Thursday, September 6, 2018

Is the Ecological Salvation of the Human Species at Hand?

The July-August issue of New Left Review published an essay by Robert Pollin titled "De-growth vs. Green New Deal" in which he outlines his objections to what Peter Dorman affectionately refers to as "a suicide cult masquerading as a political position." I have written a response to Pollin's article, that I have submitted to NLR, a draft of which, "Pollin's Green New Deal: Blueprint for Ecological Salvation?" may be downloaded as a pdf file from dropbox.

In my response I am particularly interested in how Pollin's argument unwittingly recapitulates Robert Solow's from 46 years earlier, right down to the percentage of gross income to be invested in clean energy (Pollin) or pollution abatement (Solow). The ubiquitous "decoupling" turns out to be a euphemism for resource input productivity and not a particularly helpful one. Proponents often referring to the decoupling of GDP growth from "CO2 emissions" when what they mean -- unless they intend to deceive -- is the decoupling of the derivative rates of change.

A point I have mentioned previously is that Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen was not advocating "degrowth" as an ecological panacea. What he was saying (and what he wrote) was that evolution and history involve "permanent struggle in continuously novel forms" and is not a "predictable, controllable process." There is no "blueprint," no "built-in mechanism," no 20 or 30 year investment plan, (and no pure interpretation of the U.S. constitution or the Bible) that will relieve us of that permanent struggle.

Reverse 'Decoupling' in the 21st Century
Post Script: I almost forgot to mention, there is this conceit on the part of technocrats to insist that if you don't have a "blueprint" for how you're going to "solve the problem" you're not really serious. "Get out of the way!" This is a symptomatic late 18th century, early 19th century bourgeois viewpoint and is exemplified in Andrew Ure's Philosophy of Manufactures. The machine and the factory were viewed as the pinnacle of human achievement and the best one could do is emulate their automatism.

Pollin plays the "degrowthers don't have a programme and I do!" card with a vengeance. Of course the more detail and moving parts such a programme has, the better because the closer it resembles a machine or even a factory containing many machines. With that kind of challenge, it is very tempting to come up with a detailed programme to illustrate how various scenarios might work out in practice. But such competition will inevitably be judged on mechanistic grounds.


Anonymous said...

Go de-growth Africa or imperialism takes a dirrent tack but is still imperialism.

Anonymous said...


Go, de-growth Africa or imperialism takes a different tack but is still imperialism.

john c. halasz said...

Kalecki is said to have once exclaimed,"Now I understand what economics is all about! It's about confusing stocks with flows!"

Sandwichman said...

Kalecki was right... again!

Peter T said...

Is "degrowth" now political suicide? Certainly there is no direct advocacy of the idea, but there is a discernible shift away from growth as a central goal towards socially-positional goods. Brexit is perhaps the best example - a substantial chunk of the UK population wants an (illusory) greater sovereignty even if it comes at substantial economic cost. Some parts of Trump's support run on the same lines.

I don't expect this to be an even or uninterrupted, or overt process, but maybe the feeling is there.

Mark Bahner said...


People who want degrowth are like people who want the Mississippi River to run to the Pacific Ocean.

Per-capita gross world product annual growth rates will *accelerate*--and probably dramatically--in the 21st century; they will not decelerate.

You read it here first. Or perhaps you first read it in "Long Bet #194"in 2005, when I went on the record predicting that I know more about likely world economic growth in the 21st century than Robert Lucas Jr. (not withstanding his Nobel in Economics ;-)):

Sandwichman said...


You do realize that you can increase any number by AN ORDER OF MAGNITUDE just by adding a zero at the end?

Mark Bahner said...

"You do realize that you can increase any number by AN ORDER OF MAGNITUDE just by adding a zero at the end?"

I have no idea what this means with respect to my comments that the annual rate of growth of per-capita gross world product will increase dramatically as the 21st century progresses.

Anonymous said...

There is a fine conversation between Branko Milanovic and Kate Raworth on growth and de-growth. I will set down a reference when I have time.

Anonymous said...

June 6, 2018

Kate Raworth’s economics of miracles

Anonymous said...

Mark Bahner, I have no idea what you are writing about but what the heck.

Anonymous said...

July 1, 2018

On growth and people: my reply to Kate Raworth's reply

Let me focus on two most important issues on which Kate Raworth and I differ.

Anonymous said...

Mark Bahner said...

"Per-capita gross world product annual growth rates will *accelerate*--and probably dramatically--in the 21st century; they will not decelerate."

Because the guy says so. Duh.

media said...

In 1970's my football club (though in usa football is spelled soccer due to low national IQ) published a book called 'limits to growth' (we were the soccer club of rome). In this book we pointed out that despite rising agricultural outputs , the soccer team was not eating at the same rate, and even if we ate more and did get up to say 500 pounds/person, we weren't running any faster or making more goals. In fact there was a sort of Kuznets curve---the more we ate, the slower we ran the more games we lost. Its a self-correcting feedback mechanism.

We were the 1st to show biophysical limits to growth. Intangible growth---such as in the intellectual fields such as 'idiocracy'---has fewer biophysical constraints. Its possible to be an idiot on a low budget or on a high budget.

Georges Roegescu (famous for discovering the 4th law of thermodynamics --i think this is about how after you die you dont come back again, and perhaps a mangled derivation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics in his book 'the entropy law'--it might be nice to see a recognized expert in statistical mechanics do a little peer review of that derivation) did have one major point---the economy as axiomatized by general equilibrium theory, is always at equilibrium.

(He--GR -- General Relativity is his nickname due to non-cardinal utility (all you need is popes or popeyes fried chicken) --- was also i think proven wrong that there is 'no perfect and pure interpretation of the bible and constitution' ---whoever that dude is perhaps about to be appointed to Supreme Court ---Krayworthy or maybe kate raeworth --did that in the 1000s of unreleased papers.)

I'm being asked below to 'prove you're not a robot'. Thats impossible.

Sandwichman said...

Thank you, media. Finally a cogent comment from a co-gent. I am not a robot. I am not a robot. I am not a boat. not a boat. not a boat. not abot.

media said...

You can be a cyborg. If not a boat, a boat people---visit the world---paddle the streets of north carolina, go from libya to italy.... What is abot about? do they have meaning of life, perhaps superintelligence?

Pollin's numbers look ok---tho i am not going through that mess (i can only count to 5 before i get tired, also due to finite brain capacity--george miller said some genius types can count up to 7. )

i do think under a degrowth investmant MMT plan you can get a guaranteed job as a sandwichman,
' let them eat cake or a sandwich'. or get a lump for labor.

the degrowth industry seems to be growing. its an emerging market and it has a codependent and growing backlash industry . 'yes we can, no we can't'. sort of like UBI vs JG. war of the wor(l)ds.