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Archive for November, 2010

Although I think he misses the point, I really enjoyed reading this article. You can find a copy here: Medovoi

He argues that social capital and ecological capital are not capital at all, but the fact remains that we should be considering these other types of “wealth” no matter what you call it. Maybe not for the reasons that they give a particular competitive advantage to a business or as he argues that it would somehow magically increase their profits to do so, but because they all give all of humanity the competitive advantage to survive and thrive. Without an accounting of these stocks of capital or at least some value given to them, we cannot begin to protect them with our current system, whether through tweaks to economic structure or through more regulation. Furthermore, I don’t think Gladwyn was saying that different forms of “capital” are substitutable for each other, but that they need defining in order to bring a sense of or actual value into the system.

A company like Seventh Generation is an early adopter (or mover) and it’s a sign of things to come. Capitalists try to externalize as much of the costs as possible, but society has been passing more and more laws to prevent this – indeed parts of Europe are far more ahead of the US on this front. We’ll continue to internalize much of the costs that have been socially levied in the past.

He criticizes the sustainability movement as a progressive form of Neo-liberalism, but how else will we solve the problem? Socialism didn’t work before. He goes on to say that sustainability is post-fordist in that it doesn’t seek to regulate through laws, but that’s just plain wrong. He’s great at picking apart sustainability, but comes up way short on any solutions or alternatives.

The author also ignores the ever reducing materials throughput of our information economy. We now have the engineering ability to recycle almost everything we use, increase efficiency of resources by a factor of a 100 or more, and regrow the rest. These capabilities will only increase in the coming decades.

Overall, I think his analysis borrows too much and detrimentally from Marxism. To paraphrase and embellish: Capitalism is the worst economic for, except for all the rest. We won’t have a Marxist, socialist utopia until everything is free or so cheap it’s not worth counting anymore. This won’t happen until energy is free, robots design and build everything, it’s all recycled, and materials can literally be made out of energy and basic elements. All this is far fetched, but we are getting closer with the impending nanotech revolution.

This statement is particularly pernicious: “In short, sustainability seeks to gauge the kind and amount of life that must not be killed now so that the process of surplus value extraction can continue indefinitely in the future.” Sustainability seeks to stop all killing of life. We’ll obviously need to cut down trees etc, but the actual act of living is an unconscious activity of killing (planets, animals, etc). The point is, how do we reduce this as much as possible? He uses enivronmental economics to derive this conclusion, but doesn’t mention ecological economics.

He asserts that sustainability is about capitalism’s self regulation, but I think he’s taking one paper written by a business professor and applying it to a whole movement. Capitalism can of course improve itself somewhat, but it won’t be perfect without strong regulations. I don’t think you could find someone in the sustainability movement who would say otherwise.

BB

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