Sunday, June 29, 2014

Decoding the peak resources panic

Occupy Transylvania protests in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein"

John Michael Greer (The Archdruid) repeats his familiar message this week: we are in slow decline (what James Howard Kunstler calls "The Long Emergency") now that energy sources are becoming scarcer and more expensive. The latest twist in his ever-elegant sermon is the general breakdown of respect for our superiors, so that they cease to serve as exemplars for the underclass, who have set up their own anti-heroes as models of behaviour.

Well, I agree, but only up to a point. The British working class was rioting away at various times in the eighteenth century, over bread shortages and fears of Papism, so social unrest and the celebration of highwaymen are nothing new.

Doubtless there will be resource crises from time to time, and surely oil, gas and coal will not last forever. It must also be a concern that the world's population has boomed and some parts - including the UK - have become hostages to fortune because they cannot feed all their people from their own lands. Age imbalance is a worry, too, with a growing proportion of oldies who can't work - or don't expect to - and who cost so much in personal attention and medical treatment.

It was The Ecologist magazine that first drew my attention to eco-issues, with its call for a demographically-planned reduction in population so that we could climb down the ladder rather than fall off it. A sharp drop in the birth-rate would be a catastrophe for society, argued "Blueprint For Survival" in 1972. Since then, the global headcount has risen from 3.8 to 7.2 billions.

But we haven't hit the buffers of resource constraints yet; that's not what is causing our societal tensions now; at least, not directly. AK Haart argues that behind public fretting about the environment is the anxiety of the Western middle class, concerned for its own material prosperity and social status.

It's now generally known that the real income per hour of the American middle class has stalled since The Ecologist's article was published, largely because the moneyed class used globalisation to undercut them. In the nineteenth century, Chinese workers built railroads in California; now, Asian workers make things for us but in their own countries, and international firms and dark pools of cash in the Caribbean reap the benefits without having to accept the usual lifelong obligations of master to servant. The circle has been squared by debt, at first through issuing Treasury bonds and latterly through reinvestment in the USA - real estate, equities. It's selling the family silver to maintain an unrealistic standard of living.

It's not just the chippy Occupy Wall Street crowd that points out how the rich have become incredibly richer under this scheme - and how the socio-economic crisis threatens to overwhelm even the privileged. In an essay for Politico Magazine (htp: Paddington), billionaire Nick Hanauer argues the case for increasing the minimum wage so that, as Henry Ford understood, a wealthier workforce can stop claiming benefits, pay more in taxes, spend more and create more employment. Unlike some of his fellows, he is not planning to purchase posterity's good opinion (or forgiveness) with charitable donations; he seeks to fix the broken machine.

Whether this is possible in the context of untrammelled free trade is questionable. The drive for ever-closer economic union seems relentless; when the WTO stalled at Doha, the Trans-Pacific Partnership forged ahead. Now the tanks of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are crushing sovereign powers under their tracks and threaten to roll right over the National Health Service.

Perhaps nothing can stop the megalomaniac folly except full-scale disaster and the pitchfork army that Hanuaer envisages.


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