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Deep thought - Sept 21

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Buddhism and the End of Economic Growth

John Stanley and David Loy, Huffington Post
... As Richard Heinberg points out, these are converging crises. They will compel our civilization to re-think the way it understands the relationship between the economy and the rest of the biosphere. Sooner or later, we will have to adopt a sane and well-reasoned "steady state" economy that operates mindfully within the Earth's resource and energy budget. Although you would not guess it from the mainstream media, our contemporary obsession with economic growth is already a "dead man walking."

Thai Buddhist elder Sulak Sivaraksa believes the future of the world must include interconnectedness, which for him is a spiritual perspective that dwells in the human heart. Globalization preaches the interdependence of nations, but that type of economic interconnectedness functions in a very different way: in Asia it has brought free-market fundamentalism, environmental degradation, and the destruction of Buddhist culture and values by consumerism. The same inner corrosion has been happening in "overdeveloped" as well as in "underdeveloped" countries. Individuals are induced by advertising to earn more to acquire more, creating an endless cycle of greed and insecurity. Those who die with the most toys "win."

According to Buddhist teachings, it doesn't have to be like this. Buddhists should add their voices to other calls for society to go beyond the one-dimensional measurement of gross domestic product (GDP), which is merely a crude total of collective expenditures. The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan has developed an alternative way to calculate social improvement, the Gross National Happiness index. This measures nine aspects of society: time-use, living standards, good governance, psychological well-being, community vitality, culture, health, education and ecology.
(19 September 2011)



Humanity’s Fatal Distraction

Chris Clugston, Dandelion Salad
Metaphorically, our well is running dry, yet we insist on tinkering with the pump.

Our anthropocentric (human-centered) perspective offers two conflicting viewpoints regarding the underlying cause and appropriate solution associated with the economic malaise that persists throughout most of the industrialized world.

... “Conservative Right” Viewpoint: excessive government intervention in the economy causes resource misallocation—malinvestment—thereby causing suboptimal societal wellbeing (the material living standards enjoyed by our industrialized populations).

The solution is unfettered free markets, which will optimize resource allocation and maximize wealth creation, thereby maximizing societal wellbeing.

“Liberal Left” Viewpoint: unfettered free market capitalism causes resource misallocation toward the wealthy minority, thereby causing suboptimal societal wellbeing.

The solution is government sponsored economic policies and programs, which will mandate the “equitable” allocation of resources and promote “social justice”, thereby maximizing societal wellbeing.

While the right is primarily concerned with “optimum” resource allocation and the left is primarily concerned with “equitable” resource allocation, both sides advocate the perpetuation of our industrial lifestyle paradigm; and both sides thereby advocate the ongoing exploitation of natural resources, especially nonrenewable natural resources (NNRs), in order to achieve this objective.

Further, each side believes that our economic malaise will be resolved—possibly following a major economic crisis—only when people “come to their senses” and implement its proposed solution.

Flaws in Our Anthropocentric Perspective

Unfortunately, both anthropocentric viewpoints are inherently flawed…
(12 September 2011)



Downloadable book on green economics
(PDF)
Saral Sarkar, Initiative Ökosozialismus
The Crises of Capitalism
A Different Study of Political Economy

In the anti-globalization movement and among those who are generally critical of globalization, there are two very popular slogans: “A different world is possible” and “The world is not a commodity”. I have my doubts whether all activists of the movement are really aware of the implications of these slogans. It is the world they talk about. , So one may expect that these activists have overcome thinking in terms of national interests. They also talk of another world which they dream about. But what is this other world supposed to look like? Here the second slogan helps us. It criticizes an economic system in which almost everything has become a commodity. Since exactly this is one of the main characteristics of capitalism, one could expect that these activists dream of a non-capitalist world. I was well aware of this meaning of this very important slogan of the movement which I have been part of since 1997 (starting with the anti-MAI campaign1), although I did not bring up this discussion then out of consideration for my reformist partners in the alliance.

But in the following years it has become apparent – and it has also repeatedly been made clear to me by other activists – that the majority of the participants in the movement, also the majority of its leaders, do not want to create another world – a non-capitalist one. They only want to make the present one, the global-capitalistic world, a little better, fairer, more social, and more ecological. Moreover, they are not against globalization, but merely critical of globalization. And this applies also to the other social movements that are associated with the merely-critical section of the movement: the trade union movement, the Third World solidarity movement, the unemployed workers movement, the peace movement, the ecology movement, which in the meantime has come to a halt, etc.

In all these movements, there is – and there has always been – a minority of activists, myself included, whose vision of a better/different world is that of a non-capitalist one – a socialist one, to be more precise. For a few years after 1989, i.e. after the collapse of the state-socialist regimes in Eastern Europe, they refrained from openly speaking about the necessity of a socialist society – maybe out of fear of being ridiculed. But just ten years later, during the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, a large number of people expressed the opinion that in capitalism, there can be no solution to even a single social problem. After the end of the Cold War, there had been a euphoric, festive mood in large parts of the world population and among their opinion leaders. The hope of a great "peace dividend" was in the air. In Europe, there was talk of a “common European house”. By 1999, this euphoric-festive mood had totally evaporated. What determined the general picture of the world in the 1990s and ever since was a series of severe economic crises (Eastern Europe, Russia, Mexico, East Asia, etc.), a series of wars and civil wars (for instance, in the Balkans and in Rwanda) the growing impoverishment and economic insecurity of large parts of the world population side by side with the growing wealth of a minority, environmental and natural calamities, and large numbers of refugees fleeing from wars, environmental degradations, economic crises and just poverty. .In Seattle one could hear the slogan “Let us smash capitalism”. Many were convinced that a different world was not only possible but also necessary. In 1989, one could not imagine that the worldwide victory of capitalism as an ideology – though not as a concrete system – would be so short-lived, that already in the year 2000 people would be talking of its failure.

But that, indeed, is now the case. Many people are so convinced of this assertion that they are now asking for an alternative. But is there an alternative at all? Should we look for an alternative to capitalism itself or for alternatives to parts of it, within capitalism? As stated above, the majority of the participants in the new social movements are reformists. They are so, because in their view there is (unfortunately) no alternative to capitalism. Those who want to overcome capitalism, the radicals, work together with reformists. For they think that even a mere alleviation of sufferings is in itself a worthwhile objective, especially because they have lost the firm conviction of their Marxist past that the laws of history will lead mankind to socialism or communism or to a higher, better form of society, and that they themselves are mere instruments of history.

In 1999, I gave a lecture on the contents of my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? (1999), which had just been published, before an audience composed largely of such activists, that is to say, socialists. They did not agree with any of my main theses, which deviated very much from their old and noble positions. On my way home I asked a leading member of a small Trotskist socialist party how he could expect that capitalism would one day get into such a severe crisis that the organized working class – in spite of its disappointing history – would at last do away with it.

... The whole discussion among Marxist socialists on the question regarding the final crisis of capitalism is a sad story. They have been waiting for the final crisis or the collapse of capitalism for over a hundred years. They have written hundreds of books and thousands of essays on this topic. The final crisis, however, has not arrived yet.

... Only at the beginning of the 21st century and in the years thereafter, a real atmosphere of crisis could be felt. And it did not appear to be fading away. On the contrary, it persisted and was deepening. But not so much because of the aggravation of the inner contradictions of capitalism, which Marxists always talk about and which do indeed exist, not because of conflicts between national state monopoly capitalisms, ... No, the most important cause of this crisis atmosphere is something very different, something which Marxists and other leftists could never before imagine as a cause of crisis. It is global warming, which is causing climate catastrophes together with various other destructive ecological crises over and above the everyday global pollution and degradation of the environment. And in future, all this will be happening increasingly and most certainly.

At the same time – and this is the second most important cause of the crisis atmosphere – a prognosis made by Dennis Meadows and his co-authors in 1972 in their book Limits to Growth is coming true, namely that the cheap reserves of nonrenewable resources would gradually get exhausted. As we know, since the beginning of the 21st century the world market price for oil, the most important energy source of industrial economies, has been rising almost continuously. In knowledgeable circles people are already talking of “peak oil”, and many predict a big crisis when oil is no longer affordable for most people. There is even talk of the impending end of the oil era. The world market price for natural gas, coal, and important industrial metals has also been rising for a number of years now (since the beginning of the recession of 2008–2009 some prices have again fallen). What is even worse, since 2007 food prices have sharply risen worldwide.

This double crisis (I call it the pincer grip crisis; see Chapter X, 5) is not just the crisis of capitalism, as what most leftists would like to see it. In the long run, it will also inevitably cause the end of industrial society per se.
(2011)
Translated from the German.

Suggested by Sandy Irvine (Newcastle Green Party) who writes: "I am circulating this link to a book on green economics which can be freely downloaded. It is by Saral Sarkar who has written, I believe, an outstanding study of past and present economic crises. He is one of the few people to integrate successfully a full ecological perspective on matters like the 2008 downturn."

-BA

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