Monday, 21 July 2014

Australia leads biped dash for rocky cliffs

The ‘Conservative’ government of Australia just engineered the repeal of that country’s carbon tax, a late, weak attempt to stave off the destruction of our habitat. But as the measure was introduced as, and in fact is, a tax, i.e., a sin against all things righteous and profitable, inflamed opponents furiously campaigned against it from the outset. The Conservatives built their strategy for a return to power on eliminating it, and individual Australians were cheered by the idea of taking back a few dollars from hated gummint-led social engineering to spend on bungee jumping and lawn mowers.

Except that global warming will destroy Australians’ need for lawn mowers faster than anywhere else as they live on the earth’s dryest continent. This is an admirably stark and illustrative example of why my blog is titled as it is—one could call it a ‘textbook example’ except that that presumes someone will be around to read it.

The prior Labour government’s action to reduce greenhouse gases by making companies (and eventually their clients) pay a tax for the environmental damage they were causing—that was the truly conservative act of present-day prudence to guard against future disaster. Think of it: a tax on immediate gratification that can be avoided by postponing consumption or, alternatively, fixing the carbon footprint to stave off tough times in the future. But the self-styled ‘Conservatives’ appealed instead to people’s desire for more fun today, for fiddling like grasshoppers and mocking the industrious ants.

On all sides we see similar signs of our current system’s inability to stop itself from self-destructive behavior, a precise parallel with the addict’s helplessness in the face of their drug of choice. Economist Wolf Richter writes today that a major bank, UBS, is advising its ‘wealth management’ clients (i.e., the filthy rich) to get out of over-priced assets like stocks and junk bonds as the next financial panic approaches. Yet no one in the airy palaces of power can do anything to stop the onrushing train.

Wolfgang Streeck writes longform in New Left Review that capitalism itself may be putting its own head in the noose at long last by destroying the regulatory and redistributive limits that have kept it healthy. He argues that by winning all the battles and getting their way in everything, the moneybags have dismantled the very system that enabled them to grow and thrive. One need not be expert enough to judge the details to see the similarities in these accounts—that we are a species that doesn’t know when to quit.

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