Bob Sutcliffe–In Memoriam

By Arthur MacEwan

Bob Sutcliffe, who died at age 80 on December 23, was an influential socialist economist over several decades. The publication that probably gained him the most attention was British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze (1972), which Bob co-authored with Andrew Glyn, his close friend and frequent collaborator. The book became a classic among the growing movement of socialist economists in that decade, and, indeed, moved beyond radical circles to have a major impact on public debate.

Yet, Bob’s life had a breadth and charm that went far beyond his professional accomplishments.

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Assessing the UK Electoral Avalanche of December 2019

By John Weeks

On 12 December the UK Conservative party scored a stunning victory as it buried the opposition in an electoral avalanche.  As I venture some thoughts on that outcome and its implications for US politics, transparency requires that I make it clear that I supported the Labour Party and publicly endorsed its policies and disparaged its critics.  My disappointment will surprise no one.  How should I interpret this disastrous electoral loss by a party advocating a range of policies that I consider appropriate and essential for our country?

As is the case with many complex events, I find it useful to begin with simple, even simplistic, explanations, when inspect those simple narratives for their flaws.  I seek to avoid seizing on explanations that conveniently support my predilections.  Defeats (as well as victories) call for humility and introspection rather than definitive convictions.

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The Green New Deal as an Anti-Neoliberal Program

By Robert Pollin (guest post)

Second in a series of posts on neoliberalism and what might come next, organized to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Dollars & Sense, which publishes Triple Crisis. 

In 2007, Nicholas Stern, the prominent mainstream British economist and former chief economist at the World Bank, wrote that “Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen.” Stern’s assessment was extreme, but not hyperbolic. This is for the simple reason that, if we take climate science at all seriously, we cannot avoid the conclusion that we are courting ecological disaster by not stabilizing the climate.

Neoliberalism is a driving force causing the climate crisis. This is because neoliberalism is a variant of classical liberalism, and classical liberalism builds from the idea that everyone should be granted maximum freedom to pursue their self-interest within capitalist market settings. But neoliberalism also diverges substantially from classical liberalism: What really occurs in practice under neoliberalism is that governments allow giant corporations to freely pursue profit opportunities to the maximum extent, and governments even intervene on corporations’ behalf when their profits might be threatened. How the oil companies reacted to clear evidence of climate change represents a dramatic case study of neoliberalism in practice. In 1982, researchers working at the then Exxon Corporation (now Exxon Mobil) estimated that by about 2060, burning oil, coal, and natural gas to produce energy would elevate the planet’s average temperatures by about 2° Celsius. This, in turn, would generate exactly the types of massive climate disruptions that we have increasingly experienced since the 1980s—i.e., heat extremes, heavy precipitation, droughts, rising sea levels, and biodiversity losses, with corresponding impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, and human security. In 1988, researchers at the Shell Corporation reached similar conclusions. We now know what Exxon and Shell did with this information: They buried it. They did so for the obvious reason that, if the information were then known, it might have threatened their prospects for receiving massive profits from producing and selling oil.

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Buy Prints of the Comic Strips of Neoliberalism

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To celebrate the 45th anniversary of Dollars & Sense, the organization that maintains Triple Crisis blog, former D&S art director Nick Thorkelson has made full-color prints of his amazing “Comic Strip of Neoliberalism” series published in the magazine in the early 2000s.  The series was a collaboration with former D&S co-editor Alejandro Reuss.  (For more info on the series, click here.)

There are three paired sets of 13” x 17” prints: “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Neoliberalism vs. History,” and “Megadreams of Hyperdevelopment.” (Scroll down to see all three sets. Click to enlarge.)

We are offering signed prints for $45 per set or $100 for all three sets. (Prices include shipping within the United States.)  To place orders, visit this page.

You can also support Dollars & Sense and Triple Crisis with a donation.  Contact us by email (dollars at dollarsandsense.org) about how to contribute to our 45th-Anniversary Sustainability Fund.

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Neoliberalism and Climate Change

By Juliet Schor (guest post)

This is the text of a speech that Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, gave at the 45th anniversary celebration for Dollars & Sense, which maintains Triple Crisis blog, on November 14 at the Nonprofit Center in Boston, Mass. Schor was a D&S collective member in its early years.  This is the first in a series of posts on neoliberalism that we’ll be posting at Triple Crisis. 

We are in the midst of a terrifying climate emergency. Whether it’s the record-challenging cold of this week, devastating wildfires, Category 5 hurricanes, flooding on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, Mass., when it’s not raining, the permanent disappearance of glaciers, intensifying drought and climate migration, or the relentless upward march of average temperatures, signs of climate disruption are all around us. This is partly due to the power of neoliberal economics.  Naomi Klein has made an interesting observation about the relation between the two, which is that it was bad luck that neoliberalism surged just as we figured out the need to do something about greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not convinced that the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t have done just what it did and been as successful even if we were still, in the famous words of Richard Nixon, “all Keynesians now” but that’s something we’ll never know. In any case, evidence of the ability of a now discredited economic approach (neoliberalism) to hang on long past its sell-by date is all around us.

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Rome Summit Takes Bold Step Toward Agroecology

By Timothy A. Wise

This was originally published at Common Dreams.

The Climate Action Summit at the UN last month was widely considered a disappointment, failing to garner the kinds of government actions needed to address the climate crisis. Sadly, the same can be said for actions on agriculture and climate change, despite a well-publicized commitment of $790 million to “to enhance resilience of over 300 million small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.”

That is not because the investment isn’t needed. It is, desperately. Small-scale farmers in developing countries are already bearing the brunt of climate change yet they have received little of the promised funding to help them adapt to drought, flooding, heat, and other climate changes.

These new initiatives won’t bridge that gap. Just as government actions to date are proving far too weak to address the climate emergency, these agriculture programs support familiar measures that have thus far failed to help small-scale farmers. Some measures have left them even more vulnerable to climate change.

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Official Reforms and India’s Real Economy, Pt. 3

By Sunanda Sen, guest blogger

Part three of a three-part series, a version of which was published in Economic and Political Weekly on September 21, 2019.  Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Part 3: Pattern of stagnation in India’s real economy

As already emphasised in the preceding sections of this commentary, a country’s GDP growth alone hardly indicates the country’s level of development, which include employment, social security and absence of poverty. Recognising above is important in the context of the ailing Indian economy that is currently subject to concerns more pressing than the plunging financial sector.

Mention can be made here of the structural changes in the Indian economy, with changing relative contributions of its three major sectors.Those include the share for services moving up to 50% and above since the early 1990s and the respective industry and agriculture shares stalling around 25% and 19% or less since then.

The employment situation as currently prevail in the Indian economy include 90% or more people struggling to eke out a survival in the informal sector while the organised formal sectors within industry and services offer 10% or less of jobs, thus pushing the majority of the working population to the dark terrains of the unorganised and informal jobs.

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Official Reforms and India’s Real Economy, Pt. 2

By Sunanda Sen, guest blooger

Part two of a three-part series, a version of which was published in Economic and Political Weekly on September 21, 2019.  Find Pt. 1 here.

Pt. 2: How effective to revive the economy?

Sops as above as tax relief—to portfolio as well as corporate investors within and outside the country—while effective in temporarily stimulating the secondary stock market, may not work to reverse the tendencies for the stagnation, even in the financial sector and let alone in the real economy. Contrary to what was expected, the initial response of the stock market continued to be rather non-committal over nearly a month between August 23 and September 20 when the big tax bonanza package was announced. It is possibly too early (and nearly impossible) to project the stock market movements in future. Still more doubtful is an expected positive impact of all above policy moves on capacity creation via the market for initial primary offers (IPOs)—short of which there can be no expansion in the real economy of output, investment and employment.

Official Reforms and India’s Real Economy, Pt. 1

By Sunanda Sen, guest blogger

Part one of a three-part series, a version of which was published in Economic and Political Weekly on September 21, 2019. 

That the Indian economy is currently experiencing a slowdown is more than evident, both with the deliberations in different private circles and with official statements signalling a series of remedial measures, mostly focussed on the ailing financial sector. However, as we point out, the ailing Indian economy has concerns that go beyond flagging GDP growth and the ailing financial sector.

Downturn in the economy

As for the downturn, the country’s GDP growth rate has plunged into a low of 5% in the first quarter of the current financial year 2019–2020. The drop has been accompanied by sharp decelerations in the manufacturing output and a sluggish growth of output in agriculture. Matching both, ‘consumption growth’ has also been weak.

A fact which remains less highlighted in current official concerns includes unemployment, at 7.1% of the labour force during September–December 2018 as reported in the Labour Force Periodic Review. Unemployment has been even higher for urban youth during the period, at 23.4%. Information as is available indicates on-going spread of job cuts in different manufacturing units and wide-ranging distress in rural areas with farmer suicides, which causes added concern.

We’re All in the Same Lifeboat Now, Pt. 2

Climate change comes for farmers – from Mozambique to Iowa

By Timothy A. Wise

Originally published at  Medium, as a contribution to Climate Media Week as people the world over strike for climate action and justice.  Find Part 1 here

Part 2: Iowa: implicated in climate change

As Amnesty International’s secretary general Kumi Naidoo told the BBC, “There is one inescapable and burning injustice we cannot stress enough. The people of Mozambique are paying the price for dangerous climate change when they have done next to nothing to cause this crisis.”

You can’t say the same about Iowa. Every part of Iowa’s industrial model of agriculture is implicated and threatened by climate change. Implicated because industrial agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses; 14 percent are attributed directly to agriculture. That jumps to 23 percent, according to a recent UN report, when deforestation from agriculture-induced land-use changes, is taken into account. High rates of nitrogen-fertilizer applied to Iowa’s corn fields contribute to emissions of nitrous oxide, more potent than carbon dioxide. The state’s factory farms add to the problem when concentrated manure is sprayed on farmers’ fields.

Threatened because the evil twins of climate change are coming for Iowa’s farmers too. NASA modeling for Iowa shows a high probability of more intense storms, like the recent cyclone, with a growing threat of long droughts. Rising temperatures are making nights too warm for optimal production, and high daytime temperatures are drying out the plants in soil no longer rich enough in organic matter to retain much moisture. Summer rains are less consistent; farmers can’t count on rain in that critical two-week period after the corn tassels.

Many years it is now just too hot and too dry, depressing yields. A University of Minnesota study estimated that by 2075 Iowa corn yields could be 20-50% lower than they are today.

Like their Mozambican counterparts, some Iowa farmers could face the loss of two years of production to the recent flooding. Many lost this year’s crop to late planting, and some lost last year’s as they watched storm waters destroy last year’s stored crops to water damage. They hadn’t sold their corn and beans because prices were so low and President Trump’s trade war had destroyed the export markets they have come to depend on.

Many farmers now fear losing their farms. Debt levels are rising and farm prices remain low despite the flooding. Most vulnerable are those who owe on mortgages or farm equipment, purchased in the boom years when ethanol drove crop prices to unprecedented highs. Those who rent land are also struggling, and more than half of Iowa’s farmland is now rented. Many expect the floodwaters will add to a wave of consolidation as large landowners and outside investors buy up distressed farms at auction, further hollowing out rural areas.

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September 30, 2019 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments Closed