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The debate continues in the same absurd, polarized and simplified form.  

from Neva Goodwin 

One of the outstanding features of the time in which we live is the terrifying prospect of global climate change, regarding which it has been said that contemporary humankind is suffering from “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. Whether we squarely face what this will likely mean for the coming years, or whether we simply can’t bear to look at the facts, it is getting ever harder to avoid the gut-knowledge that the world is rapidly becoming markedly less beautiful, rich and generous to its human inhabitants. Tens of thousands of species disappear forever every year. Large coastal land areas will be submerged; diseases will multiply and spread; food from the oceans and the climate-stressed fields will be scarce; fresh water will be expensive or unobtainable for ever more millions of people; environmental refugees will swell the ranks of unwelcome migrants; and armed conflicts will reach many people who had assumed they were safe.

Armed fortress living will be increasingly common among the rich, and will doubtless create some areas of relative security, but the people inside will be their own prisoners. They will find it difficult to visit the beautiful natural areas in the United States, or the cultural jewels of other continents. Many of these cultural jewels are already being sacked in the raging conflicts of the Middle East and elsewhere; many of the world’s natural beauties are already eroding under pressure from climate change – as well as from actors in the market economy. The rich are not immune to pre-traumatic stress, as this century heads for various forms of catastrophe; their awareness and response will be important for any hope we may have for a constructive response to the threats we face. An indicator of awareness is a comment by the investor, Seth Klarman, warning that the Trump administration could lead to a major stock market correction and “global angst” among the investor class. But some of that angst is already translating into escapist survivalism among those who can afford to buy land in New Zealand, or build bunkers out of former missile sites in the U.S.. The work of Dr Richard Rockefeller, to whom this piece is dedicated, is an example of a more responsible kind of reaction among the one percent. 

Next to climate change, the other most outstanding source of widespread 21st-century trauma is the growing feeling that at least 99% of the people are largely helpless before the power of the giant corporations. Government in the United States is, to a terrifying extent (the ascension of President Trump only makes this more obvious), controlled by Big Ag., Big Pharma., and Big Petrochemicals. Slightly less obvious, because they don’t produce anything tangible, are their enablers – the global consulting firms – and the final skimmers of profits, in the financial industry. These, in various combinations, continue to be major forces in toppling or raising up various governments around the world – never to the benefit of the people.

When we speak of the forces that have, to a greater or lesser extent, taken over and degraded the public realm, we cannot leave out the roles of the intelligentsia and the media. The economics profession has played a large role in defining the “free market” as the great bulwark against the kinds of overweening government that were to be found in the Soviet Union – or in the United States. These disparate government types were bizarrely lumped together as Milton Friedman and his allies, with support by the Koch brothers and other beneficiaries of petrochemical money, fed the market solutions message to the public via Fox News, right-wing radio, and the like.

A little example of how this message permeated and echoed was an absurd debate I heard in the late 1980s, between an ecological economist and a speaker from the libertarian Cato Institute. It was absurd because each spoke as if one of these institutions was entirely to be trusted, and the other was the enemy. As though the market can operate “freely”, let alone to the benefit of the people, without being nudged and regulated by government – as if government could do everything markets can do, as well or better! And as if “the market” was just one thing, while in fact, those markets that come closest to the “free” ideal preached by Friedman and his popularizers are dominated by small businesses, not by giant corporations. Yet this debate continues in the same absurd, polarized and simplified form.

Neva Goodwin, “Mourning in America: Trump and the traumas of the twenty-first century”, real-world economics review, issue no. 78, 22 March 2017, pp. 125-131, http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue78/Goodwin78.pdf

  1. February 20, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Hi Neva : Bravo ! We would like to post a link to you ” Mourning in America ” article on our daily ” Latest Headlines “for our 32,000 professional subscribers which I curate. Please send a link to me . Warm wishes, Hazel

  2. February 20, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    A third source of biological trauma is the chemical stew contained inside every living cell on Earth.

    • February 20, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      My son in law has written a good song entitled “Chemical Clergy”.
      He wrote it a long time ago in reference to the drug culture in Texas.
      I find it has current relevance, with the “clergy” being predatory corporate “leaders” who have built and enabled the “chemical stew”. Good comment, Garrett.

  3. Grayce
    February 22, 2018 at 12:10 am

    One more “the final skimmers of profits” and that is the legal “industry.” Corporations are aided and abetted in using chapter 11 bankruptcy to “restructure” and survive. In plain English, that means to split the consequence of bad business decisions among suppliers and not pay them. The failure is distributed to the suppliers against their will.This is like a car wash.
    As well, corporations are able to use legal power and the confidentiality of settlements to routinely change employee benefits after taking tax benefits during the years of litigation but not actually paying the contested benefits, and other lawyers do not have access to the procedural or actual concessions of the employee or retired employee. Impressive federal laws describe how pension and welfare benefits are to be written down and then operated as written. Law firms advise that small knots of plan participants are not classes (since they make their decisions independently) and prepare motions to dismiss on technicalities like “unripe,” or “too late,” or wrong law or no precedent.
    The Supreme Court as currently made up has decided in favor of plan sponsors and plan administrators in order to “not discourage employers from offering benefits in the first place.” Likewise, lifetime agreements with collectively bargained units have been judged to mean the life of a three-year contract. For the person who accepted benefits in lieu of higher wages before retiring, and retired during the contract, this can be a financial shock.
    So, in naming the enablers to the skimming of profit, it must include the Big Law: i.e., the legal industry, a proud group once thought of as the legal profession.

    • Rob Reno
      February 22, 2018 at 12:37 am

      Grayce, your comment is so true, but sad. Capitalism is consuming us, our children, and our grandchildren’s future so the 1% can have it all. This can only end is disaster for the world for it is simply not sustainable. I am ever amazed when economists talk of minutia while the house burns down. Such reality makes a farce of the egos on this site who think they are one paper or one theory away from a Noble Prize in Economics ;-) Hubris truly knows no bounds.

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