Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Return to the old normal soon?

I believe there would be a way to bring unemployment down to previously usual levels like 4-5% along with previous levels of labor force participation (the real measure, since "unemployed" people are still looking for work, and after awhile they will find other arrangements). But I also believe it will not happen with any kind of status quo thinking. It will require even greater use of government than during the New Deal. The 2nd wave of old capitalism has now hit the rocks. Now everyone possible needs to be put to work on building a new sustainable economy based on renewable energy and other sustainable practices. Capitalism won't go there, so we must abandon capitalism. Hopefully we can do so without going Stalin, but if takes 30 years because of resistance from the plutocracy, I expect we will see Stalin again, and the people will cheer him on.
The only thing that has kept the US economy going since the 1980's after Reaganomics kicked in fully has been speculative bubbles, first in banking, then in dot-com technology, and then in housing. But now, credit levels (mainly private) and claims on future production have grown to astronomical heights. It simply isn't possible to play the same old shell games anymore. And even if we do, it simply defers the collapse a few more years. The problem is we've been running on fumes since around 1980.
Something has changed. The cliff is now clearly in view. Oil production has been nearly unchanged since 2005, after decades of exponential growth, and the climate consequences of burning everything we got is beginning to come right back at us, and those are just two examples.
We actually passed the limits of resource utilization and waste dumping in the period 1970-1980. Sooner or later we will have to get back to those levels, or less to make up for what we have borrowed in the interim.
But lack of continued economic growth does not mean that people need to go unemployed. There is another kind of solution.

Monday, May 30, 2011

New LTG Rule #1: Take it easy

The lesson from Limits to Growth is that we not only have to do things differently, we have to think differently, and have different goals that fit within a sustainable non-growth way of life.

To that end, I propose as New Rule #1 is simply "Take it easy."  Aim to do less, both in consuming AND producing.  Don't aim to do nothing (that's actually quite hard anyway), but aim to do less than before, less than others do, less than you feel ordered or driven to do.

I realize there is an inherent problem here.  Our capitalistic go-growth society has inherently had an inconsistency.  We have been hugely industrious in creating big messes, in despoiling the commons (the air, water, other resources, and claiming wild areas for our productive uses that take away their utility for other species) but not so industrious in cleaning up the messes we have created, probably because there's much less profit (or none at all) in that.  It could well be argued that what we need to be is less industrious in creating these messes, but more industrious in cleaning up both old messes and the new ones we are creating.  OK, there is a lot of truth in that, worthy of another rule.  But to start with, we mainly need to create smaller messes in the first place, which is where this rule #1 fits in.  And quite often, if we take things a bit more slowly, we find the first thing that disappears is the biggest part of the mess.  "Haste makes waste" as the old saying goes.

In this form, Rule #1 is quite consistent with Taoist philosophy (as I understand it).  Actually, I've been following this rule pretty well for a long time.  In college, friends of mine described it as "The principle of least action" (with apologies to Isaac Newton).  It generally works out better than expected, while the opposite rule, do as much as possible, often quickly becomes self-defeating.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Great Essay on Leverage Points by Donella Meadows

Hosted a great discussion today on Limits to Growth.  In preparation, in addition to downloading LTG videos from YouTube, I found this great essay by Donella Meadows:


Monday, May 9, 2011

Online? No thanks, I'd rather use paper

Frustrated tonight because after about 10 attempts, I could not renew my subscription to The Nation online.  The webpage (at thenation.com, not some impostor) kept telling me I was not in database.

I even tried logging in to TheNation with my online username.  That worked, then I went to the "Manage My Account" section.  But that simply brought me to the same page as above.  I tried again, same "not in database, try again".

I even tried typing in my account number directly from the most recent copy of The Nation into the bottom section of page which lets you bypass the address entry.  I tried that several times.  Still failed.  Finally I got a page about website error.  Interestingly that was a Hearst corporation URL.  Apparently The Nation, which brags about their independence, somehow has the Hearst corporation managing their online renewals.

I had similar experiences trying to file my income tax return this year.  My income tax return is so simple (wage income only, one W2 from one employer) it usually takes less than 15 minutes to do everything on paper.  After an hour of futzing around with the website linked by the IRS (but actually run by some LLC, isn't government by corporations wonderful) I gave up, and simply printed out a PDF of the 1040A form (which they didn't mail to me this year, informing me I should use web entry if possible), and filled it out in 30 minutes.  The hardest part was figuring my Making Work Pay credit.  I also insisted on having check mailed rather than electronic deposit.  (They say they can't be responsible for error in electronic deposit, so to heck with that.)   I received my refund in 4 weeks.  Fine.

And I tried to donate to Texas Public Radio last week.  I got bogged down a bit in writing a comment.  After about 30 minutes, the website summarily dumped the entire online form.  OK, they can wait another few weeks until I have time to try again.

By the way, I am a computer programmer and have been professionally employed in programming for 30 years.  Though I work in scientific programming, I have designed a number of web pages for work and personal projects.

I don't even want to recall the horrors of using a credit rating tracking website.  After calling them the second time by telephone, I cancelled the service via telephone.

On the other hand, I check up on my credit cards online and always pay the bills online (though I still insist on paper bills for personal closure).  I can't recall ever having a problem with those websites.