How the Rich are Destroying the Earth - book launch, co-sponsored by rabble.ca

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Michelle
How the Rich are Destroying the Earth - book launch, co-sponsored by rabble.ca

 

Michelle

Book Launch in Toronto: How the Rich are Destroying the Earth

French writer Herve Kempf speaks on ecology and social justice

DATE: Thursday, October 30, 2008
TIME: 7:00pm - 10:00pm
LOCATION: Ryerson University, HEI (Heidelberg Centre), Room 201, 125 Bond Street (near Church & Gould)
INFO: derrick AT rabble DOT ca

Hervй Kempf is the environment editor of Le Monde newspaper in France. Come and hear him speak about his provocative and timely new book on ecology and social justice.

"Filled with righteous anger, this book tells a truth that cannot be denied." -Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians

"Kempf's warning, from the perch of Le Monde, needs to be heeded. Ecologists must read it to see the centrality of political economy; Lefties must read it to get a sense of the ongoing eco-cide." —Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World

Admission by donation. Books will be available for sale and author signing
after the event.

Hosted by the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy (Ryerson)
Sponsored by rabble.ca and Chelsea Green publishing.

[ 26 October 2008: Message edited by: Michelle ]

George Victor

Can't make it to the reading, but will certainly order up the book.

Environmentally, that's not a bad saw-off. Pecuniary circumstances generally force me to follow George Monbiot's directive regarding travel.

I'm also letting Paul Theroux take me across Europe and Asia with his Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. It's a re-tracing of his very first one, The Great Railway Bazaar.I was lucky to be first on the library waiting list for this one.

[ 26 October 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Michelle

Have you read it, M.?

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

No, I haven't. I was hoping to get it at the library, but they don't even have it on order.

Fidel

I don't get it. Kempf's book title points to how the rich are destroying the planet. But then in the youtube interview linked to above, he seems to be talking about, yes, his friends are Marxists and Maoists, and then distances himself from Soviet economies and says in his personal opinion that that system is not for us , as if Chernobyl should be proof enough that way is the wrong way. So let's wipe that example from our psyches and focus on laying a guilt trip on people everywhere for consuming too much. And maybe I've misunderstood him already. But it's not me who's been manufacturing mountains of plastic crap and dumping billions of tons of GH gases into the air - that's industrial capitalism. Nationalized industries were so much easier for democratically-elected governments to control than marauding multinational conglomerates today. If it's a guilt trip he wants to socialize and project onto me and billions of ordinary people struggling day to day just to live, then I'm not buyin' This setup isn't flexible enough for us to make the "market choices" required to do what's necessary.

[ 26 October 2008: Message edited by: Fidel ]

George Victor

quote:


No, I haven't. I was hoping to get it at the library, but they don't even have it on order.


Tell them you want the blessed book through interlibrary, then. That's been known to prompt a change of heart late in the budget year.

And let's read the tome before taking it apart. Isn't Kempf a LeMonde regular? Spirit of egalite' erupting again in the old birthplace of social change, Fidel? [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

Star Spangled C...

Okay, I haven't actually read the book adn am always weary on commenting on things I haven't read so I will offer teh caveat that these impressions are based on teh review and interview.

First, I know the title is designed to be provocative but it's inaccurate and unfair. Trying to pin the blame for a serious global issue on any one particular groupis never right and that he pins this particualr one on "the rich" is no more excusable than had he pinned it on "the Jews" or "the blacks" or "the gays." The rich are not a monolithic group and practices and attitudes vary wildly among them as they would among any group. Many "rich" (Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens) ahve great environmental consciences and otehrs doa great deal to alleviate pain and suffering around the world (see Bill Gates, Warren Buffet).

Now, I do not consider myself "rich" or "wealthy" but when I look at it objectively, now that my wife and I ahve paid off our massive student loans and actually get to keep our salaries, we're probably in the top few percent of income earners in teh United States.

The reality I've found (and many otehrs have noted) is that environmental consciousnes has become a "luxury good". It shouldn't necessarily be, but it is. This works on a macro as well as micro level. So on a macro level, you'll see that the poorest countries also tend to have the elast stringent environmental policies and the lowest environmental quality. Because when a country's short-term issues include trying to prevent tehir citizens from imminent starvation, trying to provide medical treatment agaisnt easily treatable diseases that are nontheless killings thousands every day or preventing people from coming to villages and massacring citizens, they don't ahve the luxury of worrying about reducing emissions, improving air quality or cleaning up the water supply.

Similarly, now that I'm in a financial position to do so, I've been able to take many steps to reduce my environmental impact that people in less fortuante positions may not be able to make. It includes stuff like trading in my beat up old gas-spewing car for a hybrid. Or purchasing locally grown, organic products instead of cheap, overly processed, chemical laden shit. And buying it at a local store within walking distance rather than driving out to some urban sprawl wal-mart to do my shopping.

I know that there's a lot of resentment-fueled invective that people love to hurl around at the residents of, say, Rosedale or Forest Hill in Toronto as selfish fat cats completely indifferent to the world around them. But if you actually analyze their actions compared to people in middle and lwoer classes, their negative environmental impact may in fact be less. If someone buys a 5 million dollar home in Rosedale, it will have less impact than some middle class person buying a 300K one out in whitby or oshawa. the home and the neighbourhood are already established. it didn't involve bulldozing a forest to build. The infrastrucutre is already there so the costs of delivering services are low comapred to urban sprawl places where pipes, sewers, hydro grids, etc. all need to be laid from scratch. And a person in rosedale who works on say, bay Street, can take teh subway to work or drive 10 minutes instead of driving an hour each way spewing exhaust fumes into the air and necessitating more forsts to be pved over to build yet more highways.

Sorry to get off on a rant. Hoepfully, this can start a discussion. I'd be interested in hearing both agreements and disagreements.

genstrike

quote:


Originally posted by Star Spangled Canadian:
[b]Okay, I haven't actually read the book adn am always weary on commenting on things I haven't read so I will offer teh caveat that these impressions are based on teh review and interview.

First, I know the title is designed to be provocative but it's inaccurate and unfair. Trying to pin the blame for a serious global issue on any one particular groupis never right and that he pins this particualr one on "the rich" is no more excusable than had he pinned it on "the Jews" or "the blacks" or "the gays." The rich are not a monolithic group and practices and attitudes vary wildly among them as they would among any group. Many "rich" (Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens) ahve great environmental consciences and otehrs doa great deal to alleviate pain and suffering around the world (see Bill Gates, Warren Buffet).[/b]


I haven't read the book either, but I think there is a big difference between blaming something on an ethnic group and taking a class warfare analysis of an issue. The ruling class is the class that is contributing most to the wrecking the earth, because the ruling class rule. Of course, that is not to say that the problem with capitalism is that "the rich" are bad evil people and if the CEO of Wal-mart saw the light things would be good. Because it isn't the work of just a few assholes in boardrooms, it is just how the system works, and we need to change the system.

Also, by looking at the suburban sprawl here in Winnipeg, and the number of SUVs coming out of those rich suburbs with only one person in them, I have to come to the conclusion that a lot of rich people don't care about the environment. Also, there are issues if gentrification at play as well when we start talking about rich people moving into a formerly poor working class central area en masse because it is close to their downtown offices.

Star Spangled C...

quote:


Originally posted by genstrike:
[b]
Also, by looking at the suburban sprawl here in Winnipeg, and the number of SUVs coming out of those rich suburbs with only one person in them, I have to come to the conclusion that a lot of rich people don't care about the environment. Also, there are issues if gentrification at play as well when we start talking about rich people moving into a formerly poor working class central area en masse because it is close to their downtown offices.[/b]

Okay, but if you took your line about rich people driving SUVs and concluding that "a lot of rich people don't care about the environemnt" and replaced the word "rich" with "Jewish," "black" or "gay", you've got the same problem. It's completely anectodatal. I'm sure plenty of rich people don't care about the environment. I know that many do. just as I'm sure there is no shortage of Jewish, gay and black people who care passionately about the environment as well as no shortage or jewish, black and gay people who don't give a damn. The problem is that by directing the blame towards any group, it is absolving people outside of that group and the environment is a global issue to which we all contribute and are all effected and we each need to take personal responsibility and take individual actions, regardless or race, gender, geography or, yes, tax bracket.

And I'm not sure exactly what your point was about gentrification. Often, issues of environmental consciousness and concern for people in poverty are at odds. Obviously, gentrification isn't good for poor people being squeezed out of neighbourhoods but it IS good for the environment. If someone has a decent amount of money to spend on a home, I'd much rather they buy a condo in a high-rise building downtown that doesn't contribute to sprawl and allows them to take transit to work instead of spewing exhaust into the air for a couple hours a day.

As I mentioned, now that I've achieved a higher income level, I feel as though I am able to be a lot more environmentally conscious than I could ahve been when I was a broke student - through the car I drive, where I shop, what I buy, etc.

At teh same time, I find it hard to condemn lower income people for not making the same choices as a consumer that I make. I personally like going to a local market and buying quality products from a local merchant and keeping small businesses in the neighbourhood. I also realize that I'm lucky to have teh option to do that. If I were lower income with kids to support and struggling to get by, making the drive to wal-Mart to save some money would probably seem like a pretty attractive option.

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]

And let's read the tome before taking it apart. Isn't Kempf a LeMonde regular? Spirit of egalite' erupting again in the old birthplace of social change, Fidel? [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img] [/b]


If we can't change the behaviour of supranational entities now beyond democratic control, then I guess we have no alternative but to socialize the blame onto ourselves. I find composting, and recycling my cans and plastic, is a bit like going to mass on Sundays. They say that those who need to go to church will go to pacify guilty consciences. The ones who should go don't. It's all very democratic until someone talks about curbing corporate bottom lines and bank profits. At that point the cold war machinery is trotted out.

derrick derrick's picture

I have read the book and had the chance to speak to the author at some length. He's trying to very loudly make the precise opposite case of what too often is the limited scope of environmentalism (small actions by ordinary people are the key, lifestyle changes etc.) And he's trying to get the left to take ecology more seriously.

The book - and its title - is an urgent wake up call to environmentalism to see the important of class differences and inequality, and to see that the problem lies in unrestrained power of corporations under neo-liberalism. He also makes important links to the increasingly authoritarian character of capitalism in the 'developed countries,' with a chapter devoted to the security society and crackdowns on civil liberties.

It's true, he rejects the marxist tradition in its entirety - it could be argued he conflates it with the Stalinist or bureaucratic communism of the past century (where regimes had atrocious records on both human rights and the environment). Kempf is coming at these issues as an ecologist, but he has reached quite radical and anti-capitalist conclusions.

Obviously, I think this is an important book - hope folks in Toronto can make the launch event on Thursday.

Star Spangled C...

Man, I really wish I could now. I'd love to chat with this guy for 5 minutes. But, alas, I am very far away. Also, my parents tell me Toronto is getting cold.

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by derrick_okeefe:
[b] it could be argued he conflates it with the Stalinist or bureaucratic communism of the past century (where regimes had atrocious records on both human rights and the environment)[/b]

According to U.S. EPA estimates, GHG emissions from the USSR still didn't equal North American output during peak years in the mid 1980's. Their people were told by our people that we had a better way, and that they should accept the neoliberal mumbo jumbo

genstrike

quote:


Originally posted by Star Spangled Canadian:
[b]
Okay, but if you took your line about rich people driving SUVs and concluding that "a lot of rich people don't care about the environemnt" and replaced the word "rich" with "Jewish," "black" or "gay", you've got the same problem. It's completely anectodatal. I'm sure plenty of rich people don't care about the environment. I know that many do. just as I'm sure there is no shortage of Jewish, gay and black people who care passionately about the environment as well as no shortage or jewish, black and gay people who don't give a damn. The problem is that by directing the blame towards any group, it is absolving people outside of that group and the environment is a global issue to which we all contribute and are all effected and we each need to take personal responsibility and take individual actions, regardless or race, gender, geography or, yes, tax bracket.[/b]

Maybe we need another thread for this, but I really don't think you can say that talking about class struggle is the same as anti-semitism, racism or homophobia. Class struggle exists, and the ruling class doesn't hesitate to attack the working class, so we shouldn't hesitate to fight back. Associating talking about class struggle with things like anti-semitism, racism and homophobia is simply wrong on many levels and playing into the hands of the right by associating class struggle and criticism of capitalism with racism and prejudice (similar to how the term anti-Americanism is used to discredit criticism of American foreign policy by associating it with things like anti-semitism).

Also, the rich can do a lot more damage to the environment than the poor. The rich can afford bigger houses, bigger cars, and more stuff. There is no way a person working at minimum wage can possibly do more damage than a person who drives his Hummer every day from a suburban mansion full of stuff to his downtown office.

That being said, I think we also need to distinguish between the well-off working class (I believe the embourgeoisified proletariat is the Marxist term) and the ruling class. Sure, they can both afford expensive toys which damage the environment, but there is a huge difference in terms of their relations to production. While individual solutions are a baby step in the right direction, we need to really look at how we produce in a capitalist system with class divisions in order to seriously address this problem. The well-off working class has very little control over production, while the ruling class has pretty much complete control. Also, the ruling class profits the most from overproduction and overconsumption (and encourages it through things like advertising), while the working class suffers. So, we can place the blame for overproduction and overconsumption squarely on the ruling class.

Star Spangled C...

quote:


Originally posted by genstrike:
[b]

Maybe we need another thread for this, but I really don't think you can say that talking about class struggle is the same as anti-semitism, racism or homophobia. Class struggle exists, and the ruling class doesn't hesitate to attack the working class, so we shouldn't hesitate to fight back. Associating talking about class struggle with things like anti-semitism, racism and homophobia is simply wrong on many levels and playing into the hands of the right by associating class struggle and criticism of capitalism with racism and prejudice (similar to how the term anti-Americanism is used to discredit criticism of American foreign policy by associating it with things like anti-semitism).

Also, the rich can do a lot more damage to the environment than the poor. The rich can afford bigger houses, bigger cars, and more stuff. There is no way a person working at minimum wage can possibly do more damage than a person who drives his Hummer every day from a suburban mansion full of stuff to his downtown office.

That being said, I think we also need to distinguish between the well-off working class (I believe the embourgeoisified proletariat is the Marxist term) and the ruling class. Sure, they can both afford expensive toys which damage the environment, but there is a huge difference in terms of their relations to production. While individual solutions are a baby step in the right direction, we need to really look at how we produce in a capitalist system with class divisions in order to seriously address this problem. The well-off working class has very little control over production, while the ruling class has pretty much complete control. Also, the ruling class profits the most from overproduction and overconsumption (and encourages it through things like advertising), while the working class suffers. So, we can place the blame for overproduction and overconsumption squarely on the ruling class.[/b]


Good points and I agree with much of it.

I really wasn't trying to compare holding the rich accountable for environmental problems to anti-semitism or racism. I was jsut pointing out the unfairness of singling out any one group for a global problem for which we are ALL responsible and should all take actions. It's easy to just say "the rich caused this problem and they should solve it" than to look at what each of us are doing and what we COULD be doing to reduce our impact.

And you may be aprtly right that the rich can do a lot more damage to the environment, though I'm not entirely sure. They can also do a lot more FOR the environment by doing things like driving hybrids, buying more expensive but less environmentally costly products, etc. It's pretty unlikely you'll see a welfare recipient driving a Prius to the local farmer's market to pick up organic tomatoes or heading voer to the local independent coffee shop to buy a $5 cup of fair trade, shade-grown coffee. My point is that all of us can be examining our actions and making efforts to do our part. And, yes, SOME may drive their hummers from their urban sprawl homes, but I think urban sprawl is more of a middle class (even lower middle class) phenomenon. The very rich tend to live in the best areas of urban centres like Rosedale, Forest Hill, Yorkville in Toronto.

And, yes, obviously saying "the rich" is very broad. Bill Gates' household and my household are both probably in the highest 1% of income earners in the U.S. but the differences are vast worlds apart. But this too makes the extremes more pronounced. Gates is in a position to cause far more damage by, say, flying around in a private jet. He's also in a position to do far more good by, say, giving 1 billion dollars to a good organization that can make far more of an impact than a $500 donation from me ever could.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Your bullshit defence of the rich is most touching. And telling.

Fidel

It's not working class slobs with controlling interest shares in old world economy, Exxon-Imperial and the like.

Star Spangled C...

I don't know exactly what you mean by that, M.Spector. I was defending against gross generalizations and stereoptyping as a substitute for us each to do our part....

...while acknowledging up fron that I have yet to read the book and basing it more on a general impression from the review.

What do you mean?

Star Spangled C...

quote:


Originally posted by Fidel:
[b]It's not working class slobs with controlling interest shares in old world economy, Exxon-Imperial and the like.[/b]

Of course not. The people with that kind of wealth and power can all fit in the same small room.

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by Star Spangled Canadian:
[b]

Of course not. The people with that kind of wealth and power can all fit in the same small room.[/b]


...and own time shares in Alberta oil sands land vacation resort and the like.

genstrike

quote:


Originally posted by Star Spangled Canadian:
[b]but I think urban sprawl is more of a middle class (even lower middle class) phenomenon. The very rich tend to live in the best areas of urban centres like Rosedale, Forest Hill, Yorkville in Toronto.[/b]

I don't know about that, in Winnipeg it is a very upper class phenomenon. Pretty much all the new houses being built in these new developments on the periphery are large and expensive. Generally, houses get bigger and bigger the further you get from the downtown core (with the possible exception of a few working class areas near big industrial zones such as Transcona).

quote:

Originally posted by Star Spangled Canadian:
[b]And, yes, obviously saying "the rich" is very broad. Bill Gates' household and my household are both probably in the highest 1% of income earners in the U.S. but the differences are vast worlds apart. But this too makes the extremes more pronounced. Gates is in a position to cause far more damage by, say, flying around in a private jet. He's also in a position to do far more good by, say, giving 1 billion dollars to a good organization that can make far more of an impact than a $500 donation from me ever could.[/b]

While it is nice to see the super-rich part with their money, we need to question why they have such concentrations of wealth in the first place. Pickens made his money off of oil and gas. 20 years ago, Warren Buffet bought over a billion in stock from Coca-Cola, a company that kills union activists in Colombia. A lot of the money of the super-rich is dirty money, made through exploitation of workers (causing poverty) and the environment (causing environmental damage) worldwide. They shouldn't have had it in the first place. It is like arguing that it is good that the profits from a Hummer dealership go to environmental programs. The Hummer dealership shouldn't exist in the first place.

derrick derrick's picture

I meant to mention that in addition to checking out Kempf and his book, people should check out the writings of Joel Kovel on ecosocialism. John Bellamy Foster has written a book called 'Marx's Ecology' which is quite academic but it's been highly recommended to me by a few different people.

genstrike

quote:


Originally posted by derrick_okeefe:
[b]I meant to mention that in addition to checking out Kempf and his book, people should check out the writings of Joel Kovel on ecosocialism. John Bellamy Foster has written a book called 'Marx's Ecology' which is quite academic but it's been highly recommended to me by a few different people.[/b]

I have read Kovel's "The Enemy of Nature" and I found it to be way over my head at quite a few points. Basically, I didn't get a lot out of it other than feeling stupid that I had difficulty comprehending things like the "philosophical interlude" on Heidigger. Do you know if there are any books about ecosocialism that are written in a more accessible manner?

Star Spangled C...

quote:


Originally posted by genstrike:
[b]
I don't know about that, in Winnipeg it is a very upper class phenomenon. Pretty much all the new houses being built in these new developments on the periphery are large and expensive. Generally, houses get bigger and bigger the further you get from the downtown core (with the possible exception of a few working class areas near big industrial zones such as Transcona).
[/b]

I don't mean this as a put-down to Winnipeg...I've got family there and it's a great palce...but with the exception of a few families like the Aspers, I don't think there's a huge number of ultra wealthy people there like tehre is in say new York City. I agree that the further you get out of the urban core, the bigger the homes tend to get, but the people living in those homes aren't typically the wealthiest. My brother is a Wall Street lawyer married to an investment banker (who, herself, comes from a very wealthy family)and they live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan which has massive average income but their apartment is a fraction the size of my place here in Virginia. it also costs several times as much. You'll find plenty of palces in oakville or Thornhill that are massive compared to palces in Rosedale (particularly lot size)but don't cost nearly as much and the people who live there are probably not as wealthy on average.

It's one of the reason I dislike the current form of property taxes whereby your payment is based as a percentage on the current value of your home rather than what it costs to deliver services to you or what environmental impact you're having and passing onto everyone else. Just like we tax cigarettes to discourage smoking and reduce social costs associated with it, I'd love to see a sprawl tax combined with things like road tolls to get into toronto by car instead of transit.

derrick derrick's picture

This is a fair point - Kovel's writing can also be inaccessible at times, though he has written a number of articles in less academic language than Enemy of Nature (discussion/study groups would be good for tackling this one)...

There must be a good ecosociliast reading list out there but a couple of blogs I recommend are Ian Angus (who also contributes sometimes to rabble.ca):
[url=http://climateandcapitalism.com/[/url]">http://climateandcapitalism.com/]http://climateandcapitalism.com/[/url]

and in the UK Green Party member Derek Wall:
[url=http://www.another-green-world.blogspot.com/[/url]">http://www.another-green-world.blogspot.com/]http://www.another-green-wo...

[ 27 October 2008: Message edited by: derrick_okeefe ]

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by Star Spangled Canadian:
[b]

I don't mean this as a put-down to Winnipeg...I've got family there and it's a great palce...but with the exception of a few families like the Aspers, I don't think there's a huge number of ultra wealthy people there like tehre is in say new York City[/b]


Canada still has a higher concentration of billionaire oligarchs than most countries.

lagatta

Odd, I don't find Kovel's prose hard to read at all. He's an American, fer cripes' sake. I'm used to translating Parisian and Italian intellectuals...

Enemy of Nature is very "Marxian", not merely Marxist. Some grounding in Marx's works, including Capital, is a big help.

Edited to add an unrelated point: not driving at all is far better for the environment than driving a hybrid.

[ 27 October 2008: Message edited by: lagatta ]

Fidel

[url=http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/green-living/free-ride-the-five-bes... 5 Best Mass Transit Systems in the World[/url]

[b]1. Hong Kong
2. New York
3. London
4. Paris
5. Chicago[/b]

An estimated 90% of travel in Hong Kong is by mass transit. HK'ers are able to use "octopus cards" as currency for transit as well as parking meters, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores. It sounds really convenient

Michelle

quote:


Originally posted by Star Spangled Canadian:
[b] He's also in a position to do far more good by, say, giving 1 billion dollars to a good organization that can make far more of an impact than a $500 donation from me ever could.[/b]

Perhaps. But please don't let that stop you from making that [url=http://www.rabble.ca/about_us/membership.shtml?x=40387]$500 donation[/url]!

jrose

This might be more suitable for the "grumpy" thread, but the cold that has been floating around the office for the last week has finally caught up to me, and my bank just called to say I have to drop by tonight because my card has been compromised (for the second time this month.)

I'm still going to try to make it out, but I don't think the stars are aligning on this one. I'm going to try my best!

End rant!

Michelle

So...if you just so happen to be getting ready to leave work right around now and you're thinking to yourself, gosh golly gee, I have nothing to do tonight, I guess I'll just go home and veg all night...

...have I got a fun event for you to go to!

In other words: bump! Two hours from now!

Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture

...and much fun it was. How else, except as a babbler, would I ever have had the opportunity to sit down with Hervй Kempf and enjoy many beers?

Much thanks goes to Michelle and Derrick and to Hervй himself for the interesting evening.

Michelle

Hey, I just got home myself. It was great seeing you tonight, LTJ. Herve gave a good talk, answered lots of questions, and then a few of us went out afterwards, as LTJ said.

Because I have to get to work bright and early tomorrow (7.5 hours from now...argh), I wimped out and had soft drinks all night. And now I'm being punished for being "good" because I'm totally loaded up on caffeine and wide awake!

Guess I'll read the book tonight. [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

Michelle

Well, since I'm awake, I might as well write a bit about the substance tonight.

One thing I found interesting about Kempf's talk was that he was saying that the middle class will not be able to stop overconsuming until the "oligarchy" (that is, the richest of the rich) are made to stop doing it, because the richest of the rich are setting the standard for the middle class to try to attain. He says that everyone who has some, looks to those who have more and want to attain what they have, and so on and so forth up the line to the very richest.

There was some disagreement on this thesis, but I think it makes sense, personally. I think keeping up with the Joneses, along with the "you can do it" ideology of the American dream (or, worldwide, the capitalist dream) and this constant striving for more, and upward mobility, is what is feeding our rate of overconsumption, and our desire to overconsume more.

I think it also has to do with the fact that our society makes more and more overconsumption necessary in order to function within the society. So, in some parts of the world, you've got people living $400 a year, which is of course absolutely impoverished, but in Canada, you can't live on $10,000 a year, because the "basic necessities" are dictated by your society. Can you function as a normal person in society in Canada without shelter? Without clean and tidy clothing? Without a telephone of some kind? Without a refrigerator? Without, I don't know, a radio or some sort of access to media of some kind?

Not really. I mean, that doesn't mean everyone in Canada HAS these things. But what I'm saying is, you can't function NORMALLY in Canada without these things. And in order to have these basics, you have to be making a certain amount of money.

But then you get beyond the basics, too. What do you have to do, beyond bare minimum functioning, to be an active and involved member of society in Toronto? Well, you have to have a TTC pass so you can go to work, at the very least. You have to have a work wardrobe, whatever that might be, depending on your job. Etc.

What if you want to not just be a productive and active member of society, but you want to be a critically conscious member of society? Well, you have to go beyond the mainstream media, for instance, which means reading alternative media. Which generally means being plugged into the internet, having access to a computer, having access to e-mail, etc.

Anyhow, you see where this is going. I could go to the library every day to check my e-mail for free, but do I do that? No, it's inconvenient and I don't have time for that because I have my two jobs and other activities and a kid and so instead I MUST have an internet connection and a computer at home. (Which, actually, I need to have for one of those jobs anyhow.)

People with cars in Toronto could ditch them and take the TTC only, but when you have a car, you feel like you can't live without it. People CAN live without a cell phone, but hey, who wants just a landline when a cell is more convenient? (Actually, I don't have a cell phone anymore!) People with cell phones think, gee, a blackberry would be much more convenient because then I can make sure I get my e-mails quickly. Because we're getting so that if we don't stay on top of our e-mails all the time, we get swamped under them, because that's how our society is communicating with each other now.

Do we need all this stuff to survive? No. But we "need" much of it to participate fully in our own society and culture. Lots of us don't have one or two things here and there that most others have (e.g. some of us live without cable television, or a cell phone, or whatever), but there aren't too many of us who live without ANY of these things. Because you really can't function normally if you have NONE of these things.

And "normal function" becomes defined by more and more, depending on the company you keep. When I was 20, I was earning minimum wage and had nothing. And I felt poor. Now I'm 36, have a half-decent income. And I feel poor because my expenses have gone way up, because I "need" so much more in order to participate at the income level and family situation and geographical location I'm currently occupying. If I made twice as much income as I am now, I'm sure my expenses would increase to fit that income, because I'd have the kind of job where you have to dress and socialize and consume in a certain way in order to fit in.

And it's going to be the ruin of us if we keep up this way, because we can't afford our own excesses as "middle class" northern people, much less the excesses of the richest of the rich among us.

George Victor

quote:


And it's going to be the ruin of us if we keep up this way, because we can't afford our own excesses as "middle class" northern people, much less the excesses of the richest of the rich among us.


Do you mean Jim Balsillie, billionaire co-CEO of blackberry maker RIM has warped values, wanting to bring an American team north of the border for the edification of southern Ontario hockeyfans?

I always thought so, myself. But, then, people put it down to jealousy on my part.

Thorstein Veblen, leading critical economist in the U.S. a century back coined such things "conspicuous consumption", making fun of the 30-bedroom mansions of the Robber Barons . He compared their efforts to demonstrate their wealth to the paint and feathers of some South Pacific islanders - and won no friends among the wealthy of his day. I like to think that Stephen Leacock, a student of Veblen's, developed an early humorous appreciation of life around him from his studies in Chicago.

But did Kempf present our predicament as a "double bind", a moral question and an economic dilemma? If we're not consuming we're putting people out of work? Including bartenders?

(There's that jealous spirit sneaking in again.)

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by Michelle:
[b]

One thing I found interesting about Kempf's talk was that he was saying that the middle class will not be able to stop overconsuming until the "oligarchy" (that is, the richest of the rich) are made to stop doing it, because the richest of the rich are setting the standard for the middle class to try to attain.[/b]


I think that if the problem is presented in this way, then it is but one step further to conclude that working class slobs should simply settle down and realize that the rich have always enjoyed privileges and wealth, and so get used to it. It's a variant of a politicized theme that says you've reached maturity at that point when you make your peace with the establishment. So we'd better get used to the way it's been for century after century while dangerous climate change happens. And when millions more human beings are cleansed from the earth by tsunamis, draughts, and famine, that's nature's way of saying they were not people of durable quality, or some such. Anyway as a socialist, I can't subscribe to that, if that is the underlying Malthusianesque message. I hope someone will tell me I'm wrong, and that I need to read the book because there is so much I am missing.

George Victor

The library is producing a book for me Fidel. Order up a copy. (Then if you still disagree with it, it doesn't stay on your shelf.) [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

Fidel

I think Diane Frances was worried about a handful of billionaire families running Canada in the 1980's. She's far more optimistic today, because some of Canada's oligarchs have given way to a new breed of billionaire oligarchs and more of them. And thank goodness for that. There's nothing like spreading the wealth around as a safeguard for democracy. Mind you, she has some new concerns and criticisms and all. I find Liberals can be very optimistic about things in general.

Michelle

I don't think that's what he was saying, for the middle class to cut back while the ultra rich stay ultra rich. I think he wants there to be some sort of political and legal will of the people to force people of great wealth to cap their wealth, either through redistribution of their wealth or a cap on their wealth.

I'm only partway into the first chapter so I can't say that for sure, but that's part of what I got from the talk yesterday.

Michelle

P.S. I think M. Spector might have posted this above in an earlier post, but [url=http://www.rabble.ca/reviews/review.shtml?x=77001]here is the foreword to the book[/url] by Greg Palast. It's in your face and bombastic and a thoroughly satisfying read. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

George Victor

Here's the "double bind" that I was referring to, Michelle, and I hope I find that M.Kempf has "dealt" with it in his tome.

The NYTimes' Krugman today:

quote:

October 31, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
When Consumers Capitulate
By PAUL KRUGMAN
The long-feared capitulation of American consumers has arrived. According to Thursday’s G.D.P. report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter; real spending on durable goods (stuff like cars and TVs) fell at an annual rate of 14 percent.

To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn’t been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation.

Also, these numbers are from the third quarter — the months of July, August, and September. So these data are basically telling us what happened before confidence collapsed after the fall of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, not to mention before the Dow plunged below 10,000. Nor do the data show the full effects of the sharp cutback in the availability of consumer credit, which is still under way.

So this looks like the beginning of a very big change in consumer behavior. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

It’s true that American consumers have long been living beyond their means. In the mid-1980s Americans saved about 10 percent of their income. Lately, however, the savings rate has generally been below 2 percent — sometimes it has even been negative — and consumer debt has risen to 98 percent of G.D.P., twice its level a quarter-century ago.

Some economists told us not to worry because Americans were offsetting their growing debt with the ever-rising values of their homes and stock portfolios. Somehow, though, we’re not hearing that argument much lately.

Sooner or later, then, consumers were going to have to pull in their belts. But the timing of the new sobriety is deeply unfortunate. One is tempted to echo St. Augustine’s plea: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For consumers are cutting back just as the U.S. economy has fallen into a liquidity trap — a situation in which the Federal Reserve has lost its grip on the economy.

Some background: one of the high points of the semester, if you’re a teacher of introductory macroeconomics, comes when you explain how individual virtue can be public vice, how attempts by consumers to do the right thing by saving more can leave everyone worse off. The point is that if consumers cut their spending, and nothing else takes the place of that spending, the economy will slide into a recession, reducing everyone’s income.

In fact, consumers’ income may actually fall more than their spending


Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]Here's the "double bind" that I was referring to, Michelle, and I hope I find that M.Kempf has "dealt" with it in his tome. [/b]

If he hasn't, perhaps I can. (I couldn't say whether he has at this point, I'm less than 40 pages into the book.

Individual spending isn't what's required now. Collective spending is, on infrastructure projects, massive research and development of green energy alternatives, public transit, high-speed rail to replace air travel and rail freight to replace trucking wherever possible.

Indeed, consumerism needs some strings attached. The disposable society needs to, at minimum, become the recyclable society. Full lifecycle costs must be attached to all purchases, including breakdown and disposal.

Are we talking about a more 'socialist' world? I would say we are. I know of no way to achieve what is necessary to save our society (and perhaps our species) without a collectivist mobilization. And that message is clearly found in Hervй Kempf's book.

George Victor

quote:


Are we talking about a more 'socialist' world? I would say we are. I know of no way to achieve what is necessary to save our society (and perhaps our species) without a collectivist mobilization. And that message is clearly found in Hervй Kempf's book.


Hope he goes all the way to command economy on a war-time footing of rationing, etc.

Don't see how the objectives could be accomplished at any lesser degree of mobilization. Can't send the rich into the corner without their supper, eh? They didn't get that treatment even in their childhood. [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

Michelle

In fact, I asked that very question at the reading, George. How do you get the ultra-rich to give it up without forcefully taking it from them?

His answer was through law and political will. He says that obviously Obama hasn't got the whole solution, but he's on the very start of the right direction by talking about raising the taxes of richest 2% of Americans.

He says that if enough people mobilize enough, the political will can happen to create laws that force the ultra-rich to share the wealth.

I'm not so sure about that, myself.

Fidel

Socialists tried land redistribution to peasants in Venezuela before. The rich found ways to take it from them. Illiteracy and poverty versus conniving land barons made for a lopsided result.

George Victor

quote:


Socialists tried land redistribution to peasants in Venezuela before. The rich found ways to take it from them. Illiteracy and poverty versus conniving land barons made for a lopsided result.


And now, Chavez, as a former military man, can maintain control through the ballot box. Marvelous situation. Revolutionary, really. [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

I would really like to know if the military would feel such devotion to the electoral process if Chavez were suddenly "not there"?
------------------------------------------

But perhaps this universal historical truth...:

quote:

The problem is that the question of force isn't entirely up to us. As Venezuela (and every other country where the rule of the plutocrats is challenged) has demonstrated, the ultra-rich, and even the just plain rich, will resort to violence to defend their privileges.



...is not going to hold in an entirely new setting. We are discussing this book because Earth is reacting to human ignorance. A brand new situation, and some of us suggest that only complete mobilization of moral resources (and, of course, with the help of such physical force as is necessary to keep the very rich in check), can bring it about.

But I pose the question of "where, apres Chavez" because even in that morally purposeful world (shudder), where are the "checks and balances"?

I'm looking forward to reading such considerations in Kempf's work.

Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture

quote:


And, yes, obviously saying "the rich" is very broad. Bill Gates' household and my household are both probably in the highest 1% of income earners in the U.S. but the differences are vast worlds apart. But this too makes the extremes more pronounced. Gates is in a position to cause far more damage by, say, flying around in a private jet. He's also in a position to do far more good by, say, giving 1 billion dollars to a good organization that can make far more of an impact than a $500 donation from me ever could.

He's more likely to do considerable harm thorough greed and arrogance. Bill continues to 'donate' to his own advantage. For years, Microsoft 'donated' their products strategically, to gain control of certain market sectors (education being the most notable).

Few people are aware that Bill Gates is probably the largest biotech investor in the world. Little wonder then that when he 'gives' a billion dollars, [url=http://www.gmoafrica.org/2005/07/bill-gates-donates-sh13b-to-biotech_02.... goes towards the commercialization of bio-engineered agriculture.[/url]

G. Muffin

quote:


Originally posted by Michelle:
[b]When I was 20, I was earning minimum wage and had nothing. And I felt poor. Now I'm 36, have a half-decent income. And I feel poor because my expenses have gone way up, because I "need" so much more .... [/b]

This is a near-universal trap, the one that keeps people's savings at zero regardless of their income. It works backwards too, though. I'm currently earning 1/3 the hourly wage that I used to earn and am no less comfortable.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

I'm living somewhat of a solitary life on disability, and doing okay. Partly that's because I'm in a very isolated area with no strip malls, or indeed urban infrastructure of any kind. I'm paying a ten-year mortgage on a small house, and I have a good sized garden and garage. I keep tied into the outside world by satellite television and the internet. If I had an inheritance or lottery windfall, I'd love to build a small indoor swimming pool.

George Victor

quote:


If I had an inheritance or lottery windfall, I'd love to build a small indoor swimming pool.


Where - on this Earth of such climate diversity - would you build it?

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