Thursday, February 21, 2013

Table of Contents: An ecological political macroeconomics.

This is an annotated table of contents for a book I'm working on -- on the political economy and economics of sustainability. I'll work on it from time to time as my other workload allows. If you happen here and read these ideas and use or republish one or more of them, please make sure to cite them. People often steal my ideas without attribution, and it's very annoying, mostly because the operating rules of my workplace and the Academy in general require me to publish such ideas, or perish (professionally speaking), and only give me full professional credit for them after they are successfully published. As I've mentioned elsewhere in the annex, my high teaching and service workload prevents me from getting the kind of concentrated time required to do a really good job of writing an ecological macroeconomics, so the alternative is to eke it out in stages like this. In order to get some collaboration, and because I enjoy the intellectual freedom of the blogosphere, I choose to publish these ideas here, which then, unfortunately, makes it easy for you to steal them.

So. Don't steal: Cite.

Better yet, drop me a line at, or in the comments section and engage with me.

If you do cite, the formalities will be hard to wrangle into the requirements of your particular journal or other outlet. The proper form of the citation should probably be something like,

Womersley, Mick, 2014: Table of Contents: An ecological political macroeconomics, work in progress, retrieved from the Internet (your date here),

Working title: An ecological political macroeconomics. 

(I know I'll need something more creative than this, but A Guide for the Perplexed, Small is Beautiful and The Limits to Growth are already taken. I'm working on it.)

Table of Contents: 

1) The nature of the sustainability problem in the opening decades of the 21st century: How bad is it, really? What are we going to lose and what we will gain if business as usual (BAU) continues? How does the emerging climate-and-energy crisis interact with freedom and democracy? Where does the world stand with respect to freedom and democracy? Do we have enough of it? How could things be any better? What is my vision of a more just future?

2) An indictement of modern economic theory, how it fails most of the world's people. How a supposedly scientific, positivist theory is really a biased political economy. But is there anything better? What are our options, for a generalized theory of how we should use scarce biophysical resources for competing human physiological and cultural ends? Business as usual capitalism? Socialism? Traditionalism? Other command economies? Anarchism? A mixed economy? All are fundamentally flawed, but capitalism may be less flawed than all the others when you consider the nature of human enterprise and the role that enterprise and entreprenuerialism plays in developing products and production processes. But how could capitalist economics be modified to work better under the conditions of a climate crisis, which may itself just be the first dose of a generalized human sustainability crisis?

A key insight: Is economics really about efficiency, or is it more just the rules of a game we play when we're not playing war? A plug for civilization, instead of war, should go here. A better, more nuanced explanation of how capitalism has served civilization is long overdue.

How well does this game work out for individuals and communities? Who are the winners and who the losers? A new political economy theory of capitalism: Winners compensate losers, or oppress them, in order to maintain the game and so prevent war. It works much as Rawls imagined it to work, but the reality is much more complicated than the theory, far too complicated and entwined in culture and language for any game theorist to game it out. And Rawls didn't concern himself much with oppression, which is clearly a big part of the game.

The result, in societies of the west, is a dynamic balance between the parties of potential or imagined winners and the parties of potential or imagined losers, and various complex cultural combinations thereof, who fight out the levels of compensation required, generally using party politics, sometimes using mob rule.

In the east, things tend to be more black-and-white: actual winners pretend to be, or are, benign dictators, while actively suppressing actual losers violently, using the state's apparatus of power, the legal system, prison, which eastern winners have co-opted, and of course the old favorites, torture and execution. Eastern winners have to always be alert to prevent powerful combinations of losers, especially losers with modern weapons, especially the ubiquitous AK47, and, worst of all, modern ideas, especially democracy. The problem for eastern losers is how to get any free space at all. The only alternative is to become a slave to the system.

(I understand the west-east dichotomy doesn't work that well -- India and Japan, for instance are important democracies, as is South Korea. I may work up a different nomenclature to use here, democratic versus non-democratic. But for now, it's helping me to work through the various problems.)

The problem for western losers and imagined losers, especially environmental and economic radicals is, the west is a much better place to be a loser -- not as free or as delightful as the winners or imagined winners would like us to believe, but still better. Losers, imagined or otherwise, are, for the most part, free to think, imagine, and organize. Or get drunk, do drugs, or religion, and generally exclude themselves from the debate thereby. (Alcohol and drugs having much the same effect as many religious approaches in this respect.)

This freedom is allowed not so much because of capitalism, but because of the systems of human rights in which western capitalism is required to operate. Systems of rights erect boundaries to the excesses of capitalistic winners over the losers, providing intellectual and biophysical spaces for losers and imagined losers to function in. A short history of the development of these systems is in order here. This is also where Amyarta Sen's ideas about personal actualization come in. There also deserves and needs to be a better explanation of the recent democratization of both credit and investment, which has both benefited western losers and imagined losers, and reformed the game of capitalism. Western radicals rarely like to discuss these ideas.

Eastern losers would love to have these rights and opportunities, and western technology, led by "evil" western capitalist corporations such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, as well as the western government-designed internet system, is actually helping them be better and safer activists in their battles against their various dictators. One consequence of the internet revolution is that ideas can now spread very much faster than they used to. If western radicals had their druthers in trammeling western capitalism and technology, one impact would be the loss of these meager but increasingly important opportunities for eastern activists to spread ideas. Luckily, western radicals are not going to get their druthers. But it's one example of the hypocrisy and nonsense of the radical position in the west that such things are thought of, and even muddled up in prescriptions for dealing with climate change.

Another problem for western activists is that western military power sets boundaries to the expansion of the eastern dictators' various empires. Western activists, some of whom are real losers, others of whom are just self-imagined losers, dislike western military power and deny it as a force for good. For good reason, since it is often used to control them. The west is not free of oppression, just relatively free of oppression. They resist this power and refuse to serve it. This is another kind of nonsense, though, because although there have been horrible moments of betrayal, wherein some of the stupider westerners in the military have committed horrible atrocities, various My Lais and Abu Ghraibs, or wherein western governments have betrayed their own rights systems, such as in Guantanamo Bay, for the most part western military systems are a force for good, since they exist to protect systems of rights. Unfortunately, by doing so, they also protect capitalism, and which one they are protecting at any given time is muddled. But when they do protect systems of rights effectively, they are a force for good.

Hence the rescue system which I served for many years and still do, as a civilian paramilitary rescue worker. Hence the various peacekeeping and disaster recovery efforts, and on, and on. And of course, the fully necessary boundary-policing function mentioned above. If western activists had their druthers, all this would come to an end, or at least be modified greatly, so, for instance, the vaunted American military would become more like the feeble Dutch one (that failed so spectacularly in Rwanda), or worse. But I don't think we're going to be able to do without the western military arm, especially as climate change continues. We'll need to keep the dictators at bay, occasionally we'll need to supervise the transition of a former dictatorship to democracy, and we'll need to provide increasing amounts of military and paramilitary disaster rescue and recovery. Somewhere in here a better Keynesian and Marshallian explanation of military peacekeeping and transition operations, as well as military and civilian-but-paramilitary rescue and disaster recovery is deserved.

3) Alternatives to unrequited western capitalism: Macro: The macroeconomics of sustainability. Dalian economics and the biophysical nature of credit. What is money in the biophysical world? How should we think about fractional reserve banking, monetary policy, interest rate manipulations, open market policies and the like, in a world where there are biophysical limits to growth? A new New Deal and a new Marshall Plan for climate change, as well as market reforms required to make sure the new system isn't gamed before it even gets going. A better, more realistic idea of how these reforms can be implemented without taking capitalism head on, a tactic sure to fail. (Some description of why this is sure to fail.)

4) Alternatives to unrequited western capitalism: Micro: A better explanation of the microeconomics of climate change and sustainability, taking into account the democratization of credit and investment: how policies and processes can be rearranged. Where is the microeconomic space that can be coopted by the losers and put to work to make western society more egalitarian? Some notes and how-tos on divestment, on worker's cooperatives and credit unions, on small-scale farming and industry, on how to dissent creatively within and without corrupt, unrequited capitalist concerns, are long overdue here.

5) Alternatives to unrequited western capitalism: Trade: A Climate Free Trade zone. How we can use protectionism to isolate and pauperize the dictators and reduce emissions at the same time. How this might backfire, and what steps we should take to prevent this.

6) Unspinning: How to be a real climate radical in this complex world: Where are the real front lines? In the boardroom, or the boiler room? In front of the barricades, or behind them, in the military or civilian rescue services? You can't succeed with literary and artistic notions of radicalism alone, and we have to stop spinning things, or at least, teach students to better sort out the spin from reality. Some applied engineering is helpful here. To fix climate change we're going to have to know how the engine works, get our hands dirty, try fixing something or making something, try setting up production for something, anything useful, and doing so without using fossil energy, or not very much of it. Old fashioned engineering gumption isn't out-of-date, it's more relevant than ever, and we're going to need it to work better than ever before to survive climate change with any vestige of civilization left. Sure, the artist or writer serves civilization too, but where would we be without the builder or mechanic? A plug for vocational schooling long overdue here. How technology and engineering knowledge are being democratized, the possibilities of a post-industrial society, of the 3-D printer and the open source and "maker" community, how democratized credit and investment plays a role.

7) The role of meditation and moderation: How losers can win -- in their own heads, and how winners actually lose, by being so caught up in their own acquisitive craziness, they never smell the roses. The proliferation of good states of mind: Keynes was a snob, but he was onto something that, if democratized, is worth billions. But its over-enthusiastic application could also cause the worst recession ever. How can we downsize and "degrowth" without causing a recession?

6) Wrap-up: My imagined world of the future, post-climate change.