"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Ponzi Scheme’

Is Every Day Black Friday? How Climate Inaction And Hypermaterialism Betray Our Children

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 5:32 pm

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Oldspeak: “In the wake of the latest hyperconsumption fueled “holiday” complete with shootings, pepper spraying and beatings, it is useful to consider the implications of the continuation of our ecocidal, unsustainable carbon-intensive civilization.  Every day really is black friday. We’re constantly and relentlessly exhorted to consume more and more and more. Consumption is Citizenship.  Consumption is Love.  Consumption is Happiness. Consumption is Freedom. Consumption is Safety. Consumption is Security. Consumption is Expression. Consumption is Creativity. Consumption is Well-Being.  Consumption is Connection with Others. it is the most widely practiced way in which we are encouraged to participate in society. This is the ethos that animates it.  All our structures of power depend on rapacious consumption. And this is seen as normal. We are committed to status quo business as usual.  There are no real efforts to de-grow economies, reduce wasteful consumption, live within our planets’ means and intelligently manage her remaining and rapidly depleting natural resources.   This can only continue for so long.  Infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. At some point, this global ponzi scheme will collapse, only this time the planet will collapse with it .”  -OSJ

We cannot stop catastrophic climate change — in the long term and possibly even the medium-term — without a pretty dramatic change to our overconsumption-based economic system. We have already overshot the Earth’s biocapacity — and the overshoot gets worse every yearWe created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows. You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior. But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy”. –Joe Romm

By Joe Romm @ Climate Progress:

Black Friday has become an orgiastic celebration of hyper-materialism.

Black Friday is a sort of reverse “Hunger Games,” an annual ritualized competition, but one built around overabundance, rather than scarcity. It is perhaps the inevitable outcome of a country whose citizens are commonly referred to as “consumers.”

So what better time to think about how the global economic system is a Ponzi scheme, an utterly unsustainable system that effectively takes wealth from our children and future generations — wealth in the form of ground water, arable land, fisheries, a livable climate — to prop up our carbon-intensive lifestyles.

We cannot stop catastrophic climate change — in the long term and possibly even the medium-term — without a pretty dramatic change to our overconsumption-based economic system. We have already overshot the Earth’s biocapacity — and the overshoot gets worse every year.

footprint-biocapacity-e1355415565855
“A quarter of the energy we use is just in our crap,” physicist Saul Griffith explains in his detailed discussion of our carbon footprint. You can watch the MacArthur genius award winner soberly dissect his formerly unsustainable lifestyle here and here.

Or listen to the MSNBC interview of “Reverend Billy Talen of the Church of Stop Shopping.” Seriously (sort of). Or you can read the Onion’s black humor, “Chinese Factory Worker Can’t Believe The Shit He Makes For Americans.”

Children1-300x225The tragic irony is that much of this holiday shopping is supposedly for our kids — and yet this overconsumption is a core part of our climate inaction, which, as president Obama has said, is a betrayal of our children!

Now it’s true, as I’ve said, that if we ever get really serious about avoiding catastrophic climate change, we could dramatically cut national and global emissions for decades under the auspices of our basic economic system. You could use a high and rising price for CO2 plus smart regulations to encourage efficiency at a state and national level.

Also, the end to hyper-consumerism is not something amenable to legislation. I’ve argued that it is most likely to come when we are desperate — when the reality that we are destroying a livable climate is so painful that we give it up voluntarily, albeit reluctantly, like a smoker diagnosed with early-stage emphysema. Bill Clinton didn’t become vegan until after he experienced serious heart trouble — twice.

Climate science is clear that inaction is suicidal (see here). That’s why “virtually all” climatologists “are now convinced that global warming is a clear and present danger to civilization,” as Lonnie Thompson has put it.

A recent must-read New York Times opinion piece by an Iraqi war veteran, “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene,” explains that a quantum shift in mindset is inevitable:

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

In the words of British poet Matthew Arnold, we are: “Wandering between two worlds, one dead / The other powerless to be born.”

On the subject of our global Ponzi scheme, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman interviewed me for a column back in 2009:

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

The adults, in short, are not standing up. Sadly, most haven’t even taken the time to understand that they should.

And so every generation that comes after the Baby Boomers is poised to experience the dramatic changes in lifestyle that inevitably follow the collapse of any Ponzi scheme.

Regular readers are familiar with this metaphor of a global Ponzi scheme. But it bears repeating on Black Friday since it is not just a metaphor, but a central organizing narrative of how to think about the fix we have put ourselves in. As an aside, since some shopping is unavoidable, remember that Black Friday is 50 times more carbon-intensive than Cyber Monday.

What exactly is a Ponzi scheme? Wikipedia (had a good entry:

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. The term “Ponzi scheme” is used primarily in the United States, while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and pyramid schemes.

The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.

In our case, investors (i.e. current generations) are paying themselves (i.e. you and me) by taking the nonrenewable resources and livable climate from future generations. To perpetuate the high returns the rich countries in particular have been achieving in recent decades, we have been taking an ever greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources (especially hydrocarbons) and natural capital (fresh water, arable land, forests, fisheries), and, the most important nonrenewable natural capital of all — a livable climate.

See also a new study “The Monetary Cost of the Non-Use of Renewable Energies,” which finds that “every day we delay substituting renewables for fossil fuels,” every day “fossil raw materials are consumed as one-time energy creates a future usage loss of between 8.8 and 9.3 billion US Dollars.” Oil and coal are essentially too valuable to burn even ignoring the cost of their climate-destroying emissions.

The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments.

See, for instance “Shocking World Bank Climate Report: ‘A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And Must, Be Avoided’ To Avert ‘Devastating’ Impacts”).

Usually, the scheme is interrupted by legal authorities before it collapses because a Ponzi scheme is suspected or because the promoter is selling unregistered securities.

Yes, well, the authorities (i.e. world leaders, opinion makers, the cognoscenti) haven’t been doing much interrupting over the past two to three decades since, unlike a typical Ponzi scheme, they are heavily invested in the scheme and addicted to the returns!

Knowingly entering a Ponzi scheme, even at the last round of the scheme, can be rational in the economic sense if a government will likely bail out those participating in the Ponzi scheme.

But Friedman quotes Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International, explaining, “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

We aren’t all Madoffs in the sense of people who have knowingly created a fraudulent Ponzi scheme for humanity. But given all of the warnings from scientists and international governments and independent energy organizations over the past quarter-century (see for instance IEA’s Bombshell Warning: We’re Headed Toward 11°F Global Warming and “Delaying Action Is a False Economy”) — it has gotten harder and harder for any of us to pretend that we are innocent victims, that we aren’t just hoping we can maintain our own personal wealth and well-being for a few more decades before the day of reckoning. Après nous le déluge.

In short, humanity has made Madoff look like a penny-ante criminal.

By enriching the authorities, as noted, we encouraged those with the most power to solve the problem to do nothing. Heck, the only way in which the global economy hasn’t become a Ponzi scheme is that everything being done is perfectly legal!

By most enriching those who did the most plundering, we enabled them to fund lobbying and disinformation campaigns to convince substantial fractions of the public and media that there is no Ponzi scheme — that global warming is “too complicated for the public to understand” and nothing to worry about.

And by “paying ourselves” with the wealth from future generations — indeed, from the next 50 generations and next 100 billion people to walk the earth (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe) — we cleverly took advantage of victims not yet born, those not able to even know they were being robbed.

Madoff is reviled as a monster for targeting charities. We are targeting our own children and grandchildren and on and on. What does that make us?.

 

 

When Democracy Is Trumped By The Excesses Of Private Capitalism

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

https://i0.wp.com/lawrencerspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Pyramid_of_Capitalist_System.pngOldspeak:”Modern capitalism has undermined democracy, replacing it with a plutocracy. All the props of a democracy remain intact – elections, legislatures, media – but they predominantly function at the service of the oligarchy.” When you choose to look beyond the gauzy veil of inverted totalitarian kleptocracy, you begin to see the real world, and it ain’t pretty. You begin to see that our society is one gigantic ponsi scheme.  All workers work, while a select few owners benefit most. You’ll see how Corprocratic media is used by oligarchs  to shape how and what you think.  99% of everything you see, hear, and read is designed to serve a small segment of the populations purposes.  conspicuous consumption is paramount, as are ever-increasing profits and “growth”. The needs of the vast majority are given lip service and largely ignored.  The political class falls over itself to legislate for the benefit of their corprocratic controllers, participating in sham elections and legislative theater to give the people the impression they’re still living in a representative democracy. Corprocrats continue to consolidate their control over the education system, strictly controlling the range of acceptable thought, what it researched and discussed.  Critical thinking is discouraged in academia.  There is no questioning of the capitalist system that zealously rewards aberrant and amoral behavior, while discouraging and disparaging humanistic behavior.  If there is questioning, it is largely ignored, and those who question are labeled “crazy”,  “misguided” or “conspiracy theorist”.  There are a few brave souls remaining who choose to question the official narrative, and explore possibilities and solutions that fall out side the narrow corporate-approved range of thought.  Professor Wolff is one of them. His words resonate so deeply with me. Enjoy!”

By Richard D. Wolff @ Truthout:

The problems of capitalism flow in part from who directs productive enterprises and how they direct them. In capitalism, the directors are the capitalists; workers are excluded from direction.

Driven by competition and other aspects of the system, capitalists direct the what, how, and where of production and the distribution of the surpluses they appropriate in their enterprises in very particular ways. Capitalists define goals such as maximizing profits and achieving high rates of growth or larger market shares, and then direct their enterprises accordingly. Capitalists routinely pursue those goals, often at the expense of their workers. For example, they fire workers and replace them with machines, or they impose a technology that exposes workers to health and environmental risks but increases profits, or they relocate production out of the country to exploit cheaper labor. However, if enterprises were organized differently—if workers collectively directed enterprises (and thus excluded capitalists)—the problems of enterprises would be solved in different ways, with different social consequences.

In societies where the private capitalist organization of production prevails, the workers – the vast majority of the people – must live with the results of capitalists’ decisions in directing enterprises. However, they are allowed no general participation in those decisions. Sometimes, workers, alone or allied with others, can influence capitalists’ allocations of an enterprise’s surplus. If, for example, workers threaten job actions while consumers threaten to boycott an enterprise’s products, their alliance might achieve changed surplus allocations to meet their respective demands. These might include, for example, job-site daycare facilities for workers’ children, medical insurance for workers and their families, and even pay supplements beyond basic wages. Capitalists recognize, in such cases, that the reproduction of their enterprises requires allocating some surplus to such usages.

Generally, the appropriation and distribution of enterprise surpluses is the exclusive right and responsibility of the capitalists, not the workers. Thus the problems of modern capitalism – for example, environmental degradation, extremely unequal distributions of income and wealth, and recurring, socially costly business cycles – result in significant ways from how capitalists direct their enterprises. Derivative problems—for example, the undermining of democracy as corporations and the rich protect their disproportionate wealth and power by corrupting politics – also result, to a significant degree, from how capitalists direct their enterprises.

Modern markets confront each capitalist enterprise with the competitive threat that another enterprise will be able to offer an alternative product of higher quality, lower price, or both. The uncertainties of changing tastes and preferences, changing interest rates for loans, changing prices for necessary inputs, and so on confront enterprises with a vast array of threats to their survival. Political shifts in the larger society mean that the taxes they have to pay, regulations they have to endure, and subsidies they may lose can also threaten their survival.

The typical capitalist enterprise’s response is to seek more profits, increase the size of the company, or gain a bigger share of the market. Different enterprises stress one or another of these goals, depending on which is more important or available for its survival. Achieving these goals strengthens the capacity of the enterprise to prevent or lessen or absorb the endless array of threats it faces. Likewise, achieving these goals improves the enterprise’s capacity to take advantage of any opportunity that arises. Thus, for example, greater profits enable an enterprise to make the investments needed to tap a new market; faster growth attracts capital and good press reports; and a larger market share can secure lower prices for larger quantities of purchased inputs.

In short, what capitalists do is governed by the system that unites the enterprises directed by capitalists, the markets in which they buy and sell, and the larger society and government for which they provide the bulk of goods and services. Capitalists respond to the signals they receive from the markets, the media, the government, and so on. The goals they pursue – profits, growth, and market share – are their rational responses to those signals. That pursuit is how the capitalist system defines their tasks or jobs. How well capitalists achieve these goals plays a major role in determining their remuneration, their social prestige, and their self-esteem.

Indeed, some capitalists come to internalize the system’s rules and imperatives. They define themselves and mold their personalities in conformity with the behaviors imposed on them as capitalists. So it may seem and be said – even by capitalists themselves – that they are greedy or have other character flaws. However, when capitalists, for example, try to squeeze more work out of employees while trying to pay them less, replace workers with machines, relocate production to low-wage areas, risk their workers’ health with cheap but toxic inputs, and so on – those are behaviors prompted in them by the realities of the system within which they work and for which they are rewarded and praised. Many capitalists do these things without being greedy or evil. When capitalists do display greed or other character flaws, those flaws are less causes than results of a system that requires certain actions by capitalists who want to survive and prosper.

The many different problems and failures of the capitalist system we have been discussing pertain to private capitalism, whether they are more or less regulated. These problems and failures follow in large part from the internal organization of capitalist enterprises. Their directors often respond to the threats and opportunities facing the enterprise in ways that damage the interests of their workers, the workers’ families, and the larger communities. That is how the system works and generates its particular and often serious economic problems.

What happens if we shift our focus from economics to politics? Politics in the United States has become utterly dependent on and corrupted by financial contributions to candidates, political parties, lobbyists, think tanks, and special committees, recently further enabled by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The disparity of interests between capitalists and workers and the disparity of the concentrated resources they can and do devote to supporting their favored positions, politicians, and parties undermine a democratic politics.

In fact, we must question the very possibility of genuine democracy in a society in which capitalism is the basic economic system. A functioning democracy would require that all people be provided with the time, information, counsel, and other supports needed to participate effectively in decision-making in the workplace and at the local, regional, and national levels of their residential communities. The economic realities of capitalism preclude that for the overwhelming majority of workers, in stark contrast to corporate directors, top managers, their professional staff, and all those with significant incomes from property (above all, their property in shares of capitalist enterprises). Such persons also have concentrated wealth in the forms of their enterprises’ surpluses and/or their personal property that they can donate to their preferred representatives among the society’s major institutions, parties, and candidates. The political leadership created through such networks in turn advances these groups’ interests in a capitalist system that rewards them richly. Only a highly mobilized and coordinated organization of the workers could hope to secure the financial resources that might begin seriously to contest the political power of capitalists’ money by combining very small contributions from a very large number of donors. This possibility has sufficiently concerned capitalist interests that they have devoted enormous resources to sustaining opposition to workers’ organizations. That opposition helped to produce the last fifty years’ decline in US labor union membership as a percentage of workers and of political parties seeking to represent workers’ interests against those of capitalists.

It is important to note that combinations and coalitions of corporate directors, top managers, large shareholders, and their various professional staffs have often used their financial resources in struggles among themselves.

These groups have and pursue some conflicting interests. However, their struggles do not blind them to common interests in securing the political conditions of the capitalist economic system. Thus they worked together to secure the massive US government intervention to overcome the capitalist crisis that hit in 2007, even though the bailouts went more to some firms and industries than to others. Similarly, they nearly all endorsed the refusal of the Bush and Obama administrations to undertake a federal hiring program to slash unemployment, even though firms and industries would be differently affected by such a program.

In the decades since the 1970s, stagnant real wages, rising hours of paid labor performed per person and per household, and rising levels of household debt all combined to leave working families with less time and energy to devote to politics – or indeed to social activities and organizations in general. Working-class participation in politics, already limited before the 1970s, shrank very significantly during the neoliberal period. At the same time, the soaring profits of US business and personal wealth of the richest Americans increasingly poured into US politics. In the first place, they had quickly growing resources that allowed them to influence politics to a greater extent than ever before.

In the second place, they had greater incentives to do so than ever before. The inequalities of individual wealth and income in the United States were growing. The profitability of business, and especially of the largest corporations, was likewise growing. This posed a challenge. Rising economic inequalities are always issues of concern to those at the top because of the risks of envy, resentment, and opposition. There is always the possibility that the economically disadvantaged will seek to use political means to recoup their losses in the economy. The 99 percent might turn to politics to negate the economic gains of the 1 percent. Thus it became – and remains – more important than ever for the 1 percent to use their money to shape and control politics.

The last three decades of US politics did not see a change of political opinion from more left to more right. Rather, what happened was a relative withdrawal from politics of those social groups that favored social-welfare and income-redistribution policies (the New Deal “legacy”) and a relative increase in the participation of business and the rich, who used their money to shift the tone and content of US politics.

The result of this political shift has compounded the social costs and negative impacts of the economic crisis since 2007. Our dysfunctional economic system has suffered the added burden of a dysfunctional political system. Political parties and politicians stumble over one another in pandering to corporations and the rich.

Thus the TARP program of 2008 provided money to bail out banks and other corporations while also claiming to help the millions facing foreclosure. While the bailouts were accomplished, foreclosure assistance was trivial and far below even what little had been promised. If this was trickle-down economics, workers saw only a very slight trickle. Bush and then Obama have insisted on limiting government programs to reduce unemployment to those that “provide incentives and encouragement to the private sector” to hire more people. The political establishments in both parties refuse to discuss federal programs to hire the millions of workers who are unemployed. Instead, the crisis since 2007 has prompted all levels of government to cut many programs and payrolls, imposing “austerity” budgets just when the mass of people need exactly the opposite. A virtual political taboo precludes public discussion of how the costs for more government spending and larger government payrolls could be defrayed by taxing corporations and the rich. That would be an anti-crisis “trickle-up” government economic policy that does not entail deficits or raise the national debt.

What prevents another New Deal-type trickle-up economic policy from being adopted now is a political system compromised by its dependence on money drawn predominantly from certain social groups. Not surprisingly, those groups insist on trickle-down economics. The government helps them first, foremost, and overwhelmingly. The rest of the economy and society then wait to see what, if anything, actually trickles down.

Meanwhile, the total losses for the US economy for the years since 2007 far exceed what could have been spent to keep the economy going. Since 2007, many millions of newly unemployed and around 20 percent of our productive capacity have been sitting idle. Those people want to work; our economy wants and needs the wealth they could create to solve many of our nation’s and the world’s problems. However, our private capitalist economic system cannot bring together the unemployed with the idle tools, equipment, and raw materials to produce that wealth. And a dysfunctional political system does nothing about that.

The development of US capitalism, especially since the 1970s, has produced extreme economic inequality, the second major crisis in the last seventy-five years, and a political system in which money trumps democracy. To change this requires a cure for capitalism that targets both its economic and political problems directly and effectively.