Monday 12 December 2016

Trump's Victory -- What It Says to Us, What It Makes Me Think

Trump has won, despite everything. I think Americans must now stop demonstrating against a democratically legitimated result and stop shouting childish slogans like "Not our President". We must understand the phenomenon, now, if we are to do something about it in future.
   I shall not here try to narrate and analyze the small details of the contest, what kind of people voted Trump etc. Most probably, traditional Republican voters voted Trump, and traditional Democratc voters voted Hillary. The more interesting question is: why did many of those who in the past regularly voted Democratic candidates and Obama in the last two elections this time voted Trump? Nor shall I go into the minor and superficial causes of Trump's victory and Hilary's defeat. I shall rather focus on some basic points and causes of some basic trends that had been clearly noticeable for quite a few years now, almost everywhere – in the USA and parts of Europe, but also in Asia and Latin America (Africa is quite a different category). They are (1) failure and retreat of what is generally called "leftist, democratic, progressive, liberal and egalitarian" forces and policies, and (2) simultaneous ascendancy of what is generally called "conservative, reactionary, nationalistic, authoritarian and anti-egalitarian" forces and policies. I cannot here critically examine all these terms. Let us take them in their currently usual meanings. Examples for these trends are not hard to find. In shorthand: France (decline of PS, rise of Front National), Holland (Gerd Wilder's party), Germany (decline of SPD, rise of AFD), Brexit, ruling parties in Poland, Hungary etc, rise of Islamist forces in Arab and Muslim majority countries, rise of Hindu nationalist forces in India (PM Modi), the Philippines (President Dutarte's murderous anti-drugs policy), impeachment of Labor Party President Dilma Roussef in Brasil etc.

Things Are Changing Fast – Minority In Their Own country

Ever since Trump's victory was announced, the melody of a famous German song written by Bert Brecht is continuously going through my head. In my English translation it reads as follows:1

At the bottom of the Moldau, the pebbles are rolling
There lie three Kaisers buried in Prag.
The great remain not great, and the small not small,
The night lasts twelve hours, then the day does come.

The times change, the great plans of the Powerful
Come to a halt. And even though
They proceed like bloody cocks,
The times do change, no violence can that stop.

Brecht was a communist. When he wrote this on the inevitability of times changing, he surely meant to say (at least this is my interpretation) the bad days of the Kaisers (the capitalist bosses) will soon be over and better days for the small people (the working class) will come.
    But Brecht died in 1956 and communism/socialism was wound up by communists/socialists themselves in 1989. So why am I quoting this song today? Because deep down, away from the superficial hustle and bustle of daily politics, things have still been moving, though most people have been too busy to note that at the moment. Because, in other words, in 1989, history did not after all come to an end2, when the big bosses thought they had won the cold war once and for all.
    I recently  read an article by Robert P. Jones in the online New York Times3 in which the author, while trying to explain the result of the election, cited the (for me) astounding fact that

"between Barack Obama’s 2008 election and 2016, America has transformed from being a majority white Christian nation (54 percent) to a minority white Christian nation (43 percent)." On election day, "this anxious minority swarmed to the polls to elect as president the candidate who promised to 'make America great again' and warned that he was its 'last chance' to turn back the tide of cultural and economic change."

Let me here also quote a promise that Trump had made to his followers: "The forgotten men and women of America will not be forgotten anymore." This quote (partly also the previous one) refers to those once proud skilled working class whites, generally called in the USA the middle class, who in the wake of the financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession of 2008ff had lost their houses and savings, many of whom were literally rendered homeless paupers. It also refers to those who had lost their jobs in the wake of the large-scale closure of manufacturing enterprises or their relocation in Mexico, China, South East Asia etc. These working-class white Christian people plus the blacks and Latinos, at least the majority of them, were formerly voters of the Democratic Party. This time, these millions of losers of neo-liberal globalization voted in large numbers for Trump, the anti-establishment candidate, because they have been feeling betrayed, left out, without any hope of regaining any time soon their lost status and self-esteem, simply forgotten by the elites and the two established parties. About a week after the election, toward explaining its result, Berni Sanders said: while Trump recognized that there are millions of people today – working-class people, middle-class people, low-income people – who are living in despair and turning to alcohol, drugs and suicide, the Democrats did not.4  Hilary Clinton had even called them a "basket of deplorables", so that a leftist author called Trump's victory the "Revenge of the Deplorables"4 Remember also that during this same process, the rich, called in American political jargon "the one percent", became enormously richer.
    This hugely negative economic change would have sufficed to understand the rage of the Trump voters. But simultaneously also taking place has been what Jones calls a tide of cultural change. Actually, it is more a radical change in the ethnic composition of the American population. Culturally, the Blacks and the Latinos are not much different from working-class white Christians. All Latinos and the vast majority of the Blacks are also Christians. All Blacks and most Latinos, except the newcomers, speak averagely good American English. Moreover, Spanish is a European language like English, and all new-comer Latinos and Blacks are eager to learn English. All want to and are eagerly trying to integrate themselves into the American labor force. But still, because they look different, come from non-European and, what is more important, poorer regions of the world, and are late-comers, they cannot feel and also are not regarded as belonging to the ethnic group5 comprising the progenies of the early and not so early white settlers and recent white European immigrants in North America. The latter ethnic group has been thinking for about 240 years now that the USA is their country. There is no denying, however, that for many of them, especially white and devout Christians, it has also been culturally shocking that Blacks and LGBTs (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) were so vociferously claiming and even occupying normal to prominent places in society.
    White Americans already had difficulty in socially integrating the freed black slaves and their descendants, when, several decades ago, not only large numbers of Latinos, but also people from many other
non-European regions and belonging to different ethnic and religious-cultural groups began immigrating in the USAAsians, Arabs, Persians, Africans etc. Most of them came legally. They also got the Green Card (work permit). The almost continuously growing US economy needed their labor power and their intelligence, and their contributions to building up the prosperity and power of the USA was appreciated. Racial segregation was formally (though not in reality) ended. People started calling the USA a great melting pot. But not for long. Economic crises became more frequent. Racial conflicts and violent race riots appeared in American towns and cities. And then neo-liberal globalization wreaked havoc in the economy and social structure of the country. Now the White Christians have already become a minority in their own country. They are now increasingly feeling they are losing their country.

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

For several years now, successive governments of the USA have been trying to deport the 11 million illegal Latino immigrants. There cannot be any economic reason for that, because unlike in the EU, almost all illegal immigrants in the USA are working in the economy, which needs these cheap unskilled laborers for bad jobs that white skilled workers do not generally want to take. They are also not demanding, nor will they get, any help from the state. Maybe it is part of the last-ditch attempt by the white-Christians to prevent further erosion of their power and numerical strength in their own country. But apart from those who are caught while crossing the border, it is very difficult to do.
    It is well known that, generally speaking, in times of economic crisis xenophobia increases. The disadvantaged locals look for weak scapegoats for their perceived sufferings. They cannot attack the capitalists or their political agents, who govern the country, but they can attack the immigrants who came from relatively poor countries in large numbers to work and make money here. This has been taking place in the UK before and after the Brexit referendum, where even Polish legal immigrants – white, Christian, and EU-citizens – are being attacked and sought to be driven out of the UK. This is also taking place in Germany in the wake of the large-scale forced entry of non-European non-white asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. The "disadvantaged" locals want to "take their country back". In the UK, the pro-Brexit voters believed they already had lost their country. A German extreme rightist politician said in a speech (in my free translation): "If the Afghan immigrants are deported, they have a country to go back to. But if we lose our country, we have nowhere to go." German authorities know how difficult it is to deport an illegal immigrant. They cannot any more deport all. It is too late. In the USA, large sections of the White Christian working class feel they have already lost "their country" and also their economic basis. Jones, who has recently published a book on the subject,6 thinks the overwhelming support that Trump received from the White Christian working class voters is the expression of rage of this group of Americans against their plight.  He concludes his article with the words: "The waning numbers of white Christians in the country today may not have time on their side, but as the sun is slowly setting on the cultural world of white Christian America, they’ve managed, at least in this election, to rage against the dying of the light."7

The contradictions of Globalization

The two changes mentioned above – economic and ethnic/cultural – are interconnected through both being results of the process of economic globalization: It is this that resulted in the forced or voluntary immigration of hundreds of millions of non-white and non-Christian people in the USA as well as the large-scale relocation of American industries and other businesses in other countries. Ricardo's theory of free international trade was based on the justifiable assumption that everybody, every businessman and every nation desires to become as rich as possible. He showed, in my opinion convincingly at the abstract theory level, that all nations participating in free international trade would prosper (a win-win deal, as we say today) if they concentrate on producing and selling at the world market not only those goods in which they have an absolute advantage but also those in which they have what he called a "comparative advantage". That is roughly also what happened in the economic history of the world: participating nations did prosper. But it has not proved to be an unmitigated benefit for all in all nations That is why we see that for many years now, all over the world, there has been a lot of
dissatisfaction with and opposition to further development of free international trade, that is since long also coupled with further development of free flow of investment capital from one country to another. The most well-known examples thereof are the protest movements against multilateral and bilateral trade agreements such as NAFTA, MAI, CETA, TPP, and TTIP.8     Nobody can say that this opposition has been totally unjustified. To explain it in one sentence, the assertion of the protagonists of free international trade and investment that "when the flood tide comes, it lifts all boats" has proved to be wrong. Because not all citizens of a nation sit in a boat, and not all nations possess an ocean-going boat. What I mean to say thereby is that a part of the population of a nation and many nations of the world can be and have indeed been left behind and forgotten in the process of global economic development. Especially this section of the US-American population – the proletariat of the "rust belt" of America for example – chose Trump as their leader, particularly because he promised to role back the (in their eyes) evil tide of economic globalization.
    It is a more
fundamental rejection of economic globalization than what I have heard (and read) from the anti-CETA and anti-TTIP movement´s of European environmentalists, leftists, Attac-activists etc. Most of the better known points of the latter's criticism of these proposed trade agreements are so insignificant that they could easily be invalidated by small concessions. That also happened in the case of CETA, when the German and Canadian Economy Ministers made some concessions in the face of strong opposition to it. In contrast, the main argument of the millions of US-American victims of globalization (the unemployed and now unemployable) has been that they have lost the very source of their livelihood, the manufacturing industries, without any chance of getting an equivalent alternative one. That is why they and their leader Trump are for protectionism.
    This explains another difference. In Germany, where I live, (maybe also in the other highly developed EU-countries) the great majority of the leftist and environmentalist opponents of globalization have consistently refused to call their movement an
anti-globalization one. They assert theirs is only a globalization-critical movement. They want to say thereby that they do not deny that there are economic advantages of this process, for all concerned parties. Their opposition to the various proposed international trade agreements has therefore never been fundamental.
    I have found very little sensitivity among such merely critical activists to some real and
more serious issues associated with economic globalization. They are as follows:
    (1) It
divides the working class of the world more effectively than anything that the bourgeoisie could think up before. When a manufacturing unit is shut down in Pennsylvania and relocated in Mexico, several hundred American workers lose their livelihood, but in Mexico several hundred hitherto unemployed workers got these jobs, albeit with less wages. When, in the 1990s, Siemens decided to close down their cell phone production factory in Bochum and relocate it in Hungary, the German workers bitterly fought to defend their jobs. They were even ready to accept wage cuts. But they ultimately failed. At a meeting held in solidarity with these German workers I raised the question: what should the Left say to the unemployed Hungarian workers who were eagerly waiting to get these jobs? The answer I got from a local left leader was simply: "Workers must fight to defend every job." That was all.
    (2) As we have now seen, it even gives rise to
animosities between ethnic groups of people who become competitors for jobs in one and the same proposed factories and other economic opportunities. Such competition, of course, exists even between cities in one and the same country (e.g. in Germany, where it is called Standortwettbewerb). But it never becomes ethnic animosity. If factories and businesses cannot or do not want to leave developed countries in favor of those poor countries that at the moment do not have any comparative advantage other than lowest wages, or if the latter are not enough to strongly attract international capital (the majority of the sub-Saharan African countries, for example), then the masses of poor and/or unemployed people of these countries simply migrate, legally or illegally, into the more prosperous countries and regions. In the Republic of South Africa, this recently led to ethnic riots (2015) between workers who are citizens of the RSA and the legal or illegal immigrant workers from the other African countries, all blacks, mind you. The story of unwelcome illegal immigrants from Africa and the Middle East into the EU and physical attacks on them are well known.
    (3) Competition between states to attract investments leads inter alia to
downward pressure on wages, social benefits, and other conditions of work, in short, to a race to the bottom. Mr. Lafontaine, a leading German politician once said (roughly): "In the matter of wages, we simply cannot win the rat race against China"
    (4) Globalization facilitates
tchnological development, the secret of increase in labor productivity, and that leads, through concomitant growth in automation, to further unemployment.
    (5) Since most technological developments are resource-intensive, they ipso facto cause more
environmental degradation.

Contradictions of Trump's Anti-Globalization Program

Actually, all critics and opponents of globalization should now be rejoicing. After all, Trump has announced he would withdraw the US signature from the TPP and renegotiate the NAFTA. And the TTIP is now dead. I too rejoiced at this prospect, but for
reasons different from those that motivated Trump and his supporters to oppose these. Trump wants to "make America great again", not I. What does "great" mean in this context?
    If the American manufacturing sector revives, well, then probably many new jobs will be created in it, and many more goods would be supplied to the American economy by America-based companies and less goods of similar kinds would be imported, say, from China, India or Bangladesh. But American workers would not work for Bangladeshi wages. That is not what they voted Trump for. Prices of goods made in the USA would rise. Wouldn't American consumers, including working class ones, miss the damn cheap goods made in China? Wouldn't American industries, though revived, soon lose competitiveness at the world market?
Protectionism has a downside too. This surely would lead to a strong shrinking of the American economy and its national income as well as that of the whole world. Would America then still be able to maintain its hundreds of military bases all around the world and its huge weaponry, the basis of its military greatness? He surely does not mean any kind of spiritual or cultural greatness! Or does he?
    What is worse, a chain of retaliatory measures of other manufacturing countries – increasing import duties and competitive devaluation of the national currencies – would surely follow. Economic historians know how in the early 1930s, exactly such measures led to a deepening of the Great Depression. Certainly, a similar situation today would not be welcome to Trump and his admirers. That would not make America great again.
    And poverty would return to those formerly poor countries that had seen a little prosperity by exporting simple goods like clothing to rich industrial countries. I would not here take up the question what had made America great in the past? That is another topic. I would however like to see whether in the coming years, in such a situation, the USA would be able to become "great" again.
    It is a pity that the leadership of the
radical anti-globalization movement had to come from a Trump who is a racist and a petty white American nationalist (America First). But those who have been leading the globalization-critical movement refused to accept the fundamental reason why one should oppose economic globalization. They raised relatively minor objections to the various new agreement proposals, not the fundamental one. If we look at the most important arguments of their protagonists – business leaders and economy ministers – they can be reduced to just two sentences: (1) today, economic growth is not only good but also essential for the health of the economy and society, globally as well as for each particular nation (it generates profits and also jobs and income), and (2) the more we liberalize international trade and remove the various barriers to it, the more growth can be achieved. But if we reject the growth imperative from the calculation, their arguments lose all value. The leaders of the globalization-critical movements refused to do that. Those, however, who have understood the general global environmental crisis, and the climate crisis in particular, should (1) oppose any- and everything that promotes global economic growth; they should demand that the growth imperative be replaced by a stop growth imperative; they should (2) oppose any further labor-saving technological development, and (3) for the long-term, they should advocate a policy of planned contraction (de-growth) of all overdeveloped economies, and, simultaneously, a planned reduction of the global human population.
    Economic contraction is not the conscious purpose of Trump's anti-globalization program. But if we have a little good luck, it might,
by a roundabout route,
serve our purposes. Trump would then, after eight years, be remembered (and lauded) for having brought about a much needed worldwide economic contraction that would do good to our biosphere. At first he would of course be cursed by all but a few radical environmentalists, but he would later be remembered as

"A part of a part of that power that always
The evil wills, and yet the good achieves."9

    Similarly, by enforcing the deportation of a part of the 11 million illegal immigrants from South America, he might force the ruling elites of the subcontinent to adopt policies that would encourage and enable people to stay in their native countries. Such policies might include reversing the pro-globalization policies of the past decades, which, as we know, largely caused and hugely facilitated unwanted migration in other countries. That might also globally have a positive effect. Again, he would be cursed at first, but future presidents and prime ministers of other countries would laud him for having unwittingly taken the initiative for a real solution to the vexed worldwide refugee-immigrant problem.

Blind Alley of Identity Politics

Hillary Clinton's defeat by such a bad candidate like Trump is another proof of the negative value of identity politics. In the good days of the recent past, when the promise of prosperity for all within the capitalist framework remained plausible, it did no harm that other issues took priority over basic left, i.e., generally speaking, anti-capitalist and egalitarian, politics.
Leftists and progressives in the USA appeared to concentrate on issues like political human rights in distant countries, civil rights of the Afro-Americans, rights of native Indians and Latino immigrants, positive discrimination (affirmative action) and special rights for women, LGBT groups, ethnic groups etc. At times, it appeared as if such an exotic issue like same-sex marriage was more important to them than the election of the next President. The Democratic Party, which until recently collected all votes of leftist and progressive people, was, under President Clinton, allowed to change course in favor of a fully neoliberal-globalized capitalism.
    But then the big crisis came in 2008 and it is continuing. The economic and ecological world situation demanded most urgent attention to substantial political-economic questions. But Berni Sanders, who offered this change in priority, was rejected as the Democratic Party candidate. Many American women's main argument for selecting Hillary was that, after a black President, it was now a woman's turn to be President. One female stalwart of recent American politics, Madame Albright, threatened those American women who would not support Hillary with the pronouncement that they would land in hell (Maybe she did not really mean it literally). A famous feminist, Gloria Steinem, accused young women who were supporting Berni Sanders of not having the ability to think for themselves and supporting Sanders only because their boy-friends were doing so (she later apologized). This argument – it is now a woman's turn – was put at the top, although it was known that Hillary was the candidate of Wall Street, that she was a very belligerent hawk in US politics, and that, if elected President, she would cause further escalation of the war in Syria.
    Identity politics is the
bane of all universal and substantial politics, especially of left and ecological politics. For its adherents, to look after the particular interests of their own identity group is the most important goal, fighting for and defending those interests is the primary task. Interests of the whole humanity, or even of the nation, are only secondary matters for them. It is divisive, and it corrodes all unity against capitalism. What is good in many Scots saying they are Scots, not British, and they cannot and do not want to live with the Brits in the same state? What is good in the Catalans' efforts to achieve a separate state of their own because they do not want to share their wealth with the other ethnic groups?10 It is not that they are somehow being discriminated against in their current united polity, in which case they would have some justification for demanding separation. All these separatist movements distract the people from the real and most urgent problems of mankind.
    In India, Dalits11 indeed suffer de facto discrimination in Hindu society. But instead of trying to make a united front with progressive people of the other sections of the Indian population for
overcoming the caste system, their movement has in reality become one for perpetuating the system. For, years ago, they succeeded in getting laws passed that guarantee them a certain percentage of government jobs and seats in universities and other institutions. In a country like India, where both good jobs and good educational opportunities are in short supply, the beneficiaries of such privileges would never desire to abolish the privilege of belonging to the officially attested Dalit castes. This politics has done more harm than good. It has generated more conflicts among people at large. Identity groups are today fighting other identity groups.

Conclusion: Social Entropy

Seen globally, one can today safely generalize that the six decades long effort to bring development, prosperity, modernization, Enlightenment and democracy in the whole world has failed. On the same path, there is little hope of a better future, except for a few fortunate ones. Even
in Germany, where the economic and social situation is among the best in the highly developed countries, pessimism is spreading among discerning people. Most recently, Oliver Nachtwey, a researcher on the state of German society, described Germany as a society in fear of decline (Abstiegsgesellschaft).12 There, even skilled workers cannot hope any more that their children would have a better life than they had, even university students cannot be sure they would have a secure and well-paid job after graduation. The good days are over and will certainly not come back any more That must also be the basic reason why also the social climate in Germany has become harsher. According to a latest official report, the incidence of politically motivated crime has sharply increased. It states inter alia that in 2016 every second respondent said that because of the Muslims he feels "like a foreigner in his own country"; 41 percent of the respondents said that Muslims must not be allowed to immigrate into Germany.13 Sandra Navidi, an insider of the global finance market, shows in her book Super Hubs14 that, actually, it is not the elected politicians, but the very well connected finance elites of the world (like e.g. George Soros and Wall Street bankers) who rule over the world economy. She said in a TV interview that even the super-rich are nowadays fearing the backlash, that they are on the look out for safe havens where they could flee to in the event of a big crisis.
    It has become clear to most honest observers that things will not become better under the present system. They have become conscious that a sort of
social entropy is at work. In the EU one is more and more talking of a centrifugal force that is working against the union. Politically conscious people are saying everywhere: we need an alternative; activists are saying they are searching for an alternative to this system. But till now no alternative has emerged, that has convinced the majority of citizens in any country. Only several ideas are circulating, many of which are mere illusions based on expectations of technological miracles.
    I would here like to submit an
impossibility theorem, which I formulated in an earlier blog as follows: It is impossible to fulfill the continuously growing demands, wishes, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population, while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing. It is a lunatic idea that in a finite world infinite growth is possible.15  Mass discontent is therefore bound to continuously rise.
    In this situation, large masses of deprived and frustrated citizens of the rich countries are not looking forward to a better future in a democratic-leftist or eco-technological utopia; they are
looking backward to a nationalist-rightist solution to their problems. That is how "populist" figures like Trump are getting elected. And in Europe, such possibilities are growing.
    Actually, far-sighted and discerning observers of world affairs could foresee such a development. About 20 years ago, when the great East Asian crisis16 had broken out and was ruining the economies and societies of that region, John Gray17 wrote:

“The regime of laissez-faire [he used this term to mean neo-liberal globalization] is bound to trigger counter-movements which reject its constraints. Such movements – whether populist and xenophobic, fundamentalist or neo-communist – can achieve few of their goals; but they can still rattle to pieces the brittle structures that support global laissez-faire.” (P. 20)

And Gorge Soros,18 the arch speculator, who himself profited enormously from this system, feared that “elections in Indonesia could well produce a nationalistic, Islamic government inspired by Mahatir's [Prime Minister of Malaysia] ideas" (P. 133). He believed he could “already discern the makings of the final crisis". He wrote:

"It will be political in character. Indigenous political movements are likely to arise that will seek to expropriate the multinational corporations and 'recapture' the national wealth. Some of them may succeed … . Their success may then shake the confidence of the financial markets, engendering a self-reinforcing process on the downside. Whether it will happen on this occasion or the next one is an open question." (P. 134)

Even an US-American leftist professor could foresee the rise of such a person like Trump. Richard Rorty wrote in 1997:

"One day, there will be a rift in America. A considerable part of the voters will come to the conclusion that the 'system' has failed, and they will look for a strong man whom they could elect. He will assure them that after he is elected the dirty bureaucrats, shady lawyers, overpaid fund managers, and postmodern professors would have nothing more to say. Once such a strongman is elected, nobody would be able to say what would happen. In 1932, the predictions that were made on what would happen if Hindenburg would make Hitler the Chancellor proved to be incredibly optimistic." (retranslated from a German translation)*19

I have expounded my conception of the final crisis of capitalism in my two theoretical books,20  in which I have also dealt with the question what we should and could do in the present situation of the world. It is a very difficult question. It must be addressed, but I think I should finish this essay here with the words: we must prepare ourselves for the worst and try to do our best. That's all.

Notes and References

1. The first two lines of the original German text reads as follows:

"Am Grunde der Moldau wandern die Steine
es liegen drei Kaiser begraben in Prag.

2. This is an allusion to philosopher Francis Fukuyama's theoretical claim that with the fall of the socialist system "history" had come to an end

. Jones, Robert P "The Rage of White, Christian America", NOV. 10, 2016

4. Scheer, Robert: "
Revenge of the ‘Deplorables’ " in Truthdig online, Nov 9, 2016

5. For understanding the terms ethnicity and ethnic group, see
Weber, Max (…) "The Concept of Ethnicity"; and

Smith, Anthony D. (…) "Structure and Persistence of Ethnie";

both in:

Guibernau, Montserrat, and Rex, John (eds.) (1997) The Ethnicity Reader. Cambridge, UK:
Polity Press.

6. Jones, Robert P. (2016): The End of White Christian America. (The USA …).

7. See note 3. Jones here uses a line of a famous song of Dylan Thomas.

8. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is an agreement signed by
Canada, Mexico, and the United States, creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America.
MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) was a proposed investment agreement among OECD states. Negotiations on it was begun in 1997 and dropped in 1998.
(Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is a tentative
free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.
TPP (Transpacific Partnership) is a tentative free trade agreement between the littoral states of the Pacific Ocean.
TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is a proposed
trade agreement between the European Union and the United States.

9. Mephisto's self-introduction in Goethe's Faust I. Sarkar's translation.

10. See my blog (2014)
Unity Or Separation? -- Did The Scots decide Sensibly?

11. Dalits is the collective term used in India for all castes of the lowest rung in Hindu society. All Indian aborigines are generally included in this term.

12. Nachtwey, Oliver (2016) Abstiegsgesellschaft.
Berlin: Suhrkamp.

13. Integrationsbericht 2016 (as reported in K├Âlner Stadtanzeiger)

14. Navidi, Sandra (2016) Super-Hubs–Wie die Finanzelite und ihre Netzwerke die Welt regieren. Verlag FBV bei Amazon.

15. Sarkar, Saral (2016) A Historic Event or a Fraud? -- Critical Thoughts on the Paris Climate Accord.

16. see my book The Crises of Capitalism (see note 20)

17. Gray, John (1999) False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism. London: Granta.

18. Soros, George (1998) The Crisis of Global Capitalism. London: Little, Brown.

19. Rorty, Richard (1997) Achieving Our Country. The quote here is taken and retranslated from:

Lepenies, Wolf (2016) "
US-Philosoph sah schon 1997 das Szenario Trump voraus."
DIE WELT . 8.11.2016

20. Sarkar, Saral (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices. London: Zed Books.

Sarkar, Saral (2012) The Crises of Capitalism. A Different Study of Political Economy. Berkeley: Counterpoint.

Friday 7 October 2016

Saving the Planet, American Style -- A Critical Review, and Some Thoughts and Ideas

Planet Earth, our habitat, is in dire straits And our world is suffering from various crises, conflicts and problems. There is hardly any sign that something is seriously being done to solve these problems.
    Some Americans – not government officials, not corporate big-wigs, but civil society activists – have now come forward to save the earth and, along with it, the world. It is only this nation, they seem to assume, that can really do something to take up the task – thanks to its enormous military and economic power. They have not only spoken generally on solutions, they have also worked out more or less detailed and apparently well-founded plans of action. These plans are now also being discussed, seriously and widely. They have come from the civil society. You may also call them grassroots groups, although they are so big and so well resourced that they may be compared with big lobby organizations that have access to the powers that be, i.e. they cannot be suspected of any hidden agenda. I have now read two such plans and two discussion papers 1, 2,3,4  One of the plans, entitled
A World at War, comes from Bill McKibben,1 founder of the group, that mainly organized the huge demonstration in New York in September 2014. McKibben was one of the members of the committee that drafted (later adopted) the Democratic Party platform for this year's presidential election in the USA. I shall discuss this plan first, as the whole discussion started with it. The Climate Mobilization (for short TCM)2, for whom Ezra Silk prepared a first draft of a detailed action  plan, by and large follows the main idea of McKibben.

Wrong Analysis/ Wrong Etiology

McKibben compares the whole effort that he calls for with a
"war" effort, with the huge American military and industrial mobilization for World War II. Now, you cannot fight a war without knowing your enemy! Here McKibben makes the initial big error in analysis, although "war" is here only a metaphor. The enemy, he thinks, is climate change; he imagines this enemy is committing a huge aggression against us, the world, as if it has some Satanic will. Once he calls it an "enemy as powerful and inexorable as the laws of physics."
    Nothing can be more absurd than this analysis of the situation. Any person with some common sense, including McKibben, knows that climate change is only the result of something else. Of course, the extreme weather events that are so regularly happening are largely being caused by climate change, which in turn is being caused by global warming. But even global warming is not the ultimate "enemy". We know today that it is man-made. For a moment McKibben also recognized his error. He himself mentions in a half-sentence "
our insatiable desires as consumers," but he failed to spell it out as the right diagnosis of the malady.
    All this should not actually surprise us. Already in the 19th century Friederich Engels made a similar mistake. He wrote: " …our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us,"5  as if nature is a living being with the anthropomorphic character trait of getting angry and taking revenge when hurt by some enemy. James Lovelock, however, who likened nature to the ancient Greek Earth-Goddess Gaia wrote: "It may be that the white hot rash of our technology will in the end prove destructive and painful for our own species, but the evidence for accepting that industrial activities either at their present level or in the immediate future may endanger the life of Gaia as a whole, is very week indeed."6 In other words, Lovelock's theory says Gaia is only bothered about the continued existence of life on earth. She will guarantee that. But whether in the future biosphere humans would still have a place is none of her concern. This indifference of hers to our fate may make us sad, but that is no good reason to think of our response to climate change in terms of a Third World War as McKibben does.

Wrong Strategy/Wrong Prescription

We may allow McKibben his war metaphor in the name of poetic license. But if a general makes a wrong analysis of the war situation or, said in the jargon of applied medical science, if the diagnosis is wrong, the strategy or the prescribed medicine may do more harm than good. McKibben's prescription, the huge dose of the wrong medicine, a huge mobilization for the "Third World War" that climate change is allegedly waging against us, is actually uncalled-for. McKibben could have prescribed a much lighter and more effective medicine (a simpler strategy) to remedy the "white hot rash", i.e. global warming, if he had based his prescription on his more correct analysis (or diagnosis), namely his own half-sentence "
our insatiable desires as consumers".
    Any leftist of any kind would speak of the capitalists' insatiable desire for profit and capital accumulation as the main cause of our troubles. She would call upon us to wage class struggle. The diagnosis of Engels, however, was much better, more comprehensive. He spoke of
"us" and "our human [technological] victories over nature" as the cause that provoked nature's revenge. But this wise man of the 19th century, a century agog with scientific and technological optimism, could not but think of any medicine other than more of the same poison that caused the malady in the first place. He wrote:

"… all our mastery of [nature] consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.
    And, in fact, … after the mighty advances made by the natural sciences in the present century, we are more than ever in a position to realize and hence to control even the more remote natural consequences of our day-to-day production activities."5  

    McKibben belongs to the camp of Berni Sanders, who boldly and openly called himself a democratic socialist. But he, like Sanders, is not willing to condemn, let alone openly fight against, capitalism, as Engels did. He however accepts Engels's other idea quoted here and fights only against climate change by technological means. Blinded by optimism, such people believe that a 100 percent transition to renewable energies is possible. They say we need more technology, not less; they assert we could overcome all crises and problems of mankind by means of technology. I already heard in 1984 that the intermittency-and-storage problem of renewable energies has been solved, namely by means of liquid hydrogen.

Feasibility and Viability

Basing himself on calculations of some US scientists and engineers, Mckibben shows what a huge effort would be necessary to accomplish the complete energy transition in the USA by 2050. It would be similar to the whole industrial mobilization in the USA that was necessary to win the World War II. He writes: "…
you would need to build a hell of a lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields, and millions and millions of electric cars and buses." David Roberts3  makes it vivid:

"Well, have a look at Solar City’s gigafactory, … .It will be the biggest solar manufacturing facility … covering 27 acres, capable of cranking out 10,000 solar panels a day – a gigawatt’s worth in a year. At the height of its transition to WWS [wind, water, solar], the US would have to build around 30 gigafactories a year devoted to solar panels, and another 15 a year for wind turbines. That’s 45 of the biggest factories ever built, every year. That is [even for an American] a mind-boggling pace of building,…"

    Roberts comments: "It would mean building a huge amount of shit." I agree, it indeed would also result in producing a hell of a lot of shit every day. Think of the ecological impact of all that. And since McKibben I guess, is an internationalist, similar kinds of transition to 100 percent "clean energy" should also take place in at least all the G20 countries. That is a must, for a transition only in the USA would not suffice to win the "war" against climate change.
    Think now of the amount of nonrenewable material resources that would have to be extracted from the earth for carrying out this mobilization, in addition to the amount that has already been extracted, burnt and used up Think of the treeless scars on the earth's surface, and the holes that the mining activities would leave behind, in addition to those that the planet has already gotten. Think also of the amount of collateral
waste production, in addition to what has already been produced. And think of the additional number and area of waste disposal sites where it can be dumped! Moreover, when you have scrapped and demolished all the fossil and nuclear fuel power plants, where will the waste be dumped? Will it not really become like hell on Earth?
that all machines and all products wear out and have a limited lifespan. The same holds true for solar panels, wind turbines and machines with which we make them. They have to be replaced, sooner or later, even factory buildings. Remember also that inorganic nonrenewable materials cannot be fully recycled, because the entropy law also applies to materials. As many in the ecology movement have been saying for quite a few years now, if it should go on like this, we humans would soon need at least two more planets – one as our resource base, and the other as our waste dumping site. Joking apart, such an industrial economy as McKibben envisages it, even if it could somehow be brought into existence, would not be viable. It would soon collapse.
    I wonder why McKibben could not think of all this while issuing his call for a Second-World-War-like industrial mobilization. After all, he definitely knows enough about the
true production process in the industrial age, that it is not a cyclical but a continuous linear process, that it begins with resource extraction and ends in dumping waste in landfills or the atmosphere or the waters, while midway (if we are lucky) giving us consumers some satisfaction and fulfilling some of our material and immaterial basic and non-basic needs. After all, he is the author of a famous book that I read in the 1980s, End of Nature,7  wherein he took up a position against anthropocentrism, which he considered to be the root of all evils. But in this essay he displays an anthropocentric – worse, a US-centric –thinking. For what may be possible in the huge USA, the strongest economic and military power in today's world, is simply not possible in, say, India with its 1.25 billion people cramped in an area one third of that of the USA.

EROEI / Net Energy

There are three more reasons why I think an industrial economy like the present-day US-American one solely driven by so-called clean renewable energies– if the idea can at all be materialized –will be neither free from CO2 emission, nor generally pollutions-free, nor sustainable. I have in the past published several texts presenting my reasons for thinking so.8  There is therefore no need to fully repeat them. Here is only a very short gist of my argumentation:
    (1) The "clean energies" (mostly electricity, but also biofuels) may be a little cleaner than energy from fossil fuel sources, but they are
not 100 percent emissions-and-pollution-free. For all equipments – solar panels, wind turbines, cables etc. etc. – used at any stage in the process of generating and distributing "clean energies", in fact any kind of energy, are manufactured by means of machines and factories that are driven mainly (though not solely) by either coal-based energy or nuclear energy, which emit CO2 and radioactive particles respectively.
    (2) All protagonists of 100 percent "clean energy" simply assume that solar and wind energy plants yield an amount of net energy – i.e. a surplus over the whole amount of energy that was consumed for manufacturing and building them) – that justifies their commercial deployment. In other words, their EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) is sufficiently positive. But there is considerable doubt about that.8 I shall take up this point once more below.
    (3) They simply ignore the difference, first pointed out in 1978 by
Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen9, between feasibility and viability. He maintained till 1994, the year he passed away, that solar-electricity technology was of course feasible, but not viable. Also TCM's Victory Plan2, despite its other merits, contains these last two errors. I shall come back to this point below.

Merits and Weaknesses of TCM's Victory Plan

McKibben's action plan appears to pursue only one goal, to, somehow and as soon as possible, replace fossil fuels with renewables. He seems to think once that goal has been attained, all other major problems of the earth and the world (economic crisis, unemployment, pollution etc.) would quasi automatically, though gradually, disappear. As against that, TCM has realized that that would not suffice. It therefore wants, additionally, to pursue a broad range of other, equally important, concrete goals: for instance, to phase out cars and trucks and replace them with a public transportation system, to curtail aviation, to scale back commercial fishing, to cut production and consumption of meat and dairy products etc.
    McKibben's is in effect a huge
Keynesian plan that would not only win the "war" against climate change, but also, additionally, function as a huge growth, job and income creating machine. Such ideas have earlier been submitted by others under captions like eco-Keynesianism, eco-capitalism, green growth, green New Deal and green economy.10 As against that, TCM seems to have realized what a huge amount of shit such a plan would also produce. Its Victory Plan is in effect one of drawing down production in general, of "de-growth," so to speak, and stopping and reversing population growth culminating in demanding that half of the earth/USA should be reserved for conservation purposes.
    Both McKibben and TCM calls upon the state to intervene in the economy in order to motivate or compel the economic actors (particularly companies) to do what is needed to save the planet. McKibben's eco-Keynesian action plan does not need to question capitalism. But I wonder how TCM's plan, which is in effect tantamount to
enforcing a world-wide recession, can be compatible with capitalism with its growth compulsion. The plan even envisages rationing of all products and services that emit greenhouse gases in order to ensure more equity. That is not far from planning. Why doesn't the group call its plan one for eco-socialism in America? Of course, I know it is very difficult to say this in America.
    Readers of my writings would surely guess that I heavily sympathize with the TCM plan. That is also the reason why my eco-socialist friend Kamran Nayeri sympathizes with it and calls it a "breakthrough" in the movement to save the planet.4  However, there are two weaknesses in TCM's Victory Plan. One I have just mentioned above, namely that it cannot be realized without
abandoning capitalism, a call for which I have not seen in the 110 pages (or have I overlooked it, or is it only hinted at?). The other is that the whole plan, like that of McKibben, is based on the assumption that running the whole US-American economy by using only "renewable" "clean energies" is not only feasible but also viable.
    In TCM's Victory Plan, this assumption is based on the latest book by Richard Heinberg, written together with David Fridley,11 wherein the two authors claim they have drawn their conclusions after studying a large number of latest studies on the subject. I had learnt the term EROEI from one of Heinberg's earlier books
The Party is Over (2003)12. In that book he quoted two tables that showed different estimates of EROEIs of various sources of energy in connection with the respective technologies. In their latest book, Heinberg and Fridley write:

"Unfortunately, the net energy or EROEI literature is inconsistent because researchers have so far been unable to agree on a common set of system boundaries. Therefore two analysts may calculate very different EROEI ratios for the same energy source. This does not entirely undermine the usefulness of NEA [net energy analysis]; it merely requires us to use caution in comparing the findings of different studies.)11

That means even today, one cannot quote a certain figure and assert with any degree of certainty that this is now the EROEI of solar energy.
    Also Ugo Bardi13, (not an American, but) a European scientist and member of the Club of Rom, shows in his article published in May 2016 how much uncertainty still exists in this matter. Bardi, a protagonist of Photovoltaic solar energy, used a question rather than a statement, for the title of his article: "But what's the REAL energy return of photovoltaic energy?" I request my readers to especially read all the comments and responses to his article, which mainly (but not only) came from researchers working on this question. The readers will then see how many of them hold the view that it is negative.
    In his 2003 book,
Heinberg (2003: 152f.) quoted two studies. One from the year 1984, in which Cleveland et al. estimated the EROEI of Photovoltaics to be 1.7 to 10.0. Twelve years later, in 1996, Howard Odum estimated it to be only 0.41, i.e. negative. Heinberg wrote in this connection:"Time is relevant to EROEI studies because the net energy yield for a given energy source may change with the introduction of technological refinements or the depletion of a resource base" (ibid). In the case of solar energy, its resource base, namely solar radiation, hadn't undergone any depletion in the said 12 years. And presumably, both studies were made in the mainland of the USA, in average locations ( not one in the Death Valley and the other on the North Slope of Alaska). Now, if we may logically assume that in those twelve years the photovoltaic technology had undergone some technological refinements, then the EROEI of photovoltaic technology should actually have improved rather than deteriorated in that period (as Odum's figure shows). Be that as it may, the point I want to make here is that it has been very unwise on the part of McKibben, TCM, and Heinberg himself to base their plans for saving the planet on uncertain data from "inconsistent" literature. In fine, I think it simply is not possible to directly answer this question by raising data. One must have recourse to indirect reasoning, as I have done in my writings on this topic.14  I myself think that the EROEIs of the renewable energy technologies, except hydroelectric power stations, are negative, and they are generally becoming ever more negative because all the resources needed to manufacture and/or build all the equipments and plants needed for or relevant to these technologies are nonrenewable and are continuously being depleted or have to be extracted from ever remoter and ever more difficult terrain (mines), which entails ever more energy investment.
    Another question that protagonists of solar energy (generally, of renewable energies) avoid taking up is the question of viability of these energy technologies. This question, as stated above, was first raised by Georgescu-Roegen in his 1978 paper referred to above.9. In 2016, 38 years later, it still remains unanswered. But it is not forgotten. In the discussion that followed Ugo Bardi's article referred to above13 , one discussant, using the pseudonym "foodstuff"  impatiently put the same question in much simpler language:

"I still want to know if the following can be done and does the EROEI quoted include it all (plus extra energy demand I haven't thought of):
1. Mine the raw materials using equipment powered by solar panels.
2. Transport and convert metal ores, e.g. bauxite-aluminum, using equipment run by solar panels and in a factory built using the energy from solar panels.
3. Make the finished panels in a factory run by solar panels, including building and maintaining the factory.
4. Transport, install and maintain the solar panels using equipment running on solar panels.
All this is presently being done [mainly] with the energy from fossil fuels. How will it be done when they are gone?"

I request McKibben, TCM, Heinberg and Fridley to please answer these questions. My answer is No. If they cannot answer Yes, that would mean their vision of an industrial society based on "100 percent renewable clean energy" is a 100 percent illusion, even TCM's reduced-scale industrial society.
    I think TCM's victory plan has another weakness: It is sending mixed or contradictory messages. Otherwise, how could
Paul Gilding,15 former executive director of Green Peace International, write in his forward to Ezra Silk's Victory Plan:

"[In a situation of] economic and social crisis [and]… despair, a climate mobilization of this sort could result in [inter alia]… huge economic benefits … innovation, technology and massive job creation … much better quality of life … business opportunities [etc.].… . [It would] leave our energy costs lower and supplies more secure … more people employed. [In a situation , in which] the global economy is in deep and serious trouble, [in which] growth … is grinding to a halt, [in which] inequality and the lack of progress of the Western middle class has laid the foundation for political extremism, xenophobia and isolationism,… brought us phenomena like Trump, Brexit … movements that further threaten the global economy, [it could be a] mobilization to save the economy." [This quote is partly reconstructed by me. My insertions are in square brackets.]


The Other "Plan" and the Other Path

Is any other plan for saving the planet possible?,
one may ask.
It is possible, but it surely will not be popular among present-day Americans. It is possible, if we accept McKibben's other diagnosis, namely, "our insatiable desires as consumers" is the cause of climate change, and if we accept the truism, as I formulated it in an earlier blog16, that the real and deeper causes of many of our maladies are the continuously growing "needs", aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population, while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing – in short, the lunatic idea that in a finite world infinite growth is possible. Then it follows that the spirit of the other plan that could perhaps save the planet must be the very opposite of McKibben and Co's gigantism and limitless technological optimism, i.e. the beliefs that everything is doable, that we can also build a colony on the Moon etc., which are themselves diseases, not remedies.
    TCM (with Heinberg and Fridley) has discarded gigantic plans for stopping climate change. But it too has offered only half a solution. It still seeks a high-tech solution to the energy problem, namely "renewable clean energies". We then first need an antidote to these typical American diseases, which has long ago been offered by Fritz
Schumacher with his slogan "Small is beautiful". He wrote:"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." 17     However, the latest that I have read of Heinberg points to the right direction. He seems to have returned to his former healthy skepticism. In an article published in September 2016,18 he writes:

"We concluded that, while in theory it may be possible to build enough solar and wind supply capacity to substitute for current fossil energy sources, much of current energy usage infrastructure (for transportation, agriculture, and industrial processes) will be difficult and expensive to adapt to using renewable electricity. In the face of these and other related challenges, we suggest that it likely won’t be possible to maintain a consumption-oriented growth economy in the post-fossil future, and that we would all be better off aiming to transition to a simpler and more localized conserver economy."

For such a transition, a Second-World-War-like mobilization a la McKibben is not necessary. Actually we are not at war at all. And if we cannot but use the war metaphor, then it is we who are the aggressors, we are the enemy of nature. Then the first task on the path of this transition is to end our aggression. We then need only to withdraw and not carry on the aggression with other weapons.19  We then don't need to build much, but we do need to dismantle a lot. Above all, particularly Americans and their fans and imitators in the rest of the world need to dismantle their American way of living.
    Before society, the state, the economic powers that be take the
first step backwards, we ecological-political activists will have to do a lot of mainly educative work. At present at least, we cannot compel anybody to do anything. But there is also no hindrance to educative work. Everything else – electoralism, demonstrations, lobbyism, party work, setting personal examples, writing, lecturing etc. – can be used to convince and persuade the people and the powers that be.
    One of the goals in TCM's Victory Plan is to stop and reverse world
population growth. This ought to be the first point where the transition should begin. For, as Paul Ehrlich wrote to point out its utmost importance, "Whatever be your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth]."20 All problems that nature has with us, as well as all problems of our own human society get aggravated as population grows. There are also two advantages of beginning at this point: It is easy to persuade the powers that be to do something in this regard. And it is easy to persuade people in the lower income groups that their living conditions would immediately improve if they limit the number of their offspring to two.21 Also, here there would be the least resistance from the ruling classes and the imperialist nations. So here we could achieve our first successes.
    I think at present an elaborate and detailed "other plan" like that of TCM is neither possible nor necessary. We can however start with what is immediately possible.


1. McKibben, Bill (2016): A World at War

2. Salomon, Margaret Klein (2016): The Climate Mobilization Action Program: Victory Plan (This is only a preface. The link to the 110 page document written by Ezra Silk is given at the end of this text)

3. Roberts, David (2016): Climate Justice Policy and the Metaphor of War

4. Nayeri Kamran (2016):"Making Progress: A Critical Assessment of Climate Action Plans by Bill McKibben and The Climate Mobilization".

5. Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich (1976) Selected Works (in 3 volumes) Vol. 3, Moscow. P. 36.

6. Lovelock, James  (1987) Gaia –A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford and New York. P. 10.

7. McKibben, Bill (2006) End of Nature. USA (?): Random House.

8. Sarkar's articles :
(a) Chapter 4 of: Saral Sarkar (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?. London: Zed.

9. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1978): "
Technology Assessment. The Case of the Direct Use of Solar Energy";

10. For a critique of these ideas see Sarkar (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?. London: Zed Books.

Heinberg, Richard and Fridley, David (2016)  Our Renewable Future

12. Heinberg, Richard (2003) The Party's Over – Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies. Forest Row: Clairview.

13. Bardi, Ugo (2016)"But what's the REAL energy return of photovoltaic energy?" in Cassandra's Legacy (online).

Sarkar's writings on EROEI (see note 8)

15. Gilding, Paul (2016) Forward to
Silk, Ezra (2016)
The Climate Mobilization Action Program: Victory Plan (see note 2)

16. Sarkar, Saral (2016): "A Historic Event or a Fraud?"

17. Schumacher, E.F. (August 1973)"Small is Beautiful", an essay, in
The Radical Humanist, Vol. 37, No. 5, p. 22

18.  Heinberg, Richard (2016) " Exploring the Gap Between Business-As-Usual and Utter Doom".

Sunzi was an ancient Chinese author (2500 B.C.) on strategies of warfare. He wrote inter alia: "Verily, he wins, who does not fight", (quoted from Wikiquotes)

20. Ehrlich, Paul (quoted in Weissman).
Weissman, Steve (1971) "Forward" (in Meek 1971).
Meek, Ronald. L (1971) Marx and Engels on the Population Bomb, Berkeley.

21. Sarkar, Saral (1993) "Polemics is Useless – A Proposal for an Eco-Socialist Synthesis in the Overpopulation Dispute".