Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Slavery And The Question Of Rome’s Economic Decline And Non-Sustainability

August 31, 2020

Rome sustained an advanced mass civilization which was not replicated for millennia: the usage of ceramics was ubiquitous and massive; after the Roman state collapse, wooden utensils reappeared. To this day, most Californians cannot afford tile roofs, so their houses burn readily; a law to impose tile roofs, to reduce the loss of California cities to fire was abandoned, because… California can’t afford it; in the Roman empire, tile roofs were standard, so houses resisted forest fires; Romans were wealthier than Californians that way. Many historians have claimed that Greco-Roman civilization was not sustainable: there was not high enough a productivity to support such a mass civilization… So how could it be supported for 11 centuries?

Some historians, often of the Marxist persuasion, insist that Rome needed slavery to keep on going. As slavery was unsustainable, so was Rome, those economic historians insist. Indeed they claimed that only wars could bring slaves: as wars waned, so did the capture of slaves, hence the Roman economy also shrunk. This is obviously a disingenuous reasoning as the proximal cause of the collapse of Athens and Rome were military defeats, not lack of slaves… and after the Roman state collapsed, the wealthiest Romans, for example the families adorned with bishops (!) had plenty of slaves.

Moreover, archeology has found great economic prosperity until the uncough hordes of barbarian warriors showed up to destroy the economy, so as to destroy the society… and those invasive aliens collaborated with local Athenian, or Roman plutocrats..

Moreover, a careful examination of the known facts shows that Roman civilization was not founded on slavery… nor was Athens; although slavery was important for Athens’ silver mines, slaves constituted only a minor fraction of the Athenian population; sailors of the fleet were free men, differently from Louis XIV’s galleys, or many California fire crews in the Twenty-first century…

Roman Patrician Cincinnatus, twice elected dictator, had nothing to hide. He was deeply anti-plebeian, but not to the point of degrading public discourse with massive lying. Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, Francia, Rome successor state…

Indeed, the early Roman City-State expanded without much slavery for centuries. So slavery was not needed. For centuries, the strength of Rome was the plebeian farmer cultivating his own land. Even Cincinatus cultivated three acres of land with his own hands, on the other side of the Tiber, when the Senate asked him to become dictator to save the nation from invaders… something Cincinatus did in two weeks, thanks to a military innovation and absolute power, then resigned. 

A second reason to believe that slavery was not crucial to Greco-Roman civilization is that it backfired. The central argument of Tiberius Gracchus, read between the lines, is that, at the time, in the Second Century BCE, mass-slavery had backfired on middle class Roman citizen-soldiers, “making their lives worse than that of wild beasts” (who, at least, had dens to go back to, Tiberius Gracchus pointed out, with relentless insistence). 

Land redistribution from land grabbed by the wealthiest which should have been public land was the central conflict of the Roman Republic. However, a sort of steady state was attained for 375 years, before global plutocratization made the wealthy so much wealthier that the worst of them got completely out of control. 

Consul Julius Caesar’s successful land redistribution law of 59 BCE was a distribution of public land to plebeians. It was not a distribution of slaves. Land, not slaves, was where the wealth of Rome was. Mass slave owners in the Senate were enraged. They never forgave Caesar, in spite of his subsequent generosity, and their hatred was inextinguishable. They would kill Caesar, and would die themselves in the conflagration they caused… But the mood of rapacity and suicidal greed they installed, survived them, thrived and perdured until the Republic sank under the blows of fascism. 

Third point to show why Rome could have existed and even thrived without slavery: the successor state to Rome, the Franks’ Imperium Francorum, within 175 years of the formal demise of the Roman state in Occident, outlawed slavery, and the result was the Carolingian Renaissance

In spite of tremendous synchronized invasions by barbarians from all sides, the Vikings, the Muslims, the Avars and Hungarians, this “Renovated Roman empire” survived, and came out roaring, achieving objective levels of mass civilization Rome had not achieved, by the Eleventh Century. This shows the superiority of anti-slavery civilization. Aside from technological advances in agriculture, a consequence of the outlawing of slavery, the major difference of the Renovated Roman empire with the original Roman empire was the… outlawing of slavery.  

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The leverage that mass slavery provided appeared much later in Roman history, and then quickly backfired within a generation or two, by 150 BCE: the wealthiest who used to possess so much public lands… illegally the national assembly, the Centuriate assembly as it was called, insisted… started to exploit those immense domains with armies of slaves, bringing the state of things Tiberius Grachus condemned. 

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Vicious Opposition To The “Populares” Degraded Public Discourse And Changed It To Civil War:

The vicious opposition to Tiberius Gracchus was at the instigation of the self-declared “Best”, the “Optimates”, made of many of the families in Rome rendered wealthy by globalization and mass slavery. Those plutocrats were anti-nationalists, anti-populist, and fanatical organizers of plutocratic globalization. 

The global plutocrats wanted to make war all, conquer all, stabilizing the situation by making alliances with local plutocracies, all over. In other words, they were “Neocons”… And that’s exactly what they proceeded to do until the Republic became a fascist imperial plutocracy headed by a few families (much admired to this day, by the same perverse academics in charge of duplicating the same state of affairs). The enemy of the Optimates was the “Populares” Party.  Except The Gracchus family had been hyper establishment Patrician for generations. No gens was more famous in Rome. Yet the hatred deployed against Tiberius Grachus, including the baseless accusation that he wanted to become king, reminds one of the stridency deployed against Trump., The analogies go very deep.

The Optimates said, and paid others to say, horrible things about Tiberius, which were horrendous lies… But those lies worked: a mentality was created, similar to any self-referential insults throughout history… Like accusing the Jews of human sacrifices (whereas all the historical evidence we have is rather of Christians doing precisely that… to Jews). 

The Optimates did not accuse Tiberius to be friends of the Russians, Carthaginians or Numantians (Tiberius had been one of the top officers commanding in the successful siege of Numantia… However, this sort of accusation was levelled by Octavian against Marcus Antonius, with the Egyptians in place of Russians). In any case, the wild, unfounded accusations against Tiberius were believed by many people, or they found it convenient to pretend to believe them… (Mass) Assassinations followed soon thereafter… In the modern USA, when the president is accused to be a Russian agent, or to have caused a virus, the Trump virus, Pelosi called it, a similar degradation of civic discourse is engaged. 

The degradation of the public discourse by hurling grievous lies at Tiberius, his brother, their collaborators and followers hurt, forever, Greco-Roman civilization, because the grossest lying became an accepted  form of management of the Republic. Genuine discourse would not come back under the modern era, two thousand years later. Without it, there can’t be a Republic.

Patrice Ayme  

Indebted To Lies

February 12, 2013

LIVING IN DENIAL ABOUT DEBT A PLUTOCRACY MAKES:
Abstract: Too many illusions governing, and a civilization dissolution guaranteed. A vast conspiracy extending from the financial right to the self conscious “liberal” elite, including the honorable conscientious liberal, Paul Krugman, claims that there is not that much of a debt problem in the USA.

Yet, a careful examination of the numbers and concepts involved shows that the esteemed pundits who howl urbi et orbi that there is no debt problem, coolly propose to steal Medicare and the Social Security Trust Fund.

This is pretty typical of the eerie manipulations that the powers that be engage in. Official progressives living in mansions end up in total solidarity with the plutocracy. One shudders at the possibilities.

Servicing Our Lords

Servicing Our Lords


Servicing too much debt is servicing plutocracy too much, and denial is its prophet.
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UNDERESTIMATING DEBT IS AN ECONOMIC DRAG:
Why did the presidency of Obama bring only change that we can’t see? Bush has been gone more than 4 years. Yet, the giant tax loopholes for the hyper rich are still in place (including “carry interest“!).

Not to worry, say many of the self proclaimed liberals and progressives opinion makers. In their latest tactic, they claim that there is no debt problem in the USA. They observe contently that interest rates have never been so low, that the deficit has disappeared from places such as the state of California, and that Obama’s reforms have been the “f… big deal“, as the robust Biden said, and Krugman confirmed.

What that self satisfied elite omits is that interest rates are low because the economy is not recovering. In a self amplifying loop, total debt (also called “leverage”), so easy to acquire with low interest, so stifling to serve later, is obviously a factor.

Because debt is accompanied with interest, too much debt means too much interest paid. At the limit, the debtor owns nothing, the debtor pays interest all day long, and the debtor becomes a serf.
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WHEN DEBT EXPLODES INTO SLAVERY:
Servitude from debt did not just happen in the Middle Ages. And it does not just happen to individuals.

In 2011 and 2012 Italy’s real economy was doing rather well: a bigger industrial sector than Great Britain, and no PRIMARY deficit (the USA primary deficit is 7% of GDP). Yet, Italy was engulfed in a catastrophic debt crisis.

How come? International investors asked for unsustainable interest to renew Italian debt.
Why they got in that mood, pouncing on Italy instead of Britain, say, is very complicated; but one of the factors is the madness of crowds; another, of course, is that the plutocracy has had a multi-generational conflict with France, and the Eurozone, or even the EU, is viewed as a dangerously French amplification machine.

During that crisis, Italian deficit (that is how much debt is added each year) came to be caused entirely by added interest on very old debt. (Total Italian debt was 121% of GDP when the interest rates charged to that country exploded.)

Greece went through something similar, just way worse (some Hellenic interest rates went above 100%).
Long ago, I advocated that Greece should default. This is what was done, in the end, because there was no other choice (although the default involved most of the governmental debt, Greece still owes hundreds of billions of euros, something that will have to be reduced further).

The European debt crisis abated in the second part of 2012 thanks to three factors. The most important factor was that unambiguous signals were given that France and Germany would do whatever it took to preserve the European banking system.

Thus the European Central Bank (ECB) was given a green light to stretch its mandate, and resort to USA style “Quantitative Easing” (QE). (The Europeans use another term than “QE”, in the hope that one does not feel they are just Americans infeodated to private finance as the government of the USA is!) QE consisted into sending a trillion euros to private banks, in the hope that they will show a profit. In the USA, QE has given to the banks more than 8 trillion dollars (about half of the yearly GDP). (See note on liabilities.)

The other cause of the abatement of the European debt crisis has been a ferocious crack down on deficits. Italy has no primary deficit, Germany has no deficit whatsoever. Even France is breaking hard to try to bring her deficit around 3% in 2013. Spain’s unemployment, now at 26%, keeps climbing, but the government helps ever less (after years of a delirious construction binge).

As Europe imports much of its energy, the climb of the euro, a consequence of these healthier finances, is viewed positively (it forces European industry to excell, a ball Switzerland and Germany got rolling, to great success.)
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WHEN DEBT CUTS INTO THE BONE:
Many countries are overdoing the austerity: Germany has no deficit, but it’s interior demand has long been very weak, as it rested on the likes of Greek and Iberian madness. Now the German economy is contracting. In Great Britain, savage cuts are proving self defeating: the deficit is still above 7%, the country is rolling again in recession, with long term GDP numbers worse than in the depression of the 1930s.

David Cameron, an extremely rich scion, Britain’s chief, thinks smart to duplicate the degeneracy that afflicts the USA, ever since Reagan imposed Voodoo economics. Thanks to Cameron, it can cost 10,000 euros to attend public university in the UK. Such cuts, should they stick, guarantee that the historical strength of the West, intellectual power, will sink in England, as surely as the Titanic.

California does not have a deficit, Paul Krugman boasted. Sure. Because of horrendous cuts, through the muscles, into the bones. Say in education: the, supposedly public, University of California charges California residents more than $12,000 in tuition, about a quarter of the median USA family income. Another sneaky deficit fighting measure is to let children enter primary school a year later. Meanwhile health costs considerably more to the public, thanks to genial Obamacare.

No more education, no more health, while Paul Krugman, self proclaimed “conscience of a liberal”, extols California as an example. The hyper rich have something to celebrate, many of the richest of the elite still pays no taxes, thanks to loopholes that the media never talks about (while the working stiff pays nearly as much tax as in France, without any of the free stuff there).
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LET’S LIE ABOUT FEDERAL DEBT: WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Paul Krugman, much of the New York Times and much of the official left, claim that there is no debt problem in the USA: the debt is only 73% of GDP (less than France or even Germany). This chorus has recently been joined by the Congress Budget Office (CBO) and the Wall Street Journal.

And yet… The debt ceiling has been broken through. The ceiling was at 16,4 TRILLION. Total debt is now crossing $16.5 trillion. The USA GDP is around 15 trillion. Thus the debt is 111% of GDP, as the IMF says, it’s not 73% as many democrats claim.

USA Debt/GDP Worse Than During WWII

USA Debt/GDP Worse Than During WWII

(The green line above depicts what would have happened if Reagan had balanced his budget instead of practicing the Voodoo Economics that debt did not matter.)

If one tried to point to that fact, the 111% debt, the New York Times censorship bureau was long in the habit to find such news unfit to print, and would censor them immediately. They did this to me, dozens of times. I amused myself seeing the liberally correct establishment crack down on this apparently anti-liberal notion. the real extent of the debt. Another trick was to publish unfavorable comments informing me that I “did not know what I was talking about”, and should “do [my] homework“.

The Economist, apparently recognized that there was something good in this conspiracy to underestimate the debt. So it nebulously recognized that the debt was “actually 25%” higher than 73%. That is 100% of GDP.
But, as I said, the total USA debt is above 111% of GDP, and growing by 1% every two months. Not exactly a viable proposition. Those who deny this are, on the face of it, just sycophants of the present economic-financial system. As it is, the USA cannot apply to the European Union, on financial grounds alone. Ironical.

Debt is not computed in the same way in Europe and the USA. First, one has to distinguish “gross” public debt and net public debt. Net public debt subtracts fiscal assets (cash, bonds, shares) owned by the government.

When Europeans talk about the debt their states owe, they talk about the gross debt. That makes a huge difference due to the many assets owned by European states.

The French government could argue French debt is not that bad, because it owns shares in Renault, EADS, etc. The Greek government is busy selling various assets it owns to reduce its debt (countless islands, etc.).

But this is not the mentality ruling the bean counters in the USA. There those who want to under-estimate the debt of the government of the USA, far from being rigorous as the Europeans, go to the opposite extreme. They do NOT take into account the money borrowed FROM Medicare and the Social Security “Trust” Fund. Those who want to underestimate the debt of the USA do not count government bonds owned by the Social Security Fund since it is seen as one arm of government having a claim on another arm of the government.

This sleight of hand reduces the debt/GDP of the USA from 111% down to 73%. In other words, according to this subterfuge, the government general fund does not have to reimburse the five trillion dollars it owes to Medicare and Social Security. Paul Krugman and many at the New York Times and the CBO find this conscientious and liberal.
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LITTLE DEBT, IF WE STEAL SOCIAL SECURITY & MEDICARE:
The debt situation shows that many of the many prominent American liberals are actually not liberal at all. They just play one on TV. Because the most important message they have about the Federal debt of the USA is that, the money owed to Medicare and the Social Security TRUST Fund is actually ZERO.

It’s cool with the New York Times, Krugman and company, if the government stole five trillion dollars to We The People. How conscientious and liberal is that?

But why should we be surprised? Did not the same crowd embrace Obamacare’ public subsidies to private healthcare plutocrats?

Some say that there is no danger. They assume that government bonds will stay as worthy in the future as they are now. Yet this will happen if, and only if the Greater Depression we are in extends indefinitely. If the economy happens to improve significantly, there is no way that the present bonds, with their extremely low returns, would interest investors. So the bonds would lose most of their value.

As the money those bonds used to represent would still be due to Medicare and Social Security, it could either be stolen outright, from The People, or it could be raised from taxing The People once again, for the same thing as they taxed for, before.

Hence ignoring the part of public debt held by the… public, through public institutions is sustainable, if, and only if, the economy keeps on sinking. How progressive.
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TAX FREE RIDERS, TAX CARBON, SPURN UNPRODUCTIVE DEBT, EMBRACE JOBS:
So? Are the loud progressives dominating the media actually regressive? Would that be, by any chance, entangled with their membership in the plutocracy serving oligarchy?

By underestimating the debt problem, the problem of the present economy can keep on being underestimated. A huge deficit can insure that money can keep on been thrown at the People. And that the free riders will keep on riding for free.

Whereas what we The People need, to be fully satisfied, is jobs. Jobs don’t just bring money, but empowerment, pride, satisfy the instinct of utility, mental, and physical activity. A society where People work is fully human, a society where People don’t work, is not.

By realizing how severe the crisis is, jobs can be brought over to bear on the peoblem. Just to make sustainable energies work, millions of jobs have to be created.

Because those jobs would be profitable by definition, they are worth getting indebted for.

Take for example power lines. Power lines are needed because sustainable energy tends to jump around in space and time; lots somewhere sometimes, and then somewhere else, another time. Germany has wind in the north, sun in the south. Washington State has much hydro power in early summer, and not enough power lines to get it out. Much power line work is needed all over.

Windmills work. Especially the latest types, offshore. A problem, though, is that the wind does not blow all the time, or when needed. The same problem affects solar energy. Power lines cannot solve it all. But dams can remedy the rest.

In the case of offshore wind, the solution is obvious: artificial, multibillion dollars islands, to turbine up water in artificial reservoirs, when demand is slack. To build all these islands will surely be a lot of work.

Mandated weatherization of homes and buildings is another obvious target (that is done in some European countries such as France, but not in the USA, where the Obama administration just gave subsidies to weatherize one million homes; a completely different activity, as it redistribute taxpayer money, instead of leveraging private economic activity… without using any taxpayer money).

So here we are: face the debt problem. It’s enormous. Debt ought not to be used for everyday expense, but only for worthy investments, as used to be the case.

And if there is too much debt, the solution is not crushing taxes on salaried people (top tax margin in California is 52%, although the truly hyper rich still pays nought, as they are not salaried…) Nor is the solution savage cuts. Instead the tax system ought to be overhauled: make the richest individuals and corporations pay tax, and make the richest economic activity pay tax too (for example financial transactions ought to pay tax, like all other transactions do; 11 countries of the Eurozone have decided to do so.

Another obvious revenue generator is a worldwide carbon tax. If the USA cooperated with the European Union there, instead of opposing it ridiculously, the tax would become reality so fast it would have a positive economic effect right away. Verily the least carbon burners can do is to pay for the damage they are causing to the biosphere.
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SERVICING CAPITAL IS LESS IMPORTANT THAN SERVICING NATURE:
On the most macroscopic scale, debt services the most wealthy persons, those who have the capital. That’s OK, civilization needs capital. For worthy investments. It’s not OK, when it gets out of control, and debt becomes a way of life.

By insisting that Federal debt of the USA is only 73% of GDP, one lives in denial. One more denial in a web of illusions. Too many illusions governing, and a civilization dissolution guaranteed.

At this point, we can emulate the immense Khmer empire around 1300 CE. We can refuse to change so long, that we cannot change when we are forced to. With one million inhabitants, the capital, Angkor, was perhaps the world’s largest city, larger than China’s Hangzhou. However, the Khmer devastated their ecology, precisely by doing as we do now: using up all the carbon around. That deforestation caused a massive drought, combined with intense floods, and the combination killed the capital of Angkor.

Maybe the Khmer were paralyzed by the debt they were servicing, and, certainly, they were paralyzed by the plutocracy that they were servicing.
What they needed to do was to repair the giant reservoirs they depended upon, that were fillong up by debris from the floods. And stop the deforestation. And they needed to do this in timely manner, when they still had the power. They waited too long, weakened, and were invaded.

The Maya also waited too long in a huge ecological crisis they contributed to, along the same lines. So it was with Sumer: deforestation, drought, salination, biblical (literally!) flood…

Rome went through something similar, long enough to debate the problem. However, the plutocracy barred the way to go further than that.

It’s always the same pattern: not working hard on the ecological problems, when they could still be solved, because one is paralyzed by a self obsessed plutocracy.

Why underestimate the debt difficulties of the USA, while maximizing bad rhetoric about those of Europe? Is there a pro-American cult out there? Not really. It is more a cult of capital, and underestimating the debt one owes to capital is part of it.
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Patrice Ayme
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Note on liabilities: Liabilities are more general than debt. Although this is too arcane to deal with here, QE extends the liabilities of the central banks, and one can view it as augmenting considerably, maybe 50%, German or French debt… But of this no one never talks. For example although USA debt is nearly $17 trillion, all the liabilities of the government of the USA go beyond $62 trillion…

WASTE IS THE MAIN PROBLEM OF THE US ECONOMY, IT CAN ONLY BE DISCOURAGED BY CHANGING THE TAX SYSTEM ALONG LINES LONG IMPLEMENTED IN EUROPE.

February 22, 2008

Abstract: To save the planet while allowing most people to become richer, new technologies have to be invented and made mandatory. The EU has played that game, but the USA has obstinately kept on sticking to its old addiction of mindless waste and deliberate consumption. This created imbalances in the US economy leading to the credit crisis, the collapse of the US dollar, a probable recession, poverty, bad health care, and, some will say, invading another country for oil… Besides, interfering destructively with all good-natured attempts at modifying for the best the sorry trajectory of the world’s ecology. To domesticate the reticent Americans, taxes on the European model should work miracles, as they did in Europe. That is part of what change really means. Not just words.
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The esteemed Paul Krugman (Princeton, NYT) compared the percentage of GDP of diverse sectors of the economy in 2007 versus the average over the period 1980-2000. He found that “the main thing at this point is high consumption is offset by a high trade deficit”. (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/16/defining-the-macroeconomic-problem).

In other words, the USA wastes too much, lives above its means from the charity of foreigners, and does not export enough. Countries that have got in this predicament did not end up well. It happened to many in the 20C, Argentina being a spectacular example. It could be argued that this combination of waste and dependence upon foreigners is part of what happened to the Roman empire.

Krugman then wondered what to do. We present here a necessary part of the solution. It is not very original. There are many countries in Europe, and a few are large, and they have encountered similar problems in the past, and they hit on that same basic solution, which is a mix of Added Value Tax (AVT, a French invention), which strikes down exaggerated consumption, and high taxes on energy (another French invention which has been imitated all over Europe). 

US citizens may feel an existential void if threatened with a dearth of stuff, so one should be careful, lest they have a fit, like the spoiled children they are proud to be. But they may consent to make the US economy more efficient, and more able to export. By doing this, a useful change for the better, their psychological condition should improve, and they should open their minds to another way to experience life more compatible with the survival of the biosphere.

In 2004, the USA emitted per capita 20.4 ton of carbon dioxide per year, and France 6.2 (yes, less than three times less!). Since then the difference has got worse, France reducing its emissions, according to the Kyoto Treaty, while the US has enjoyed a rampage of waste. Meanwhile, to ensure future supplies of ever more CO2, the USA chose to invade the country with the largest oil reserves (except maybe for Saudi Arabia). Whereas the most controversial French energy activities have been to build two nuclear reactors of the new third generation (one in Finland), and to push with the European Union for ever stricter carbon emission restrictions, worldwide. France having the world’s best health care system, and armed forces in combat in even more countries than the USA, and an industrial variety as large as the USA, EFFICIENCY PAYS (with the sort of lifestyle US citizens love).

Thus, clearly, its present system having turned into a dismal failure, the USA should follow the European way and capitalize on its know how and great universities to invent and develop futuristic energy procurement and conservation systems, instead of dispatching storm troopers to fetch oil.

But this is easier wished than done. The entire US economy has been manipulated for generations to serve powerful corporations such as car manufacturers rather than public transportation, with giant metastatic suburbia, and car drivers, or frequent fliers, taking subsidies for their birth rights, screaming loudly when a penny goes to railroads. All too much of the US economic activity is directed to plane companies and car companies. So great have been these subsidies that these sectors became addicted to them, fat, lazy, numbed out.

Just two examples. In the fifties, General Motors bought the San Francisco Bay Bridge, tore down the railroad that occupied one of the decks, to replace it by a freeway going the other way, and, thus, mission accomplished, sold it back to government. Ever since the San Francisco Bay transportation has been a big traffic jam, as intended. Now for airlines: after 9-11, the US government gave billions to US airlines, whereas the EU allowed no subsidies to its airlines, which were left to mind their business more efficiently. Consequence: Air France and Lufthansa are now by far the largest airlines in the world, many smaller European carriers are even more profitable, all operating efficient new planes. Meanwhile Europe is building thousands of miles of ultra efficient very high speeds train lines (so fast they could cross the USA itself in half a day).

Hence to develop new, more efficient energy sources and usage in the USA, ASAP, one will have to manipulate a full arsenal of government guided activities, removing some, adding others. And not just words. One will have to use tax incentives as carrots, while using a carbon tax and an energy tax as sticks: greed and fear, that’s how to do it. The enormous taxes on energy in Europe, give both an incentive to be ever more efficient, and a safety reserve if an energy supply catastrophe strikes energy taxes are huge not only in the UK, a net energy exporter, but even in Norway, one of the world’s largest energy exporters).

The history of man is the history of energy usage, and especially of Western civilization. By 1,000 CE, Western Europe had the highest energy usage per capita in the world. This energy opulence allowed to free man from slavery (to lords and nature).

But now energy is getting tight, and there is a huge amount of waste (as said above, the USA is three times more wasteful than France, per head). This has to stop: there is no justice in having the USA with 4% of the world population, using 25% of the energy, a lot of it taken from abroad, and most of it polluting the entire planet. The way out is not to economically shrink, but to technologically grow, as the EU is already doing (in 2008, Germany, although as north as Canada, was the number one solar energy nation!).

Of course the economic switch to greater efficiency through higher technology has to pay for itself (otherwise it would not be self propelled). First one has to be conscious of the enormous subsidies old industries profit from (it’s not just from distribution of money, but of laws; e.g., ethanol from corn is mandated, although it’s an ecological horror, while less ecologically incorrect ethanol from sugar cane is barred by tax barriers), Those subsidies are protected by armies of paid lobbyists (nearly half a million of them in the USA alone). By removing those subsidies for an unsustainable past, one makes it so much easier to pay for the future.

The Europeans have found a strategy to make planet-saving and riches-spreading new technology more profitable quicker. The EU imposes new standards onto itself, and then the world, to fight the greenhouse effect. Thus it forces itself to develop new technologies (for example carbon emission which are above 300 mg per kilometer in the USA, have been lowered by law in EU to 185 and now 135). Then the EU sells its newly fanged wares (That only more advanced European technology can develop first). It’s good for European jobs, and good for the world. Strenuous EU emission standards for cars have been adopted by China, making it illegal to buy inefficient US cars (!).

This European way is not new. It is one of the greatest European superiority strategies of all time: USE ETHICAL PROGRESS TO FORCE TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS, ALLOWING ECONOMIC SUPERIORITY. In other words a process which starts with better manners, ends with a chicken in every pot.

That BETTER ECONOMY FROM BETTER ETHICS TRICK was clearly used by the Franks when they outlawed slavery around 660 CE (they understood its importance at the time: from the German point of view, ethics and economy were tied up by family farming, and they looked down on Roman fascism and its giant agribusinesses). The abolition of slavery forced Europe to chose the high technology route that the Roman empire had given up on.

Now the entire planet has found useful to integrate more and more of the ideas that allowed Europe to take off during the last 15 centuries. Democracy is just one of those ideas, and, clearly, it was preceded by strength and technology (the Franks destroyed the Arabo-Berbero-Syrian armies in a series of battles and wars in 8C Francia, accompanying economic lift, and requiring new, very heavy taxation to pay for the high tech armies of the Franks).

China and India, among others, have understood this, and their success has not escaped notice. The most successful developing countries opt for developing new high tech. For instance, South Africa is inventing “pebble bed” nuclear plants, a completely new technology designed specifically for exports all over the developing world (they are super safe, and never stop). India, having little uranium but lots of thorium, is developing a uranium-thorium breeding scheme which is entirely appropriate to its precarious energetic circumstances.

Sweden has been using a carbon tax for more than a decade, and it’s just a matter of time before the entire EU follows suit. To limit senseless addiction to consuming and reduce fraud, the Europeans use the mighty AVT. The USA has no choice, but to follow what has worked well in dozens of advanced industrial nations.

But, all too often, per the nature of the USA as a big island, and a long settled habit to compare itself to various derelict dictatorships (instead of comparing itself to what’s comparable to itself, the most advanced democracies), Americans often find hard to learn from the outside (something a future president Obama should be able to remedy).

Presented with these solutions, Krugman evoked Saint Augustine to justify doing nothing for now (“Make me without sin, oh Lord, but not yet”). Well, that was a very telling example. Saint Augustine was one of the worst anti-intellectuals and anti-Judaists of all times, in truth one of the greatest criminals against mankind, and this statement of his reflects how he could live with himself so well. His hypocrisy allowed him to do so, conveniently blinding him, and made him the scourge he became for civilization. The hardest in a new task is often just to get started, to make the first step.

The massive energy and consumption taxes the USA needs could be, and would have to be, staggered very progressively. They will allow to reduce taxes in some other areas (say on capital, and the poor, as the EU has done).

The bubble economics, its hedge fund managers, and the tail of the financial sector wagging the entire economy, a sorry mess (engineered by Rubin, Clinton, Greenspan and Bush) weakened the USA. Only taxes reflecting the new (for the US) philosophy of reducing waste and changing the future towards efficiency will allow the USA to join the world, reduce the imbalances, and develop in a sustainable way. It’s a necessity, because the rest of the world cannot be expected to work hard and sacrifice, while the Americans are having an orgy, and burn the house down. A related point is that, as justice spreads and six billion people from the developing world get to enjoy some of the amenities Americans take for granted, grave ecological damage to the entire planet will only be mitigated by using technologies that, at this point, are still in the domain of science fiction.

In conclusion: reducing US consumption and carbon emission, while boosting US exports and efficiency, and providing more jobs and security, can be viewed as one problem which will need a change in the US tax system. Against waste, towards a more economic future. That is part of what change means, or it will be more of the same. Americans are getting intoxicated on the idea of change, but change means changing their own behavior, ultimately a change in the law of what is proper and what is not, and the easiest such change is in the tax law.

***

P/S: So far, to reduce the lending crisis, which came from too much lending, the US president and congress have decided to make it easier to lend some more. So let’s not overestimate the capacity of US decision makers to understand the universe. In a related show of selfishness, the US (through the IMF and the World Bank), forced South East Asian countries, which were experiencing a bout of over-investment (thus diminishing returns, leading to a confidence crisis), especially in real estate (thus comparable to the present US crisis), to rise interest rates sky high. That was supposed to invite foreign investors to come back, and stop the collapse of the currencies. Instead it collapsed the South East Asian economies. Following once again Saint Augustine (id est, I will not do as I preach, but just the opposite, the fundamental saying of priests, and one of the reasons why religion is so big in the USA), the USA, although now in a very similar crisis, is acting according to the exact opposite strategy, namely collapsing interest rates. As we try to explain above, this very short term alleviation of symptoms will not change much. Ultimately, US citizens have to relate to the world in a different way, because the transactions they have among themselves have impacts on third parties (this is the set up for pigovian taxes (after Arthur Pigou, 1877-1959, a Frenchman); theory has proven such taxes more efficient than regulation or markets (the carbon emission trading has turned silly)).
***

Patrice Ayme.
Patriceayme.com


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