Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Ecological Future: Marx and Wu Wei

I have just written a short paper that I will be presenting in China. Any comments would be appreciated.

Thank you very much


Eleanor said...

I just printed the article. It will give me something to read on the bus. Is the Dick Levins who commented Professor Richard Levins of Harvard?

Robert D Feinman said...

Your arguments sound about right to me as far as they go, but...

1. We have no model which can incorporate the fact that non-replaceable resource are, in fact, non-replaceable. The old arguments about substitution (coal for wood, oil for coal, etc.) break down when we are talking about things like rare earth metals used in semiconductors. Or Helium used in scientific research and elsewhere. When it's gone, it's gone.

2. The antipathy of capital to labor needs more development (not necessarily in this brief paper). The fundamental issue is one of power, not efficiency. The type of person that tends to rise to the top of a big enterprise, especially if they are one of the founders is, by nature, an autocrat. Control is the most important thing to them. You can hear this in the way the speak, framing things like "I'm not having any workers tell me how to run my business".

This transcends who owns the means of production, it is a function of hierarchical organization of almost all big enterprises. The state owned businesses in the USSR suffered from the same governance defects as the private ones in the US.

Battles over who owns the means of production which have consumed so much blood and ink over the past two centuries are misplaced. It is governance which is important, not ownership. There are almost no aspects of modern society which have functioning democratic governance - including government.

3. Capitalism is wasteful by its nature. You pointed out capital obsolescence and over building, but there are also many firms that fail because of poor planning or ideas. In the US 4 out of 5 businesses fail within five years. This is a huge waste of resources.

In the era of the "empty" world capitalists could expect essentially unlimited and cheap raw materials. In the "full" world of today this is no longer true, but capitalism has not (can not?) adapt. I don't know what the solution is, I just know that no one in power is looking for one. All the current attempts to boost economies are predicated on getting back to the status quo ante as quickly as possible.

This is a recipe for disaster.

My 2 cents on the topic:

Planning for a steady-state society

Michael Perelman said...

Eleanor, yes it is the same Richard Levins of Harvard. Also, I have been trying to contact you.

Robert, I agree with you all the way. You are right that we lack a model for non-replaceable resources, although Marx gives us a start.

Regarding helium, you might be interested in:

The antipathy of capital to labor is a central theme of my new book ms., The Invisible Handcuffs.

Robert D Feinman said...

I don't know what you are planning to do with your MS, but if you want some remarks from a layman (me) I'd be happy to look it over.

If you don't have a publisher and/or you aren't interested in either boosting your academic credentials (or making money) you might consider a demand publishing site.

I know of a few scholarly books that have been released this way and the author is quite happy with the results.

If you are curious look at as one of the better ones. This is not the same as a vanity press, they only handle the mechanics and there are no upfront costs.

Michael Perelman said...

Robert, what is your address?