost.

Cheers

Roger

11 09 2010
brothermartin

Thanks for the first-hand report on the quake!
you said:

“1. The IPCC is suggesting we do this for the wrong reasons…. the IPCC requirements will quickly make us poverty stricken and less likely to adjust to the new conditions without terrible human cost.”

would you care to elaborate?

also:

“2. If the transition is done at too rapid a pace there will be casualties and social crises preciptated.”

I agree with that! That’s why I’ve been urging transition for the last forty years. I’m deeply concerned that, at this point, we may no longer have time for anything but rapid/involuntary transition, especially since those in control of, or in a position to possibly take control of, our government, at least in this country, are shortsighted and venal enough that, as you say,

“Whatever (they) try to do will be political and for the wrong reasons and therefore increase the chaos.”

In closing, I have a question for you: how does your “died in the wool capitalism” sit with what i’m guessing were government regulations that required earthquake-resistant building standards down there? I’m suspicious of government, but not everything done by government is bad.

take it easy
m

12 09 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,
“If the transition is done at too rapid a pace there will be casualties and social crises preciptated.”

“I agree with that! That’s why I’ve been urging transition for the last forty years”

I’m glad that you agree with that, because it appears to me and my understanding of economics that what the IPCC is lobbying for in terms of CO2 emission reductions, will have exactly the same effect as when we run out of fossil fuel.

The question is what is a “too rapid pace”

I believe in order for the IPCC to be consistent with their claims, the transition away from fossil fuels to ??? will need at a too rapid pace and will not avoid my above mentioned social crisis and casualties.
Also we both share a distrust of politicians, of which the IPCC is an organisation of.

The truth is that we will not run out of fossil fuels over night. In fact it will be a slow process, at least 50 or more years. So long as governments keep out of the picture and continue to enforce such legislation as the Sherman Act in your country, we will experience a steady rise in the price of energy as it becomes more scarce. As the price rises, hitherto uneconomic oil etc will be pumped, further slowing the price rise. Alternative energy sources will become more attractive, and so long as governments keep out of it, research of what are the best and most acceptable methods of energy use and production will be carried out without the need of investing tax payers money. At more than 50 years transition, we may not notice the change, although we will end up poorer but hopefully not starving.

Capitalism does not mean that governments do not have any responsibilities. Their main role is to prevent the rise of monopolies , keep law and order and administer justice etc. The setting of minimum building standards for PUBLIC buildings on public streets sits well with the above roles I think.

Yes I know I am basically quoting Milton Friedman.

But like you, I am suspicious of politicians, but unlike you, I think they should keep out of energy regulation etc except as I mentioned above.

I mean you would be quite happy driving a high quality Japanese car rather than paying taxes so you can keep driving your Chevy right?

Cheers

Roger

13 09 2010
brothermartin

IPCC emissions reduction targets are, if anything, too laid back, IMFAO. Have you considered the cost to the economy of having our port cities and river deltas partially submerged? That would be a rough one for private enterprise to deal with, I think…..The IPCC’s recommendations, as far as I know, are neutral about how countries ought to achieve them. The best idea is probably a carbon tax, which would be paid by emitters, go through the government, and be paid to us little folk who will be paying higher energy prices. That’s very unpopular in the US….btw, I think of government, ideally, in this corporate-dominated world, as a “peoples’ corporation” so that we the people have something as big and tough as the corporations to stand up for our interests…unfortunately, the gov is in thrall to the corps, and working to promote their interests rather than ours. If there were no big corporations, there would be a lot less need for government, in my view of things.

As for what happens when we start running out of fossil fuel, check Dmitri Orlov at http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/. His story “Peak Oil IS History” talks about what he thinks will happen as that starts happening. It ain’t pretty, but he’ll probably make you smile anyway.

Milton Friedman’s economics have consistently failed the test of application. Ask the Chileans or the Argentines. Or check out David Stockman, former member of the Reagan administration budget team: http://finance.yahoo.com/banking-budgeting/article/110297/reagan-insider-gop-destroyed-us-economy?sec=topStories&pos=5&asset=&ccode

And the government “getting out of energy regulation” led to the whole Enron debacle, among others.

As a matter of fact, I drive a 1993 Nissan pickup truck, which I bought used, have never washed, and use to haul firewood, lumber, compost, etc….Consumer Reports said “if you buy a Nissan, the main problem you’ll have with it is it’ll never break down so you’ll never have an excuse to get another truck.” Had a Chevy pu before that, got much better gas mileage, but I tried to pull into traffic at the wrong time and I’m lucky the dude who hit me smashed the engine compartment and not the driver’s side door, or I might not be here today….gotta go eat some din-din

Do tell me more about your understanding of the economics of the IPCC’s CO2 reduction plan….thanks!

If you think the Sherman (anttrust, i presume) act is a problem, howcome you’re saying it is important for government to prevent monopolies? (which it is doing a lousy job of) As I hinted above, I agree that that’s an important job for the gov. Corporations, being inherently selfish, need a policeman, and the policeman has to be at least as powerful as they are.

14 09 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

“If you think the Sherman (anttrust, i presume) act is a problem, howcome you’re saying it is important for government to prevent monopolies? (which it is doing a lousy job of)”

You misunderstood me there. I think the Sherman Act is a great piece of legislation and its principles should be observed world wide.

I know a lot about Milton Friedman’s doctrines because in the 80’s they were used to pull NZ out of bankruptcy. The government that led us into bankruptcy, although by name conservative, simply was incredibly interventionist. For instance we had a fixed exchange rate of about 50% above the market rate. This meant that all foreign exchange transactions went through the government and because it made imports very cheap, there were import restrictions on everything including new cars. The only people who had new cars were the ones who were lucky enough to have funds in the UK or elsewhere. At the same time, our exporters needed subsidising because the exchange rate regime made the export of primary products(the only thing we are really good at here) uneconomic. We even had a payment from the tax payer, to farmers for every sheep and cow they had on the farm. When the world price of oil shot through the roof, for political expediency, the government did not let the price rise here, instead it was “swallowed” by the exchange rate manipulations as was the diminishing world price for our products. Also there were a number of expensive “think big” projects designed to make us “self sufficient in energy”. In otherwords, the government borrowed heavily overseas so our standard of living was “maintained” and they could win the next election. It does not need a rocket scientist to see why by ’83 our government was bankrupt. ie the tax intake was not enough to pay the interest on the outstanding offshore loans.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Well that government lost the election and ironically it was left to the incoming labour government to deal with this bankruptcy.
Fortunately there were some wondeful people who saw that the best way to further socialist policies was to get the economy on its feet, and Milton Friendman’s theories were put into practice for the first time in the world.
Some examples:
1. The NZ currency was floated.
2. Subsidies, levies, quotas and tarrifs on trade were lifted.
3. Inflation was controled by the money supply via the reserve bank. Cleverly this was put out of reach of politicians where it remains to this day.
4. Labour Unions were denied the right to have national stoppages for local issues and membership became truely voluntary.

This caused some hardship as there was a big adjustment and the money supply became very tight as inflation was forced from about 20% to less then 3%. However the people understood the need for the policies and the Labour government was voted in for a second term.
Although successive governments have vilified these policies and the power of the unions is increasing once again and government interference is on the rise, we in NZ can still buy a new car if we want, the variety of food in the shops etc is still of unprecedented variety and quality. (we used to have a choice of one brand of bread in either white or brown because there was price control on bread and and only one supplier) and farmers still produce more efficiently, and somehow in spite of losing all their subsidies, their houses are conspicuous in their quality when compared with their employees house nearby. (The employees house used to be the farmers house before ’83). And best of all, if you need a mortgage/loan for your house then you simply go to the bank! (would you believe that because the government before ’83 limited the home loan rate by banks to about 2.5% so the banks simply excluded home owners from their portfolios.

So you see I have a very good hands on experience as to the effectiveness of good economic policies as described by Milton Friedman.
And I do see the road the US (and much of the first world) is going down, and as NZ does like to lead the world, we have been there and done that. On a far smaller scale of course.

I know quite a lot of the Enron debacle as it is part of my wife’s PhD. It was a governance problem, could have happened in any sector. It appears to me that the laws were adequate, but there were simply a lot of crooks breaking that law. Just some enforcement needed a little earlier.

We are in agreement about what will happen when we run out of oil, but surely you agree that if the IPCC prevents us from using oil etc. especially in what I consider an artificially short time frame, the economic consequences will be exactly the same. Worse in fact because governments and politicians are involved.

As you already know, I disagree with you about the predicted sea level rises and global warming. It may be an issue for you, but sorry we will have to agree to differ there.

Cheers

Roger

http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

PS the “think big” projects were dismal failures. All paid for by tax payers of course. One of them was “sold” for a negative NZ$100 Million or there abouts on the condition it would be kept running. Pity because I would have bought it for a negative NZ$99 Million if anyone had offered it to me:). Yup I do mean that the “buyer” had to be paid with tax payers money to get the cash gobbling monster liability off the government books.

18 09 2010
brothermartin

Thanks, Roger, for the impressive paean to neoliberalism in New Zealand, and thanks for warning me that you’ve got a resident PhD in economics (or something like it) to back you up–I may be in a bit over my head taking you on in this discussion, having nothing but a BA in social psychology (the psychology of political/social movements) and, according to one of my college professors, “a genuine talent for writing polemics.”

But, here goes….

First off, a couple of seemingly unrelated stories come to mind. The first is a report on what’s going on in Greenland these days…
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/09/13-0#comment-1616256

the other is Helena Norbert-Hodge writing about Ladakh:
http://www.countercurrents.org/hodge100910.htm

What these two stories have in common with New Zealand is that all three were formerly isolated areas whose inhabitants enjoyed rich, full lives, without the necessity of world trade; and, since they have become part of the global trade network, all three have had varying levels of difficulty with their “balance of trade,” a fall into newly-realized “poverty,”(NZ much less than the other two), and the loss of a sustainable way of life that had been in place for centuries, replaced by a need for trade goods, imported foodstuffs, and so on. From my “deep green perspective,” I have to ask whether globalization has really “improved” these peoples’ lives.

Of course, most of the current residents of NZ, unlike Greenland or Ladakh, are not true “natives,” and brought with them unquestioned demands for the fruits of the global economy.

As far as your account of the imposition of neoliberal economics on the people of NZ, it reminds me of the adage, “history is written by the winners,” and those who benefited from the changeover have clearly come out “on top” in NZ. I have been able to find some accounts by “the losers” online, and here’s the impression I get from them.

First, a direct quote:

House prices are now beyond the means of most workers in most areas of the country. It is estimated now that workers need at least 5 to 6 times the average salary to even start thinking about buying a home. In fact on average 49% of disposable income goes on mortgage payments.

To illustrate this point further the New Zealand Herald (21/01/08) reported that according to Demographia, an international business survey, New Zealand has the least affordable housing in the world. The report went on further to say “…wages are so low and house prices so high that it takes 18 years and 6 months of a household’s entire annual income to pay for a home… The measure is based on median house prices compared to median wages.”

This is unsustainable and indeed it is a bubble waiting to be burst. Workers who do not own their own home have to rent privately at high market rates from landlords as state housing is grossly underfunded and the remaining stock which has not been sold off will generally only house the most needy. The kiwi ideal of owning a quarter acre section is now a dream for many workers and home ownership figures have consistently gone down.

As a consequence of deregulation, the level of private debt is at an all time high. Private debt is over 106% of GDP and household debt as a proportion of household disposal income rose dramatically from 48% in 1990 to 114% in 2003. There is no reason to suggest that this figure has improved since then. In fact the Reserve Bank in 2007 put this figure at 155%. Most workers are struggling to make ends meet in a country which is supposed to be booming!

http://socialist.org.nz/content/view/20/1/

My body is telling me it’s time to go to bed. Given my recent health history, I’d better lsiten. I will continue on this tomorrow. Got more to say, just no energy to think with…thanks for making me work and learn!

19 09 2010
brothermartin

OK, part two…

Just as an aside, I think a lot of people who read/read about Adam Smith cheer wildly for his “invisible hand” and “free competition” ideas without also accepting his “moral philosophy,” which was not about sex, which most people these days associate with “morals,” but about the ethics of doing business–i.e., if you don’t treat people right, you will be worse off in the long run–and “people” doesn’t just mean customers and competitors, it means you need to be fair to the people who work for you and without whom you could not create value.

The privatization of formerly public services is a short-term boost for the state’s balance sheet, but inevitably comes at the expense of those served by the service. This is because “for-profit enterprises” are just that: they exist primarily to create profits for their shareholders/owners, not to serve the public. Serving the public is simply a means to an end, and if they can make a better profit by not serving some members of the public, some of the public will just have to suffer.

For instance, the private health insurance/healthcare biz here in the US, which automatically excludes low-income people from coverage because they can’t afford the exorbitantly high price of either private insurance, much less pay the inflated rates that hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and many doctors charge.

In New Zealand, as I understand it, many state-run health facilities were closed, over the overwhelming protest of the people they served. Hey, we don’t even have that to lose here in the USA! Fees for college and university were sharply raised, making it more difficult for individuals to get an education and “better themselves.” The state-run railways and airline were sold, but even private management couldn’t keep the airline solvent, and so, rather than lose it, the state took it back. The private owners of the country’s rail system cut corners on maintenance so egregiously and dangerously that the state took that back, too.

There are ways in which I am of two minds about all of the above. My opinion of the focus and quality of mainstream medical practice is rather low, and I think a university education is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, depending on a student’s focus. I used mine to gain a broad understanding of how the world works, and have never regretted it. (On the other hand, the private college I attended cost $2K a year when I went there in the 60’s, and $24K a year before it went under as a residential school recently. That’s way more than inflation. What I did was worth $8K, but paying a hundred grand for 4 years of sitting and thinking is a bit overpriced…but I digress…) These days, having students go into debt to attend college is a form of crowd control; people who owe large sums of money that they cannot even escape by bankruptcy are less likely to strike out on their own or spend a lot of time scraping by, with social activism as their priority. Still digressing….What I was starting out to say is that, while in the long run, there are potentially better societal alternatives than mainstream medicine and education, and railways and airlines (especially) may turn out to be transient toys, no longer necessary or even possible in just a few more decades, in the short run they are important to the stability of society, and should not be just yanked out from under people without a smarter alternative.

Anyway, you made the claim that funding all these activities nearly bankrupted the country. I am not much of a formal economist, but I suspect that neoliberal policies were not the only way out of this, just the only way that would permit the “haves” in NZ to retain their winnings and the chance to become “have mores.” Sure, from their (and apparently your) perspective, Freidman’s policies worked. But, from the point of the working class, betrayed by their own political party, they have been a disaster.

I think it boils down to whether we conceive of the function of government as caring for the people of the country, especially those least able to help themselves, to help level the playing field and create equal opportunity for all, or as caring for those who have the most financial investment in the country….and its politicians. The USA, imfao, definitely falls into the second camp, as does New Zealand. But then, again, the inappropriateness/unsustainability of the level of technology in the developed world, however fairly or unfairly it is shared, is, I think, going to lead to amazing, spectacular, tragic consequences in the not-to-distant future. As Howard Kunstler sez, “it’s gonna be a great show from the cheap seats.”

you said:” The only people who had new cars were the ones who were lucky enough to have funds in the UK or elsewhere.”

here’s a quote for ya:
the chief executive of the MEA in the same article quoted above, went on further to say “…If commodities are our future, we will be much poorer, comparatively, than now. In the 1950s, the price for a tonne of exported wool was roughly equal to the price of a car, our meat export receipts equated to 18 times the volume of pharmaceuticals, …Today we need to export five tonnes of wool for each car, (and) our meat exports provide five times the value of our pharmaceuticals…..”
http://socialist.org.nz/content/view/20/1/

you said: “by ’83 our government was bankrupt. ie the tax intake was not enough to pay the interest on the outstanding offshore loans.
Does this sound familiar to you?”

Yes, it does look like where the USA is rapidly headed…but we don’t have any state-run enterprises of any size to liquidate….except the military. Fat chance of that!

you said;
“4. Labour Unions were denied the right to have national stoppages for local issues and membership became truely voluntary.”

This glosses over a complex situation which is covered at length here:
http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=2277

To sum it up, unions, which are the only way workers can effectively level the playing field between them and their bosses, were castrated, with the complicity of union leadership. A sad, sad story. (disclosure: my mother was a union organizer)

you said:
“This caused some hardship as there was a big adjustment and the money supply became very tight as inflation was forced from about 20% to less then 3%. However the people understood the need for the policies and the Labour government was voted in for a second term.”

Yes, the NZ labor government was a curious mix of social liberalism (feminism, anti-militarism, etc.) and fiscal conservatism…..a couple of cartoons I ran across in my research: one featured a guy saying to another, “At least we’ve got nuclear-free unemployment,” and another showed a group of white-coated lab techs gathered around a large vessel full of people, with a plunger on top squeezing them down…one scientist-type was saying to another “They’ll all be much happier when we’ve squeezed inflation down to around zero.”
those came from here:
http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2010/08/inequality-in-nz-3-the-eclipse-of-economic-inequality-by-social-inequality.html

you said:
“I know quite a lot of the Enron debacle as it is part of my wife’s PhD. It was a governance problem, could have happened in any sector. It appears to me that the laws were adequate, but there were simply a lot of crooks breaking that law. Just some enforcement needed a little earlier.”

agreed….the complicity of both major parties in allowing this to happen for the sake of campaign donations was morally abhorrent…and I don’t recall off the top of my head whether the bipartisan repeal of Glass-Stegal played into that particular debacle or not, but it was another really bad deregulation move on the part of the gov…..

I exist in the tension between a possible world where none of this kind of BS could happen, and the impossible, but extant, world we live in, where there is an incredible amount of artificial, transient, hard-to-maintain complexity that needs to be controlled before it wraps its tentacles around our collective throats and strangles us all…

anyway, i’m enjoying batting this back and forth with you…thanks again for the challenges…

26 09 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

Thanks for your comment.

My attempt to answer all the issues you bring up have ended up about the length of a small book. Therefore for the sake of practicality, I am forced to generalize considerably.
My wife’s degree is in Accounting Auditing and mine is in economics.

Without going into the above mentioned book, I have to criticize your choice of http://socialist.org.nz/content/view/20/1/
This guy would not know what a Capitalist regime is like because NZ has never had one.
The Muldoon government (voted out in 83) was as socialist as they come. The name of the party has no bearing on the practicalities. This is the one that bankrupted the country in the way I mentioned above. If author of your link he thought that was capitalist, he needs some education quite frankly. The nearest thing we have had but not even closely approaching the traditions of the USA or the current regime in the PRC was the government immediately after 1983.

Actually I think you are just quoting that site to wind me up a little. How could you possibly accept that as authorative?

NZ with our natural resources and fertile climate, should be the richest in the world. What have we done to cock it up?

Can I give you a few snippets of what it is like to live in a socialist regime where the government has it’s tenticales everywhere?

You obviously think a national health scheme will be the epitome of benefit to the people? NZ like the UK is a very good example.

Let me share with you a personal experience.

In ’93 my father fell ill, it was to be his final illness. As his condition worsened a GP was called. (no government subsidy on that thank god and he came promptly) My father’s platelet count had dropped to between 12 and 15! You may know what that means, as normal is about 500. This is a desperately sick man! The GP called the local hospital, which as it happened is the largest and most prestigeous in the country. My father was refused admittance even on the insistance of a trained practicing doctor! The doctor was pale and shaking when he realised that he could not get hospital treatment for my father!
The next day we managed to get him in for a blood transfusion. In this prestigious hospital(run by the state) everything you could imagine was horrifying. Patients were lying comatose in their own urine, there was blood on the wall etc and the nurses only attended the ward when they absolutely had to.
I had a similar experience when I broke my leg skiing once.

I warn you, if this is the best a state run health system can do, and we pay dearly through our taxes for it, I suggest you better oppose your president tooth and nail, if thats what he has in mind for your country.

So for me and my family, we pay for both this useless public system and we have private health insurance as well.

Incidently, when you talk of countries that were formerly self sufficient, you are not talking about NZ. As I mentioned previously, without trade we would simply slip back into the 18th century, or more like, we would all settle in Australia.
So this comment has got long enough. However please read the following link carefully. Here is someone who was and is a dedicated socisalist, or at least he has a caring attitude for his fellow men (something not confined to socialists I might add), he was an MP in the 83 government and 25 years later he admits they were taking the wrong approach. I think these are wise words from a good and honest man who like me, was there.

http://www.michaelbassett.co.nz/articles.htm

His key conclusion here is “A lifetime of watching social experiments has convinced me that growth invariably does more for people than social engineering.” and growth in an economy comes by not taxing excessively, minimising red tape and keeping governments out of the way of people living their everyday lives. (The last bit is from me and Milton Friedman)
My wife knows about this more than most as she was brought up in the PWC. I tell you, the chinese of her generation at least, have learnt their lesson. Dont even mention the word “socialism” to her:)

Great chatting Brother Martin, but if you want on going treatment for your medical condition, don’t come here for any magic wand, stay right where you are and pay for the best in the US to look after you.

Cheers

Roger

http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

28 09 2010
brothermartin

Taking a while to respond here…we heat with wood and it’s time to get the wood supply together!

You said, in relation to my quoting a NZ socialist website:

Actually I think you are just quoting that site to wind me up a little. How could you possibly accept that as authorative?

I can accept it as an authoritative view contradictory to your own, a point of view that, as I said, has largely been delegitimized, just as you, in your comments, do your best to delegitemize it. It’s the truth from that standpoint, regardless of what you (or I, for that matter) may think of it.

As for whether NZ is or ever has or has not been “socialist,” from my point of view, as long as there’s a stock exchange, it ain’t “socialist.”

Just to clarify: I am defining “socialism” as “government ownership and management of ‘natural resources’ and means of production.” My own preference is for what is usually called, when it is even remembered, “anarcho-syndicalism,” in which the above, and indeed pretty much all business, is run co-operatively by the workers and the people served by the business, with such overall government as is necessary being a construction from the local level upwards, rather than an imposition from the top down. This requires an educated, motivated community in order to work, and this, for a whole lot of reasons, isn’t particularly available in most places in the world today. One good example, of course, is the Spanish Mondragon Co-operative, which is a kind-of successor to the Spanish Anarchist movement of the 30’s that both the Communists and the Fascists did their best to suppress.

This leads to a more general observation of mine on political/economic change, which is that, without psycho-spiritual change, revolution will always fail, because people will just recreate the repression they neurotically need, in some other form; viz, the Russian Revolution, supported by a wide range of social and artistic visionaries, most of whom were killed off, exiled, or silenced by the “Revolution” within 10 years of its success. Similarly, the “end of Communism” in Russia and Eastern Europe, after a certain amount of rolling and tumbling, turns out to have made very little difference, except maybe in the Czech Republic, which is where the word “Bohemians” comes from….but of course the Bohemians have been getting suppressed regularly since the days of Jan Hus…anyway, maybe this gives you a better understanding of my POV.

Re Mr. Basset, et al….First of all, while I think that, if there is going to be a state, its function should be to take good care of the people who comprise it, I also recognize that, just as “revolutions” fail because of the unrevolutionized psyches of the “revolutionaries,” people have to have realistic expectations in order for a state to meet them. That is, we can’t all have 3,000 square foot suburban homes, three cars per family, and steak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which is an extreme oversimplification of what the corporate regime in this country has lead people to expect. The same may have been true in NZ, or perhaps, as I suggested before, the projected welfare state was tripped up by the fact that it was swimming in a tank full of capitalist sharks–i.e., the rest of the world.

But, when your lead quote from Bassett is

“A lifetime of watching social experiments has convinced me that growth invariably does more for people than social engineering.”

I find myself responding with “unlimited growth is the philosophy of a cancer cell.” We are on a small planet with limited resources and we need to learn to live in a steady state, not a growth state. I’m working through an excellent lecture on the mathematical “limits to growth” which you can find here:


you said:

My wife knows about this more than most as she was brought up in the PWC. I tell you, the chinese of her generation at least, have learnt their lesson. Dont even mention the word “socialism” to her:)

Did you mean “the PRC” (“Peoples’ Republic of China)? Don’t get me started, either!

I’m sorry to hear about your father–it is rough losing a parent, inevitable as it is. Since you had a bad experience with a public health system, let me tell you about losing my mother in a private system….

She was almost 95, and had been in decline for a long time. We had moved her down to my son’s place, not far from where I live, as she was increasingly unable to take care of herself, and had not enjoyed her brief stays in her hometown’s “best nursing home.” She was a terrible couch potato–did not exercise enough. A state program had briefly brought a young man to her home to lead her in exercises, which attention she greatly enjoyed, but when the program ended and he quit visiting, she quit exercising. More on this in a little while.

The first thing that happened was that the private home nursing agency that visited her regularly neglected to tell us that she needed to cut way back on her blood thinner, and so she started bleeding for no good reason. At around the same time, due to her lack of muscle tone, (I believe) her esophagus collapsed, and she was no longer able to swallow anything. Our consensus (and her strong preference–modern medicine was like the Church for her) was to call an ambulance and take her to the nearest hospital, where she was put on an IV while the doctors tried to figure out what to do with her. When attempts to mechanically redilate her esophagus failed, they recommended that a feeding tube should be inserted. The only other option was for her to starve to death, and she wasn’t quite ready for that.

The feeding tube was much more invasive than we had been led to believe–contrary to what we had been told, she would no longer be able to eat anything, but could only take liquid through the tube. The instructions on the liquid they were giving her clearly stated that it needed to be given to her slowly, but the nurses were always in a hurry and would try and pour it down her tube as fast as it would go, making her nauseous. Then the nurses would want to give her an anti-nausea medication, but I pointed out that their haste, not my mother, was the problem. (We kept a family member with my mother 24/7 while she was in the hospital.) Then, she became infected with C. dif., a hospital-transmitted, largely antibiotic resistant intestinal parasite, that kept her delirious and in agony for several days. Previous to this time, she had been sleeping 18 hours and staying awake for 6; now she was awake about 23 hours a day. Fortunately, this only lasted a few days, until nurses could no longer find a vein in which they could insert an IV. They wanted to put a semipermanent IV into a vein near her heart, which guaranteed that she would never leave the hospital and was a major step on the way to being on life support, which she was strongly opposed to.

Even though she had been delirious for days, I spoke to her and told her it was time to make an important decision and I would appreciate her opinion. Somewhat to my surprise, she snapped to, considered the options, and said, “well, I guess it’s time to go.”
That was at 4PM; she died peacefully in her sleep at midnight, a few days past her 95th birthday.

OK, that’s the story, here’s the analysis. Credit where credit is due–she had been a public school teacher for 25 years and was a WWII vet, so she had great insurance–it hardly cost us a penny. I have no idea how much the insurance companies paid the hospital for all that, but I bet it was a pretty penny, and it was all totally unnecessary. She would have had a much less painful exit if she had stayed home. No invasive surgery, no parasites, no agonizing intestinal cramps, just dying at home in her own bed.

And sure, every bit of that horror story could have happened under a “socialized medicine” that didn’t fundamentally revise the practice of medicine. Medicine is only as good as its basic paradigm and the compassion of the people who practice it.

And as far as “paying for the best in the US to look after me,” I’m looking at a $1200 bill from a local hospital for a fairly simple eye exam. That’s more than a month’s income for us. They give me my glaucoma medicine free because I’m low income, but they’re making up for it with that bill–we’re not eligible for state medical assistance because we own our own home–which, along with wood heat, allows us to live on about half the income we would otherwise require. They know I’m dealing with high blood pressure, but their accountants don’t care. Grrr…..

Speaking of firewood, gotta go split some.

30 09 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

So we have strayed from Anthropogenic Global Warming to the definitions of Socialism and Capitalism of which we seem to disagree.

“I can accept it as an authoritative view contradictory to your own, a point of view that, as I said, has largely been delegitimized, just as you, in your comments, do your best to delegitemize it. It’s the truth from that standpoint, regardless of what you (or I, for that matter) may think of it.”

Would you accept the word of someone who was there and aware during the times your linked site deals with?

I can tell you that the writer of the site was not!
It looks like a Marxest slanted academic essay to me, by someone who is too young to remember first hand what was happening and a very limited understanding of economics.

For instance;
“In the 1950s, the price for a tonne of exported wool was roughly equal to the price of a car” is an absurd comparison, because if you did not have personal overseas funds, no one would actually sell you a new car. I remember that well. Everyone drove 20yr old cars, the only new ones were bought by either immigrants or exporters who we paid by currency going into overseas bank accounts. My father never ever owned a new car, although he had his name on a waiting list for a number of years. And by what criteria did he compare the prices? At the official government exchange rate at the time or the value on the world market? Two very different things. People had to pay more than the new price to purchase a good SECOND HAND car actually.
The truth is that the “capitalist” government sat down regularly and decided what could be imported into NZ using funds exchanged at the official rate. Cars were never on that list, and neither were much in the way of consumer goods either. TV came to NZ about 1962 and all the equipment was made in NZ because that didnt make the list either. If you had connections or luck to gain an import license for an essential item such as latex, (I used to work for a company that had such) you became very rich indeed.

Therefore to say “a highly regulated capitalist economy”s an oxymoron.

Just because the political party CLAIMS to be “right wing” does not mean it is. A capitalist government tries to keep out of regulating and spending the tax payers money for him, as much as possible. This has never been a feature of a New Zealand Government except for the brief attempt after 1983. (The government which Michael Basset was a member of by the way).
Actually the temptation by politicians everywhere to bribe the electorate with their own money (Free health Care, Free schooling when in fact it will cost the citizens about twice as much to do it that way), is rarely resisted anywhere in the world.

I thought the Peoples Republic of China between 1950 and 1978 would have been your cup of tea though. A completely state run government lead by people with good intentions which unfortunately starved for 30 odd years.
100% taxation and everything allocated fairly by the government according to the peoples needs. Is that not your utopia?

If you read Michael Basset’s article again you will see a commentary (of which I concurr having been part of the society for that period) of how the socialist (social engineering) policies have back fired in NZ. This is why we have fallen seriously behind Australia (one of the few properly articulated facts in your article) because like the PRC of 1950-1978, the state has resumed employing people, who pretend to work( Boy do I know about that as I try to get a building consent so I can build me and my wife a house currently), and the state pretends to pay them. (Which is why we can’t run the hospitals etc here because all the talent shoots off overseas, including my talented daughter, for double the real pay.)
So if you don’t think the PRC period was a good period, and I don’t suppose you would be admiring of Russia from Lenin to Gorbochov either, I must admit I’m not sure what you regard as your “Socialist” eutopia. Obviously if the tax payer paid for your eye examination you would see that as a plus, but imagine how you would be if your government had refrained from taxing you all your life. Maybe you could afford your eye examination yourself then?

Sorry to hear the detail of your mother’s demise. However the key difference between her treatment and my fathers appears that she was given the best conciensous treatment available, even if it was somewhat over the top.
In my father’s case, although he paid heavy taxes all his life, when he desperately needed help it was denied. My private health insurance makes sure that will never happen to me and mine. Private hospitals here are a wonderful contrast actually.

Cheers

Roger

ps Do you see Globalisation through the UN controlling world economies in the name of preventing Global Warming as your socialist eutopia then?
http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

3 10 2010
brothermartin

you said:

I thought the Peoples Republic of China between 1950 and 1978 would have been your cup of tea though. A completely state run government lead by people with good intentions which unfortunately starved for 30 odd years.
100% taxation and everything allocated fairly by the government according to the peoples needs. Is that not your utopia?

China was then, and still is, a repressive, oligarchic, totalitarian regime. It’s more my idea of hell than heaven.
but…then you said:

So if you don’t think the PRC period was a good period, and I don’t suppose you would be admiring of Russia from Lenin to Gorbochov either, I must admit I’m not sure what you regard as your “Socialist” eutopia.

Mostly, it’s something that has yet to happen, though there have been little bursts of what it could be in the Catalonia George Orwell described in “Homage to Catalonia,” Paris during the uprising in 1968, the early years of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, the Zapatista liberated zone in Mexico, some of the more decentralist aspects of what’s going on in Cuba. I buy only Citgo gas because, while he ain’t perfect, I’d rather give my gas money to Hugo Chavez than any of the other oil barons. As I said, it looks to me like a true societal revolution/evolution can only happen when there is widespread individual evolution, so that the forms that have bound people are cast aside because they are no longer relevant to so many people that, in the same way “communism” (which it wasn’t!) collapsed when enough people didn’t believe in it any more, consumer capitalism will melt away.

Oh, yes, another “nearly but not quite” model–San Francisco in the early mid-60’s, where I began the long, arduous, and still ongoing process of transforming myself from being just another mediocre, twisted middle-class kid into someone more appropriate for the health of the planet.

you said:

Obviously if the tax payer paid for your eye examination you would see that as a plus, but imagine how you would be if your government had refrained from taxing you all your life. Maybe you could afford your eye examination yourself then?

I’m not asking anybody else to pay for my eye exam. Actually, the government has refrained from taxing me most of my life, because I’ve rarely had enough income to pay taxes on. (long story) What I would like to see is a) a system of paying for medical care that takes a reasonable amount of money from everybody and pays doctors a reasonable amount for their time. From what I know of the French system, it seems quite doable. MDs in France can make the equivalent of 1-200K a year, less than MDs can earn in many places, but I don’t understand what a person would do with more money than that, anyway. My research on the subject indicates that prices for insurance, pharmaceuticals, hospital equipment and charges, and a medical education are all grossly inflated. Cuba, for example, seems to be able to deliver a first-rate medical education at a fraction of what it costs in the US.

you asked:

Do you see Globalisation through the UN controlling world economies in the name of preventing Global Warming as your socialist eutopia then?

I think globalization of intelligence (as in brains, not CIA antics) is a good idea, but, again, I’m more a fan of local control than of global bureaucracy. That said, I think the UN is a very long way from being able to exert any kind of control on the world’s economies. Many multinational corporations are bigger, economically, than many countries, and they have a lot more say over what happens than the UN does; since corporations, by definition, are engaged in self-aggrandizement and self-perpetuation, an most don’t look past the quarterly bottom line, I am not sanguine about our future in their hands. This seemingly willful ignorance of corporate influence is my big beef with “Libertarianism.”

I don’t have the time or resources to get into a detailed debate on the recent history of New Zealand with you, but I must say I’m in sympathy with a regime that, from what you are saying, was attempting to damp down private ownership of automobiles and keep out TV. People get lots of cars, they want lots of good roads, and them things are expensive. TV is a hypnotic drug that implants consumerist messages in the minds of its victims. NZ is a small place, a long way from anywhere else, and it sounds like the government policies you are complaining about took that into account and tried to keep the islands from becoming too dependent on international trade–a valiant effort, but as doomed to failure in the face of corporatism as Aldous Huxley’s fictional “Island.” Which, by the way, is a societal model I could go for…..

I’ve been writing this response instead of starting to work on this month’s show….gotta get on it.

3 10 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

Although I know your time is limited at the moment, I would like to correct your last paragraph.
Although I agree with you to some extent about cars and TV, I was just using those as examples.
In fact the grey men in the government would sit down several times a year and decide which and how much importing would occur. I remember several uproars when certain pharmeceuticals were left off that list, such as cancer treatment drugs etc.
In otherwords these little grey men would decide what we, as supposedly free people, would want to buy.
It has always been impossible to keep NZ away from world trade dependence because thats what we do (since about 1850). Do you know that we export something like 30% of all dairy produce in the world? Yup we do have natives running around in grass skirts but only during cultural festivals.
I was trying to point out that no matter how hard you worked and how much you were prepared to pay, there were things, often essential things, that were either simply not available or else available only through a licenced importer who would charge as much as ten times the world price.(I know I used to work for one of those)
I don’t know about you, but having other people tell me what I can or cannot purchase for me and my family, is not my idea of freedom or eutopia.

Cheers

Roger

3 10 2010
brothermartin

In fact the grey men in the government would sit down several times a year and decide which and how much importing would occur. I remember several uproars when certain pharmeceuticals were left off that list, such as cancer treatment drugs etc.

how were “the grey men” selected? did the uproars result in accomplishment of the desired changes?

I was trying to point out that no matter how hard you worked and how much you were prepared to pay, there were things, often essential things, that were either simply not available or else available only through a licenced importer who would charge as much as ten times the world price.(I know I used to work for one of those)
I don’t know about you, but having other people tell me what I can or cannot purchase for me and my family, is not my idea of freedom or eutopia.

I’d rather have the decisions being made by a government that is accountable to the people than by corporations that are only accountable to their owners. Of course, the qualifier is “accountable to the people.”
There’s been a big fuss raised by American “tea partiers” lately about “Obama’s government death panels,” which conveniently ignores the fact that there are, in effect, private “death panels” run by the insurance companies. Stories of their lethal “denials of coverage” are rife.

At a personal level, sometimes it seems that my preference for a consumer product is a kiss of death for it. For instance,our local supermarket used to carry 3-liter tins of olive oil at a very reasonable price. They recently quit carrying them, and I have no control over that decision. If we had food co-ops instead of for-profit grocery stores, I would be a part-owner and have a right to squawk about it. As it is, the little grey men made a decision, and I have to live with it, and I can’t vote for little grey men with views more like my own to replace them.

bedtime for this bozo
m

4 10 2010
rogerthesurf

“They recently quit carrying them, and I have no control over that decision. If we had food co-ops instead of for-profit grocery stores, I would be a part-owner and have a right to squawk about it.”

Nothing to stop you forming your own food co-op and put the “for-profit groceries” out of business is there?

At least there were not any little grey men that banned EVERYONE from dealing in 3 liter tins of olive oil, in the equation.

Cheers

Roger

8 10 2010
brothermartin

Nothing to stop you forming your own food co-op and put the “for-profit groceries” out of business is there?

nothing but several hundred thousand dollars in startup costs…i’ve been in that discussion with some friends for several years now…
Btw, i think of “freedom” less as “freedom to buy whatever i want” than as “freedom from the desire to buy a lot of things.”

Just sayin’, as they say….

8 10 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

As much as I enjoy our conversation, I have to say that what I believe is your underlying attitude is becoming apparent.

“Nothing to stop you forming your own food co-op and put the “for-profit groceries” out of business is there?

nothing but several hundred thousand dollars in startup costs…i’ve been in that discussion with some friends for several years now…

It seems that you do expect someone i.e. the tax payer to make life easier for you. The great thing about capitalism in a free market, is that if there is a deficiency in supply, its open to anyone to remedy that deficiency, the only catch is that you have to put your money where their mouth is.

Do not imagine that if the government was procuring your olive oil for you that they would bother to 1. supply it in 3-liter tins of olive oil for you or 2. that the price would be competitive with what you used to pay.
It is very unlikely that they would have anything more than a cost plus mentality BUT:- and – here is the rub!
To get a government agency to procure your 3-liter tins of olive oil for you you will pay twice. Once when you actually purchase it and again through your taxes to pay for the government administration to set up the store and actually arrange to have the work done.
(if its anything like the Post Office here, they would make it illegal for anyone to compete with them as well) No more Mom & Pop working 24/7 to keep you in your olive oil supply.

Of course if you are not in the habit of incurring taxation, this argument would not hold much sway with you.

Cheers

Roger

PS The monopoly by the PO here ended when the workers had a national lengthy strike. To keep the country running ,a whole bunch of private operators sprang up, and the government had no choice but to turn a blind eye to them. By the time the workers decided to go back to work, they found that most of their work had disappeared and many never got their jobs back. Nowadays what is left of the national post office competes with private courier companies, not from high rise multi office buildings anymore but through tiny agencies in every suburb and hamlet.

(interestingly enough the CPO building (6-7 levels and half a block frontage) in my city was recently taken over by the local council as they needed more room for their monopoly in approving building consents and issuing permits under the resource management legislation here)

You can take what ever lessons from that you wish but I tell you the letter and parcel delivery service is remarkably better than what we had before the strike.

11 10 2010
brothermartin

Well, Roger, I appreciate hearing from you and getting a feeling for New Zealand from a libertarian perspective, but I don’t think you get my “underlying attitude.”

I regard myself as one of the most fortunate people in the world. Economically, socially, psychologically, and spiritually, I could hardly ask for or expect anything better than what I have. From what you have told me, I think you are in a similarly advantaged position.

But here’s where I think we differ: for me, my privileged position near the top of the heap brings with it the obligation to do what I can to help everyone enjoy the same comforts I do. You, on the other hand, seem to feel that you need to defend your position, because your being on top requires a lot of people to be on the bottom.

If we try and keep them down, the 95+% below you and me will grow increasingly resentful and, sooner or later, overwhelm us in a very unpleasant way. It makes much more sense to me, from the standpoint of simple self-preservation, nothing altruistic at all, to work to level the playing field rather than maintain the pyramid.

And, puh-lease! I am not big on state socialism…it’s potentially better than private capitalism, but only potentially, and only in certain situations…as I said, I’m in favor of institutions being owned and controlled by the people who use them and work in them.

12 10 2010
rogerthesurf

Brother Martin,

I have never considered myself to be advantaged, well except compared with aboriginals still living in the stone age in the heart of New Guinea and the like perhaps.

Our western world is full of opportunities to be taken by the young, and although I have followed opportunities better than some, and not as well as others, I feel it is those opportunities which make us equal. It is those opportunities which constitute the “level playing field”.
It is up to the individual to decide whether he passes the ball or runs with it.
Therefore I do not understand that “95+% below me”, that you mention.
Not sure that I have been “defending” anything either.

I am just trying to fathom your philsophy that you apply to yourself. How are YOU “better” than 95% again?

You said “I’m in favor of institutions being owned and controlled by the people who use them and work in them”.

Can I politely point out that public companies/institutions are owned by their share holders, and as a share holder you can take part in controlling them. Actually these institutions, unless they are government or privately owned, are about as democratic as one can possibly get.

What more do you want except a handout to buy your shares? If you have a pension, you might be a part owner already! And look in the newspaper, the cost of those shares are listed there just about every day!

Furthermore, if it is impossible to become a share holder, and unless it is a state run monopoly, you can exercise your right to trade or buy elsewhere. Another democratic institution!

So you must understand how I find you puzzling.

Another thing that puzzles me, is that you mentioned in an earlier comment about never paying much tax. As I assume the IRS is not on your tail, then I take it that you have never or almost never worked productively?
Productively means that you have provided goods or services to the community for which the community has paid you a wage or salary or profit.
To me this is an important part of being a citizen of the world. Paid work in the free market is the individuals contribution to society and is where the wonderful services and goods that we enjoy, including your olive oil, come from.
For most people, being unemployed has a double anxiety effect. 1. Cant pay your own way in life, 2. You are not taking up your responsibility as a citizen of the world.

All this philosophy is hardy original thinking but It seems that a reminder could be in order here.

Cheers

Roger

19 10 2010
brothermartin

Look, Roger, you know as well as I do that “democracy” in corporations is barely different from the kind of “democracy” that was practiced in the Soviet Union, and is apparently still the case in Russia today– you get to vote whether to approve what the Board wants and who the Board wants to have join it–and successful stockholder revolts are rare enough to be newsworthy. On the other hand, corporations don’t kill their stockholders for voting against corporate policy. Beyond that stands the fact that for-profit corporations are FOR PROFIT corporations, and this casts “corporate persons” as innately sociopathic–any human being who was clearly committed primarily to self-aggrandizement at any cost would clearly be committed, if you know what I mean…

And please note that I did not say I’m “better,” than 95% of the people on the planet, just more fortunate. Certainly I am no better than anybody else on the planet, but just as certainly more fortunate, and so, it seems, are you. We are well-educated, white males. (I’m left-handed and was raised Jewish, but those are only minor strikes against me!) We are both in the middle- to upper class of our respective societies, both of which are among the wealthiest in the world. We do not have to be concerned about going to bed cold or hungry at night, nor about our lives being disrupted by violence. We have access to all the clean water we ever want. To me, this accident, my very fortunate birth circumstances, implies an obligation to be as generous as I can, to do what I can to improve the lot of those who did not happen to win the lottery you and I won.

And yes, I certainly do understand why you find me puzzling. We have very different value systems. And yes, I have done plenty of “productive work.” Check out “How I Became Brother Martin” for some of the details–not to mention the autobiographical paragraphs at the beginning of this post.

And as for the “aboriginals in New Guinea,” I suspect that, as time goes by and our global technological culture fades, frays, and falls apart, they will have the last laugh. You and I will find ourselves beset by increasing challenges and difficulties, however successful our efforts at adaptation. They, on the other hand, are likely to be increasingly freed from the onerous intrusion of our way of life into theirs, and will find themselves more at liberty to resume their traditional, sustainable ways. (Yes, I know they do some strange things in the backwoods of New Guinea! But that’s their business, not mine.)

I see that while we’ve been having this discussion, your citizenry has elected a woman from my political party (Green) to the Mayorship of Wellington. Congratulations! We should be so lucky here!

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