Saturday, March 21, 2009

IS THE WAR ON CLIMATE CHANGE KEYNESIAN PRIME PUMPING? Does War Itself of any kind serve a deeper requirement?

I recall reading an incendiary hypothesis written by Leonard Lewin that was promoted by the late and famous Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith. I read it decades ago, but it in the wake of the Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has shown a proven resilience in its conclusions, first drawn in 1967 during the Vietnam conflict. It was “Report from Iron Mountain”, a fictional work that became a potent hoax because it seemed to reflect actual US government thinking.

Lewin advanced a cynical but realistic analysis of the role that the Military-Industrial Complex played in the American economy. Remember, this is an economy where more scientists are employed in weapons development and military research than in medicine, engineering and every civilian knowledge quest combined. Lewin reasoned that the American society had the capability to be more affluent than it actually was, if the monies spent on the MI complex were spent on social services, education, health and affordable housing. So why did America waste these resources on the military? After all, 30,000 nuclear warheads and a navy of redundant capital ships would not buy you more “security” than 3,000 warheads and a more modest task force of smaller vessels. As observers of the Falklands War can remember, one Exocet missile can take out a very large ship, and Senator Gary Hart made a similar point about how one Soviet tactical nuke could obliterate an aircraft carrier as easily as a PT boat.

Eisenhower once noted that every dollar spent on the military constitutes theft from constructive civilian purposes. Militarists and their commercial lobbyists of course, argue that military spending ‘creates’ jobs and wealth. But as Galbraith pointed out, while carpenters who build housing can, with their wages, theoretically purchase housing stock, the workers who build a B1 bomber cannot, with their wages, ever “consume” a B1 bomber or any instrument of destruction. Their “product” does not create “wealth”. Rather it contributes a net drain to our well-being. There is a point when an “arsenal of democracy” becomes a military-industrial complex, a parasitical albatross on the shoulders of American taxpayers. Despite their gymnastic sophistry, American militarists cannot contest the fact that by insisting that General MacArthur make a strong military illegal under the new Japanese constitution, the Japanese ensured that they would have a competitive advantage with the United States. Let America bear the fiscal brunt of the Cold War.

But could America realistically re-direct military spending into the construction of a welfare state? According to Lewin, in the provocative piece cited, it could not. Or rather, its ruling class could not. For if the “fiscal dividend” from a withdrawal from the addiction of military over-spending was reaped by a genuine and concerted “War on Poverty”, that is, a radical redistribution of wealth, who would pick up the garbage or harvest the fruit? Service sector employers would find recruitment of workers impossible without elevating wage rates to a level that would prove too rich for those conditioned to hire help at bargain basement prices. Lewin stated the point succinctly: a permanent peace would threaten the nation’s economic and social stability. “War has provided both ancient and modern societies with a dependable system for stabilizing and controlling national economies. No alternate method of control has yet been tested in a complex modern economy that has shown itself remotely comparable in scope or effectiveness.
The "wastefulness" of war production is exercised entirely outside the framework of the economy of supply and demand. As such, it provides the only critically large segment of the total economy that is subject to complete and arbitrary central control….the war system has provided the machinery through which the motivational forces governing human behavior have been translated into binding social allegiance. It has thus ensured the degree of social cohesion necessary to the viability of nations.”

In fact, the existing wage level in those and other sectors, like construction, which today is the leading employer of illegal aliens, is too rich for the rich. That is why no serious attempt or solution has been offered to control borders. Decent paying middle class jobs have been decimated by the squeeze play of outsourcing to cheap labour venues or importing cheap labour legally or illegally. Five million of those good jobs disappeared under the Bush Junior’s administration.

The military-industrial complex, according to Lewin’s analysis, is a sponge to soak up excess wealth, so that it may not be distributed to those who need it. At the same time, it does inject spending into a flagging economy, regardless of the value of the end product. A British economist, John Hobson, came to the same conclusion more than a century ago about the role of the British arms race with Germany prior to World War 1. It was a form of pre-Keynesian “prime-pumping” to keep the economy rolling without, at the same time, improving the social condition of the working class in case anyone got any ideas about leaving their station. What mustn’t happen was a repeat of the years following the Black Death, when English tradesman got too picky and demanding about job offerings from the landed class who suddenly found themselves in a bidding war for their services. The King even passed a law forbidding them to charge wages that were greater than existed before the plague massively shifted the balance of power in their favour.

Could we be seeing the same phenomena with the War on Climate Change? Is the mad rush and clamour to “arm” for this battle hyped by a stoked-up fear of a boogeyman that may prove just as illusory as Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction” and terrorist plots? The conventional wisdom is that the “science is in”. An overwhelming consensus of “scientists” agrees that climate change, anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is real, and unfolding before our eyes in ominous ways. But a consensus of scientists also believed in Piltdown Man for four decades. A ‘consensus’ cannot be equated with objective proof. The truth is not subject to a democratic vote. If 500 million experts fervently believe something to be true, that does not make it true. And if just one doubter believes something else to be true, that does not make it false.

Is the fight against climate change dictated by ecological imperatives or economic convenience? Lewin and others before him have demonstrated that massive ‘waste’ is essential to the running of a capitalist economy that is constantly in search of investment outlets. When the gentry complains that “one just can’t seem to find good help these days”, it is a signal that surplus wealth must be squandered by redirection into useless endeavours, and cheap labour imported to drive down the wages to a point where the leisure class can maintain its life-style. Any who would oppose this agenda are radicals, unpatriotic, nativists, racists or whatever epithet that can be summoned to discredit them. The “patriotism’ of neo-conservatives is just a screen for an agenda that is ruthlessly unpatriotic to the native working poor and middle classes.

The President of Biodiversity First, Brishen Hoff, was among the few who smelled a rat in climate change economics, with the concluding comment in this thread:

“The government is keen to grow the GDP and collect more taxes. They are not proposing any reduction in fossil fuel consumption. They are proposing new windmills, new solar farms, new nuclear plants, new carbon sequestration plants, new ethanol plants IN ADDITION TO fossil fuel consumption, all in the name of climate change.

Could it be that "THE WAR ON CLIMATE CHANGE" is an alternative way to grow the economy other than conventional war or new Olympic games venues?

Now that public support for the Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran war ideas is becoming low despite the media's best attempts to get us to "support our troops" by glorifying stories of individual soldiers and their families during the news (CBC, CTV, Global, etc), the big banks needed a customer for huge high-interest loans. The government volunteered us tax-payers as that customer to take a giant loan to fund "THE WAR ON CLIMATE CHANGE".”

That is something to ponder, isn’t it? Imagine, a scheme to promote economic growth and its inherent waste and destruction by massive government spending to counter the effects of economic growth (GHG emissions). What did peace protesters say in the late 60s? Preparing for war so that we may have peace is like copulating for virginity.

If the ruling class and their intelligentsia were serious in their belief about climate change, they would not only freeze the Alberta Tar sands development but terminate it forthwith. But surprise, surprise, not even opposition parties are proposing to do that. The show must go on while additional money will be found and spent on newer ways to blunt the consequences of growth rather than stop it.

Nevertheless, military spending to contend with a terrorist mirage might be less wasteful than spending to contend with an AGW mirage. After all, in the absence of eugenics and concerted “humane” methods to reduce our unsustainable population, war has served us loyally in helping to strike a balance between people and available resources necessary for their survival, although not as effectively as the epidemics that follow it. And preparation for war is tantamount to eventual war, “since it is historically axiomatic that the existence of any form of weaponry insures its use.”(Lewin). Genghis Khan and his twentieth century successors did more towards achieving population stability than any soft green prescription for renewable technologies and green living habits, which while they may reduce individual footprints, will only make it more comfortable for many more footprints to arrive and erase their gains. “ War has been the principal evolutionary device for maintaining a satisfactory ecological balance between gross human population and supplies available for its survival. It is unique to the human species.” So do we need war? Apparently. Against some enemy at least, real or imagined.

Tim Murray,
March 6/09

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