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Climate Change and the Social Contract

Marcellus Andrews

I am sorry to say that I am about to confirm my marginal status in the economics profession by digging into a most unpleasant aspect of the already far too scary matter of climate change. I am going to consider why climate change will inevitably shred the contemporary American social contract – that evolving mix of markets and violence that creates knowledge and wealth, billionaires and prisoners, opportunity and social death in ways that fascinate and horrify the rest of humanity. I want to explain why climate change will force the United States, and every other market society, to abandon the practice of creating disposable classes of persons whose primary function is to serve as blood and bone buffers who absorb the risks of life at the cost of their bodies and souls. I am suggesting that the market fundamentalism of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, the inspirational twin intellectual dynamos of the profession for the past three decades or more, will soon slip into oblivion because climate change will push all of us to understand that unlimited capitalism is, in the end, inextricably connected to the disposability of human beings.

First, climate change destroys market fundamentalism by showing why market based inequalities necessarily lead to hierarchies of pleasure and suffering where the well-off regularly sacrifice the well-being and lives of the poor and vulnerable. Second, climate change poses such severe collective risks to societies that polities must explicitly choose whether to reorient national and local economic policy in ways that share these risks in an egalitarian manner or to deliberately shift these risks to the bottom of society, even at the cost of escalating the degree low-intensity civil conflict by broadening the American race/poverty/prison complex beyond the hard black/white color boundary.   read more

  1. Ken Zimmerman
    January 12, 2021 at 4:24 pm

    As an element of human culture, economics can increase opportunities for our species to survive, decrease these opportunities, or have no impact on our opportunities for survival. Clearly economics has since its invention about 10,000 years ago had an impact on Sapiens opportunities for survival. Today’s economics is just as clearly reducing those opportunities. First, it erodes and at time even attacks the cultural and physical foundations of human survival. Second, it helps create the myth that humans are invulnerable to destruction as a species. That humans now stand above and outside both culture and physical limits. Third, economics has for some time tended to focus humans’ attention away from the question of survival and toward the pursuit of wealth, power, and prestige to the exclusion of all else. Another barrier and related is economics’ tendency to focus humans on fighting with one another as individuals in a battle for dominance on the planet. A ‘survival of the fittest’ in the sense in which Herbert Spencer used that phrase. The survival question before us is about species survival. And this cannot be reduced to individual humans killing and/or dominating other individual humans. It became quite clear some time ago to Darwin and other evolutionists that the species with the strongest (physical and mental) individuals was not assured of survival. Sometimes physical deference and mental avoidance gave a species survival advantages that stronger species lacked.

    Climate change can be an existential crisis for Sapiens. Sapiens can survive in a narrow range of weather and climatological conditions regarding temperature, gas mixtures, and farming parameters. Economics today threatens each of these limits. Humans have survived as a species several minor and one major climate change events. But that was before the invention of modern economic arrangements and the invention of the study form that supposedly explains those inventions and why we chose them. Modern economic arrangements are the most anti-human in the history of our species. And the profession we call economics loves mathematics and individual competition among humans for dominance a great deal more than it does the welfare of the species that invented these. Our species, Sapiens. Sometimes it seems humans invented current ways of economic life and their study mostly to doom their species. Something like Dolphins inventing an economics that made it impossible for Dolphins to reside in water.

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